Downtown Indy Exploration

G has been working eleven hours a day, six days a week since December, and in his “free” time has been putting some serious sweat equity into our home. Memorial’s long weekend was the perfect excuse to request him asking Saturday off work and stealing him away from the house. No work. No housework. Just the two of us. We packed one suitcase, shuffled Copper’s cage to the in-laws, and escaped to Indianapolis for a weekend of exploration.

I had initially planned to keep our destination a secret until we rolled into our AirBnb, but as G grew up near the city and I had never visited before, I ended up telling him and asking if he had any excursion requests that may require tickets. Memorial Day weekend was, after all, Indy 500 weekend and there were some awesome events happening throughout the city. So over the course of two weeks we eyed some opportunities, but ultimately decided to spend the weekend in organic exploration — and it was absolutely marvelous.

We left home after half-days of work on Friday. The city is only about three and a half hours from our little corner of Michigan, and we arrived at our AirBnb close to 6:00pm. As the weekend was one of the most popular in Indy, hotels were either completely booked or offering sky-high prices, but I had lucked out on finding an inexpensive apartment a stone’s throw away from the Children’s Museum. The owner, Boxx, is an artist who displays her talents throughout the apartment and we LOVED every corner of the experience. Isn’t she ridiculously talented? Her art was even more appreciated considering how easy she was to correspond with and the cleanliness of the space — we could not have been happier with our accommodations.

We made the most of our Friday night by driving through Downtown Indy, finding an ideal parking space on North Illinois, and walking along the canal to snag some dinner. Our walk was not incredibly long as we stumbled upon BurgerHaus. Named “Best Burger Restaurant in the State of Indiana” by TripAdvisor, BurgerHaus has made it their quest to take the great American hamburger and make it international… and G and I think they nailed it! Fricken YUM. G ordered their Mexican-inspired burger, The Cozumel, which sported a grilled pineapple slice, guacamole, and jalapenos. I chose The Vienna. Bacon, beer-braised onions, bacon jam, arugula, cheese, and mayo all on a gluten-free bun. My mouth is watering just thinking back on it. If you’re looking for an awesome burger in Indy (or throughout Indiana), I highly recommend finding the closest BurgerHaus. You will not be disappointed.

In typical fashion, we were in bed and asleep by 9’o’clock Friday night and rearing to go early the next morning. We started the morning with breakfast at Lincoln Square Pancake House. Both our meals were delicious and the staff were incredibly friendly — I guess that Hoosier Hospitality is a real thing! G ordered outside-the-box with the banana nut bread French toast and I eyed him angrily the entire time because, you know, gluten. Ugh.

We then returned downtown to pick up from where we left off the night before. My city experiences have predominately been in Chicago, so my expectations were for loud noises, crowds, and busyness. Indy was a welcome surprise though. The city has a laid-back attitude and the people you happen to bump into are kind and courteous. Being that the Indy 500 was happening on Sunday, there was a parade and festival happening in the center of Downtown, but G and I were able to bypass the chaos for the most part. We enjoyed a sleepy morning stroll along the canal, walked through the Capitol, showed our respects at Military Park, and took in the city one step at a time. I never felt rushed or inconvenienced. Instead I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The majority of the day was spent sightseeing and wandering around downtown simply to explore whatever we found. We each had a few things we aimed to find, but we did not rush the process. I had heard great things about the Indianapolis City Market, so we made our way to the original farmer’s market and grabbed some lunch. I also loved running across the numerous murals painted throughout the city.

One stop G looked forward to was the Rhythm! Discovery Center. Rhythm was an interactive museum of drums and percussion instruments, and G could have spent the entire day inside. I don’t know if I have ever mentioned it before, but G was once the drummer of a rock band called Vice. The band was known throughout their little area in Indiana and even opened for some music festivals. He has a drum set at home and nothing makes him happier than being able to create music — he says its a great stress-reliever. We were both able to play some diddies at Rhythm. It was a great way for G to share one of his passions with me!

After walking around Downtown, G and I beat the rainstorms back to the car and made our way to meet up with some of my husband’s cousins who were also in Indy celebrating a birthday. His cousin’s favorite brewery, Triton Brewing Company, was on the outskirts of the city and the group had plans for a tour of the facility, so we opted to meet them for a drink. As time seems to be flying, we realized we hadn’t seen one another since our wedding last June, and we had a great visit.

Then it was on to more food… Though we could have found something more “Indy-inspired” such as St. Elmo’s Steak House, G was dying to take me to P. F. Chang’s for dinner. We have been talking about visiting Indy since before we were married, and P. F. Chang’s has always been on the itinerary since I’ve never been to one of their restaurant’s before. And YUM! We split a dragon roll aside a bottle of Rose, and then opted for Beef with Broccoli as our entree. I thought our local Chinese restaurant (which I’ve grown up eating) did food right but Chan’s has nothing on Chang’s. Tender, sweet, and just the right amount of sauce. G was correct in his assessment that I’d be a happy camper following the meal.

The remainder of the evening was spent relaxing at the AirBnb with one another. The air conditioning was a welcome relief from the 90+ degree temperatures outside, and after walking the majority of the day watching a movie and dozing off was the best ending to a perfect day.

With plans to spend Memorial Day at one of our House friend’s homes and cookout with friends, Sunday was a lazy day of traveling back home. I let G sleep in as I watched an episode of my latest binge-worthy find: Outlander. Then we packed our few belongings, cleaned up after ourselves, and left Boxx’s abode to find some breakfast and head home to Copper and housework.

Using Yelp, we stumbled upon a quaint little restaurant called Love Handle in the art district of Indy. (Or at least what we decided to call the art district because of the various art studios, foreign terms in the business names, and numerous hipsters wandering around.) Love Handle didn’t have a lot of offerings for breakfast, but what they did list on the menu sounded amazing. G and I decided to split an order of blueberry waffles and biscuits and gravy. Neither were gluten-free but I decided to live it up before returning home. #YOLO Everything was made from scratch, and the gravy had a kick that has my husband asking me to attempt something similar at home now.

We enjoyed a cup or two of coffee and then departed, full on good food, fun memories, and the promise of more visits in the future.

So, all in all, our weekend in Indy was fantastic. I cannot wait to return to visit more of the city, especially some of the historical museums. For those who have traveled to Indy, do you have any recommendations on restaurants and/or experiences we should add to our itineraries? Please let me know.

Happy travels, friends,

 

Silver Beach, A History

Alright, in all honest’s truth, I wrote this short piece on the history of the Silver Beach Amusement Park when I first began working at Shadowland in May 2014. Today I met a group of my girlfriends for lunch on the bluff of St. Joseph this afternoon though, and took a walk around the familiar stomping grounds. I absolutely loved my time at Shadowland and am now feeling extremely sentimental. I feel it is only appropriate to share with you a bit about the beginnings of the wonderful place I was able to call my work environment for awhile, as well as my hometown.

The town I grew up in is surrounded in whimsical history and entertainment. Once named the Most Romantic City in Michigan, St. Joseph also was home to the Silver Beach Amusement Park years ago. The lakeside town is centered in the Lake Michigan Wine Trail and offers a number of attractions for explorers, couples, and families. If you’ve ever wanted to experience small-town life in Michigan, look no further than St. Joe on your next vacation!

Below the bluffs of downtown St. Joseph, Michigan, hugging both the Lake Michigan shoreline and the St. Joseph River lays an area where carnival music was once heard, merry-go-round carousel horses galloped in place, a roller coaster roared, and Charleston dancers strutted their stuff.

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The St. Joseph area was a hotspot for boaters. Canoes, rowboats, and riverboats provided scenic tours from St. Joseph to Berrien Springs. Logan Drake, owner of a boat livery on the St. Joseph River saw a higher calling of tourism in the area and began looking at ways to draw more people to the less-popular beaches of St. Joseph.

Romance has always played a key role on Silver Beach. During one of their moonlit courtship beach walks, Drake’s bride-to-be, Maude Schlenker, coined the name Silver Beach saying the water “shimmered like silver.” This inspired a new concept with Drake’s tourism aspirations.

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In 1891, Drake and his partner Louis D. Wallace established the Silver Beach Amusement and Realty Company with the intention of giving tourists more to do in St. Joseph. Initially, ten cottages were built along the beach as rentals for vacationers. By the end of the amusement park’s run 80 cottages were available.

To make the beach more popular for renting, Drake and Wallace invited local concessionaires to sell novelties such as swimming caps and lemonade in a barrel. Within months games of chance and a photographic studio emerged to allow couples to have their portraits taken. By 1896, an ice cream parlor, souvenir shop, and a pavilion which hosted dancing and a big band music were erected. Wooden stand and white tents could be seen up and down the beachfront. A couple of water slides were anchored in shallow water for children around the turn of the century. This marked the beginning of the Silver Beach Amusement Park!

Photo Courtesy of Fort Miami Heritage Society, St. Joseph, MI

The park continued to grow as the years passed. A wooden boardwalk was built above the Silver Beach sands to allow lake water to rush underneath. This boardwalk was a common place for courting couples to stroll at night.

Along the boardwalk were three buildings. The first building, the Natorium, housed a bathhouse and swimming pool, a rarity for the time. This was a dream of Drake’s to give beachgoers the option of swimming in either the lake or the heated indoor pool. The second was an open-ended roller skating rink which also housed Southwest Michigan’s first pipe organ.

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The third building is allowed Drake and Wallace to capitalize on the growing need for a big dance hall among the twin city area of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor by constructing a dance pavilion in 1907. The hall featured two stages for bands which urged the “Battle of the Bands” to become a popular event on the beachfront. In addition to the dance hall, the House of Mysteries was built alongside the penny arcade and concession stands to provide entertainment for all ages at the Silver Beach Amusement Park.

As the park’s popularity sky-rocketed, Drake and Wallace added a variety of amusements. In 1905 the Chase through the Clouds rollercoaster was built. Utilizing several separate one- or two-person capacity cars, the “Figure 8” coaster, as it was known to be called, became a staple of the amusement park until it was torn down in 1923 and replaced by the Velvet rollercoaster. Additionally, the merry-go-round carousel first appeared in 1916, a bowling alley opened around 1917, and several “firsts” event day activities such as the first all-male bathing beauty contest took place on the beach.

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The last improvement, and my personal favorite, was the building of the Shadowland Ballroom in May of 1927. Once it was completed, it became one of the finest dance facilities in the entire country. The Ballroom was decorated with 5000 yards of silk pongee stretched between arches that permitted natural lighting throughout. Ballroom dances were held seven days a week and were usually free, unless it was a big band night. It wasn’t uncommon to have over a thousand dancers on any one evening, and Silver Beach Amusement Park even staged at least one of the fad marathon dances during the 1930s.

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The old dance pavilion remained, but as ballroom dancing was becoming more popular, the Shadowland Ballroom was needed. The old dance hall was renovated into the Fun House. The House included a 35-foot Maplewood slide, revolving barrel, spinning saucer, sugar bowl, and a haunted house. The Mirror Maze was placed under the same roof as well.

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Drake made every attempt to change the amusement park to keep the attractions interesting and up-to-date. Silver Beach expanded with the debuts of The Whip, electric bumper car house, beer garden, Ferris wheel, and miniature diesel train called The Century Flyer. By the late 1940s the park assumed the look that would be its final face until its official closing three decades later.

During the 1950s and 60s, the park continued to evolve to the times. Kiddieland was created and featured rides customized for children too small to enjoy the larger rides. Miniature golf, go-karts, and various other carnival rides also came and went during these two decades. It was not until the late 1960s that Silver Beach Amusement Park’s popularity began to dwindle. The crime rate of the park rose significantly due to out-of-town teen gangs and the park’s congenial atmosphere decreased. After a particularly violent season in 1970, local police closed the park.

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Another factor fighting against the park was its age. Extensive repairs were needed for many of the buildings that had stood in the park for over 70 years. With a costly estimation for repairs and improvements needed for the park to open in 1972, the owners of Silver Beach were left with no other choice and the park was closed permanently.

Many of the rides were sold to interested amusement companies throughout the country. Parts of Silver Beach made their way to Indiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Virginia. The remainder of the park was left abandoned for three years before the owner cleaned up and threw the historical pieces away. It wasn’t uncommon, however, to see couples still walking the crumbling boardwalk hand-in-hand among the ruins of the once-prestigious amusement park.

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The spirit of Silver Beach is alive and well, though. In 2010, the Silver Beach Center publicly opened. Only a short walk from the expanse of beach sand and Lake Michigan, the Center offers a newly constructed Silver Beach experience. Walk through the doors and look up into Michigan’s tallest kaleidoscope. Take a stroll down memory lane by walking the boardwalk to the Silver Beach Carousel or Silver Beach Amusement Park Museum, or peek a glimpse of the Shadowland Ballroom. Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone offers excitement for kids of all ages with 15 water activities, a climbing wall, virtual reality fun, and traveling hands-on educational exhibits. Directly across the road from the Center is the Whirlpool Fountain which provides fresh, free fun to all the public. The community of St. Joseph is proud to continue a dreamer’s delight with this new vision of what Silver Beach is and will be.

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If you decide to visit my quaint little hometown, I would love to recommend the best and tastiest restaurants and accommodations. Please comment below so we can connect.

Happy travels, friends,

Christmas In Chicago

For Christmas this year, my in-laws took G and I on a weekend trip to the Windy City. Only two hours away from our quiet little country town, Chicago is a quick drive to experience city-life every now and then. It was a quick weekend full of memories and festive attractions. A big thanks to “Ma and Pa G” for this great Christmas present! It allowed G and I to get out of the house, away from work, and spend precious moments with his parents. We are incredibly blessed.

If you are visiting Chicago for a weekend around Christmastime, there are a lot of places to visit and things to do in the city. Though we couldn’t squeeze every attraction into our schedule, here is what we were able to see and do:

My friend Saki works for Hilton and has included me in her family and friends list to be able to enjoy discounts through the company while I travel. Thanks to her generosity, our little troupe stayed two nights at the Hilton Garden Inn at McCormick Place on the 21st floor overlooking the city. Our room’s window faced North, so we were able to glimpse Lake Michigan, Soldier Field, and the Wintrust Arena.

We pulled into the hotel relatively late after enjoying dinner en route. Not wanting to go out into the city at a late hour, we instead visited the VU Rooftop Bar and Lounge which was located on the 22nd floor of our hotel. We ordered drinks over conversation to kick off the weekend. I chose a glass of 2015 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere from Colchagua Valley, Chile. This wine was one hell of a find! It was full bodied with green pepper, blackberry, and smoked oak aromas. It offered a dark fruit jam palate. Typical to Chilean Carmeneres, there was enough acidity to nicely balance out all the rich flavors with a long spicy finish. Yum!

The next morning we hailed an Uber and made our way to breakfast. I had been told to try the Nutella Cafe on Michigan Avenue by a friend. As we entered to the sweet smells of pastries and coffee, we knew we’d made a good choice. I opted for a Nutella crepe topped with strawberries and a Nutella latte. You know, being as basic as possible for a tourist in the city. *hey girl hey*

Following the delicious breakfast, the majority of our morning and early afternoon was spent shopping on the Magnificent Mile. For those unfamiliar with Chicago, the Magnificent Mile is Chicago’s premier commercial district. A bustling area, this district is home to upscale shops and luxe fashion outlets. And around Christmastime hosts window after window of winter wear and Christmas decorations. We ventured into a few notable retail stores such as Under Armour, Nike, The Disney Store, and Dylan’s Candy Bar. Along the way, we marveled at some of the architecture such as the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, the terracotta Wrigley Building skyscraper, and the 100-story John Hancock Center.

We ended our journey on Michigan Avenue at the Water Tower Place. Mainly seeking restrooms, we made our way through Macy’s and the crowds of shoppers to the third floor of the 74-story skyscraper which house a huge shopping mall. As we discussed our next plan of action, we moseyed around the mall and looked at some of the unique gift offerings. There was a succulent stand which I loved, and a chocolate seller with some spectacular wares! The Amazing Chocolate Workshop designs chocolate to look like a variety of different tools and gadgets. From scissors to pliers, and teacups to cameras, all of their offerings are made of chocolate. They truly are amazing! I simply had to buy something from their booth, so I bought one of the corkscrews for a gift exchange I had coming up.

Done with shopping, our group decided it was time to eat. Now, Chicago is famous for its food – not only as a gourmet dining epicenter, but as the home of several local specialties. Some of these culinary staples include Chicago deep-dish pizza, the Chicago-style hot dog, and the Italian Beef. As any good tourists would do, we stuck to a classic and went to Giordano’s for some hearty lunch.

Since we visited Chicago on a weekend close to Christmas, the shops and restaurants close to the Magnificent Mile were packed with people. Giordano’s was no different. We were told there would be a half hour wait for a table of four. As we waited, we were able to order our deep dish pizza (sausage, mushroom, green pepper, and onion) so our wait wouldn’t be much longer to eat once we were seated. Deep dish pizzas typically take 45 minutes to an hour to cook completely. Once seated, we enjoyed an appetizer of Wisconsin cheese curds before our gooey pizza came out. It is no wonder Giordano’s is constantly making headlines, both in Chicago and nationally. The pizza’s crust was fluffy perfection, the fillings were plentiful, and the sauce was rich. We nodded our stuffed faces as to why Giordano’s has been acclaimed “Chicago’s Best Pizza” by NBC, CBS Chicago, New York Times, Chicago Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Eater, Home & Garden Magazine, Concierge Preferred and more!

Upon our departure from the late lunch, we decided to get off the streets and out of the cold. We chose to go to an AMC theater around the corner from the restaurant. Luckily, a movie was beginning within fifteen minutes of our arrival: Ralph Wrecks the Internet. Though not a great recommendation of sight-seeing in Chicago, being able to relax in the hustle-and-bustle of the city was welcomed by us “countryfolk.” And the movie was funny and light-hearted — a great option for our little vacation.

We exited the movie to a dark sky and hundreds of Christmas lights. Calling an Uber, we set our location to our only scheduled event of the weekend: the ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. I have been to the ZooLights plenty of times in the past, but love to go every year. This one-of-a-kind experience offers a free, family-oriented holiday celebration featuring luminous displays and lots of seasonal activities. There are ice carving shows, carousel and ferris wheel rides, and over 2.5 million Christmas lights set up throughout the zoo. You’ll find lighted animal exhibits in the midst of a beautiful light show set to beloved Christmas music. The ZooLights are a must-see in Chicago during the holiday season!

If you do visit the ZooLights, also know you do not have to take a lot of time out of schedule to do so. We walked through the entire space within a half hour’s time. Though we definitely could have spent more time meandering the zoo, the cold temperatures of a Windy City December left us wanting to be indoors. Thus we looked up a dinner option and walked the short distance out of the zoo to Clark Street to find Green Tea Sushi.

There is nothing I enjoy more for a meal than sushi. Unfortunately, Southwest Michigan does not offer a ton of fresh options. When G and I do decide to go on a sushi date, it’s always a fancier date night than typical as it means we’re having to go out of town or to a formal restaurant.

Therefore, we were looking forward to sushi in Chicago. Green Tea Sushi, by appearance, did not seem to be an ideal place to get a high-quality sushi like we wanted though. It is a small, skinny restaurant thrown into a corner of Chicago’s Lincoln Park. The restaurant only had six seats at its sushi bar and six tables for seating. When our group of four entered, we took up an entire fourth of the guests’ space. However, it was a fun experience and made for an intimate dinner. G and I ordered three rolls to split: a Philly roll, a spicy tuna roll, and the Dragon.

Wow.

Talk about an experience. The sushi was by far the best I’ve ever eaten. Fresh. Flavorful. Gorgeous to look at…

It goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover. This little gem will forever be a staple for our future Chicago travels. We chose two “safe options” with our typical Philly and spicy tuna rolls, but the Dragon was outside our comfort-zones. The roll featured shrimp tempura, crab, and cucumber wrapped with fresh water eel and avocado. It. Was. Delectable. I am still having dreams about this sushi roll and cannot wait to return and discover new rolls.

All of those attractions and food adventures took place on Saturday. On Sunday we returned home. But not without stopping by the Lighthouse Place Outlet Mall in Michigan City, Indiana on the way home. It was interesting to see some of the same products at the stores in Chicago (namely at Levi and Nike) at half the prices at the outlet mall. G and I were happy we opted not to purchase anything in the city, and instead bought a few Christmas gifts at the mall for a fraction of the cost.

All in all, we loved our short trip to the Windy City with my in-laws but are happy to be home in our little corner of the world. The city is fun to visit. But for this girl, I love my small-town life.

Until next time,

 

 

 

Do you know of any attractions and/or restaurants that are go-to’s in Chicago during the holiday season? I would love to hear from you and add to my list for future trips. Please leave a recommendation below in the comment section. 🙂

5 Wine Touring Tips For Beginners

Yesterday I was invited into a collaboration with a fellow wine friend I met on Instagram, and I am SO EXCITED! I miss the wine industry, and any excuse I have to participate with it, I take. I’ll share more information in a week or two once the planning comes to a close, but until then you can be sure I will be educating myself even further on Southwest Michigan’s local wine scene.

One key component I will share about this collaboration is that it will involve wine tastings and tours. The question of how many and which wineries will be on the tour is still up in the air. However, as I continue to prepare for this new event, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to share some of my wine knowledge with you. As someone who worked in the Michigan wine industry for over four years, I gained a few gems of information on the topic. Welcome to one of my passions: wine!

Southwest Michigan has become a focal point for any wine connoisseur. It is nearly impossible for visitors in the area not to pass a sign mentioning a local winery and allowing passers-by to, quite literally, taste the countryside. With the lake effect off Lake Michigan, Southwest Michigan has earned the privilege of having its own signature varietals, expressing the particularities of the local soil and climate. With a specific vocabulary and wide range of flavors to master, wine can be an intimidating subject. Do not let this daunt you though! If you’ve never been on a tasting tour, here are some basic tips to keep in mind as you sip your way along the lake shore.

Give yourself ample time. Wine is one of the ultimate slow foods. If you are having fun, a tasting can last over an hour, so set aside plenty of time between visits. You will be glad you’re not in a hurry, and so will the person conducting the tasting.

This is also a very important tip if you are looking to wine taste during “peak season.” Peak season in Southwest Michigan is typically May through October, and weekends are definitely busy during these months. Most tasting rooms have room for twenty or less guests at one time, so you may need extra to schedule waiting time. Thankfully the next step can sometimes decrease this need…

Call ahead. Whether they are out in the vineyards or down in the cellars, winemakers are usually eager to welcome visitors, but they’re not necessarily in close proximity to a doorbell. So unless you are aware of schedule tasting and tour hours (which some do have), let them know you would like to visit in advance.

Calling ahead may also reserve a spot for you and your party. There are several wineries in Southwest Michigan (Lemon Creek, 12 Corners, Tabor Hill, to name a few) who have ample room for groups of 20+ at a time, but parties larger than 6 guests are usually asked to make a reservation to help decrease wait time. Calling in a reservation allows wineries to reserve bar space as well as staff appropriately. It is a win-win for both sides! Plus, it is simply good manners.

Do not be afraid not to know. Wine criticism may be all about identifying the faults and strengths of a wine, but wine tasting is about finding what you enjoy. You are eminently qualified to do that no matter how much or how little you know. Most wineries have educated servers who are more than happy to explain and answer your questions. If you feel your questions are going unanswered, ask if a winemaker or owner may be available to chat. You won’t learn more without asking!

Ask where to eat. Take advantage of your server and their wine experience in Southwest Michigan! The best way to enjoy wine is with delicious food, and what better resource of good restaurants in the area than the locals? The wineries in Southwest Michigan are very invested in and connected to area restaurants, and vice verse. Ask for recommendations.

Michigan passed a law a few years ago where you can bring a bottle of wine into any restaurant for your own enjoyment. There may be a corkage fee instilled by the restaurant, but many owners take pride in the Michigan wine industry and will comply with inexpensive fees. Find a wine you love at a tasting? Have the full wine-tasting experience and skip the wine imports on the restaurant’s drink menu. Instead buy a bottle at a winery you are visiting, take the bottle to dinner with you, and enjoy all the savory tastes of Southwest Michigan!

And with that.. Buy a bottle. No winery is going to have the exact same wine as another, even if the same grapes are being used in the recipe. So if you find a wine you love at one, go ahead and buy a bottle. Not only are you taking a one-of-a-kind souvenir back home with you, you’re also thanking the winery for pouring their hearts and souls into their product.

If you happen to be traveling in Southwest Michigan, feel free to DM me on Instagram @uncorkingpeonies or send me an email for winery and/or restaurant recommendations. I am a foodie and a local, so I can generally direct you to some of our best options per your taste buds.

If you’re not in Southwest Michigan, these tips hold true in every wine touring adventure. I would love to hear about your experiences across the country and globe when it comes to wine. Please share in the comments section below.

Drink happy, friends,

Our Honeymoon in Tennessee

This post is back-dated, I wrote this in December 2018 when I realized I had never finished my first draft. Whoops!

G and I spent our honeymoon in the beautiful State of Tennessee. Leaving early Monday morning (June 18, 2018), we drove the twelve hours South to a quaint cabin high in the Smoky Mountains overlooking Gatlinburg. We took advantage of the fresh air and active town for four days before moving onto Music City — Nashville. During our vacation we ate some amazing food, saw even-more-amazing sights, and spent countless hours reveling that the wedding was over and we were finally husband and wife.

We absolutely loved our entire trip, and will cherish the memories for the rest of our lives. The following is a little glimpse into our vacation as well as recommendations for anyone traveling to this area of the United States.

Gatlinburg, TN

Accommodations: Stay in a mountain cabin.

I will not directly say which cabin we stayed in — because we’re going to keep this precious gem a secret so it isn’t packed with reservations when we want to return. Yep. Selfish reason. 🙂 However, I will say we chose a cabin that was about a mile and a half of winding roads up in the mountains overlooking the town of Gatlinburg. Our “driveway” way a single parking space on such a steep incline that I worried even the emergency brake wouldn’t prevent my car from rolling to its doom.

The cabin was bear-themed, and was an open concept with cozy kitchen, sitting area, corner heart-shaped Jacuzzi and king-sized bed. The bed faced large windows and a back door which let out onto a deck. The deck was built on stilts and the tree tops were cut back to allow a view of the Smokies. A hot tub and diner table rested on the deck, and may have been our favorite spot the entire trip. Every evening ended with a glass of wine while relaxing in the hot tub, and each morning began with breakfast and coffee at the table looking out into God’s beautiful nature.

I’m sure hotels in Gatlinburg are nice and all, but if you’re going to spend a week in Tennessee, I highly recommend staying in a cabin. We actually found our cabin to be cheaper than hotel rates in the area. This was partly due to the lack of daily cleaning services and continental breakfasts, but we didn’t much mind. G and I made the bed each morning and were able to make a few meals at the cabin, including a steak dinner. It was perfectly US.

Restaurant Recommendations

We pulled into Gatlinburg relatively late on Monday. After the typical travel stops, we were set to arrive at our cabin on-time, but then we hit the main stretch of Sevierville which led into Gatlinburg. It took nearly an hour and a half to travel through the shopping district of Sevierville which is only about 18 miles. The traffic was horrendous. Stop, go. Stop, go. By the time we navigated the winding highway to Gatlinburg and the mountain roads to our cabin, it was nearly 7’o’clock and we were hungry. Choosing not to go into the actual town of Gatlinburg (we were over the crowds by this point), we instead headed to the outskirts and wandered.

This is a nice way of saying we got lost.

We took a nice little drive around a local high school. We turned around at a closed drive-in diner. Twice. And we noted a little grocery store where we planned to purchase some bottles of wine and whiskey after dinner — we needed a drink or two. After discovering there was no Taco Bell nearby (and a grumbling husband’s retort at this news), it was growing dark. Then we both noticed a glittering tree down the road. As we approached, we saw numerous LED icicles hanging from the tree’s branches, and an OPEN sign flashed beneath it on a bridge. Behind the bridge sat a restaurant with a waterfall flowing over the roof — it was simply spectacular.

Crystelle Creek was our favorite restaurant the entire trip. Sitting behind the bridge along a creek, the dining area was rustic and cozy. Though we arrived only an hour before they closed, our waiter was welcoming and sat us near a live soloist. He provided us recommendations on wine and food, and we ordered: G had a Cajun shrimp Alfredo and I chose a chopped steak. Splitting a bottle of Malbec, we sat back and took a deep breath. We had made it. The soloist was personable, telling us he had visited our hometown several times as he once lived in Michigan. His easy music was beautifully paired with our meals. We were blown away! So much that we debated revisiting Crystelle Creek during our stay.

If it hadn’t been for our desire to try a few other selections in town, we would have gone back for another dinner. However, we enjoyed our other options as well. One night we visited The Peddler Steakhouse and indulged. A peddler comes to each table with a selection of meat cuts and you choose your steak. It was an engaging experience and the food was superb. We also went to a Mexican cuisine restaurant, No Way Jose’s Cantina, and split a burrito beside some margaritas. It was your typical Tex-Mex sort of atmosphere, but we still enjoyed ourselves and the Jose’s we ate at was an ideal locale in Downtown Gatlinburg. So after-dinner activities in town were easy to navigate.

Attractions We Loved

Our first full day in Gatlinburg was a scorcher, but the high temps didn’t deter us from walking the crowded streets downtown and partaking in the local wine and whiskey scene. G fancies whiskey and I, obviously, love me some wine, so tasting the town was a no-brainer for us. After the first distillery (Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery) I decided to tap-out and only do wine tastings, but G and I had a blast. Each distillery offers a $5 tasting of over 10 different whiskies or moonshines, and the wineries offered free tastings. We managed to bounce through four additional stops: Sugarland CellarsOle Smoky Whiskey DistilleryTennessee Homemade Wines, and Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery. I found a few fruit wines as perfect souvenirs for our mothers, and G bought a pint of 128 proof Blue Flame Moonshine. In his words, it’s clear, clean and exactly what moonshine should be.

Getting out of town and away from the crowds was a big reason we loved Gatlinburg as well — you had the option to be a tourist or be alone. On two separate days we ventured into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. First, we chose to hike the Grotto Falls trail. This was a 3-mile trail running through the forested mountains and took us behind a 25-foot waterfall. It was a beautiful trail, and we ended up hiking a bit past the falls until we found a llama “dumping zone.” (I mean that very literally.) Nonetheless, this hiking experience was the best way to get into the Smoky Mountains and see the pristine back-country of Tennessee. I has hoped to catch a glimpse of a black bear — from afar — but unfortunately the heat and daylight seemed to play against us.

Our second outing to the Smokies was to take a driving tour to Cades Cove. It took about an hour of winding roadway to get to this 11-mile, one-way loop that circles the cove. However, once inside the loop, we were able to sight-see at our leisure. Traffic was heavy, so our speeds never went over 20 miles per hour, but this enabled us to enjoy the forests, wildflower-covered meadows, and even a close encounter with a bear! The silly little thing wandered across the road only three cars before us, and then lost its balance on a log and somersaulted out of view. It was a cute interaction while watching nature. One of my favorite parts of this drive was seeing the awe-inspiring mountain views. Michigan is a beautiful state and offers some elevation in terms of dunes and hills, but the Smoky Mountains are simply amazing. If you take the trip to Tennessee, be sure to visit the Smokies — you are guaranteed to find an adventure.

Gatlinburg has a ton of tourist attractions aside from the nature surrounding it. G and I debated purchasing tickets to the Gatlinburg Sky Lift or the Gatlinburg Ziplines, but chose to visit the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies instead. A favorite from G’s childhood, the aquarium boasts a penguin playground (who doesn’t love penguins?!) as well as a shark tank tunnel. There is a moving conveyor-belt where guests can stand and be transported through the tunnel as a variety of sharks swim beside and above them. It was a fun experience! Plus, we opted to go to the aquarium after dinner one night, so it was not nearly as crowded as if we had gone during the day.

We did not spend all our time in town or hiking though. There was numerous hours spent at the cabin playing games and drinking wine on the back porch. We brought a new game we received as a wedding gift, Hogwarts Battle, and had it set up on our dining table inside throughout the whole week. We also brought cards which we played on the porch as we sipped our drinks.

This secluded time together was the best part of the entire trip.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. We packed our belongings and said goodbye to the cabin on Friday. As we exited Sevierville, Gatlinburg’s sister city, we stopped by the Smoky Mountain Knife Works and picked up a few things. Most notably was a hatchet for our future camping adventures. Then we left that little area of Tennessee behind us as we traveled to our next stop…

Nashville, TN

We stayed at a cute little AirBnB in Nashville. After we dropped our bags off at the cottage, we headed to Opry Mills where we hoped to find somewhere to eat. This giant mall rests beside the Grand Ole Opry which we had tickets to attend that evening. So we ate dinner inside the mall, wandered a bit, and then headed over to the Opry with our tickets in-hand.

Come to find out, we had the wrong night! Our tickets were for the next evening. After shrugging our shoulders, we decided to instead head to the famous Honky Tonk Highway in Downtown Nashville. For those who don’t know, a honky tonk is an establishment that contains at least one stage, cold beverages, and a never-ending party. Nashville’s Honky Tonk Highway offers live music from 10am to 3am every. single. day. And the music is free! Either go into the one of many bars and enjoy a single band, or stand on the streets and listen to the musicians’ chords crashing into one another from the open windows. It is truly a thing to behold!

G and I meandered through a few of the bars: Rippy’s Smokin’ Bar and Grill, Bootleggers Inn, and Tin Roof Broadway. We were blown away by the talent of all the bands we watched throughout the night, and had a blast sipping cheap beers while swaying to the music. As the night progressed, the crowds around us become rowdier and rowdier though, and we realized our age. (Yikes…) So we called an Uber and called it a night.

Our second day in Nashville was much more laid back. We visited The Parthenon in Centennial Park, and stopped by Fork’s Drum Closet to the pure joy of my husband. Then, finally, that evening we attended the Grand Ole Opry.

Now, nothing quite says “Nashville” like a night at the Grand Ole Opry. What began as a simple radio broadcast in 1925 is today an entertainment phenomenon showcasing a mix of country music greats– new stars, superstars, and legends. The tickets are ridiculously inexpensive and guests are promised at least 10 musicians and/or bands each performance. G and I were lucky enough to see John Conlee, Mark Wills, Mike Snider, Jeannie Seely, Tenille Townes, The Steel Woods, Bill Anderson, Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press, Chonda Pierce, Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, and Collin Raye. I’m a huge country music fan, and though I didn’t know the majority of these artists, the energy and history of the Opry can be felt deep into your bones.

G and I both expressed a wish to have stayed in Gatlinburg a few days longer, but attending the Opry made our trip to Nashville worth it.

All in all, our honeymoon was the thing dreams are made of. I could not have imagined a better vacation with my favorite person, nor would I change a single aspect of the trip. We were able to explore a new area, experience new adventures, and spend quality time alone. And the best part, every memory was made together.

This is something I will treasure in my memories forever.

Until our next adventure,