Connection. Throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region — anchored by Saginaw, Bay City and Midland — people are connecting with one another. Old business fronts are being repurposed into new and exciting ventures. Events are bringing people from other countries to share in their passion and heritage. People are present in day to day places, sharing life over cups of coffee and pints of beer.
After a listening to a world on TV that is fractured and separated, it was such a pleasure to go to on a MittenTrip to the area just below the Saginaw Bay with my husband. It was a great chance for us to reconnect with each other and that state we’ve grown up loving.
Our Mitten Trip adventure began with a short 45-minute drive from our home in Flint to the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum in Saginaw. Fredericks was a sculptor who had studied around the world, yet he taught at Cranbrook Academy of Art and made Michigan his home until his death in 1998. Some of his most famous pieces are The Spirit of Detroit, The Friendly Frog (Flint) and Christ on the Cross (Indian River).
Located on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University, the Fredericks Sculpture Museum houses the casts of many of the artist’s works. The displays of his awe-inspiring artwork extend outside with bronze sculptures and fountains around the building.
From there we drove a short 15 minutes to the DoubleTree Hotel in Bay City, where we would be staying that night. The hotel is located right along the eastern side of Saginaw River, near the Delta Planetarium and Wenonah Park. On the first Friday of every month, planetarium visitors can get hands-on training on how to use a telescope and search for galaxies in the night sky. We were there on the fourth Friday though, so we set our sights on things more earth-bound.
We continued our journey down Water Street, stopping to browse the aromatic roasted almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts and more at St. Laurent Brothers. Probably one of the oldest businesses in Bay City, they have been serving citizens and visitors since 1904. We ordered a quarter pound of mixed roasted nuts and strolled down the street arm in arm.
Downtown Bay City can be experienced many ways — by car, by foot, by bike — and now by trolley. We met up with Ashley Anderson at her business, Sunrise Pedal Trolley. Her trolley was already booked for the night, so we didn’t get a chance to ride, but the riders that night were gracious to let us take a picture of their group. They were going on one of the popular bar tours, stopping at local pubs and breweries. (If alcohol isn’t your thing, they have art-themed and family friendly tours as well.) When you and your crew rent the trolley, be prepared for two hours of uninterrupted fun!
As their tour pedaled off, we decided it was time to search out something for dinner. We drove down Saginaw Street and found ample free parking downtown. (A huge plus for a big city!) Before finding a restaurant, we stopped into Artigiano, an artisan cheese shop that also sells gelato. Life is short, so we decided to eat dessert first and indulge in some of their Lemon Meringue Gelato. The proprietors, Kevin and Danielle, even suggested a restaurant or two for dinner, based on my gluten-free dietary needs. They both reinforced something that my husband and I were finding to be true everywhere we went in Bay City: people here are SUPER nice!
We decided on Harvey’s Grill and Bar, north of the river from downtown Bay City. Right away the staff addressed my dietary concerns and directed us to a table. Immediately the head chef came out, went over the gluten-free menu with me, and discussed some of his best dishes. His wife has Celiac Disease as I do and understood exactly what my needs were. When our meals were ready, the chef brought them to the table personally! My husband ordered a Turkey Apple Brie Burger, which he paired with a Short’s Soft Parade. My husband said the two were a perfect compliment! The attention to detail at Harvey’s really made this excellent restaurant stand out.
After dinner, we took a 20-minute trip into Midland to visit Larkin Beer Garden. Located on Larkin Street, this seasonal “pub” is made out of a shipping container. It’s set up in a local parking lot, and food trucks will show up during business hours to serve patrons. This business is an initiative of Momentum Midland, and their hours are based on when it benefits the community as a whole. It’s neat to see similar businesses working in partnership instead of just competition.
I loved the totally relaxed atmosphere at Larkin. There are picnic tables set up so people can sit and visit, or you can do as we did and challenge the locals to a game of cornhole. Dogs are welcome too! The highlight of my trip there was bumping into Sam, a man who had been my boss when I was in college. He had always inspired and encouraged me to be my best. It was great to be able to thank him in person for his influence in my life.
When our throwing arms got tired, we drove back to Bay City a little after 10 pm. It turns out Downtown Bay City in the dark is a happening place to be! We strolled down the waterfront again, near Wenonah Park. People were out in droves, walking their dogs, snapping pictures with friends, and playing Pokemon Go.
We meandered over to the 3rd Street Star Bridge, between Water Street and Saginaw Street, where lights are strewn from building to building, illuminating the street and the heavens above. It’s a throwback to when the east and west banks of the Saginaw River were connected by a swing bridge, which collapsed in 1976. Today, the strewn lights connect residents with each other as an open meeting place.
Apparently, when we finally retired to bed on Friday night, I told my husband I wanted to rise early and get pictures of the Bay City sunrise. I don’t remember saying this. So while I slowly roused from my slumber, he strolled down to the waterfront and captured some amazing shots. A lone boat sat along the river, a reminder of the Tall Ship Celebration that happened the previous week. It was amazing to think that, one week before, boats from Norway, Spain and elsewhere around the globe docked here to unfurl their sails in all of their glory. It’s a great way to connect the young people of today to great ships of the past, as well as other cultures.
When my budding photographer returned, we drove to the new Uptown development for breakfast at Uptown Grill. I ordered pancakes that were literally the size of my head. Not just one, but three. Suffice to say, I needed a to-go box.
One of the many things that amazed me about Bay City was the range of unique coffee shops. Next to Uptown Grill is The Fix, a coffee shop whose mission is to use ethical and local products. They weren’t quite yet open when we were done with breakfast, so we drove over to Brewtopia, where my husband got a cup of coffee and we struck up a conversation with a local gentleman.
Next we stopped into Harless & Hugh on Washington Avenue, a trendy coffee shop, complete with sleeping dog in the corner. Harless & Hugh serves more than coffee. They have a beer selection, a few baked goods, and a Sunday brunch menu that includes some amazing looking waffles. With beverages in hand, we crossed the street, made a quick pit stop at The Sweet Boutique for some delectable chocolates, then continued on our adventure to Midland.
After checking into the Springhill Suites behind the Midland Mall, we hustled to the Midland Farmer’s Market to get there before they closed. We snagged some koshery from an Egyptian food stand for a quick lunch and took a stroll to the center of Midland’s famous Tridge.
The Tridge connects pedestrians at the meeting of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers. This three-way footbridge is home to the Labor Day walk and various activities, and it is the focal point for downtown Midland. The Tridge is also the trailhead for the 30-mile Pere-Marquette Rail Trail, which runs through Midland and all the way to Clare. The western leg extends to Chippewassee Park, where you’ll find the town’s only dog park. Here Fido can roam free, or you can put him through the paces in an agility course. If you’re more interested in doing some tricks yourself, the Trilogy Skate Park offers 15,000 square feet of shredding fun.
Michigan was experiencing hotter than normal temperatures, so we opted for indoor entertainment and made our way over to the Midland Center for the Arts. This place definitely has more than meets the eye. There are two auditoriums, two museums, lectures halls and more. We spent much of our time inside the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art.
This museum has attractions for every age! The three main levels have hands-on learning about science, architecture, music and more. The fourth level has a rotating exhibit, which until Labor Day is the private collection of Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss. From “Horton Hears a Who” to “The Cat in the Hat,” this exhibit is one that you want to be at! (See what I did there?)
The hot sun and hours of play can make you thirsty, so we found our way back downtown to WhichCraft Taproom. They believe in supporting local businesses, so every single one of their taps is something Michigan-made. I ordered my first ever Starcut Cider, while my husband ordered a flight of a variety of Michigan beers. While we chatted, a young woman sitting behind us approached me. It turns out we went to college together, stayed in the same residence hall, and had mutual friends. This trip was reinforcing the fact that people from Michigan are so kind and friendly!
Now that our thirst was quenched, it was time to get dinner. While there are many unique Midland favorites, like Cafe Zinc and Pizza Sam’s, I really had a hankering for Asian food. Basil Thai Bistro states that they are Midland’s “only authentic Thai restaurant,” so this was the obvious choice. The family-owned business impressed me with their attention to detail and delicious food. The owner opened this restaurant with the dream of feeding people as if they had come to his own home for a meal. Trust me, this place makes his and my dreams come true! Make sure to order their Drunken Noodles; I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. They’ll soon be moving downtown to accommodate a need for more dining space, and they’ll have an awesome view of Dow Diamond.
What’s Dow Diamond? It’s the home of the Great Lakes Loons, Single A partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the next stop on our Mitten Trip. The park is family-friendly, with inexpensive lawn seats (under $10), a supervised children’s playground, and constant entertainment. Of course, just like the Lansing Lugnuts games I grew up with, there are great fireworks at the end.
In the stands, we met a group of teenagers from South Africa who were in town for the Under-19 World Series Tournament, and then we met another team from New Zealand when we were back at our hotel. They were all so impressed with everything that Midland has to offer. One person asked if all Michigan cities were just as wonderful, which allowed us the chance to tell them all about our Awesome Mitten!
After two days of walking and playing, my husband and I allowed ourselves to sleep in and take advantage of the breakfast at our hotel. It was raining that morning, so outdoor attractions like the beautiful 117-year old Dow Gardens were out of the question. (Definitely check this place out in the spring when they have their amazing butterfly exhibit!)
We chose to drive to Journey’s Coffee House. Before you think that Google Maps is steering you wrong, this java hut is located inside Messiah Lutheran Church. They have a full coffee and tea menu, biscotti and milkshakes! As we were there on a Sunday morning, there were many people chatting together. We learned of other unique ways they are serving and connecting with their community, including low-cost car repair, lawn service, and soon a grocery service.
Next, we drove to Midland Brewing Company, located on Saginaw Road. They’re undergoing renovations after being closed for a short time, and I was invited to get a behind-the-scenes peek before they reopen. We were given a tour of the brew room, with silver brew vats shining in their splendor. All of these are visible through windows when you walk in the main doors. Even though the pub isn’t open, you can find their brews such as their Copper Harbor Ale and Isle Royale Cream Ale in cans and on tap around the state. The property sits along the Pere-Marquette Rail Trail, and bike racks will be available for parking. They have a large back yard and are eager to have concerts and events for the whole community.
Dave Kepler, who gave us the tour, also owns the Cottage Creamery next door. Since there isn’t beer on tap there, we instead opted for a dish of ice cream and a chance to check out their ’50s theme. Make sure to check out their quaint backyard patio. There’s even a water dish out back for your pooch!
Before heading home, we made one last stop at the Founder’s Garden. This place of quiet refuge honors Herbert Henry Dow, the founder of the Dow Chemical Company. The park has fixtures that incorporate the five chemicals the company was built on, as well as five quotes that embody the passion and character of Dow himself. The park sits on the very property where Dow built his first factory. Now there resides a statue of Dow, along with his trusty notebook, ready to jot down his next innovation. In many ways, this city and surrounding communities wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for him. His philanthropy and understanding the need of being part of the community shows in every aspect in this area.
We had such a great time exploring the Great Lakes Bay Region, that I really didn’t want to go home. We had such great conversations with locals that it felt like we made connections we weren’t ready to leave. Two days really isn’t long enough to explore all that Bay City and Midland have to offer. Luckily for us, these great locations are within an hour of our house, so we can reconnect with these people and places any time.
What are your favorite places to visit in Bay City and Midland? Let us know in the comments!
Experienced and written by Margaret Clegg for the Awesome Mitten.