How to Plan a Last Minute #PureMichigan Vacation!

Summer is coming to an end and school will be starting soon (43 days, to be exact), but you still have time for a last minute vacation. But where should you go? You want it to be low key, but fun for the whole family. That’s why Northern Michigan is the perfect place for you and your family! I’ve already told you about some of my favorite places, like Sleeping Bear Dunes, but there is so much to see in Northern Michigan. Lucky for you, I’ve outlined some pretty fabulous places for you to visit. You’re welcome!

pure michigan vacation

**I had the privilege of visiting Northern Michigan as part of a press trip. My food, accommodations and activities were provided, but all opinions are 100% my own**

Northern Michigan Vacation Itinerary

Day One

  • The Music House Museum Tour…two men purchased an old 1909 barn and had a huge vision for what it could become. They renovated and restored the barn from 1979-1982 and in 1983, The Music House Museum was born! I will admit, I am not all that into music, but I found this place to be extremely interesting! I know my kids would love it there.


  • Friske Orchards Cafe…after spending a couple hours at the Music House Museum, start heading towards Charlevoix, Mi and visit Friske Orchards Cafe. Friske Orchards is open year round and have many different events going on all the time! We had the pleasure of having a tour, tasting some wonderful treats and we ate lunch there. I had a cherry BBQ pulled pork sandwich that was to die for!


  • Earl Young House walking tour…after eating all the delicious foods at Friske Orchards Cafe, you will want to walk it off. Trust me…you will! A short 20 minute car ride and you will be in downtown Charlevoix where you will see a bunch of unusual, unique and quirky houses designed by Northern Michigan builder, Earl Young. These houses look like something you would see in fairy tales. They are very neat! I especially loved all the stonework!


  • Check into your hotel. There are a bunch of hotels in the area, I had the pleasure of staying at the Charlevoix Inn and Suites.
  • It’s dinnertime! I highly recommend Terry’s of Charlevoix. This is probably one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at. My steak literally melted in my mouth!


Day Two

  • Grab a quick breakfast at Simonsen’s Bakery and Cafe. Be sure to try one of their muffins! So delicious!
  • Depending on what you feel like doing, you can either trail hike at Mount McSauba or visit Castle Farms <–my favorite place!
  • Hemingway Tour…you can’t visit Northern Michigan without doing a mini Hemingway tour! A lot of Ernest Hemingway’s work references his summers in Northern Michigan. It was extremely interesting to listen to the history of Hemingway in Northern Michigan and actually standing in front of different places that Ernest Hemingway visited!
  • City Park Grill…formally known as The Annex, Ernest Hemingway would visit this restaurant and sit in the same seat each time, the second seat from the end of the bar. This is where he would write down his ideas for his stories.
  • Check in at Stafford’s Perry Hotel…this is probably one of my favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed in! The beds are insanely comfortable and the rooms are super cute and roomy!
  • Twisted Olive Quattro…lovely place to have dinner! The food is absolutely delicious, but the view literally takes your breath away! I had a chicken dish, but honestly…everything on their menu looked really good! Definitely save room for dessert. You will regret it if you didn’t!


Day Three

  • Julienne Tomatoes…out of all the different places I tried in Northern Michigan for breakfast, this was my favorite! It is a quaint little place with a homey feel. What I really like is that they participate in the Michigan Land Use Institute’s “Taste the Local Difference” campaign and they support over 20 Michigan companies and 15 local farms! That’s #PureMichigan, alright!
  • Pack a cooler and spend the day at Petoskey State Park and comb the beach looking for Petoskey stones…I bet you’ll find one!
  • Head on over to Boyne City and visit Boyne Water Sports where you can rent jet skies, pontoon boats, ski boats or fishing boats, go parasailing and participate in paddle sports like kayaking or paddle boards!
  • After you work up an appetite paddle boarding, be sure to visit Cafe Sante, located in front of Boyne Water Sports!

As you can see, there are so many things to do in Northern Michigan! If you’ve been to Traverse City, Charlevoix or Petoskey before, what are your favorite places?


My Daughter is Getting Married in a Castle!

Every little girl dreams about her wedding one day. They dream about what they are going to wear; what they will dance to; and thanks to Disney, that dream includes Prince Charming that will kiss you to wake you up, a white horse and a castle. While I had a very nice wedding and I feel I married my Prince Charming, I didn’t get married in a castle. Quite honestly, I thought I’d have to go to England or Scotland to see a castle! But we don’t! We have our very own castle in Charlevoix, Michigan!

**I had the pleasure of visiting Northern Michigan as part of a press trip. My food and rooming accommodations were provided, but all stories and opinions are 100% my own**

Now I’ve told you a little about my trip to Northern Michigan and how much I enjoyed each and every place we went to, but my absolute favorite place was Castle Farms in Charlevoix.

Original Entrance of Loeb Farms (1918)

Image Provided by Castle Farms

 History of Castle Farms

Castle Farms was originally known as “Loeb Farms”. This is because it was built in 1918 by Albert Loeb (acting President of Sears, Roebuck, and Company). In the beginning, the castle acted as a working dairy farm and it was where all the new farming equipment that Sears and Roebuck offered in their catalog. Sadly, in 1924, Albert Loeb passed away and his son, Ernest took over running Loeb Farms. However, due to an agricultural recession, Ernest had to make the hard decision to close Loeb Farms in 1927. All equipment and livestock were sold at public auctions and the farm buildings were used as storage for the next 30 years.

100 acres of Loeb Farms was purchased in 1962 by John VanHaver. Buildings were cleaned up and repaired and the farm was renamed as Castle VanHaver. In 1966, the castle was opened up to the public and tours were given. They also had an art gallery and an artist studio on the property, as well!

John VanHaver decided to sell the property in 1969 to Arthur and Erwina Reibel. They originally thought the property would be used as a center for the arts, but it eventually evolved into a music theater and summer concert area. They also changed the name from Castle VanHaver to Castle Farms. Castle Farms quickly became “Rock n’ Roll Central and hosted many rock concerts. The concerts went until about 1993 and in 1999, Art Reibel passed away and, once again, the castle is up for sale.

It wasn’t long before the castle was purchased by Linda Mueller. In 2001, Linda Mueller began extensive restoration efforts on the buildings and grounds. In 2002, the first wedding was held at Castle Farms and it wasn’t long before Castle Farms was hosting weddings, receptions, festivals, corporate and social events year round!

Castle Farms at Night 2013

Image Provided by Castle Farms

I mean, really…isn’t it just the most gorgeous thing ever? Can you see why I feel gypped and want to get married all over again (to the same guy, obviously)?!? I could go on and on about how much I loved Castle Farms and all of the things I saw there, but honestly, it is something you need to see and this video from their website shows it best!!

Weddings and Other Events

I had the following conversation with my daughter the other day…

“Hey Bella, how would you like to get married in a castle?”

As she’s laughing, “how would I do that?”

Showing her a picture of Castle Farms, “Remember when I went up north a couple weeks ago? I went here and you can get married here.”

“Can I have a white horse, knights, a cannon, and glass shoes?”

I’m thinking Bella is liking the idea of getting married one day in a castle!! Oh and for the record, I told her yes to all of those things…I’m hoping that in the next 20 years or so, she forgets about the cannon! Here are some photos of how fabulous Castle Farms looks when set up for a wedding reception:

Photo Credit: E.C. Campbell Photography

Photo Credit: E.C. Campbell Photography

Photo Credit: Darrell Christie Photography

Photo Credit: Darrell Christie Photography

So beautiful! If you’re looking for that truly unique and beautiful location for your wedding, please consider Castle Farms, I really don’t think you will regret it! It’s that beautiful!


Besides weddings and other social events, Castle Farms also offers guided and self-guided tours. Bring your kids! They will not only love the castle, but there is also the Castle Garden Railroad and Giant Chess Sets (my son would LOVE the giant chess set). If you are coming for a group tour, Castle Farms also offers Croquet or Bocce Ball for just $1 per person!

A variety of educational services are available, as well:

  • Castle Math
  • Michigan History
  • History of Farming
  • History of Castles

The Castle, like I said, is beautiful. The history of the castle, everything on display that you can look at (vintage cake toppers, figurines, etc), and the gift shop…I loved the gift shop…really makes this a place you need to visit. Northern Michigan has so much to offer, so be sure to make a trip of it and see the Sleeping Bear Dunes, visit Traverse City, and look for Petoskey Stones at Petoskey State Park!

Crater of Diamonds State Park – Murfreesboro, Arkansas

About five years ago, I saw a story on the Today Show about a family that found a large diamond at Crater of Diamonds State Park. Ever since I saw that, I knew I wanted to take the kids. Both of my kids LOVE to dig in the dirt and I knew that if I told them they could search for diamonds, they would totally want to do it. So I began researching Crater of Diamonds State Park.

crater of diamonds state park

Crater of Diamonds State Park is in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. If we had an RV, we could have stayed at an RV/campground right down the road from the park, but we (well mainly me) chose to stay in a hotel. We have family that work in the hotel industry so I had to look for a Hyatt or a Marriott hotel. I found a Fairfield Inn that was about an hour from the park in Texarkana, Texas. The hotel staff blew me away. They were the friendliest, most accommodating hotel I have ever stayed at. I would definitely stay their again!

About Crater of Diamonds State Park

From their website:

The history of diamonds in Arkansas began when the first diamonds were found in Pike County, Arkansas in August 1906 by John Wesley Huddleston. These stones were sent to Charles S. Stifft, a Little Rock jeweler who confirmed them to be genuine diamonds. Stifft described them as blue-white diamonds, one weighing 2-5/8 carats and the other 1-3/8 carats. To verify his opinion, Stifft sent them to New York and states that “…after subjecting them to every test they were pronounced diamonds of fine grade.”

Early in 1906, Huddleston, a farmer, purchased the 160-acre McBrayer farm to make a home for his family, a decision that would etch him into history. Huddleston recounted the first diamonds found in Arkansas to Tom Shiras of the Arkansas Gazette: “I was crawling on my hands and knees …when my eyes fell on another glittering pebble…I knew it was different from any I had ever seen before. It had a fiery eye that blazed up at me every way I turned it. I hurried to the house with the pebble, saddled my mule and started for Murfreesboro…riding through the lane, my eye caught another glitter, and I dismounted and picked it up out of the dust.”

Huddleston sold his diamond-bearing land for $36,000. According to a book by Howard Millar, it was Finders Keepers at America’s Only Diamond Mine, 1976, Huddleston became “… nationally famous, and had acquired the nickname ‘Diamond John’.” Although he was also known as the “Diamond King,” he later met with some misfortunes and died a pauper, but was said to have had no regrets. He is buried in Japany Cemetery, about three miles east of the diamond mine.

I find this to be extremely interesting! Can you imagine walking into your backyard and finding diamonds? Crazy!

How it Works

When you go to the park, you pay a small fee to go out and dig for diamonds. Kids are only $5 and adults are $8. For hours and hours of entertainment, I find those to be VERY reasonable prices! You are allowed to bring whatever you would like to dig with, so long as it is NOT battery operated. We brought:

  • 2 buckets
  • Small gardening shovel for each of us
  • 2 medium sized shovels

One thing I wish we did bring was a pickaxe. Funny enough, when we were at Home Depot getting another gardening shovel, my son ran around begging us to get a pickaxe. I told him no, that we didn’t need one. However, I did see people there with them and it did make things easier for them!

Crater of Diamonds State Park also offers equipment rentals. You can rent everything you would need. The only thing we rented were the screens…two that were used for water sifting and then a finishing screen. You could easily make it yourself, but the rental is very inexpensive and I personally did not want to have to lug it back home. Simply pay a small fee (like $3 each item) and a deposit, which you get back once you return the items, and you have the tools you need.

My thoughts

When we arrived, I was impressed with the park. It has a water park (that you pay a separate fee for), a gift shop, a small cafe and then the huge diamond digging field. What I was NOT impressed with was the staff working the desk where you buy your tickets or pay for your gift shop items. We got there at 5:30 pm because the website stated that any ticket purchased after 4 pm would have those few hours to dig and then the entire next day. The lady at the desk told me I was wrong and that it was 6 pm. Now I know 30 minutes really isn’t the biggest deal in the world, but when I physically pulled the website up on my phone and she read where it clearly stated after 4 pm, she still argued with me and refused to sell me the tickets. Another employee even went on the computer, looked up their site and saw exactly what I just showed them and they STILL wouldn’t sell me the ticket.

Eventually one of the employees spoke with the manager and the manager told her that it did indeed change to 4 pm, so the woman sold us our tickets. She did apologize for arguing with me, which was nice, but at the same time, it wasn’t the greatest first impression of the place.

That night we decided to just dig and surface search for diamonds. I was super excited thinking I found one, but it was calcite! My kids, however were thrilled with all the Jasper (river rock) they found. We have BAGS of it in the trunk right now! We decided that the next day we needed to rent the screens. Using the screens and water sifting was the way to find the diamonds. We still didn’t find any, but we did find lots of quartz, Jasper, mica, and calcite!

crater of diamonds state park

We absolutely loved it there. Our kids are already planning another trip there for next year! I know they have dreams of striking it rich by finding a bunch of diamonds, but I’m just glad for the fun, family memories!

Have you been to Craters of Diamonds State Park?

I Spent the Evening in an Insane Asylum…and I liked it! #PureMichigan

*I had the pleasure of visiting Northern Michigan as part of a press group. While my airfare and accommodations were provided, my stories and opinions are 100% my own.

No really…I did!

More specifically, I spent the evening at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons (The Commons is what the local folk call it). The Commons is one of the largest, historic preservation and adaptive reuse redevelopments in the country! It was previously known as the Traverse City State Hospital and before that it was the Northern Michigan Asylum.


History of the Traverse City State Hospital

The hospital was established in 1881 because the demand for another psychiatric hospital had grown. In 1885, the hospital opened with only 43 residents. The residents were treated through kindness, comfort, pleasures, and beautiful flowers. They didn’t use restraints like the straitjacket. They did, however, believe in the “work is therapy” philosophy. So the asylum provided different opportunities for the patients to work and gain a sense of purpose in the following ways:

  • Farming
  • Furniture Construction
  • Fruit Canning
  • Other trades

By doing the jobs above, it kept the asylum fully self-sufficient. Unfortunately, the law and mental health care changes brought on a decline of the asylum. And in 1989, the asylum closed and over 200 jobs were lost, which, as you can imagine, hurt the local economy.

Current Status

As you can imagine, tearing down the old Traverse City State Hospital would have been a real shame. In 2000, the Minervini Group began negotiate with the Grand Traverse Commons Redevelopment Corporation and came to an agreement to renovate the buildings!! Different buildings on the site have been renovated and are now used for other things. For example, Left Foot Charley is a winery and tasting room that is in the old laundry facility for the state hospital.

I had the pleasure of doing a tasting at Left Foot Charley and I loved it! The atmosphere is nice and upbeat and their Cinnamon Girl hard cider is one that many talk about…I tasted it, but I am not a fan of cinnamon…


The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is now home to:

  • Retail Shops
  • Eateries & Wineries
  • Professional Services (photography, Family Practice doctor, etc)

If you’re ever in Traverse City, you’ll have to check out the different events and attractions at The Village of Grand Traverse Commons. They have festivals, concerts, celebrations and so much more!

After our wine tasting, we had probably one of the best dinners I’ve ever had in my entire life at Pepe Nero. The restaurant is extremely cozy and intimate. When I checked out their website I read:

Owners Giorgio and Monica Lo Greco are experienced professionals who know how to amaze your palate…

Boy isn’t that the truth! Like I said, my dinner was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. I had the Scaloppine Di Pollo Al Limone (yes…I ordered by pointing!). Basically, for those of you (like me) that have no clue what that is…it’s an organic chicken breast, prepared with extra virgin olive oil, capers and lemon. So good!


Their vision was to open a restaurant that resembles that you would find on the streets of Palermo, Italy. Now I’ve never been to Italy, but regardless of that, this restaurant is fabulous and one you should definitely spend and evening at. For your planning purposes, they are open Monday through Saturday and closed on Sunday.

Whether you visit Traverse City, Michigan for their fabulous food or wines, to relax, or to shop, The Village at Grand Traverse Commons should be one stop you make!

Traverse City, Michigan – Vacation Here #PureMichigan

I’ve already told you about my amazing trip to Northern Michigan and exactly why I think you need to visit…but let me get a little more specific. One place you definitely need to check out is Traverse City, Michigan. This is one place that is perfect for anyone. Whether you are getting married, celebrating an anniversary, looking for a weekend getaway, or a memorable family vacation, Traverse City has it all!

**I had the pleasure of visiting Northern Michigan as part of a press trip. My airfare, hotel and activities were provide. All stories and opinions are 100% my own.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Traverse City and I instantly fell in love with the city. I only wish we had more time there! My first thought “Dan and I should come here for our anniversary next year” and my second thought “Zack and Bella would love this beach“! We stayed at the West Bay Beach hotel, which is a Holiday Inn Resort and it was a beautiful hotel!! The rooms were gorgeous and very roomy, but the hotel was right on Lake Michigan! My kids would have LOVED to have stayed there! When I took a look at their website, I really liked their mission:

West Bay Beach will be the premier destination in Traverse City, Mi. We will be the place guests talk about, want to experience, and will return to. We will be true leaders of hospitality, and are committed to creating positive memories for our guests. 

Guess what West Bay Beach…you ARE the place guests talk about and want to return to AND you definitely have the hospitality thing down pat! You can easily book your reservation by going here!

The hotel is just one thing I liked about Traverse City…here are some other reasons why you should be driving (or flying…you can get a quick flight in to the Cherry Capital Airport (TVC) and start your weekend right away) there this summer!

The Wineries

Now I will full on admit, I was a tad nervous about this part of the trip. You see, I don’t like wine. Like…at all. However, I was sure that if there were any place that I could find a wine I liked, it was on this trip. Shortly after flying in, we went to lunch and a wine tasting at Blustone Vineyards. Right away we were offered a glass of wine with lunch. A few wines were presented and I instantly panicked and prayed that I wouldn’t be asked first as to what I wanted because I had no clue!! I wanted to see what it looked like in everyone glass and choose then (I know…that’s like choosing based on what the bottle looks like…but I’d totally do that too)! I chose a Chardonnay and guess what, it was good! So…when you plan your trip to Traverse City (and I know you will!) be sure to stop by Blustone Vineyards!

Sleeping Bear Dunes


Sleeping Bear Dunes is a place that EVERYONE needs to see at least once in their life. Oh and I also recommend climbing to the top and rolling down…that’s pretty fun too!! Sleeping Bear Dunes is miles and miles of gorgeous sand beaches with bluffs that are 450′ above Lake Michigan.

It has been said that Sleeping Bear Dunes got its name from a legend stating that a mama bear and her two baby cubs were driven into Lake Michigan because of a huge forest fire near the Wisconsin shoreline. The bears swam and swam. Mama bear reached land and climbed up high to watch for her two cubs. Unfortunately the cubs got too tired and they drowned near the shoreline. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to represent the two baby cubs and one large dune to represent the mama bear.

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is something, if you are at the Sleeping Bear Dunes, you have to do. It is a 7.4 mile trail that you can drive/bike/walk and see 12 different things along the way. I highly recommend lookout #9 and #10. The view is breathtakingly beautiful and our park ranger told us that on clear nights, if Wisconsin is doing fireworks, you can see them from lookout #9! How neat is that?

However, the COOLEST thing is the Explore the Night Sky events that are held at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. You see, they hold some of the last remaining harbors of darkness and as a result, you have the opportunity to view the night sky like you’ve never viewed it before! Be sure to check out the link above for dates on their Explore the Night Sky events!

Have you been to Northern Michigan? What did you like? If you haven’t been there, what would you like to see??