Travel America – Michigan City, Indiana

Ever have that itch to get away?  Sometimes I just need a vacation – but then reality sets in…I can’t take any more time off of work.  Who would watch the dogs?  Can I even afford an overseas flight?

Lucky for me – and now those of you reading this - my job has allowed me to discover offbeat destinations right here within this glorious country of ours!  I say “offbeat” because haven’t we all either been a college student on spring break in Daytona, participated in the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, or, at the very least, seen the Baywatch crew run in slow-motion on the beaches of Los Angeles?  If you’ve been there, done that, and are looking for some variety, our “Travel America” articles will explore the hidden gems across the United States – cities and towns waiting for you to arrive…

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana

I’ve never been to the Great Lakes, but ever since that 2003 surfing film depicted guys riding the waves off of Minnesota, I’ve wanted to visit.  There are many small towns dotting the lake’s coastlines, but one town in particular, Michigan City, Indiana, piqued my interest.

Michigan City has long been a vacation destination for the residents of Chicago (it’s only about 50 miles east of the windy city – on a clear day you can even see the Chicago skyline!) and for residents of nearby areas of Indiana, but it is gradually becoming better known by the rest of the US.

Plan your trip to Michigan City for one of the summer months if you plan to hit up the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – nearly 25 miles of beaches, sand dunes, marshes and woodland forests along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.  The Lakeshore is home to over 35o species of birds and has one of the most diverse plant communities of any National Park in the US.

Visit the Lighthouse Place Outlet Mall for Michigan City’ s best shopping and some great dining options.  The outlet was named after the Old Michigan City Lighthouse – one of the state’s few lighthouses.

And if birds and lighthouses aren’t quite your thing, pony up at The Blue Chip Casino!  The largest riverboat in Indiana, The Blue Chip Casino, offers 24/7 boarding and a 65,000 square foot gaming floor.  Casino’s are fun and all, but I am on a budget here.  I think I’ll check into the casino’s entertainment scene, which attracts National acts to the 15,000 square foot Stardust Event Center.

While Michigan City has a variety of accommodations, ranging from camping to hotels, my friends and I would rather rent a house or apartment. And I confess,  because I rarely travel the US without my fur-babies, it can be hard to find a short term rental that allows my dogs to stay with me.  I am booking my stay at the “Miami” – a lakefront home I found that has panoramic views of the dunes, beach, and Michigan City’s famous lighthouse. There is not going to be anything between me and the fine sandy beach but a foot path through the sand dunes to the lake!

Myrtle Beach’s Golden Shores

North Myrtle beach is a beautiful and peaceful city located along a nine-mile stretch of the Atlantic Ocean coastline in South Carolina.  The beautiful city was created in 1968 when four small beach towns—Cherry Grove, Ocean Drive, Crescent Beach, and Windy Hill Beach consolidated into one town.

The fairly new city has developed into an exceedingly popular tourist hotspot because of its stunning, sandy beaches, enjoyable activities, and world-class attractions.  Thousands of visitors vacation at North Myrtle Beach, especially in the summer, to have a relaxing and fun-filled vacation experience.  Luxurious beach vacation homes are very popular among tourists because they make you feel as if you are at home away from home and you can thoroughly enjoy the real spirit of this city.

North Myrtle Beach is widely known for its superb beaches.  Cherry Grove has scenic salt marshes that have colorful wildlife.  By staying at a beach house, you can relax on your deck while watching the fascinating pelicans and egrets, or go to the fishing pier and catch your own dinner!  Tilghman Beach is an old residential community that has many chic shops and restaurants.  Ocean Drive Beach is a beautiful and exciting beach that is surrounded by many nightclubs.  Be sure to bring dancing shoes and try the Shag which is the indigenous state dance!

The beaches are ideal for relaxing, sunning, surfing, water skiing, kayaking, snorkeling.  Fishing is a very popular activity in North Myrtle Beach and visitors can enjoy inshore, offshore, and surf fishing and find some of the largest and most unique fish in this city!  North Myrtle Beach also offers party boat fishing, private charters, casino cruises, and riverboat cruises.

In addition, North Myrtle Beach is a haven for golfers as the city has over 120 world-class golf courses that are designed by well-known architects.  The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, located right off the beach, is the area’s most prestigious golf course, while the Barefoot Resort up the road features a collaborative design on its courses by some of the best players in the world – Dye, Fazio, Love III and Greg Norman.

North Myrtle Beach is also a wonderful place for a family vacation—the city boasts numerous theme parks, aquariums, adventure parks, race tracks and miniature golf courses.  The city also has a prominent culture of performing arts.  Le Grand Cirque at the Palace Theatre is a mesmerizing performance features the globally acclaimed acrobatic and theatrical performers.  The show is so spectacular and surreal it will leave you in amazement and wonder!

North Myrtle Beach has a wide variety of fine restaurants that have diverse cuisines including Italian, Japanese, French, and classic American.  Among the top to try – Villa Romana (Italian), Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse (Brazilian), Bonefish Grill (seafood), and Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy (Mexican).

Whether you want to take a fun-filled family vacation or have a romantic getaway, you are sure to have a superb holiday at a luxurious beach vacation home in the beautiful North Myrtle Beach.

Where in the world is North Captiva Island?

Florida’s North Captiva Island, located in the Gulf of Mexico, is about as far away from the chaos of everyday life as you can get, while still staying within the United States.  I had heard it’s almost similar to Thailand or Indonesia in its exoticism, with the heat and humidity…and bugs.  But I went into my research with an open mind and now I’m trying to convince any of my friends and family to take a trip to explore the island with me.

North Captiva IslandAs you may expect, being as remote and as small as it is - 4 miles long and 1/2 mile wide at its widest point! - getting to North Captiva Island takes some planning as it is only accessible by water taxi or private charter boat.  The Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Florida is the closest airport to North Captiva Island and most major airlines service this airport.  From there, take the Pine Island Taxi to Pineland Marina and board the Island Girl – the only scheduled ferry to North Captiva Island.

Sidebar:  Because the island is sosecluded, you have to either bring what you will need for your trip with you, plan ahead to make sure it will be there for you, or a combination of the two.  This applies to groceries, bottled water, basic first aid supplies (aspirin, bandaids, etc), bug repellent, and especially produce – be sure to check with your airlines and local customs on rules regarding bringing produce onto the island.  Most travelers opt to fax their order – at least 48 hours before you will arrive on the island – to Publix Santa Barbara grocery store, on the mainland (Pine Island Taxi will stop at Publix on the way to the marina).  They will take your grocery order and pack your items for easy transport.  There is a small grocery on the island, but it stocks mostly convenience items is ridiculously expensive.

Once on the island, be prepared to sloooooow down and take in the natural beauty that surrounds you.  There are no cars and no paved roads on North Captiva.  Bicycles and electric golf carts (a private golf cart and/or bicycles are included in most vacation rental, so be sure to inquire about this at the time of booking) are used to explore our sandy paths.

There are over 5 miles of beaches to explore.  Visitors report strolling for hours without seeing anyone else – you will, however, run into some local wildlife.  Two-thirds of the island’s 700 acres are a protected State of Florida wilderness park and wildlife sanctuary for manatees, loggerhead turtles and over one hundred species of migratory birds.

If your idea of a vacation is body shots and disco music, Captiva is notfor you.  The 50 or so year-round residents operate on “island time” and there are very few established businesses.  Island activities include shelling, snorkeling, charter sport-fishing, swimming, kayaking, boating, stargazing, bird watching, dining at one of the 2 restaurants and island hopping…Sanibel, Pine Island, Cayo Costa, and Useppa are all within minutes by boat.

So, despite that fact that every article and travel forum I read about North Captiva stressed the need for Deet-strength bug repellant, I’m not scared.  I’m harnessing my inner Robinson Crusoe, packing my spray (and maybe a mosquito net) and going to check out this beautiful and remote island for myself!  North Captiva Island is one of the few places left that has mastered the delicate balance between man and nature.  This unique island paradise is not for everybody – but as the locals will say, it was never intended to be!