Chicago Scene one-tank road trip: Discovering Torch Lake and the birthplace of snowboarding in Michigan

Chicago Scene

The past couple of summers seemed like the right time to take a family road trip. This summer, I borrowed a page out of the Clark W. Griswold handbook, packed up the family trickster, and set a course for northern Michigan.

Our first stop was Shanty Creek Resort near Bellaire, Michigan. It’s about a 4-hour drive from Chicago and took US-31 that runs near the West Side of the Michigan Coast in Southwest Michigan. Familiar towns like New Buffalo, Grand Rapids and Cedar Springs call it home.

For reference, Bellaire is about two hours South of Mackinac Island and about the same distance East from Sleeping Bear Dunes. There’s plenty to see and do at Shanty Creek including exploring their four villages in dining options, golf, trails, paddle boats, sunset cruises, pools and skiing (in the winter, of course).

Bellaire has a very “cosmopolitan” downtown vibe, from staples like the Ruthie’s and Short’s Brewing Company. The crown jewel might be the Dockside for a dining option. Offering a unique vantage point and is one of the only restaurants on Torch Lake.

The second leg of our trip included random spots along the route to Muskegon. Using the Roadside America website for some ideas, my family and I stumbled upon the Belding Shoe Tree and miniature Mackinac Bridge before hitting the shores of Muskegon.

Muskegon is the largest Michigan city on Lake Michigan, and its miles of beaches are reminiscent of beaches you would see out on the West Coast. We took in the sights at the beach where there were plenty of water sports to be had.

Downtown Muskegon has plenty to offer in terms of exploring. They have a huge art scene, with sculptures of President McKinley, Buster Keaton, and a sculpture (The Turning Point) commemorating the birth of snowboarding! Yes, right here in Michigan. First called “surfing,” the Olympic sport of snowboarding was invented by a local father on Christmas Day in 1965.

By complete accident, we stumbled upon the Monet Gardens, a replica of the Monet Garden in Giverny, France.

Monet Gardens

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I was presently surprised by the USS Silversides Submarine Museum, a real-life war machine museum. It really is a sight to be seen and allows visitors to walk the deck of this WWII American submarine and also go below deck to see the quarters and interworking of the ship.

The museum is adjacent to the docked submarine and there you can walk through American history. You’ll get a first-hand look at what the USS Silversides did for the war effort, learn about the twelve battle stars, the sinking of 23 enemy ships and read about how it was awarded one Presidential Unit Citation for cumulative action over four patrols. Silversides has the most prolific combat record of any still-extant American submarine. It’s worth the visit.

Engines made in Chicago aboard the USS Silversides sub

To visit any of the places listed above, check out the Bellaire Chamber of Commerce, Visit Muskegon, and Pure Michigan for any information on the places discussed in the video. Also, be sure to see the folks at the USS Silversides Museum.

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