Drive time: 1.5 hours
Culture, nature, science, food and fun — Toledo really has something awesome for everyone. If you’ve got kids in tow, a must-stop is the TOLEDO ZOO, voted Best Zoo in the U.S. by USA Today. Get up-close viewings, indoors and out, and experience loads of interactive exhibits of animals from Africa to the Arctic: Walk through the Penguin Beach, help brush African pygmy goats, see a flamboyance of flamingos, hand-feed parakeets, schedule behind-the-scenes tours, view animal feedings and more.
Next stop: IMAGINATION STATION, one of our favorite hands-on science centers around, offers play-based learning for all ages. Ride the High Wire Cycle or the Simulator Theater Ride, take part in puzzling workshops and step inside a giant wind tunnel. Through Sept. 7, check out NASA Science On a Sphere, where visitors can gaze upon the Earth as they are “suspended” in orbit 22,000 miles above its surface; and, through Sept. 21, walk through room re-creations of the world’s largest ship in Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, where more than 150 artifacts recovered from the ocean floor, like bottles of perfume and the ship’s own china, will commemorate the tragic sinking in 1912.
Check out the TOLEDO MUSEUM OF ART (toledomuseum.org), known for its world-class collection of American and European art, as well glass, sculpture, modern and contemporary works. Current temporary exhibitions include The Art of Video Games and The Great War, including works by Max Beckmann, Childe Hassam and Ernst Kirchner.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Stroll THE DOCKS, a restaurant complex on the banks of the Maumee River before choosing between a fresh catch and raw oyster bar at Real Seafood Company and Tony Packo’s, home of the Hungarian Hot Dog and a 1976 shout-out from Cpl. Klinger on M.A.S.H. and many more.
BELL ISLE PARK
Drive time: 45 minutes
See what’s been happening at one of Detroit’s re-emerging jewels. Once home to the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, BELLE ISLE PARK, the largest island park in the U.S., has seen English royalty, local lawmakers and rattlesnakes alike try to stake their claim on it (no worries: They’re long gone). The 987-acre park is now home to a golf-practice facility, a maritime museum, picnic areas, a conservatory, greenhouses, a half-mile-long swimming beach with waterslide and the only marble lighthouse in the U.S. (built in 1930).
Belle Isle also features the recently re-opened (in 2012) Albert Kahn-designed, Beaux Arts-style Aquarium and the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, three acres of protected forest and wetland that features an outdoor butterfly garden, Deer Encounter with deer feedings and the Blue Heron Lagoon nature walk — all amid the backdrop of the Detroit cityscape.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Pack a dinner and take advantage of the cabanas and grills available for public use.
Drive time: 2 hours
Nine stunning waterfront communities (including Algonac, Clay, Harbor Beach, Lexington, Marine City, Port Austin, Port Huron, Port Sanilac and St. Clair) and 140 miles of pristine coastline string together along Lake Huron on Michigan’s eastern shore to make up what’s known as the BLUE WATER AREA.
Nature’s perfect beaches combine with small-town charm, picturesque marinas (particularly striking at sunset), lighthouses and plenty of opportunities to participate in outdoor activities — or simply enjoy the views. Sail, fish, swim, shop, eat or drive along the countryside for a slew of U-pick orchards and made-in-Michigan wineries.
Check out PORT SANILAC, a fast-growing perch-fishing destination, where visitors can scuba-dive shipwrecks dating back to 1864 in the Sanilac County Underwater Preserve — charter a dive through Four Fathoms Diving in Port Sanilac or visit Dive Inn Watersports in Port Huron for gear rental, purchases and lessons.
Kayak or paddleboard (visit Port Austin Kayak for rentals by the hour, day or week; portaustinkayak.com) the shallow waters and spectacular rock formations of PORT AUSTIN. Visit the Great Lakes Maritime Center for a taste of PORT HURON, known as the Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes before watching freighter traffic from the Blue Water River Walk, a paved path along 4,300 feet of the St. Clair River shoreline. Tour Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, Michigan’s oldest.
TIP: For details on the entire area, including each town and links to shopping, beaches and more, visit Blue Water’s Website.
POINT PELEE NATIONAL PARK, ONTARIO
Drive time: 2 hours
Nestled 30 miles southeast of Windsor, Point Pelee is one of Canada’s smallest national parks; but the tiny oasis is an enormously popular destination. Named for the marshy and woodland peninsula that juts into surrounding Lake Erie, Point Pelee’s lush Carolinian forest is renowned for its spectacular bird-watching opportunities — more than 370 species have been recorded and the park has been coined the Warbler Capital of Canada.
Hop aboard the free Shuttle to the Tip for an unparalleled view from the southernmost tip of mainland Canada. Swim, canoe, kayak, hike (including a variety of self-guided trails), bike and picnic.
Before you head out, visit their web site to learn about special offerings, including the Junior Naturalist program, which introduces kids to the plants and animals that live in the park; a variety of Explore with an Interpreter options (by foot or by Freighter Canoe); and Dark Sky Nights viewing.
TIP: Don’t forget your passports — even for the kids. RT
By Lynne Konstantin