BY AJ TRAGER AND BTL STAFF
For LGBT and allied Michiganders, access to beautiful and historic vacation destinations is often only a few hours away. From in-state sights — Traverse City, Saugatuck and Lansing — to nearby Chicago, Illinois, residents can take a world-class vacation without ever setting foot on a plane. For those looking to fit in one last summer vacation, or plan for a cooler-temperature fall retreat, take a look at these nearby LGBT-friendly cities.
If driving from Metro Detroit, the cozy town of Saugatuck and its sister city, Douglas, are only three hours away by expressway. Saugatuck was recently named the 2015 Best Coastal Small Town by USA Today Readers Choice and offers vacationers a unique look into West Michigan history. Downtown Saugatuck is seated right on Lake Michigan and the area is filled with ice cream stores, unique restaurants, beaches, sand dunes and shopping.
There is a reason that Saugatuck is named The Art Coast of Michigan. The city is home to over 140 LGBT-owned companies, over 20 galleries, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, the Ox-Bow School of Arts and plenty of permanent and temporary art installations. The area features many opportunities to take to the water, whether sailing on a sailboat, paddling in a kayak or taking the Victorian style Chain Ferry across the Kalamazoo River for just a dollar.
The west side of the state is covered with wineries and craft breweries due to the lake effect climate, which makes it easier to grow grapes. The Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail begins in Saugatuck and flows south to New Buffalo, passing by 24 notable breweries and wineries. The Fenn Valley Vineyard and Virtue Cider are some highlights. For more information, visit www.michiganwines.com.
Summer is "beach season" in Traverse City. Named as one of its top 10 summer trips by National Geographic, Traverse City has over 150 inland lakes, more than 20 golf courses and miles of hiking and cycling tracks as well as locations for boating, sailing, paddling, swimming and beachcombing.
Five historic lighthouses surround the Traverse City area: Mission Point, Grand Traverse, South Manitou, North Manitou and Point Betsie. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park is nearby, as well as large schooners, sloops and frigates offering tall ship summer excursions on Grand Traverse Bay and an opportunity to attend the "floating classrooms" to learn about the area's aquatic environment and maritime history.
Don't forget to step into Side Traxx, the local gay video-dance bar, located at 520 Franklin St. and visit http://www.traversecity.com/summer/things-to-do/kids-activities/ for more information on what children's activities are available in the region.
Located along the banks of the Grand River in the heart of the Lower Peninsula, Lansing is a blend of small town and busy city. The city has a lot to offer from late-night dancing and entertainment to quiet evenings in one of the many state parks.
Lansing has over 1,000 businesses and is home to Michigan Pride held Aug. 28, which will welcome members of the LGBT and allied community from across the state to celebrate equality.
Home to Michigan State University, nearby East Lansing is packed full of fun and exciting activities for the whole family. If traveling during school months, catch an MSU sporting event. Stop into the MSU LGBT Resource Center and see what activities and support services are currently being offered for marginalized sexualities on one of Michigan's top college campuses.
Located in the northeastern side of Lansing, Old Town was established in the mid-1800s. Old Town will host JazzFest beginning Aug. 7; the district hosts other festivals throughout the year including Old Town Oktoberfest, Old Town Renegade Festival, Chalk of the Town and the Old Town Festival of the Moon and Sun celebrating the beginning of summer in late June.
Visitors can take one of various guided tours of the State Capitol and the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum and can explore Michigan history and culture at the Library of Michigan and Historical Museum. Travelers can even learn firsthand how cheese and ice cream are made at the Michigan State University Dairy Complex or attend one of 30 annual fairs.
Chicago is a very popular vacation destination for Michiganders and is located just on the other side of Lake Michigan. Chicago is known as a world-class center of culture, commerce, education, architecture, dining and shopping. Lakeview contains Boystown, a gay community located five miles northwest of downtown. Over the years, Boystown has become a mix of artsy-types, working families, young professionals and the LGBT community. In recent years, neighborhood real estate values have risen and Boystown has become increasingly more mixed with the LGBT and allied communities.
Vacation "must sees" for the "Windy City" include Wrigley Field, the Field Museum, the Chicago Botanic Garden, Hancock Tower, Navy Pier, the Willis Tower, Shedd Aquarium and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
While Chicago may be miles from the nearest ocean, the west side of Lake Michigan provides a waterfront destination that has 28 miles of lakefront shoreline, including 24 beaches and an 18-mile bike path. Many visitors rely on the elevated rail transport system, or "The L," instead of cabs to get around the city.
Northalsted Market Days begins August 8 in Boystown and is the Midwest's largest street festival with an annual attendance of 300,000. The two day event will include three music stages equipped with a dance floor and will showcase over 300 food, arts and crafts and merchandise vendors gathered from across the country. Performing this year at Northalsted Market Days are top headlines such as: Salt-N-Pepa, All-4-One, En Vogue, the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus, Aaron Carter, Sixteen Candles, an ABBA salute band and many more. The event will begin at 11 a.m. August 8 on N. Halsted Street between Belmont and Addison.
Lakeview will host its Fine Art Festival beginning Sept. 11 followed by Oktoberfest Chicago on Sept. 26 and the Chicago LGBT International Film Festival Sept. 17-24.
Michigan Pride: http://www.michiganpride.org/index.php/michigan-pride-2015-info/
Perceptions, LGBT Community: http://www.perceptionssv.org/
Lesbian Connection: http://www.lconline.org/
Lansing Area AIDS Network: http://www.laanonline.org/
PFLAG Lansing: 517-332-4550
Windy City Times: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/windycitytimes.php
Chicago Pride: http://chicago.gopride.com/
LGBT Community Organization: http://www.centeronhalsted.org/
AIDS Foundation Chicago: http://www.aidschicago.org/