The Arts Help Make Southwestern Michigan a Top Pick

Lake Michigan College Mendel Center

Recently, Forbes magazine published an article about the 10 best places if you want to retire early in the U.S. In it, southwestern Michigan tied for second place nationally and leads the pack in the Midwest.

MagnifyMoney, the source of the ranking, studied 217 metropolitan areas throughout the United States and scored each on cost of living, quality of life, and employability. Quality of life measurements are based on weather, access to arts and entertainment, and walkability.

Of the Top 10 places throughout the country to retire early, southwest Michigan ranked number one in quality of life. The area’s thriving arts and entertainment community weighs heavily in this strong showing.

Regional arts groups including Twin Cities Players, Children’s Music Workshop, Citadel Dance & Music Center, and Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra along with art galleries like The Box Factory for the Arts, ARS Gallery, and Krasl Art Center are at the heart of so many great things to do and see. Venues including Acorn Theater, Howard Performing Arts Center, and The Oak Room at the Citadel host a wide spectrum of entertainment events to appeal to all tastes and interests.

The centerpiece in southwestern Michigan for many of the biggest names as well as some of the brightest upcoming touring acts is The Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College. Located on the LMC Napier Avenue campus in Benton Harbor, The Mendel Center has been serving the region for more than a quarter century with a lineup that rivals those found in larger markets, but with unparalleled ease of access.

The Mendel Center offers several series and events that cater to all ages and create connections for visitors and residents alike.

The Mendel Center Mainstage Series
The Mendel Center Mainstage Series brings the best in music, comedy, Broadway, dance, and family programming to southwestern Michigan. Upcoming season schedule can be viewed here.

The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Speakers Series
The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Speakers Series brings world leaders, politicians, and other newsmakers to the region. It provides unique opportunities for personal and community growth by presenting a wide spectrum of viewpoints on thought-provoking topics. The series is primarily membership-based but individual speaker tickets are available to the public. More information available here.

Hanson Theatre Living Room Series
The Hanson Living Room Series is a live music experience in the intimate setting of the 250-seat Hanson Theatre located in The Mendel Center. The venue is designed for maximum viewing and listening pleasure, and provides audiences with the opportunity to connect more closely with the performers and the performances.

Wine & Food Events
The Mendel Center also features an array of events centered on local food and drink, including the previously mentioned Mix & Mingle Holiday Party and Shamrocked Irish Feast. These events proudly feature local craft beers and wines. Speaking of Michigan wines, The Mendel Center partners on events with Lake Michigan Vintners, whose wines are handcrafted by the students of Lake Michigan College’s Wine & Viticulture Technology program.

Complete information about Mendel Center events and tickets can be found at www.TheMendelCenter.com. A full list of arts and entertainment events throughout southwestern Michigan can be found at SWMichigan.org/events.

Mike Nadolski

Southwest Michigan’s Best in Breakfast, Brunch and Bloody Marys

Vacation may be the only chance you get to make time for breakfast, and when in Southwest Michigan, you will be glad you did. Whether you live for breakfast food or you’d rather drink your breakfast you’ll definitely want to start your day at one of these amazing restaurants:

Staymaker at Journeyman Distillery, Three Oaks, MI
The ultimate brunch buffet includes breakfast-themed pizzas, breakfast meats, savory casseroles, fresh-cooked eggs, a donut bar, house-made pastries, a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar and a unique cocktail menu. Gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan plus non-alcoholic drink options are available. Served every Sunday. Call for more information: 269-820-2050.

Mason Jar Cafe, Benton Harbor, MI
Made from scratch, locally-sourced, organic and delicious menu options make this a local and visitors’ favorite breakfast option. Go-to choices (there are honestly too many to list here) include their spicy egg sandwich, stuffed French toast, corned beef hash, huevos rancheros and daily quiche. A wide selection of specialty lattes and hot chocolates are standouts, too. This cozy cafe in the Benton Harbor Arts District is a must try while you’re in town. Open daily.

Plank’s Tavern on the Water, St. Joseph, MI
Brunch with a view! Start your day with a mimosa overlooking the St. Joseph River. Plank’s Tavern is located in the Inn at Harbor Shores. Choices include a selection of benedicts, deviled avocado poached eggs served with sweet potato hash, a breakfast hot pot and more. Brunch menu available Saturdays & Sundays 7am-3pm and brunch buffet on Sundays.

Iron Shoe Distillery, Niles, MI
Southwest Michigan’s newest distillery. Try their “Urban Legend Bloody Mary” paired with their macaroni & cheese waffle. Check their Facebook page for current hours.

Silver Beach Pizza, St. Joseph, MI
Silver Beach Pizza is well known for having the best pizza in Southwest Michigan, so why did they make this list? Because of their Bloody Marys! Start with their famous schooner glass full of delicious Bloody Mary goodness then add basically a full meal as a garnish: a slice of pizza, celery stick, pepperoni, dill pickle spear, pepperoncini, and olives. Enjoy it with a view of Lake Michigan and passing trains. Check their website for seasonal hours.

Exploring Public Art in the Twin Cities

Exploring Public Art in St. Joseph

Southwest Michigan is home to the vibrant and artistic Twin Cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. Visiting the waterfronts of Lake Michigan and the St. Joseph River, walking along Lake Boulevard in St. Joseph or exploring the Arts District of Benton Harbor soon reveals that there is a wide range of artists and artworks integrated throughout the community. In particular, there are several publicly placed outdoor sculptures and monuments. As part of the community, these artworks and memorials are a source of community pride. They beautify our neighborhoods and make them unique.

The merits of public art have become increasingly recognized. Public art offers informal opportunities to experience art during outdoor activities and exploration. It can be experienced in formals or flip flops, costs nothing to see, is available day and night and is barrier free. Public art frequently becomes a shared site to gather or a visual marker for destinations. People take photos in front of it, using it to capture and share special memories and moments. It is fun and invites engagement. Further, public art is known to increase the safety of the sites where it is located as well as drive cultural tourism, providing tangible benefits to the community in which it resides.

Read further to learn about the organizations and sites that host public art in the Twin Cities.

KRASL ART CENTER

Krasl Art CenterThe Krasl Art Center (KAC) in St. Joseph has collected sculptures since it opened its doors in 1980. Believing in the power of art and community, KAC originally developed its collection to complement the memorials along Lake Bluff Park through the commissioning and acquisition of unique contemporary sculptures. Today, the KAC celebrates its newly renovated grounds with the monumental sculpture Rising Crossing Tides by Richard Hunt at its focal point – both of which purposefully invite the community to engage with the grounds and the art on view as an extension of the beautiful outdoor surroundings.

Sculpture in the KAC collection ranges from regional artists to internationally recognized sculptors. On the west face of the KAC building the kinetic sculpture Three Lines Diagonal by artist George Rickey may be found. Rickey was a native of Indiana yet his artworks are on view in museums and sculpture parks throughout the world. Three Lines Diagonal is a dynamic sculpture of vertical elements held together by industrial airplane bearings. The elements twist and turn, powered only by the wind, usually off the lake, echoing its ferocity and calm from day to day, hour to hour.

KACLightedBench1American Treasure Dale Chihuly’s Beacon Gold Chandelier bursts with color and energy in its perfectly framed location within the KAC entrance. Day and night guests can see this world-class glass sculpture. On the KAC grounds, is a bronze sculpture by artist Dr. Burt Brent called The Heavyweight (renamed Lotus the hippo by local children), that welcomes young guests to crawl on her back because it is perfectly accessible and broad enough to sit on.

SILVER BEACH COUNTY PARK

Krasl Art CenterAdditional sculptures from the Krasl Art Center’s collection may be experienced at Silver Beach County Park. These works happily reside alongside beach-goers, surfers, volleyball players, children and adults alike. They endure the blowing sand of the beach year-round, which is why all are made of steel and often unpainted. Preeminent American sculptor Richard Hunt’s And You, Seas is located at the north end of the park, along the pier. It is a monumental steel sculpture overlooking the mouth of the St. Joseph River. Referencing waves, wind and nature, it is a commemorative artwork that also acknowledges the sailing community within the region.

MARGARET B. UPTON ARBORETUM

Krasl Art CenterSince 1996, the KAC has produced its Biennial Sculpture Invitational. This 15-month long exhibition brings in sculptures by artists predominantly from the region. It provides an ever-changing display of public art throughout the twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, with one of its main locations being the Margaret B. Upton Arboretum. Twelve sculpture pads feature Biennial artworks. This effort is coordinated with the City of St. Joseph, with engagement by both the city and community in its selection and placement.

 

BOX FACTORY FOR THE ARTS

ArtThe KAC partners with the Box Factory for the Arts to place six Biennial sculptures directly across the street from its main entrance. Sloping up a hill, artworks enliven the space with color, texture and form. The Box Factory curates a selection of artworks for its immediate grounds as well. This tradition honors their commitment to regional artists. Presently, South Bend artist Dora Natella’s sculpture The Sentinel stoically greets guests as they enter the front doors of this dynamic arts organization. Natella is a master of the human figure and this piece is a strong testament of her vision and skill.

BENTON HARBOR ARTS DISTRICT

Public ArtThe Arts District of Benton Harbor is filled with art, some placed by the KAC, but most placed by artists living and working in the community. There are several small pocket parks in the district and the influence of Water Street Glass Works and its Metal Shop is evident in the types of artworks often found within them. Quarterly Art Hops bring even more temporary art placements, pop-up galleries and exhibitions to the neighborhood making it an exciting place to visit and wander through.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of art sites in the Twin Cities. Several memorials may be found on Lake Bluff Park in St. Joseph and more Biennial sculptures may be seen at Lookout Park along Lakeshore Drive and at Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor.

If you have not explored the art in this area, do so. Ride your bike, take a picnic, go on a walking tour. A sculpture map and additional content may be found at krasl.org that will help you get started. Have fun with it. Ask yourself, your children or your friends what they see. There are no wrong answers.

By Tami Miller, Curator for the Krasl Art Center

Planning a Beach Day in SWMI

Sitting on the beach with your toes in the sand. It’s an iconic image of summer – and frankly, no summer feels complete without at least one beach day (at least to me). If you’re looking to spend a day at the beach in Southwest Michigan, consider these tips while planning your trip.

  1. Choose your beach carefully.

    Beaches and parks pepper the coastline throughout Southwest Michigan, and each has its own personality and fits different beachgoers. Here are a few different options to choose from:

    1. Silver Beach County Park: Silver Beach is the busiest of beaches and for good reason. With more than 20 beach volleyball courts, playground equipment and lifeguards on duty during the summer, it suits those who are most interested in being active on their beach day. If you choose Silver Beach, be sure to plan a walk to the pier for a little relaxation mid-day (it offers a great view of the North Pier Lighthouses). Silver Beach is located within walking distance of many of St. Joseph’s greatest attractions. Take the kids to the Whirlpool Compass Fountain to frolic in the water jets, for a ride on the Silver Beach Carousel and a trip through the Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone. Silver Beach can easily fill a full day of fun for even the most finicky of beachgoers.
    2. Warren Dunes State Park: For the nature loving beachgoer, Warren Dunes provides a beautiful beach filled with unmatched beauty. Plan some time to hike the trails throughout the park – they run anywhere from .2 miles to 6.0 miles and offer views from all levels of the dunes and beach. Give yourself plenty of time to explore. Hike the large sand dune and look out over the coastline to get a view you’ve never seen before. Walk along the stream and find the clay pit. If you’re an adventurer, try skim boarding along the stream. Or take a ride down the blow-up water slide in the parking lot – the breeze is refreshing! Warren Dunes is a more natural environment than many beaches and as such has many species to keep your eyes out for. Here are some tips provided by the State of Michigan.
    3. Jean Klock Park: Jean Klock Park is a jewel located in the city of Benton Harbor. With parking so close to the shoreline, it’s a great spot to go if you only have a short period of time to enjoy the beach (or a full day, too!). To get to the beach, you’ll walk through a trail of dune grass that is sure to give you that feeling of awe and wonder that any beach trip should. Crafters will love Jean Klock Park as it’s a local favorite for finding crinoids and beach glass. Amateur photographers will love it too with a gorgeous view of the North Pier Lighthouses (framed by beautiful dunegrass).
  2. Plan for a full day.

    Any amount of time at the beach is refreshing, but a full day can leave you feeling revitalized and ready to take on the world. From the peaceful sound of seagulls in the morning to the spectacular sunsets at night, few things can calm the soul like a beach day. Take in as much as you possibly can for full benefits.

  3. Don’t forget the food.

    Prepare yourself for a long day of sun. Whether you pack a cooler full of snacks and sandwiches or plan to buy some food throughout the day, don’t let the day pass without filling your belly. Fresh Michigan fruit from one of our local farms makes for a great beach snack (refreshing and keeps the blood sugar up!). And if you don’t feel like making yourself a bagged lunch or you just plain forgot, Jimmy John’s delivers to Silver Beach. Just call in your order and meet the delivery person at the flag poles.

  4. Enjoy!

 

Guest Blogger: Katie White is a lifelong resident of Southwest Michigan and professionally encourages visitors to spend time in the region every chance she gets.

Last Days of Summer Checklist

St. Joseph Beach

Southwest Michigan is one of the best places to visit during the summer because there are so many ways to relax, play, and get outside. As summer rushes by, you may wonder “what’s the best way to enjoy it before it’s gone?” Here are 10 things to add to your “Last Days of Summer” checklist that you’ll want to experience before the season ends.

1. Attend the Berrien County Youth Fair, Aug. 13-18. This is the largest county fair in the Midwest and is a tradition for most families in Southwest Michigan. With spinning rides, cotton candy, elephant ears, corn dogs, cute farm animals and concerts this is something the whole family will love!

2. Stop by our farm stands. You’ll find the freshest produce at our farm stands and farm markets. Check out our harvest calendar to see what’s in season.

3. Watch a Movie in the park. Through August 25, every Saturday night at dusk you can watch a family movie on the big screen in Whirlpool Centennial Park. What’s cooler than bringing the whole family to watch a movie under the stars?

4. Spend a day on the water. Rent a kayak or stand up paddleboard (SUP) from Third Coast Paddling and explore the Paw Paw River. You’ll have a blast paddling with friends and family and get a great workout in too.

5. Plan an all day beach day. Soak up the sun at one of our beaches for a truly relaxing end to your summer.

6. Dine outdoors with a view. Take in the fresh air at one of our many restaurants with outdoor seating. If you’re looking for both great food and a view, check out the Bistro on the Boulevard, Clementine’s Too, The Buck Burgers & Brew, and The Lakehouse.

7. Enjoy an outdoor concert. There are tons of free outdoor concerts in Southwest Michigan including the Friday Night Concert Series, Brown Bag Concerts, and the Summer Concert Series at Weko Beach.

8. Tour the Makers Trail. The local breweries, wineries and distilleries are constantly releasing new beers, wines and cocktails. Many of them offer things like wine slushies, wine popsicles, and other unique items you can only find for a limited time during the summer.

9. Take a tour of the Historic St. Joseph Lighthouse. Public tours are offered through Labor Day by the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center.

10. Watch the sunset. Lake Michigan sunsets can’t be beat. Make sure you get in one last glimpse from the beach, pier, boat or restaurant. The perfect way to end your summer.

Collecting Beach Glass

Beach glass in waves on shore

By Joshua Nowicki

Like collecting fossils, stones and driftwood, searching Lake Michigan’s shoreline for beach glass is a relaxing hobby that beachgoers of every age can enjoy. Over the years, when I have been out taking photos along the lake, I would pick up the occasional piece of beach glass bring it home and put it in my ‘junk’ drawer. As the pile built up, I started to notice the differences in shape and color in my small collection. I also began to notice how beach glass had been incorporated in the decoration of friends’ homes and its prevalence in area shops as jewelry and mosaic. As a result, I have started actively searching for beach glass when walking from location to location taking photos along Lake Michigan.

What is beach glass?

Beach glass is broken shards of glass that have been smoothed as the result of years of tumbling and rubbing against rocks and sand in fresh water. It is very similar to sea glass which is created in salt water. Years ago, and to a lesser extent now, glass bottles, jars, glass construction material etc. were discarded into Lake Michigan or the adjoining waterways. After many years of tumbling around in Lake Michigan which acts like a giant rock tumbler the once sharp pieces are ground down, rounded, and take on a softer frosted look.

The color of beach glass is determined by its source. In Southwest Michigan, much of it started as bottles and jars. I really enjoy trying to determine what an interestingly shaped piece may have once been. The most common colors that I find are various shades of white, brown and light blue. To a lesser extent there is also green, dark blue, purple and very rarely red.

Where can I find it?

Personally, my favorite times of year to look for beach glass are spring and fall due to the shoreline frequently and dramatically being reshaped by the waves during storms. That being said, you can usually find beach glass throughout the entire year in Southwest Michigan.

Popular beaches are generally not good places to look. This is because there are more people who may be looking and also because these beaches are frequently groomed, thereby removing most of the stone and glass.

The best places to search are beaches near areas that have been populated for a long amount of time as there is a greater chance that glass has been disposed of in the area. I like to look for areas of the beach where small stones are washing up on shore, especially after a storm. The beach glass is often intermixed with the stones and you will have to train your eyes to discern the glass. These areas of stone often shift and change location depending on the direction and intensity of waves. A wonderful spot one day can totally disappear the next. White is usually the easiest to see as it contrasts well with the generally dark colored stone in Southwest Michigan. Conversely, I have to search harder to find brown.

For me the best time of day is either morning or evening. I find that the natural light highlights the glass and at times almost seems to make it glow among the duller colored stones.

While looking for glass, it is also common to find crinoids, and fragments of ceramic tiles, cups, plates, etc. On occasion, I even find small Petoskey stones, geodes, and coins.

Many collectors will leave or throw back glass that is not yet fully smoothed and will dispose of any that pose a safety hazard to walking on the beach. When I am out, I always carry a garbage bag with me to dispose of any sharp glass and garbage that I may find along the shore.

What should I do with it?

There are many possible ways to use the beach glass that you collect. You can fill decorative jars and bowls with the colorful glass to use as a home accent, make jewelry such as rings, earring, and pendants, create mosaics, glue magnets to them and stick them to your fridge or take photos of them like I enjoy doing.

When out looking for beach glass, take your time and enjoy the relaxing walk. It is a wonderful way to decompress after a busy week.

If you know of a great place to find beach glass please send me a message on facebook. 😉

Josh’s Fall Favorites

Warren Dunes road in fall

By Joshua Nowicki

Summer is definitely the most popular time to visit southwest Michigan, however, I feel that there is even more to enjoy in the fall. Here are some of my fall favorites:

  1. Enjoying the Fall Color: Whether on foot, by bike, stand-up paddle board, kayak, or in the car, enjoying the colors of fall is a must. I love hiking the trails at Warren Dunes and Grand Mere State Park, driving past vineyards and farms, and walking along the beaches and down State Street in St Joseph.
  2. Windy Days: Probably my favorite part of fall are the windy days along the lakeshore. Watching the powerful waves crashing against the lighthouses, piers and shorelines is an impressive sight you have to see. Because the winds are frequently from the north, waves have the length of the lake to build which brings an increasing number of surfers to southwest Michigan. Silver Beach, Lions Park Beach and Weko Beach are popular surf locations. Moreover, it is perfect for flying kites.
  3. Beach Glass: Fewer people on the beaches and windy days make for a great opportunity to find beach glass and fossils as you stroll along the lake.
  4. Camping: Fall is definitely the best time to go camping. The cool nights are perfect for sleeping and you cannot beat relaxing next to the warmth of a campfire with a cup of coffee.
  5. Harvest: From hayrides and picking your own fruits and vegetables to enjoying a masterfully prepared meal featuring local ingredients, fall is a great time to eat. The smell of ripe grapes as you drive through countryside, the delicious taste of fresh pressed apple cider and search for the perfect pumpkin are all things I delight in.
  6. Makers Trail: The Makers Trail goes hand in hand with the drive through the countryside to enjoy the fall color and farm markets. Moreover, many of the locations have great views of the fall color directly from their tasting rooms and outdoor seating areas. Additionally, an increasing number of locations offer delicious meals featuring local produce and unique beers, wines and cocktails. I personally love barrel aged and sour beers.
  7. Fall Events and Festivals: A couple of my favorite fall events in St. Joseph & Benton Harbor are Artoberfest, Fall Festival and Luminary Festival. All are family-friendly fun. Art, food, music at Artoberfest; fresh produce, Critter Barn, face painting and more at Fall Festival, and a stroll down the candle lit city streets while shopping during Luminary.
  8. Sunsets: With the summer crowds gone, the beach is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the vibrant colors of the setting sun. If you look closely, fall is a great time to catch a glimpse of Chicago from across the lake.

Best Pizza Places in Southwest Michigan

Pizza and beer

By Erika Peterson

Looking for the best pizza places in Southwest Michigan? Check out what these local guest bloggers had to say about their favorite pizza places in this corner of the mitten. Some of them may surprise you.

Josh Nowicki
The Livery & Haymarket Taproom

Two of my favorite pizzas in Southwest Michigan are Mikey’s Bad Trip at The Livery in Benton Harbor and Elote at Haymarket Taproom in Bridgman. Both are very unique pizzas and contain ingredients not found on most pizza menus.

I love the pizza at The Livery. Their handmade crust is amazing. In fact, of all the pizzas I have ever tried the texture of their crust is one of the best – I love its perfect chewiness. Another aspect that makes it special is that it contains spent grain from their brewery. Moreover, their pizzas have unique flavor profiles and utilize local and seasonal ingredients. The Livery offers many great choices of delicious pizzas but Mikey’s Bad Trip is by far my favorite. It is deliciously creamy with a delightfully salty finish. The ingredients for this special pizza are cream sauce, mixed mushrooms, mixed herbs, truffle salt, black pepper and a cheese blend. I hear from talking to one of bartenders that people drive an hour or more just to get this pizza and I can understand why.

The pizza at Haymarket Taproom really surprised me in the best possible way. I initially went there to try the beer and did not even know that they made pizza. But wow do they ever! When you walk into the building you are greeted with the comforting and delicious aromas of a wood fire and pizza. Wonderful and unique combinations of toppings cooked in minutes make dining there very enjoyable. My favorite on their menu is Elote. Its ingredients include whipped ricotta, cilantro, roasted corn, cotija cheese, mozzarella & umami mayo. I am often skeptical of the word umami (I spend time in Japan every year gorging myself on delicious food). In this case, they are doing the term justice since the mayo does contain fish sauce, a great source of umami flavor. Don’t worry though, it is not fishy at all, there is just enough to make it extra savory.

Erika Peterson
Public House and Greenbush Brewing Co.

Everywhere I go, I’m always on the hunt to find the best pizza. Everyone knows cities like Chicago or New York are famous for it but lucky for me, I can find great pizza right here in Southwest Michigan.

A couple of my favorite places to get pizza here are at the Round Barn Brewery & Public House and Greenbush Brewing Co. At the Public House I like to get the “Create Your Own” pizza with pepperoni and add extra fresh mozzarella cheese. (I’m a little less adventurous with my pizza toppings). They also have three specialty pizzas on their menu and a lot of other topping options. I love the pepperoni that the Public House uses. It’s very flavorful and it’s always crispy which gives the pizza a good texture. I also like how chewy the crust is instead of being hard or crunchy. This pizza is on the thin side so it will disappear sooner than you think.

Greenbush pizza is a similar style to the Public House with a little thicker crust. The pizzas come in one size and are build-your-own. They do offer a unique specialty pizza that changes frequently so be sure to ask before ordering. Recent flavors have been Thai Chicken, BLT, BBQ Brisket and Crab Rangoon.

Where do YOU go for the best pizza in Southwest Michigan?

Do you have a favorite pizza in Southwest Michigan? Send us the name of the pizza destination with a description of your favorite pizza and we’ll add your suggestion to this blog.