36 Hours in Saugatuck Part 1: The Anti-B&B

Saugatuck, Michigan, is an ideal weekend destination. It’s convenient—about a two-hour drive from Chicago—but far enough to feel like you’ve completely escaped the city’s reach.

The Saugatuck area, a rural beach town that survives on tourism, has its fair share of lodging options. While it’s awesome to escape the stresses of the city, it’s a shame to leave behind the city’s high standards of quality.

A stay at the Kirby means you don’t have to. It’s a breath of fresh air for anyone who wants the best of both worlds—the peace and quiet of a rural getaway, and the luxury comforts of an urban boutique hotel.

In 2014, a new Chicago-based owner purchased the historic building and gave it a top-notch renovation.

The Kirby is a B&B, but calling it that feels a little wrong. Inside the 125-year-old Victorian is a totally modern hotel that retains all of the character but none of the corniness of your average B&B.

The Kirby is kind of like an anti-B&B. Yes, you get a bed for the night and you a breakfast in the morning. But you’ll find no lace curtains. No floral bedspreads, no teddy bears, no rocking chairs, no potpourri. No innkeeper in a needlepoint apron asking too many questions with a too-big smile.

Instead, it’s all chic décor, neutral colors, flat screen TVs, and high-end bedding.

It’s comfort-oriented details like Malin & Goetz bath products, squishy bath mats, super soft robes, and memory foam mattresses.

It’s the bar stocked with good wine and craft beer, and the gourmet breakfast in the morning.

After our drive from the city Friday night, Mindy, the manager and host, treated us to an impressive wine and cheese tasting.

Cheese and wine tasting: Aged Manchego (Spain), Sweet Gorgonzola (Italy), Delice de Bourgogne triple cream, Cana de Cabra (Spain), Fig Jam (Portugal), Jamming with Marguerite’s Cider Jelly (Michigan), dried cherries (Michigan), Earl’s honey (Michigan), Marcona Almonds (Spain)

Mindy is a great host and an instant friend. A Chicagoan and longtime restaurateur, she is down-to-earth, attentive without being nosy, extremely knowledgeable about food and wine, and one of the nicest people we’ve met in our travels. She made us feel right at home.

If you’re looking for a typical country breakfast in the morning, go elsewhere. The Kirby’s chef, Chris, started us out with killer beignets baked fresh that morning, followed by poached eggs served atop crab cakes and pulled pork and potato latkes.

It was on par with any of Chicago’s great brunch spots. The dining room (soon to be a full-fledged restaurant serving dinner as well) has small private tables, meaning you can keep to yourself, if that’s what you prefer.

A lot of care has been put into making the Kirby stand apart and offer something new to visitors who want to get away from the city but still want sophistication and luxury. It’s at the top of the list in the Saugatuck area and we’re so glad we found it.

If you go:

  • Be sure to check out the acclaimed Oval Beach, which is right down the street from the Kirby.
  • The chef will accommodate any dietary restrictions.
  • Saugatuck and The Kirby are gay friendly.
  • We went in the off season and enjoyed an impressive amount of peace and quiet.
  • Check the Kirby’s Facebook page for special events and packages.
  • Guests can dine at the hotel, and the restaurant is scheduled to open to the general public in early March. In the meantime, check out the tasty menu.

Blizzaargh 2015

We’re getting pretty good at winter around here. Three of the last four have been serious business. 2011 was Chicago’s third biggest blizzard, which John and I endearingly named Blizzack! Then the winter of 2013/2014 was, of course, the Polar Vortex. And this year, on the anniversary of Blizzack!, Chicago had its fifth largest blizzard. This one, maybe we’ll call it Blizzaaargh 2015.

So today was an official snow day. The office shut down on account of the dangerous conditions. And let me tell you, snow days are even more fun as a grown up than they were as a kid.

Today’s schedule: a little reading, a little baking, a little daytime television, and a chance to break out the snowshoes and take some winter photos.

We used Christmas money to buy some of our own, and after busting them out for Bizzaargh, I can say it was worth the investment.

Snow in Chicago quickly turns to a slushy black mess, so heading out to the forest preserve at Herrick Lake in Wheaton with piles of fresh snow was a treat.

Many forest preserves and park districts offer snowshoe rentals. If you go, dress in layers–snowshoeing is a physical effort, especially if the snow is deep, and you’ll warm up quickly. Avoid cotton, which stays wet if you tumble or sweat. Wet and cold is a terrible combination.

Flatness and Frozen Falls: Finding Beauty in Illinois

Scientists determined last year that Illinois is the second flattest state in the United States. Florida is the flattest. But before you go throwing them a pity party, let’s not forget that Florida has the ocean and lots of coastline to go with it. It has the Everglades and the Keys. It has alligators and manatees. So, flat? Yes. Devoid of interesting and pretty nature-y things? Hardly.

In Illinois, on the other hand, we’ll accept your pity readily. Not only are we so very flat, but we also tolerate superlatively meager natural wonders. Of the state’s nearly 58,000 square miles, only 430 or so are set aside for public use (and state parks, forests, and conservation areas). That’s less than one percent.

So what can we count among Illinois’ natural treasures? There are a few things. For one, we can claim a tiny stretch of Lake Michigan as our own. But if you are looking to escape to the wilderness, then the populated shoreline hardly counts.

A 5- or 6-hour drive with a steady view of corn and soy would bring us to the state’s southern tip, where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers converge. There we’d find some lovely rocky bluffs and rolling hills and the only significant splotches of green on the map. But it’s not quite enough to draw people from the Chicago metropolitan area, where over 75% of Illinoisans live.

For those of us who grew up in or around Chicago–that is to say, most Illinoisans—Starved Rock State Park is going to be the place that springs to mind when asked about Illinois’ great outdoors. Less than 2 hours from the city, it’s an easy choice when in need of some fresh air and topographic variety. According to the park’s lodge, the place is Illinois’ number-one attraction. (Though they don’t say according to whom.)

This past weekend was my first visit in the winter. In truth, it was my first visit at all since childhood. And for a moment, I will stop turning up my nose at my plain state (pun completely intended and I’m not sorry) and admit that I had a nice time.


Lover’s Leap Overlook

The park is a series of sandstone bluffs and glacial canyons that hug a few miles of the Illinois River.

Looking down on the Illinois River from Eagle Cliff Overlook

Waterfalls can form in all of the 18 canyons in the spring, and a series of well-marked trails allow for easy access for hikers of any skill level.

In winter many of the waterfalls freeze, and hikers can slip and slide right up to their bases, and in some cases, walk behind them. Ice climbers set up at a couple of the taller falls, as well.

LaSalle Canyon


French Canyon

Eagles migrate through the area in winter, as well, so there’s a good chance of spotting them from the top of Starved Rock, a tall bluff on the river.

So yeah, it’s a pretty nice place in our very flat state. I admit it.

If you go, walking poles or Yaktrax will provide balance and traction on snow-packed trails. Dress warmly and sneak your sack lunch into the lodge. (They don’t allow outside food because they want to you buy from their overpriced and underdelicious restaurant.) Be sure to check out French Canyon, a short hike from the visitor center. For a shorter trip to LaSalle Canyon, park at Parkman’s Plain, an unsigned lot across from the Old Style sign on Route 71, a few miles east of the main entrance.