Along the peaceful Red Arrow Highway in southwest Michigan, the sounds in our minivan are nudging my blood pressure skyward. I am trying to remember why my wife and I thought we should bring our rambunctious boys on this trip. My autumn picture of this region includes quiet orchards and vineyards, luxe lodgings and softly lapping waters on empty beaches. How will this work with kids?
We decide to keep our expectations simple. All we want is to pick some apples, sip some wine and find a comfortable place to lay our weary heads. In Eau Claire, we pull into Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm, a 450-acre, family-owned orchard teeming with 250 varieties of heirloom apples. Visitors can pick their own or just grab a peck at the fruit stand. So far, so good—lots of open space and even a playground where our boys can burn off some energy. With Henry, 8, and Oliver, 4, in the mood to play apple dodgeball, we meander through the rows of trees. Minutes slip into more than an hour as we clunk apples into our basket. Our favorite: Pink Sparkle—firm, tart and colored with a sunburst of bubble-gum pink inside.
The kids are still crunching their apples when we arrive at Lemon Creek Winery in Berrien Springs. Katie Lemon greets us, offering a quick history of the 154-year-old farm that produces all of its wines from grapes grown on-site. This winery is the real deal—a working farm, tractors and all. The tasting room offers several nonalcoholic wines, too, so we leave with a Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve made from Michigan’s oldest Cabernet grapes and a bottle of nonalcoholic cherry wine that tastes just like cherry pie.
I could relax here all afternoon, but Lisa is eager to keep driving up the Lake Michigan shore to Holland. She browses secondhand shops before we have dinner. Then we zip 70 miles back down the highway to the new Rabbit Run Inn in Sawyer. This four-room cottage-shingle home offers a blend of old and new: iPod docking stations and a basket of Michigan fruit, cheeses and wine.
Tomorrow, the boys can climb the inn’s elm trees while Lisa and I explore the koi pond and teahouse. For now, I’m happy realizing we’ll head home feeling more rested than we thought.
What to do
The Bridge International Gifts and Crafts Fair-trade items from all over the world, in Holland. (616) 392-3977.
Lemon Creek Winery In Berrien Springs, visitors purchase a $5 keepsake glass and sample any five of 26 wines. Families can enjoy the you-pick apples, berries and peaches. (269) 471-1321; lemoncreekwinery.com
Model Drug Store and Apothecary Gift Shop Fashion accessories and home accents, in Holland. (616) 392-4707; modeldrugstore.com
Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm Cherries, peaches and apples rule at this 450-acre family farm. Events throughout the picking season include a cherry pit spitting contest, wagon rides, country-style chicken dinners and more. You can also pick up canned items such as jellies and pickles. (877) 863-3276; treemendus-fruit.com
Warren Dunes State Park Dunes rise as much as 260 feet above the lake in Sawyer, providing great views and framing beaches. The park is a popular hang gliding site. (269) 426-4013; michigan.gov/dnr
Where to eat
Thirsty Perch The Thirsty Perch serves fish—fried, seared, in a taco and even from a bottomless bucket! But you don't have to be a fish connoisseur to enjoy the Key West-style restaurant; they offer salads, steaks and chicken, too. The drink menu includes local wines and beers. In South Haven. (269) 639-8000; thirstyperch.com
Where to stay
Rabbit Run Inn An ecofriendly lodging with geothermal heating, low-flow fixtures and green cleaning products, in Sawyer. A policy regarding children has recently changed; children 12 and older welcome. From $190, two-night minimum. See reviews and ratings. (269) 405-1050; rabbitruninn.com
(A version of this article appeared in the September/October 2009 Midwest Living. Prices, dates and other details are subject to change, so please check specifics before making travel plans.)