The Great Lakeshore Drive

July 29, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Travelogue from a scenic trip around Lake Michigan and Chicago. 

Day 1

Landed in Chicago. After dinner (which my kids confused for an evening snack due to time zone difference), we viewed July 4th fireworks over Lake Michigan near Evanston. 

Below is the map of the route we took from Chicago around Lake Michigan. We covered this distance over a period of 5 days.

4th of July FireworksFireworks over Lake Michigan Driving RouteDrive around the Lake

Day 2


Based on the hat tip provided by my relative, I woke up early morning to shoot the millennium park bean before crowd hit the popular tourist attraction. After filter coffee and a breezy drive along Sheridian Road/Lakeshore drive, I reached Millennium Park to shoot the reflective Bean.

Fresh 'Coffee' followed by a wonderful 'Bean'; a great way to start the trip indeed!

On my drive back, I stopped by Holy Name Cathedral in downtown area and noticed a Prayer Session in progress. I made a note of 'Mass' timings and decided to return the same afternoon. 

Morning Bean!Cloud Gate Beanfie Time!Cloud Gate


Waking up at 5.30 am in Central Timezone meant I had a 3.30 am start in Pacific!  I took a short power nap; had lunch and went back to downtown area with family to see the interiors of 'Holy Name Cathedral', a beautiful Church. I took some pictures of the church interiors and the shutter noise from my camera made me feel guilty for disturbing the quiet and peaceful ambiance inside the church.  

Holy Name CathedralRustic interiors of the Church Divine AislewayColorful Stained Glass inside the Church


From the Church, we walked along Magnificent Mile (Michigan Ave) to Millennium Park. On the way, we stopped at Dunkin Donuts near Tribune Tower for coffee and Donuts. Only after seeing Millennium Park in the evening hours, I realized how good my decision was to wake up early morning to shoot the bean. Morning Bean was like Fresh Coffee...evening Bean was like Burnt Coffee!!...It was crowded with tourists all around the bean taking selfies and beanies!! Later that evening, as per plan we wanted to visit John Hancock Observatory during Blue Hour. We took Uber to John Hancock around 6.30 pm anticipating crowded lines and long waits. However, there was zero wait to get to the top of the tower. The good news was, there was no wait..the bad news was, my family had to stay with me for 2 hours at the observation deck from half an hour before sunset till blue hour, which happens 30 mins after sunset. My kids point of view was completely different from you can see in the pictures below. My kids were curious to see how a FLY got to the outside window of 94th floor while I was busy scouting for compositions.

  Chicago Blues!Chicago Skyline at Dusk from Hancock Tower High FLY'er!Fly on the window of John Hancock at 94th floor! Lifeline of ChicagoView of Lakeshore Drive from John Hancock

After blue hour, we got down to meet our relatives for dinner. Being in Chicago, we had to eat the famous 'Deep Dish' Pizza and Gino's East Pizza was the recommendation by locals. We didn't expect a 45 minute wait at 10 pm on a Sunday...but it was worth the wait.

Gino's East has some interesting interiors with chalk scribbles all over the walls and chairs. 

On the way back to the Chicago train station, I was drawn by the water tower on Michigan Ave. I asked my family to proceed to the train station and stopped in the middle of Michigan Ave to get a long exposure shot of vehicles and the famous chicago water tower. This is one of the 3 historic buildings that survived the great chicago fire of the late 1800's. After going home, we crashed for the night and I decided to skip sunrise the next day .

  Gino's East Interiors of Gino's East Pizza Last one standingHistoric Water Tower Building on Magnificent Mile     Candy CrushInside Dylan's Candy Store on Magnificent Mile

Day 3

After breakfast, we took the Train to downtown area from Davis Street Station. I realized, again based on tip from the locals, trains are the most convenient mode of transport in Chicago, if you want to avoid the parking hassle in the downtown area. Moreover, trains also run well past midnight, in case you are out in the city for an extended duration.

We took the architecture tour along Chicago River and experienced the city from riverside. A lot of interesting facts were shared about the new and historic buildings in downtown area. From the river, through the locks, they took us to Lake Michigan from where the view of the skyline was beautiful. It was getting overcast as thunderstorms were in forecast. Luckily it didn't rain during the boat tour. We got off the tour; had lunch at our favorite Naf Naf Grill and stopped by the Tribune Tower on the way to train station. 

Chicago TrainPurple Line from Davis Street to Howard Architecture Tour Chicago River Architecture Tour

By the time we left Tribune Tower, it started raining like crazy. Though it was pleasant change for someone from drought hit California, without umbrellas, we had to take shelter inside Dylan's Candy Store. 

With kids, it is always a challenge taking shelter in a candy store!! Once rain stopped, we rushed to the train station and headed back to Evanston to pick up our rental car for our road trip.

Chicago Skyline from Lake MichiganSeadog Speedboats on Lake Michigan The Famous Tribune TowerTribune Tower Interiors Lollipop TreeInside Dylan's Candy Store

Later that evening, I wanted to shoot Chicago Skyline at Dusk and the area near Adler Planetarium presented the best vantage point for viewing the skyline. Evening hours are also the best to visit this spot as ample parking is available and for a change, driving was an option in Chicago.

As storm started to clear, skies opened up during blue hour for my dream shot!

I also had an opportunity to take a long exposure shot when clouds were rolling over the city moments before blue hour. 

Windy CityFast moving storm Clouds over Chicago Skyline My Favorite Skyline in AmericaChicago Skyline at Blue Hour

Day 4

We had a fantastic brunch and started the road trip portion of our trip. We entered Michigan around 3pm ...but lost an hour due to time zone difference and it was 4pm already. 

We stopped at Dunkin Donuts near Western Michigan University for coffee and donuts; visited the University campus in the evening.

Sprau TowerWestern Michigan University Thomas and Mary Stewart TowerLibrary Building at Western Michigan University

After a whirlwind visit to the University town, we headed to my friend's place in Holland, Michigan. This town is famous for Tulips and beaches along Lake Michigan!

I had no plans to shoot that evening, however, after seeing some promising clouds, I dropped my family for a traditional south indian dinner and headed to beach for sunset with my buddy Swami. We made it just in time to catch a glimpse of sunset colors over the Big Red Lighthouse. It turned out to be an eventful evening, as I forgot to pick up my tripod from the beach on the way out and had to make a return trip that night to retrieve my tripod.

For me, losing a tripod meant, skipping all my dawn and dusk shots during the remainder of the trip!

Luck was on my side though. On my return to the beach, I found my tripod resting on a metal barricade near the beach. 

Sunset over Big Red LighthouseLighthouse at Ottawa Beach Statepark.

Day 5

I celebrated my tripod recovery by waking up to shoot sunrise at the Ottawa Beach State Park. Swami had fresh coffee waiting for me at 5.30 am, soon after we left for the beach and reached in time for dawn colors. After sunrise, we stopped by The Good Earth Cafe light snack and coffee; reached home and had a sumptuous brunch.

Sunrise at Ottawa Beach State ParkDawn at the Big Red Coffee at Good Earth CafeCoffee in Holland Holland DowntownKids in Holland Downtown

After brunch, we stopped in Holland downtown; spent an hour in the main street area and headed to Traverse City via coastal route US 31. 

The drive took us 2.5 hours and by the time we reached Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore it was 4.00 pm. We had immense fun climbing the dunes with kids. No wonder, this place was named the best summer destination in the world by National Geography in 2012. After an hour at the dunes, we took the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. I wish I could go back here during fall as some of the trees would look beautiful during fall color season. We stopped at the dunes slide area. I have descended the 450 ft dune when I visited this beach in was a painful way back up and I vividly remembered that. I could have attempted the descent with my daughter, but, would have delayed our arrival at Mackinac City that night. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National LakeshoreTree canopy on the way to the dune slide view area.. Infinity and Beyond!Infinite Horizon view of Lake Michigan as seen on a clear day..this dune slides down to lake michigan ..a steep climb of 450 ft on the way back!! Dune TreesTrees on Sand Dunes.. Sugarkissed!Best Bakery in Traverse City! After a tiring day at the dunes, we stopped in Traverse City downtown for dinner before our drive to Mackinac City. What is the best way to end a fun filled day at desert-like dunes? Have a dessert! A bananasplit cup cake at Traverse City's SugarKissed bakery.

Sugar high driving helped me reach Mackinac City around 11 pm and we crashed for the night after our kids spent sometime in the swimming pool area.

Day 6

After Breakfast at 8.00 am, we took the StarLine Ferry to Mackinac Island. Ferry took a slightly longer route via the mackinac bridge and it was 10.30 am by the time we reached the island. We rented bikes and biked along the 8 mile loop. Biking was the highlight of our trip to Mackinac. We stopped at several spots; one such spots was British Landing, where our kids and I took a dip in Lake Michigan. Water was comfortably warm in the upper 60's. After a refreshing dip, we continued our way back to downtown area. The only modes of transport allowed in this island are bikes and horses! We had lunch at Goodfellows Restaurant; their Panini sandwich was delicious, or at least felt delicious after that tiring ride :)

I Biked, I Liked!Bikers on Island Pure Lake Huron Lake Huron from the Island

I had forgotten to take my camera during the first ride and had to extend my bike rental to make another 8 mile trip through the mountainous route cutting across the island. I was able to make some photo stops at Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, and the Mackinac Cemetery on the way back. After lunch, we took the horse drawn carriage tour which allowed us to enjoy the island at a more relaxed pace.

Route to Arch Rock from British LandingBikers on Island   Kayarchers!Kayakers viewed from Arch Rock

The island was dotted with beautiful yellow wildflowers, which I spotted during my bike ride and the horse drawn tour. According to the guide, the yellow flowers are called Hawk's Weed, used by Native Indians to paint their eyes to get a hawk like vision. 

  Horse Drawn ToursHorse Carriage Tours in Mackinac Island Hawk's WeedIndians used this flower to make a paste and coat around their eyes to get a hawk like vision

Our tour ended near Fort Mackinac, from where we hiked downhill to the town for coffee at Starbucks and Fudge at JoAnn's fudge shop. Chocolate fudge was my favorite and there is no better place to eat fudge than Mackinac Island, also called the Fudge Town!! 

Fort MackinacBeautiful Fort Mackinac Fudge City! At JoAnn's Fudge

We took the ferry back to the mainland; had dinner at the popular Mama Mia's Pizza in Mackinac City and drove to Munising for our night stay in Pictured Rocks area.

Fire Ball on US 2Orange Sun over US 2 on the way to Pictured Rocks

Day 7

We had a relaxing breakfast with fantastic lake view from our hotel.

I made reservations for the Pictured Rocks Cruise (it was sold out online, so had to call them in the morning to get a spot). The cruise lasted for an hour and a half. During the tour, I realized it would have looked more beautiful during sunset. However, since we couldn't fit sunset tour in our schedule, we saw the sandstone cliffs at sunset from Miners Castle overlook. We saw a lot of Kayakers from the Cruise, may be next time, we might do a kayak tour at Lake Superior, weather permitting.

Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreFrom Cruise Grand Island East Channel LighthouseFrom the Cruise

During the tour, we saw the some beautiful 200 ft cliff formations along Lake Superior. After the tour, my kids got their National Park Junior Ranger Badge at the Visitor center. We had lunch at Falling Rocks Cafe and Bookstore.  Lunch at this place was memorable for both the food and unique bookstore like ambiance it offers. 

Pictured Rocks at Pictured Rocks!Underwater Pebbles on Lake Superior Colorful Cliffs of Pictured RocksClear waters of Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks

We drove to Hurricane River Campground and ventured out on a mosquito bitten hike to Au Sable Lighthouse. Mosquitos were so bad on this 2 mile trail, kids remembered this hike for only one thing, Big Fat Mosquitoes! 

Mouth of Hurricane River On its way to Lake Superior Sunset Cruise near Miner's CastleView from Miner's Castle Overlook

After dinner, we started our longest stretch of our road trip to Chicago via Green Bay along Lake Michigan. By the time we reached home it was 2 am central time. 

We took some well deserved rest that night and woke up late next morning.

Day 8

We returned the rental car around 2 pm and walked our way back through the beautiful streets of Evanston, which is the home of Northwestern University. This little town has a lot of beautiful churches and big homes (looked big to my eyes having gone from bay area).

Afternoon, we took the train to Grand station and walked to Navy Pier. On the way, I decided to take a short detour and Uber'ed to Union Station to get some interior shots. Union Station was beautiful indeed. I joined my group soon after at Navy Pier.

ChicagoUnion Station   Navy PierNavy Pier, Chicago

Skies turned interesting that evening and I was hoping it cleared a bit for the blue hour and it did! On the way back from Navy Pier, I took few shots from Columbus Drive Bridge overlooking Chicago River around sunset. Our family wanted to have dinner and it coincided with the blue hour too! 

Chicago SunsetColumbus Drive Bridge over Chicago River Unattended Baggage!Union Station Chicago

I knew I had to make a tough choice, have dinner or shoot blue hour from Michigan Ave. As you guessed, I chose the later!

My family was kind enough the take some food to-go as I was hungry by the time I got done with the shoot from Wabash Ave Bridge.

Skyscrapers! All steel and concrete! Chicago's Trump Tower from Wabash Ave Bridge Chicago Blue HourMarina Towers from Wabash Ave

After dinner, we walked along Magnificent Mile area and took the train back home.

Day 9

Kids were insisting on visiting the Mammoth Exhibit at the Field Museum. I also wanted to show them the 'Lions of Tsao' from the true story based movie , 'The Ghost and the Darkness'. 

We stopped by Lincoln park area to take a quick shot of skyline and honeycomb. The short detour cost me $25 though. Parking is free for the first 30 minutes and it goes up to $25 for the next half hour!! It was one expensive shot for sure :)

Chicago SkylineDowntown from Lincoln Park Honeycomb YogaSunday morning yoga in Lincoln Park

Once we reached the Museum, I found parking near the Adler planetarium area and avoided another expensive parking in the Field Museum lot. Kids really enjoyed time at the museum. It is highly recommended activity in my opinion, especially if you have school age children.

Field Museum Downtown Chicago, Field Museum Field Museum Chicago's Field Museum

For us, there was no better way to end the trip than visiting the Temple at Aurora.  We had a great darshan at the temple and returned home that evening to prepare for our return flight. We arrived in San Francisco early morning and remained jet lagged for few days after. 

Venkateswara Temple at AuroraBeautiful Garden in Aurora Temple Venkateswara Temple at AuroraAurora Temple

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