The Third Coast

The Best of the Rest: Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, & Illinois
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Lake Ozark's Boat
THE MAGIC DRAGON: Lake Ozark’s boat tours appeal to the whole family (courtesy, Missouri Division of Tourism)

Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan
Ranked one of the 25 best shorelines in the world by Conde Nast Traveler magazine, and one of the top five beaches in the country by MTV, activities abound at Michigan's Oval Beach, from swimming to sunbathing, boating, kayaking, jetskiing, sailing, and yachting. Nestled among towering sand dunes and bordered by the winding Kalamazoo River, Oval Beach attracts visitors from nearby Saugatuck and Douglas, two of Michigan's premier beach towns.

Cruise the river and shoreline aboard the Star of Saugatuck, an old-fashioned stern wheeler offering glimpses of cottages, extravagant homes, forests, wetlands, and a panorama of dunes. Anglers can charter boats to fish for salmon, trout, pike, and perch. Hikers can climb the 282 steps to the top of Mount Baldhead, a sand dune featuring a stunning view of the harbor and lake. Arts enthusiasts can finish their day by visiting one of more than 30 galleries or catching a performance at the summer chamber music festival and jazz series.

Where to Eat: You can't visit Michigan without sampling the lake perch (usually lightly breaded and fried). Wally's Bar and Grill is one of the more popular spots for fresh perch—and don't miss sampling one of their signature margaritas while you're there. (128 Hoffman Street; 269.857.5641)

Where to Stay: Those seeking a change from the usual hotel chain offerings should check into The Hunter's Lodge—a homey, log cabin-style lodge located only two miles from downtown Saugatuck. Rooms range from $79 to $154 for double occupancy. (2790 Star Highway, Saugatuck Township, Michigan; 269.857.5402)

Devils Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin
Picturesque 500-foot bluffs surround this gem of a lake, creating a paradise for hikers of various skill levels on 29 miles of trails. But be forewarned that those hiking with children or who aren't positive of their abilities should steer clear of the more difficult trails, many of which feature steep climbs and descents, stairways, and cliffs and bluffs.

After hiking, cool off with a dip in the lake at one of the park's two large sandy beaches, each with a bath house, located on the north and south shores. The best swimming temperatures occur from mid-June to late-September. Devils Lake regulars know that on busy summer weekends, parking on the north shore fills up quickly; you're better off heading straight for the south shore beach. If you stay until evening, finish your day with a spin at the big-band-style dances that take place each Saturday night from mid-June through Labor Day weekend at the North Shore Chateau.

Where to Eat: Head to historic downtown Baraboo and the Java Café for a huge jerk chicken or California club sandwich and a ginseng iced tea (guaranteed to recharge your batteries). Located on the courthouse square, the cuisine tends to be California-inspired, and the excellent coffee is fair trade. (106 Fourth Avenue; 608.355.1053; www.javacafebaraboo.com)

Where to Stay: Rustic Ridge Cabins offers large, luxury log cabins in nearby Merrimac. Choose a two- or three-bedroom cabin that includes a full kitchen, stone fireplace, and Jacuzzi for rates ranging from $189 to $299. (E13981 Highway DL, Merrimac, Wisconsin; 608.493.2440; www.rusticridgecabins.com)

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Boating is the premier activity at this famous manmade lake, called the Magic Dragon because of the configuration of its shoreline, which offers secluded coves and gorgeous scenery. It's a large lake, with 1,150 miles of shoreline that offers nearly every recreational activity imaginable, from hiking to horseback riding. The two main lake towns are Lake Ozark and Osage Beach, home to the 17,000-acre Lake of the Ozarks State Park.

Ozark Caverns ranks as the area's most unique feature, where visitors can take a guided tour through the famous formation of stalactites and waterfalls known as Angels' Showers. The caverns provide an escape from the heat and humidity of a Missouri summer—the cave's temperature is 56 degrees (bring a light jacket). The short tour is suitable for kids ages five and up, while a more detailed and lengthy version is available only for adults. The area boasts an abundance of other kid-friendly attractions such as go-karts, mini golf, indoor and outdoor water parks, and the Main Street Opry Music Show.

Where to Eat: The Horny Toad in Lake Ozark is a 30,000-square-foot complex that offers good food, a boardwalk, and a gift shop. The preferred way to arrive is by boat. If you're not too sure of your boat-parking ability, never fear: Attendants will help you tie up at the dock. (www.toadcove.com/HornyToad.aspx)

Where to Stay: The Inn at Grand Glaize, located in Osage Beach, overlooks the lake, just a half mile from Grand Glaize Bridge. It features lake access, boat rentals, and plenty of resort activities including tennis, swimming, sauna, hot tubs, and fabulous views, all located within minutes of the major attractions. (800.348.4731; www.innatgrandglaize.com)

Oak Street Beach in Chicago, Illinois
This sandy crescent located in the shadows of high-rise condominiums and, most notably, the John Hancock Center, makes for the ideal place to people-watch on a busy summer weekend. The beach sits in the midst of a major urban center, so don't be surprised if you find young professionals kicking off their wingtips and heels and walking through the sand on their way home from work, or tourists wearing flip-flops and carrying beach totes while walking north along Michigan Avenue, down the steps to the tunnel under Lake Shore Drive (word of caution: never cross busy Lake Shore Drive on the street level to reach the beach). For a change of scenery, take a walk about a half-mile north along the lakefront path to nearby North Avenue Beach, where beach volleyball reigns supreme.

Where to Eat: In the evening, head for Oak Street Beachstro, located right on the beach, and enjoy a grilled salmon sandwich or Cobb salad with a glass of wine while watching the sunset, as sailboats, yachts, and cruise boats traverse the horizon. It's open only during beach season, which starts in early May. (1001 North Lake Shore Drive; 312.915.4100; www.oakstreetbeachstro.com)

Where to Stay: Doubletree Guest Suites offers a prime location in the shadow of the John Hancock Center, about three blocks from the beach and two blocks from Michigan Avenue shopping. Families should book a corner suite, many of which have fabulous lake views. (198 East Delaware Place, Chicago; 312.664.1100; www.doubletree.com)


Published: 11 Jun 2007 | Last Updated: 3 Oct 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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