You’ve heard of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But Indiana’s sand dunes? Believe it or not, you’ll find ones that soar to over 100 feet in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along the Lake Michigan shoreline. And the 15,000-acre park is also a prime viewing spot for hundreds of species of birds and nearly 1,500 species of plants, from arctic to desert varieties. You can do the dunes all by themselves, but if you’re planning a trip from points east, we suggest a road trip with – as they say in Indy – plenty of pit stops along the way.
Day One: Thursday
Fallingwater was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo: Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
The Wright Stuff
We began our journey from New York in our Subaru Legacy with our favorite SiriusXM®1 channels all teed up. But wherever your starting point, try to plan a visit to Fallingwater, the iconic home in southwestern Pennsylvania designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1935, Wright was hired by department store owner Edgar Kaufmann and his wife Liliane to create a weekend getaway on land they owned not far from Pittsburgh. Wright cantilevered the home he named Fallingwater on its hilly site so his clients could enjoy viewing the cascades below. The stunning result became a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Reserve a tour, and stay overnight at one of Fallingwater’s Lodging Partners in Education; each member inn and resort has made a financial commitment to supporting Fallingwater’s educational programming for area children.
Day Two: Friday
The permanent public art installation is the first thing visitors encounter at the Hall of Fame entrance and provides a can’t-miss photo opp to fans experiencing new programs and exhibits at the Rock Hall. Photo: Courtesy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Rise early and take I-76W to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland – the drive takes about 3 1/2 hours. Allow at least two hours to see a sampling of the thousands of items in the permanent collection, from Johnny Cash’s tour bus to Kurt Cobain’s Stratocaster. Your trip continues for 4 1/2 hours along I-90W; you should arrive at the dunes by dinner.
Each room at the Marina Grand Resort features a marina view.
Depending on your taste in lodging, consider either the casual Duneland Beach Inn in Michigan City, Indiana, where you can sample steak and craft beer at the on-site restaurant and enjoy access to a private beach; the more traditional Harbor Grand Hotel in New Buffalo, which offers an indoor pool and outdoor sun deck, complimentary bicycles and a 2 1/2-block walk to the public beach; or the waterfront Marina Grand Resort, also in New Buffalo, where the gastropub features artisanal fare and every room has views of the marina.
For more dining options, head to Trattoria Tonelli in Michigan City for grilled calamari and marinated lamb chops, or to Hokkaido for excellent sushi. Or try the famed, thin-crust wood-fired pizzas at Stop 50, which made Serious Eats’ list of top pizza joints in Indiana.
Day Three: Saturday
The 3 Dune Challenge features 1.5-mile, 552-foot climb of the tallest three Indiana sand dunes. Photo: Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism.
Grainy Day Fun
On to the dunes! Take on the 1.5-mile 3 Dune Challenge by climbing up 552 feet of sand, the total of the three highest dunes at the Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton. The tallest, Mt. Tom, soars 192 feet, but the views are worth the hike. If you have children in tow, the Washington Park Zoo on 15 acres close to Lake Michigan in Michigan City houses more than 90 animal species in natural settings; there's also a short train ride for kids and an observation tower that overlooks the lake.
For breakfast, lunch or brunch, Pierre Anne Crêperie in New Buffalo, a restaurant-cum-art gallery, serves homemade soups along with their signature savory or sweet crepes. But save room for the area’s legendary 58 flavors of ice cream at Oink’s, where you can make a pig of yourself with a sundae, soda or four-scoop banana split known as Big Dutchman.
The lakeside Lubeznick Center for the Arts in Michigan City, open all year, has five galleries of contemporary art, showcasing both regional and national artists, and also offers a number of live musical performances and festivals, including the Lubeznick Art & Artisans Festival in August. For dinner, go upscale with oysters, New York strip steaks, Australian lamb shanks or bourbon-glazed meatloaf at Bartlett’s Gourmet Grill & Tavern in Beverly Shores. For something less fancy, try the Octave Grill in Chesterton, where the burgers are said to be the best in the area. Or catch a movie at The 49’er Drive-in Theatre in Valparaiso, open nightly from June through August, and snack on deep-fried green beans, pork fritters and funnel cakes.
Day Four: Sunday
Birdwatchers can observe hundreds of bird species at the Indiana sand dunes. Photo: Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism
Flights and Fancy
Hawks, herons, plovers – there’s lots of opportunity to birdwatch in the dunes, but don’t just wing it. Reserve a free backpack filled with two sets of binoculars, a birding basics book, a bird identification book and a list of top birds sited throughout the park – all part of the park-sponsored “Backpacks for Birders” program, which is available at several locations. For those who prefer to wheel it, the Indiana Dunes Bikeway System offers nine scenic loops through forests, wetlands and along the shores of Lake Michigan.
On the way home, browse the boutiques along Michigan’s charming Red Arrow Highway. The clothes at Frecklefarm ooze laid-back luxe, and don’t miss the pearl-studded leather bracelets at Abigail Heche Jewels in Lakeside. Break for lunch in Union Pier at Blue Plate Cafe, where wraps, scrambles, salads, soups and sandwiches are all made from organic ingredients. Or try Nani’s Cafe, with its signature dish of a buttered New England-style roll stuffed with garlic shrimp, aioli and fresh chives that comes with the warning, “This is addictive!”
Time Check. Remember to reset your clocks. The dunes, Michigan City and Northwest Indiana are on Central Time; most of the rest of Indiana is on Eastern, as is most of Michigan.
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