Great Lakes Children's Museum celebrates youngsters' innate curiosity by providing them with interactive exhibits that encourage exploration and use engaging, hands-on activities to teach visitors about everything from natural science to regional history. To learn about the water cycle, kids can mimic the path of a raindrop by climbing a set of stairs, crawling across a cloud-like platform, and then sliding back down to the ground while learning about evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.
At one of the museum's most popular exhibits, the water table, parents can work alongside their children and discover how to use insertable pieces to redirect the water's flow, create standing waves, or form swirling eddies. Encouraging this sort of interaction between family members helps foster a lifelong passion for learning by allowing adults and children to work together as they gain new knowledge about the world around them.
Casks of award-winning vintages tempt guests at Bowers Harbor Vineyards, which earned Best of Class for its 2007 Cabernet Franc at the 2010 Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition, among multiple other awards and pleasantly slurred compliments. Surrounded by verdant hills near the lapping tongue of Lake Michigan, Proprietor Spencer Stegenga oversees the harvest, fermentation, and self-defense training of a delicious range of reds, whites, and sparkling wines, as well as hard cider. Visiting sippers can silence their thirstily jabbering tongues with Bowers’ signature reds—the 2896 blend of merlot and cabernet franc, touched with a bit of cabernet sauvignon, or the Meritage blend, whose soft tannins create a smoothly quaffable mouthful. Or try the 2009 Rosé, redolent with the flavors of flowers, berries, and wine.
Two Lads Winery's grape-laden, sustainably farmed fields yield 11 wines in a variety of vintages, with a focus on dry reds and sparkling wines. The 1.5–2 hour visit starts with a tour of the 58-acre hilltop complex, during which guides explain the wine-making process using diagrams painted by children, before the tour moves to the 22-acre vineyard, where the grape connoisseurs teach about grape varieties and grape-milking techniques.
As the trees take on the fiery hues of autumn, the pilots at Grand Traverse Balloons help guests watch the transformation from the best seat in the house—a basket. For the last 25 years, the Fall Color tour soars above the tree line, awarding hot air balloon passengers a view of the forest at heights between 2,000 and about 3,000 feet. The tours aren't limited to the season, either, as the Federal Aviation Administration–certified staff flies its inflatable fleet year-round.
Group rides take up to 10 people for one-hour jaunts over Traverse City and the surrounding countryside of northern Michigan. The seven-story balloons float over scenic stretches of lakes, bays, vineyards, and woodland.
In addition to group flights, the pilots also host private charters and tethered rides, for which a balloon is tied to the ground and soars up to 150 feet and down again on a vertical path. But no matter what, every aerial errand ends the same way—with the captain celebrating a successful landing by sharing champagne and razzing the nearest flightless bird.
Pine River Paddlesports Center provides equipment and a private campground to give city dwellers and nature lovers a chance to breathe the fresh air of the Manistee National Forest. The Pine River campground charms tootsies with natural grass and soothes fussy eardrums with birdsong, burbling river water, and smooth-jazz-playing squirrels. A fire ring and an adjustable grill allow for a hot-dog roast in the evening and an egg fry in the morning. Perfect for sunlight-soaked family thrills, a host of activities—including a climbing wall and a Frisbee golf course—abut the placid campground.
Captain Lee Robinson spent his childhood fishing Alabama’s inshore waters for trout, redfish, flounder and tripletail. His passionate pastime turned into a career—now a USCG-licensed boat captain with 15 years of fishing experience, Lee leads fishing trips for Mobile Bay Charters through the same shallow waters where he spent his youth. At the helm of his 24-foot Pathfinder, powered by a Yamaha 300-horsepower engine rather than a chariot of seahorses, he takes passengers to prime fishing spots in waters from Mobile Bay to Orange Beach.