What do you get when you combine an adorable, lakeside rental property in Union Pier, Mich., with the eye of a Chicago-based interior designer? A gem of a weekend retreat, no matter the season.
A block from Lake Michigan, this bright but cozy retreat named The Leo Cottage has three bedrooms, two wood-burning stoves and one hot tub, making it the coziest winter weekend getaway that I could dream up. That’s just the reason that we booked a three-night stay (the minimum allowed for January 2021), with not-so-grandiose plans to snuggle up inside and enjoy a simple change of scenery. #quarantinelife
Winter on the west side of Michigan turned out to have a lot more in store for us than we’d planned, however. While a snow storm pummeled the tiny town the last night of our stay, we were able to squeeze in ample time outdoors before it hit, and hey, the snow made for a great beach visit before the long trek home.
So, what exactly do you do in Union Pier in the middle of winter (and COVID)? Here’s the itinerary that we came up with, and which we’d highly recommend …
Our drive from Detroit to Union Pier took roughly three hours, and we arrived just as the sun was setting, and perfectly in time to put the littlest traveler to bed.
For our adult dinner, we ordered carry out from New Buffalo’s popular – and charming – restaurant The Stray Dog. It’s only a 10-minute drive away, and you can snag drinks to go, too.
After that, a dip in the hot tub kicked off our weekend ritual of a soak before bed.
Just up the road, you’ll find a cute little gourmet grocery, the Whistle Stop, with prepared foods to grab and go. We ran up for coffee and breakfast, but also grabbed some pre-made sandwiches (and pie, always pie!) to serve as our lunch that afternoon.
After eating breakfast back at the cottage, we packed up for a day outdoors at Indiana Dunes National Park, less than a 30-minute drive (and not to be confused with the Indiana Dunes State Park). We opted for the Cowles Bog hike, which was a four-mile trek to the Lake Michigan shore and back, taking us about three hours, with a baby strapped on Trevor’s back and a leisurely lunch break by the water.
The park is lovely and the hike was great, offering some nice flat walks, soft hills and only slight dune scrambling. The only downside is the less-than-scenic smokestacks of Gary, IN, which are within view from the beach. Just avert your eyes to the right and pretend they’re not there, we say ;)
Later that day, we loaded up with meal staples at Barney’s in New Buffalo and grilled dinner back the cottage, which was outfitted with all the utensils and supplies needed. Our relaxed evening ended with the arrival of Mack’s grandparents (hooray for in-laws helping to watch the baby!) and a crackling fire in the living room. And, of course, a dip in the hot tub.
After a laid-back morning, our little crew headed 20 minutes inland for lunch and brews at Round Barn Estate, where we had reserved a socially-distancing friendly igloo, amid bonfires and a big, ol’ sledding hill.
We filled up on draft “howlers” (half a growler) of Kolsh and ordered food from the nearby Public House, basking in the ability to soak up some vitamin D while remaining shielded from those blustery west Michigan winds.
Back at the cottage, it took only a few minutes to walk down the street and access the public entrance to the Lake Michigan beach. The wide swath of sand and the gray skies merged for an incredible view and we strolled the water’s edge, bundled up tight, admiring the massive, gorgeous homes perched above the water on the bluffs.
The rest of our afternoon and evening was spent warm inside, appreciating the aesthetic of the cottage, playing Horses (we packed it!) in the game room, dipping into that hot tub and even spending a bit of time with a book in the bathtub.
Waking up to more than a foot of fresh snow, we took our sweet time packing and loading the vehicle for an early-ish checkout time. And once we were fully loaded, we made one last stop before hitting the highway, to New Buffalo’s snow-covered beach. We walked the water’s edge once more, this time, watching mammoth ice balls clunk back and forth in the tide and marveling at the rocky coastline.
On our drive back up the main drag, N Whittaker, we swung past David’s Delicatessen and Coffee for warm drinks on the drive. And then, we officially headed out.
If like me, you’re the type of person who appreciates interior design and is striving to live their best hygge life, let me tell you: THIS IS THE SPOT. It’s a magical little cottage in the area’s most “off” season, so I can only imagine the dreaminess delivered on summer nights or crisp fall mornings.
That said, if home design doesn’t send your heart a-pittering, you’ll still love a visit to Union Pier and it’s surrounding area. There are LOADS of vacation homes to research and choose from, though make note that in the high season, most of them rent for a minimum of seven days and the prices are steep. They also book up early, so do your future self a favor and start looking now for the perfect weekend getaway in the next shoulder season!