I was downright disappointed to get the Sunday morning call from my cousin canceling our fishing trip to north-central Pennsylvania. With motorhome packed, fuel and water tanks full, I was pumped for the long drive east and a week of boondock camping and what might have been the best trout fishing east of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, there’s no accounting for torrential rains and blown-out streams, so our fly fishing adventure was a no go. I was bummed.
How’s that expression go? “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
I don’t know about you, but when my head is someplace else, I find it best to move my body along with it. And my head was looking for a change of scenery. After an urgent online search, I hit it lucky scoring a four-night reservation starting that evening at Holland State Park in Holland, Michigan. I wouldn’t be trout-fishing, but I would be someplace new. With a drive under 150 miles, I could justify the trip as “saving gas.”
I had driven right by Holland on many occasions and never stopped. Holland Michigan evoked pictures of tulips and windmills and if you’ve seen one tulip you’ve seen them all. My original plan was to make Holland my base camp as I visited the celebrated breweries of Grand Rapids. However, once I started to explore Holland’s Lake Michigan waterfront, beach camping, and downtown, I had no reason to go further. Holland, my apologies! I underestimated you in a BIG WAY.
The first thing I noticed about downtown Holland is that it is clean and, well, pretty. Crews of municipal workers were busy caring for the numerous flower plantings while surprising, life-sized statues strategically dotted the cityscape. For a town of about 35,000 residents, the opportunities to eat, drink, and be merry abound. New Holland Brewing’s Pub on 8th is a must see as is Butch’s Dry Dock, which has an incredible back story. If shopping is your thing, no disappointment there, either. Be sure to check out Decadent Dogs for your furry friends, Fustini’s for artisan oils, vinegar, and gourmet cooking classes, and Lemonjello’s for your morning coffee jolt along with some homemade baked goods. Adding to the tapestry is the 120-acre campus of Hope College and its 3200 undergraduate students.
One of my favorite stops in Holland was Big Lake Brewing, located on 7th Street. Founded in 2013, Big Lake has been making beer long enough to get good at it while still pushing the envelope to create exciting flavors. For example, the Blood Orange Haze is a New England Style IPA brewed with loads of real Blood Oranges, juicy Citra and Mosaic hops. Blood Orange Haze was on tap when I visited, and I found the beer especially thirst- quenching, dare I say “healthy”? One of the brewery’s most popular beers is Big Lake Camper, appropriate for a town that is home to one of the best beach state parks in Michigan. Big Lake Brewing also offers an extensive menu, prepared from scratch. Tempting was the Beer Mac N Cheese and the Chicken & Waffles, however, at the suggestion of my server I went with the Stout Smoked Pizza. This hand-tossed, wood-fired pizza features house-made BBQ sauce incorporating the brewery’s Darkstar Stout. At $12 a pie it was a deal, especially since leftovers stored in my camper’s refrigerator served as breakfast the next day. Front of House Manager Jeff Genova (pictured below) takes pride in the food and brews his team serves up. Jeff has lived and worked in large cities out west as well as in the Detroit area, so I asked him, by comparison, how he likes small-town Holland. “I love it here,” he said. “It’s a beautiful area, especially with the Lake; and the people are friendly. I enjoy snow and cold weather so winter is a real plus.”
Where we stayed
We camped at Holland State Park, a 15-minute drive west of downtown Holland on Ottawa Beach Road. The Park offers two separate camping areas, Lake Macatawa Campground located within the wooded area of the park, and Beach Campground, located about a mile away on Lake Michigan. Beach Campground is a large parking lot partially covered with drifting sand, overlooking miles of beach, the lighthouse, and the channel connecting Lake Macatawa to Lake Michigan. We enjoyed the Beach campground immensely. If you want to make a campfire at a Beach site, bring your off-the-ground fire pit or enjoy one of the community firepits.