The sound of the waves helps me daydream as I watch the wind carry grains of sand across my toes. Seagulls circle the water, carefully watching their prey. My niece and nephew giggle as they build sand castles on the beach. And as I look to the horizon, sailboats speckle the water with mighty freighters in the distance.
This is my summertime resort -- miles and miles from the ocean.
Sure, many people head to Florida or Cape Cod for a summer getaway, but I head north to Michigan to play in the sun, sand and waters of Lake Huron. And this is just one of the state's aquatic attractions; visitors to the Wolverine State are never more than six miles from one of its thousands of lakes and streams.
People I talk to outside of Michigan don't seem to understand all the state has to offer and would never consider it a must-visit destination. But Michigan can provide some unique experiences for your summer vacation.
Lake Huron, the second largest of the Great Lakes, stretches along Michigan's east coast through small shore cities such as Lexington and Oscoda. It goes all the way up to Mackinac Island, a place that hasn't seen an automobile since they were banned there more than a century ago.
When you arrive to the island by ferry, it's like you have stepped into another time in history. The streets in Mackinac are filled with horse-drawn carriages and bikes. Historical buildings line the streets, including the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, which offers live demonstrations, and the Grand Hotel, which boasts the world's largest front porch stretching 660 feet.
The perfect ending to a Mackinac Island trip is stopping in to have a sweet treat at Ryba's Fudge Shop. The island's booming fudge industry is celebrated in August during the annual fudge festival.
"Soldiers" offer re-enactments at Fort Mackinac, Michigan's only Revolutionary War-era fort.
For a quick day trip, head north from the island and cross over the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula to experience the outdoors at places such as Tahquamenon Falls. A short drive away is Sault Ste. Marie, the state's oldest city. There you can watch as water levels are controlled to allow safe passage of boats into Lake Superior at the Soo Locks.
Travel to Traverse City, on the west side of the state, and sail the afternoon away on a replica of a 19th-century tall ship. A drive along the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas offers breathtaking scenery as vineyards overlook the blue waters. Stop in for tastings at one of the many wineries in the area; Ciccone Vineyard and Winery is owned by the family of Michigan's own pop sensation, Madonna. And if you're a fan of cherries, you're in luck because the fruit is abundant in the region.
A short drive from Traverse City, be sure not to miss the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Steep hills of sand rise 400 feet high above Lake Michigan as children and adventurers spend the afternoon climbing up and tumbling down. If you're not quite so thrill-seeking, you can park yourself atop the mounds and look out at the water. It's an especially beautiful site at sunset.
As you drive along the shoreline, stop to see an old military fort or a lighthouse; more than 100 of these attractions line the coasts of both peninsulas. They are full of history and most are inexpensive "field trips" that will thrill kids and kids at heart alike.
There are plenty of things to do along the water, but venture onto it and the possibilities are endless: sailing, water skiing, fishing or just lounging on a float. Loungers can get in on the action by pulling out a pair of binoculars to watch boats glide by. The annual Chicago to Mackinac race expects 3,000 sailors from around the world to cut through the waters of Lake Michigan this weekend.
So while other destinations may come to mind first, remember Michigan can offer summer fun, too. It is, after all, the Great Lake State.