Harbor Country, as it is known just across the Indiana border into southwest Michigan, is only about 90 minutes away from Chicago's suburbs. But it's another mindset away from the stresses of day-to-day life.
"Our eight towns are like one big town with an abundance of green space," says Kim Pruitt, marketing coordinator for the Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce. "Beautiful sandy beaches, vineyards, woods and preserves set the tone for a creative and relaxed environment."
The name, Harbor Country, is a trademarked destination that includes Sawyer, Harbert, Lakeside, Union Pier, New Buffalo, Grand Beach, Michiana and Three Oaks. Many suburbanites also embrace the surrounding area, known as the Neighbors of Harbor Country, for weekend getaways.
It's a culturally rich area with myriad options for lodging, relaxation and entertainment.
"The area's countryside is abundant with beautiful farmland, perfect for a bike ride or tour of the local vineyards and wine-tasting rooms, on your own or by car and driver," Pruitt said.
Here are a few spots well-worth checking out:
If the weather cooperates, suburbanites might be intrigued by the Fernwood Botanical Garden & Nature Preserve. The 105 acres of gardens and natural areas are under a 121-foot bluff on the banks of the St. Joseph River in Berrien County.
The property boasts 536 plant species, 403 of them native and 31 on the state's endangered or threatened list. Fernwood is a destination for spring wildflower viewing and also a birder's paradise with more than 150 species.
Located at 13988 Range Line Road in Niles, Mich., the preserve began as the country home of horticulturalist and naturalist Kay Boydston in 1941, but the public garden opened its gates in 1964 and will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. The Nature Center and Mary Plym Visitors Center both opened in 1989.
The nature area incorporates a 125-foot drop in elevation that produces several natural communities, including dry and wet forests, second-growth woods, streams and ponds and reconstructed prairie grass.
The setting also offers visitors the chance to enjoy an arboretum, springs, miles of walking and hiking trails, ponds and gardens. Garden features include a new adventure garden for kids, herb garden, Paul Busse-designed railway garden, Japanese garden and other special areas.
Indoors, you'll find a fern conservatory, art gallery, nature center, library, cafe and gift shop.
Fernwood welcomed 33,000 visitors last year from more than 25 states. Its mission, Executive Director Carol Line said, "is to enrich people's lives by awakening and deepening their appreciation of nature and the possibilities of harmony between people, plants, gardens and wildlife."
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday from November to April.
Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for teens, $3 for kids 6-12 and children 5 and younger admitted free.
Toast to history
See history -- and enjoy a sense of irony -- at the Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks.
That irony comes courtesy of the past. The building that today houses the distillery was originally owned by a prohibitionist more than a century ago.
The Journeyman operates with 2,500 square feet of open factory space. It boasts a vintage ambience in the historic Featherbone Factory.
The distillery was started two years ago by Bill Welter, who learned to distill whiskey when he traveled to Scotland after college. But the building dates back to the 1880s.
"People can come and really see the history," said Welter, the founder and owner. "We really just brought the old building back to life."
When it was first built, it was used to make buggy whips and corsets. It was owned then by E.K. Warren, an avid prohibitionist. When Welter took charge of the building, he added the whiskey but went to great lengths to incorporate the building's 19th-century charm.
"We maintained the history of the space by keeping much of the original building intact, meaning exposed brick, original flooring in some of the space, exposed pipes," said Tiffany Daugherty, the brand ambassador for the establishment. "We also have gallery windows looking into the distillery so that our customers can see the distillation in action. The atmosphere is laid-back and friendly. On busy days, there is someone to greet every customer who walks through the door."
The distillery, located at 109 Generations Drive, offers a bites and sandwiches menu, along with unique bar selections.
"We are an organic grain-to-glass distillery," Daugherty said. "We complete the entire process of spirit making in our building. We start by milling locally sourced organic grains. We create and ferment our mashes on site and distill our spirits for our customers to see. Then we bottle, label and box our spirits with the help of local volunteers."
For information or to make reservations, see journeymandistillery.com or call (269) 820-2050.
Enjoying the arts
If you want to balance out your cocktails with a taste of culture, the Lubeznik Center for the Arts is a unique gallery on the lakefront in Michigan City, Ind., just across the border from southwest Michigan.
"The center has been making headlines for its dramatic renovated interiors and exceptional art exhibitions," center officials say on its website.
The facility boasts more than 5,000 square feet of space on two floors at 101 W. Second St. in Michigan City. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
"We are the hub of artistic activity in the city and region. We provide leadership in arts initiatives such as the Uptown Arts District and SculptFusion public art projects," said Amy Davis Navardauskas, marketing director for the center. "Lubeznik Center for the Arts provides world-class contemporary art exhibitions and educational arts programming. Our exhibitions feature artists from the region and across the nation."
Exhibits planned for Nov. 2 through Feb. 9 include "Citizen Soldier," an art exhibition of contemporary works by military combat veterans, and "Theater of Conflict," works dealing with political protest, revolution and war.
"Named for generous supporters of the Lubeznik Center, Jerry and Debbie Hyndman, this first-floor, 2,500-square-foot gallery with bamboo floors has a breathtaking 100-foot curved wall, which is a spectacular space for showcasing headline exhibitions," Navardauskas said.
For information, check www.lubeznikcenter.org or call (219) 874-4900.
Then, if you want to keep your arts appreciation flowing, head to Burnison Galleries in Lakeside, Mich.
Artwork from more than 20 countries ranges from oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings to ceramic, porcelain and cast pottery as well as oriental and Persian rugs and assorted antiques.
Founded in 2006, the gallery's winter hours run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday.
Burnison Galleries, located at 15460 Red Arrow Highway, also offers appraisal services for artwork and antiques.
"The gallery has a homelike, cozy atmosphere," co-owner Tom Burnison said.
For information, see www.burnisongalleries.com or call (269) 469-1141.
On stage at the Acorn
The Acorn Theater is an eclectic live performance venue given over to song, shows and other live productions.
The theater celebrated its 10th anniversary this year at 107 Generations Drive in Three Oaks, an arts community of about 1,800 just past the Indiana-Michigan state line that general manager Sandra Thompson calls "one of the neatest small towns in the country."
The Acorn was founded by Kim Clark, whose background includes writing and producing for television and movies as well as running for Congress, and David Fink, chairman of the boards of the Chicago Improv Festival and the Poetry Center of Chicago.
The Acorn has hosted such performers as Poi Dog Pondering, Jefferson Starship, Leon Redbone, Cowboy Junkies, The BoDeans and Ritchie Havens. This month's shows the Katie Todd Band on Saturday, Nov. 23, and folk singer Bonnie Koloc on Saturday, Nov. 30.
For information, call (269) 756-3879 or visit acorntheater.com.