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Kentucky: Our 5 Favorite Things to Do

By Liza Weisstuch
January 12, 2022
Two glasses of bourbon
Arne Beruldsen/Dreamstime
The Bluegrass State captures the United States with its bourbon industry, horse races, and historic sites. Here are a few ways to experience the best the state has to offer.

No one ever accused Kentucky of being boring. From the lively role it played in the Civil War to its rich history of bourbon-making to the all-American horseraces that bring throngs of fancy hat-sporting fans to the area each year, there’s plenty that draws people to the Bluegrass State, the 15th to join the Union. Here are a few things not to be missed when you plan a visit.

1. Hit the trail—the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

When the Kentucky Bourbon Trail launched in 1999, it featured eight bourbon distilleries. Today it includes 17, six of which are in Louisville. In 2018, more than 1 million thirsty visitors explored the history of this iconic American industry. You can schedule a tour at each distillery, get a stamp on your “passport” when you leave, and if you hit them all, mail in you can exchange your passport for a t-shirt. Last year marked the unveiling of a visitors center at the Frazier History Museum in downtown Louisville.

2. Explore Horse Country

When you think about major American sporting events, you think about the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals. But none of those are associated with a single place—a single venue, in fact—like another major event: the Kentucky Derby. A glimpse into the lives of thoroughbreds is reason alone to visit Bluegrass State. Head to the horse farms in the Lexington area (AKA: “Horse Country”) where activities range from tours of the gorgeous farms, a riding lesson, and visiting the stables of Kentucky Derby champions.

3. Step back in Time

America’s Civil War history runs wide and deep in Kentucky, and there are enough sites and monuments to events and people of the time to warrant a days-long road trip. The 36 attractions on Kentucky’s Civil War Heritage Trail include museums like the Underground Railroad Museum and the Women of the Civil War Museum; historic homes like Mary Todd Lincoln’s house and Henry Clay’s estate; as well as battlefields, state parks, cemeteries, and forts.

4. Soak Up Water Sports

Rafting, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and just plain floating are just a few of the things to do in the 119 miles of Kentucky Wild Rivers. The nine rivers that fall under the designation are protected from construction and other man-made intrusions. Among the many, many places to explore the state’s waterways are Russell Fork River, a rafter’s delight that includes a gorgeous gorge and is rated Class IV through Class VI rapids, and the man-made Fish Trap Lake, a haven for boating, fishing, and hiking. Just be on the lookout for deer!

5. A New Take on an Ancient Landmark

It seems that everywhere you travel these days, you can spot engaging public art and vibrant murals. But local artists lend unique character to their home turf in a variety of ways, and Chester Fryer in Munford, about 75 miles south of Louisville, that meant collecting nearly every large rock he could find within 1000 acres and recreating Stonehenge on his estate. What he didn’t use to build his masterpiece he employed in other projects around the property: the Garden of Gethsemane, Rock Park, and Rock Gardens. You can check out the structures from dusk to dawn daily, but note that it’s essentially in someone’s yard, so no touching or climbing allowed.

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Northeast Wineries: 10 Vineyards That Are Changing the Wine Game

The Northeast region has been an up-and-coming wine area for some time and is finally getting the attention it deserves. With more vineyards opening and notable established wineries expanding from Vermont, Connecticut and New York down to New Jersey and Maryland, you may even call it the “East Coast Napa.” Your hardest decisions will be which vineyard to visit first and if you should order just one glass of wine or an entire flight. 1. Castello Di Borghese; Cutchogue, NY Soak up the history at Castello Di Borghese, the oldest Bordeaux vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island. The 100-acre farm is well known for its expansive collection of Bordeaux and gives history tours at the vineyard for guests to learn about the area and its rich past. The winery also draws a huge art crowd with a gallery in the tasting room that offers regular art shows featuring local artists. (castellodiborghese.com) 2. DiGrazia Vineyards; Brookfield, CT Want to learn about the winemaking process? DiGrazia Vineyards offers free tours of the organic vineyard by founder and original winemaker, Dr. Paul DiGrazia. >span class="s4"> Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy wines on their terrace. (digraziavineyards.com) 3. Channing Daughters; Bridgehampton, NY Tucked away in the picturesque East End in Bridgehampton, Channing Daughters is well known for having a wide array of whites, rosé, reds, orange or skin contact, pet nat and sparkling wine. The vineyard also features a sculpture garden that draws guests to roam through the vineyard and enjoy Walter Channing’s artwork, including a massive 40-foot rocket. (channingdaughters.com) 4. Shelburne Vineyard; Shelburne, VT Shelburne Vineyard started 35 years ago when Ken Albert leased three acres from Shelburne farms, believing that viticulture could be a success in Vermont. Winemaker Ethan Joseph now produces reds, whites, rosés, and even ice wines, which are dessert wines produced from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. Don’t miss out on Ethan’s other label, Lapetus, which focuses on natural resources and experimental wines of Vermont. (shelburnevineyard.com) 5. Wölffer Estate; Sagaponack, NY Established in 1987, Christian Wölffer started Wölffer Estates as a small operation; today that little dream has turned into the largest vineyard in the heart of the Hamptons. Wölffer has an expansive collection of delicious rosés, and has created a pink gin using their famed rosé as the gin base. The winery also has an outstanding summer program, including events like yoga in the vines, music, and special wine-paired chef dinners at the estate. (wolffer.com) 6. Unionville Vineyards; Ringoes, NJ While New Jersey’s nickname is the “Garden State,” when you think of New Jersey, a bustling wine region most likely doesn’t come to mind. But that is, in fact, changing very quickly. Unionville Vineyards sits on an 88-acre farm that was once the largest peach orchard in the U.S. They showcase single-vineyard bottlings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and have a growing portfolio dedicated to Rhône blends and varietals, which are not to be missed. (unionvillevineyards.com) 7. Wild Arc Farm; Pine Bush, NY The husband-and-wife team behind Wild Arc Farm left the Big Apple in 2016 to give their green thumbs a try in the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York. With little to no experience, they took the task to another level when they decided to farm biodynamic and permaculture-focused wines. This gave them the map to create world-class natural wines, a process that avoids using additives and filtration. The farm is opening a tasting room in 2019 and currently its wines can be purchased online and in restaurants, shops, and bars listed in the “Find” section of its website. (wildarcfarm.com) 8. Old Westminster Winery; New Windsor, MD It’s a true family affair at Old Westminster Winery in New Windsor, Maryland. Starting a vineyard was Jay and Virginia Baker’s dream. They planted their first vines in 2011 with their three children, who now fully run the winery. It was such a success that the family opened a massive tasting room in 2015, where they offer live music and local food trucks and have even put out a line of canned wine. Yes, that’s a thing now and you’re going to love it. (oldwestminster.com) 9. Liten Buffel; Middleport, NY Liten Buffel vineyard (meaning “little buffalo” in Swedish) keeps their natural winemaking process quite simple, with no filtration or additives. But the western New York winery’s natural wines are anything but just simple. Opening in 2017, its mission is straightforward: to make the best all-natural wine possible. Make an appointment at their tasting room to try their Pinot Noir or maybe a little Riesling? (litenbuffel.com) 10. Heart & Hands Winery; Union Springs, NY When you arrive at Heart & Hands Winery, you can count on a warm welcome from the vineyard’s mascot, Cailza, a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. The small boutique winery is a reflection of its name, with husband-and-wife team Tom and Susan Higgins committed to producing cool-climate wines that express the flavors of their Finger Lakes region. The winery’s handcrafted wines focus on Pinot Noir and Riesling, from which they create still and sparkling wines. (heartandhandswine.com)

Budget Travel Lists

Cocktails at Your Service: 8 Hotels With Amazing Mini-Bars

It’s gotten oh-so much easier to get a good drink at a hotel bar these days, but your in-room mini-bar? At most hotels, you’re lucky if you get a ho-hum tonic or soda to mix with a work-a-day spirit of (limited) choice. And garnish? Well, maybe that Lifesaver at the bottom of your travel bag will do the trick. You deserve better. After a long day of traveling when all you want to do is kick back and relax with a nice cocktail—preferably in your PJs—these eight hotels are willing to let you shake things up right in the privacy of your own room. Put out the Do-Not-Disturb sign and check in to one of these thirst-quenching spots. 1. The Darcy: Washington, DC The Darcy in the nation’s capitol is shaking things up by bringing the bar to you via their outstanding Cocktail Butler program. (Think: room service for booze!) A well-trained in-house mixologist will arrive at your door with a thoroughly stocked bar cart and build you a beautiful drink right in your own room, be it their signature Ten Thyme Smash (fresh thyme, cucumber, and lime juice shaken with Tanqueray 10 gin, simple syrup, and white cranberry) or whatever your drink of choice may be. Garnish? Proper glassware? Check and check. They’ll even customize the cart to your preferences when they take your reservation. 2. The Langham: New York, NY Give a person a fish, and she’ll eat for a day. But give her a good cocktail kit, and she’ll be mixing up drinks each night of her stay. At New York’s five-star Langham in Midtown, guest room mini-bars come equipped with their Mini Craft Cocktail Set, which has a trio of pre-mixed classics (the Old Fashioned, the Moscow Mule, and their Spicy Margarita). And if you want to bring the party on the plane when you leave, the Langham’s Carry-On Cocktail Kit includes the fixings for a pink Champagne Cocktail with their house Laurent Perrier Champagne in single-serve carry-on size—the perfect way to toast a great vacay. 3. The Four Seasons: Austin, TX Don’t mess with Texas and its love of Margaritas. At the Four Seasons in Austin, they’re happy to mix them for you. In May 2018, this outpost of the luxury hotel chain began offering a daily Happy Hour On-Demand Margarita Cart, accessed by its very own button on each room’s phone. From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., you can call for a bartender to arrive at your door, pushing a bar cart teeming with premium tequilas (including Four Seasons’ own custom Herradura blend) and myriad salts for rimming. Choose from any one of up to 500 combinations of up, on the rocks, or blended versions of the popular classic. 4. The Cape: Los Cabos, Mexico At the end of California’s Baja Peninsula sits the Cape, a swanky, beachside hotel that’s part of the Thompson Hotel collective. Here, each guestroom comes equipped with a custom, hand-etched crystal bottle of Realeza Mexicana, a 100% blue agave tequila produced exclusively for the hotel, and each day it’s stocked alongside with fresh orange slices and the traditional Cabo go-with, candied mangos with chili powder—a pretty apropos cocktail to savor while you sit on your room’s deck and watch the sun go down. 5. The Keeting Hotel: San Diego, CA Be sure to reserve the Macallan Suite at the Keating Hotel (designed by the makers of Ferrari and Maserati, don’t you know?) on your next trek to sunny San Diego. Here, you room will not only come with full bottles of vintage Macallan single malt Scotch and locally brewed beers, but also an in-room cocktail-crafting kit and an ample selection of spirits with which to employ it. Bonus: The gleaming copper Morpheus Jacuzzi tub makes a pretty swell spot to sip and chill. 6. The Four Seasons Hotel: Orlando, FL Sometimes, you just want a glass of wine. Or maybe two. At the Orlando Four Seasons, not only can you choose how much you want without leftovers to contend with, but you can grape-hop a little, too. Ask for a room (there are around 100 available) that contains one of their Plum Wine units. Each one holds a perfect cellar-temperature red (Etude Lyric pinot noir) and white (a stellar Stag’s Leap chardonnay) from which to choose and will dispense single five-ounce pours while preserving the bottle inside. 7. Kimpton Aerston Hotel: Nashville, TN Since it opened in Spring 2017, the Kimpton Aerston has separated itself from other Music City hotels with its whiskey selections, one of the largest in town. It’s not, however, sequestered to the bar at the on-site Henley Restaurant. Not only is Henley’s full cocktail list available for in-room sipping, but they also offer an “Whiskey + Bourbon” package, which includes house-made whiskey-spiked nibbles that await you in your room upon arrival, two complimentary rocks glasses stamped with the logo of local craft whiskey distillery, Nelson’s Green Brier, the fixings to make the whiskey-centric cocktails of your choice from their excellent cocktail menu (perhaps a Briar Patch, with Elijah Craig bourbon, creme Yvette, fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup, all measured and ready to stir), and, when you’re ready to step out, a private tour and tasting at Nelson’s Green Brier, as well as an extra 20 percent off at Henley. 8. Mr. C: Beverly Hills, CA Leave it to the next generation of Italian hospitality icons, the Cipriani family, to stock every room of their glamorous Beverly Hills hideaway with a stash of bottled cocktails, six in total. Choose from a classic gin Martini, 1934 Cosmo, Ginger Buck, Manhattan, Negroni, or an Old Fashioned, all crafted by mixologist Nathan Oliver for the clever to-go cocktail company, BTL SVC, founded by Michael Baruch. But these are no pre-fab flops—each one offers stellar spirits and ingredients, like the decidedly grown-up vodka-based Cosmo, with dry curacao, raspberry gomme syrup, fresh lime juice, and aromatic citrus oil. And just in case you want to tuck some in your travel case on the way out, they sell them in the lobby, too. (Individual serves are $15 per cocktail, and the box of 5 individually handcrafted bottles is $110).

Budget Travel Lists

Destination Relaxation: 6 Luxe and Affordable Spas for Summer

Across the desert Southwest, spa resorts soothe sore muscles and relieve stress — likely with a cocktail or cucumber water on the side. But these big-time amenities come with hefty price tags. The exception is the summer season, when sizzling temperatures outside can mean hot deals on room rates and spa services. Here are bargain spa resorts to book this and every summer—too hot to turn down. 1. Hacienda del Sol: Tucson, AZ Who’s up for a weekend in Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn’s romantic hideaway? This storied resort in the Santa Catalina Mountain foothills has all the timeless charm you’d expect of a 90-year-old resort frequented by stars of the Silver Screen, with all the top amenities of today. Its $90 room rates this summer nod to its emerald anniversary celebrations. Historic rooms outfitted with hand-crafted furniture and hardwood floors overlook a courtyard brimming with desert fauna. No trip to the guest ranch is complete without a horseback ride, and an infinity-edge pool and well-appointed spa await after a day on the trail. The resort designed its spa treatments for guests to enjoy in the privacy of their rooms or in the open-air of their rooms’ private patios, some with mountain views. The resort often offers deals for travelers visiting on Tuesdays, so mid-week travelers stand to save. (haciendadelsol.com) 2. The Phoenician: Scottsdale, Arizona Nestled against desert foothills and Camelback Mountain, this resort completed a massive, three-year renovation and transformation in 2019 — the first since opening its doors in 1988. Today’s guests will find sparkling modern guest rooms, public spaces, bars, and restaurants. The Phoenician Spa is now housed in three-story building topped with a rooftop pool. Peak room rates start around $649, but a summertime stay will run you about $179 per night. Spa specials up the ante. In the off-season, you can get a second treatment for 50 percent off, and special rates for popular services. For example, in 2019, guests can book a 50-minute massage, personal remedy facial, and manicure/pedicure combo for $129 from Mondays to Thursdays, and $149 Fridays to Sundays. (thephoenician.com) 3. Fairmont Scottsdale Princess: Scottsdale, Arizona Want a white-sand beach without a trip to the coast? Fairmont Scottsdale Princess has one—along with five other pools, two rip-roaring waterslides, and activities in the Trailblazers Family Adventure Center. All that adds up to an 11 out of 10 on the family-fun scale. Parents will have even more fun with the accompanying room rates: Families get 50 percent off a second room for children under 18. (Room rates start at $159.) Parents looking for relaxation--or any adult traveler, for that matter--can book the Well & Being Spa Relaxation Package. Starting at $219, the offer includes one-night accommodation and a $200 credit per room, per night. Doing the math? Yep, that comes out to $19 for an overnight and a blissed-out spa day. 4. Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa: Paradise, AZ Mountains versus the beach. It’s a classic vacation dilemma. At this resort and spa, where you can soak up views of Camelback Mountain while you swim, you get both. Terraced on that landmark hill, the property brandishes luxurious décor of stone, wood, and refined flowing fabrics in the lobby and in the casitas, suites, and villas. Most have views of Paradise Valley. May through September is low-season, when the mercury can climb above 120 degrees but prices drop. Room rates in the off-season start at $259 and include a $50 resort credit to use on a spa treatment. Relaxation comes at a bargain too, with 60-minute custom massages offered at $50 off regular prices. (sanctuaryoncamelback.com) 5. Colony Palms Hotel: Palm Springs, CA Party like it’s 1936! Okay, the year may not merit a saying or song, but travelers get on board quickly at Colony Palms Hotel. A summer special here reflects the hotel’s founding year: $193.60 room rates, plus a $100 spa credit (standard rates from $169, without a credit). The property is dripping with charm thanks to its Spanish-colonial-inspired architecture, from arch entryways to original ceramic floor tiles. It’s set a block from the city’s popular design district, but between the on-site restaurant, the pool, and the spa, it’s easy to fill your entire day on the property. (colonypalmshotel.com) 6. Korakia Pensione: Palm Springs, California Morocco is closer than a continent away at Korakia Pensione. The dreamy resort has two well-appointed historic villas, one designed in Moroccan style and one with one with Mediterranean influences. A keyhole-shaped grand entrance welcomes guests to the 1.5-acre property, where lush gardens of citrus and olive trees, date palms, and bougainvillea vines surround Moroccan fountains and bungalows. With grounds like that, opt for an alfresco massage at the indoor/outdoor spa, a yoga class, and a meditation session, often offered outdoors in refreshing morning air, which stays cool until the sun starts blazing. Rates regularly begin at $239 a night, but summer prices start at $170. Seasonal savings grow when travelers book two or more nights Sunday to Friday. (korakia.com)

Budget Travel Lists

Lake Michigan: 8 Perfect Summer Getaways

It's one of the largest—and perhaps the most beautiful—freshwater lakes in the world. Remnants of the inland shipping industry that once dominated the Great Lakes can be found inside charming lighthouses and small-town historic museums, but today, visits to the shore of Lake Michigan are for swimming and sport fishing. City dwellers in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Indianapolis know that Lake Michigan has a deep catalog of seasonal destinations, but for everyone else, it’s still under-the-radar. As such, now’s the time to plan a summer escape “up north,” as locals call it, where Victorian cottages, boating festivals, and fireworks make the area feel like a midwestern Cape Cod. There are countless ways to spend your time: explore the outdoors on a camping, swimming, or hiking trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or Wisconsin’s most remote island state parks, sample locally caught wild whitefish, take a gay-resort holiday, find a favorite microbrewery, or traverse miles of uninterrupted coastline. So what are you waiting for? 1. Manistique, Michigan At With just over 3,000 residents, Manistique is a population center—albeit small—of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The town at the mouth of the Manistique River on Lake Michigan borders Hiawatha National Forest, nearly 900,000 acres of wilderness spanning the peninsula between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Camping, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing on the Manistique River or the inland Indian Lake lets you stay close to town. Savor Michigan’s fast-growing microbrewing culture at Hops on the Harbor, a statewide craft beer festival that takes place each August. Or, to dive into the real wilderness-culture of the area, find the legendary Kitsch-iti-kipi spring to learn the Chippewa Indians’ culture. An hour’s drive north takes you to Pictured Rocks, a national park with dramatic cliffs and wild dunes on Lake Superior's shore. 2. Rock Island, Wisconsin Nestled off the northwestern shore of Wisconsin, Rock Island is accessible only by ferry or personal kayak from neighboring Washington Island. Once owned by an Icelandic immigrant who made his fortune in electronics in Chicago, the mostly undeveloped island is now a state park. Its limited beach camping allows intrepid travelers to spend the night under the stars in stillness and isolation. Day visitors can hike the trail left by its former owner, who built small cottages and a stone boathouse modeled after Iceland’s parliament building. Elsewhere on the island, Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse, named after the Potawatomi tribe who first settled the island, is maintained by volunteer docents who give tours with excellent lake views. But the real treat on Rock Island is the splendid isolation. 3. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana Indiana has the smallest slice of Lake Michigan coastline, but you wouldn’t know it when visiting Indiana Dunes National Park, where the shore appears to stretch endlessly across 15,000 acres between Michigan City and Gary. Seasonal camping and fishing make the park a popular summer getaway, but hikers are rewarded any time of year as they traverse the sandy dunes all the way to the beach or hike the waterfront trail near Portage Beach. As the southernmost point on Lake Michigan, temperatures in the water are usually balmy here earlier in the season, making it a solid choice for a June escape. Away from the beach, the park encompasses historic homes built for the 1933 World’s Fair. The Bailly Homestead, a fur-trading post and meeting place for Native and Anglo-Americans in the early 1800s, is a landmark site that you can explore with a guided tour. 4. Harbor Springs, Michigan The twin towns on either side of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey and Harbor Springs, sit near the top of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Harbor Springs, a town of about 2,000, swells during the summer months as vacationers pour in ahead of the annual regatta in July. Ugotta Regatta, paints the bay with hundreds of yachts and sailboats, while spectators take advantage of the charming, historic downtown fudge and ice cream shops in Petoskey, on the south side of the bay, generations of Victorian summer cottages founded as a Methodist church camp in the nineteenth century make up the community of Bay View. Stay at the Bay View Inn or historic Perry Hotel in downtown Petoskey to experience the charm of another era. For a touch of the contemporary, try the local microbrewery, Beards. 5. Saugatuck, Michigan The lakeside village of fewer less than 1,000 inhabitants has been a cultural draw for more than a century. Saugatuck made its name over a century ago with the Ox-Bow art colony during the Arts and Crafts Movement, and continues to attract artists and curious visitors. Today, this lakeside village of fewer than 1,000 residents is easily the buzziest LGBTQ destination in Michigan. The Dunes and CampIt, a duo of welcoming gay resorts, sit across Kalamazoo Lake in Douglas, Saugatuck’s twin village. The club at The Dunes, covered in disco balls and hot pants, hosts parties every night, but in the summer months, every day on the beach feels like a party, too. Hike through beautiful wooded dunes to the peaceful beach at Saugatuck Dunes State Park, or take a swim at Douglas Beach. For something more chill, check out the retro-style paddlewheel boat cruise down the Kalamazoo River. 6. Two Rivers, Wisconsin Although it was known through most of the 20th century as a fishing and inland shipping hub, Two Rivers isn’t your typical port town. Said to be the birth place of the ice cream sundae (a claim the town’s historical society takes very seriously) no visit here is complete without dessert at the old-fashioned ice cream saloon in Washington House. The only museum dedicated to wood-type printing, Hamilton Wood Type, hosts letterpress workshops and other hands-on events. Design lovers should make a reservation at the Schwartz House, Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. Don’t miss locally caught fish, whether you catch your own on the shore of Point Beach State Forest or order them at Water’s Edge Restaurant, a popular spot known for its panoramic view of Lake Michigan. 7. Charlevoix, Michigan The charming drawbridge that divides downtown Charlevoix makes the town a small but busy shipping port for tall ships seeking access from Lake Michigan to the interior lakes on the other side of the channel. The drawbridge action, on the half-hour, always packs this tiny community of 2,000 within tight quarters. You can witness it perfectly from Weathervane Restaurant, while eating locally-caught whitefish and other seasonal items. Locals don’t seem to mind though. You can find them in the Victorian homes around the scenic natural harbor or the charming “mushroom house” built by self-taught architect Earl Young. The round stone structures, which look curiously like hobbit homes, are made of materials found in the area and blend perfectly into the woods. At the end of July, the eight-day Venetian Festival includes a boat parade, live music, beach festival, and fireworks. 8. Port Washington, Wisconsin It might be the classical brick downtown dating from the early 1800s, the vintage Art Deco pier light, or the neighborly village feel of this harbor community, but Port Washington’s motto, “New England charm and Midwestern friendliness,” fulfills its promise. Visitors to this resort town, 30 miles north of Milwaukee, can swim or yacht on the Lake Michigan shoreline, or head deeper with Port Deco Divers weekend scuba diving trips, which explore one of more than a dozen local shipwreck sites at the bottom of the lake. Since 1964, the town’s largest annual festival, Port Fish Day, celebrates the Lake Michigan fishing tradition with a parade, rock bands, fish and chips stands, and fireworks. Turn up for the atmosphere, stay for the people.