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Hanging Out In Grand Haven | Arts & Culture

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Hanging Out In Grand Haven
Hanging Out In Grand Haven

Written by Steven G. de Polo

Grand Haven has been defined by its lighthouse for more than 170 years. The current bright red lighthouse and pierhead are charming in the summer, but they speak to the merciless fury of Lake Michigan that has consumed grizzled mariners and foolhardy frat boys alike. Respect the riptides, my pets.

Instead of jumping off the pier, take your dog to Grand Haven City Beach on Harbor Drive. According to Grand Haven's favorite daughter, Lorena Slager, not too many people know that dogs are permitted on the City Beach south of the southerly swim buoy during the summer. If you don't have a dog, you should visit P.J. Hoffmaster State Park (6585 Lake Harbor Dr.). Located five miles north of Grand Haven on Lake Michigan, the 1,100-acre park features sand dunes, beaches, hiking trails, nature center and camping. The park is an excellent location for viewing migrating songbirds, including wood thrushes, orioles and many species of warblers and sparrows. Go in early May for the Trillium Festival when you can buy trillium plants from the Gillette Visitor Center as a fundraiser.

Kirby House (2 Washington) is the can't-miss restaurant in Grand Haven. The former hotel boasts three distinct dining experiences that delight boaters and foodies. Think The B.O.B. on the Lakeshore with old world charm and a lively crowd. When you walk through the doors, you are in the Kirby Grill, which is an American style bar and grill. Grab a massive wood table, write your initials on the brick wall and check out the playing card stuck to the 20-foot-high ceiling. Ask about how it got there. Poppa Steve recently scarfed down the Stacked Corned Beef Reuben and the wistful Miss Carolita tucked into the Fisherman's Seafood Linguine. Both meals were made with fresh ingredients and plated stylishly by culinary professionals. The Grill Room is located discretely behind oaken doors off the main entrance. Boasting a classic chophouse experience, the Grill Room has a casual luxury with muted lighting and white tablecloths that allows the food to shine. The menu of hand-cut aged steaks and seafood flown in from Hawaii is flawless. Families should head upstairs to K2, the lively wood-fired pizzeria. The staff prepares all of the sauces and dough in-house for the freshest possible pizza. When you are done, go play video games or shoot pool in the arcade across the hall. The Kirby House has three outdoor seating areas to enjoy the sun and then you can party the night away in the Dark Room, a sophisticated lounge in the basement.

Next, walk down the street to Fortino's (114 Washington). This old-fashioned gourmet store is a Grand Haven classic. The family-run shop has sold everything that makes life living for more than100 years. Peek inside and you will find handmade chocolates, fresh roasted coffees, gourmet cheeses, Italian salamis, fine wines and top shelf liquor. Fortino's is proud to have served five generations of customers, who often make their first visit as children with a fistful of coins to buy candy. You will find shelves of old-time favorites like Black Cow chocolate caramels and Slo Pokes vanilla caramel suckers. Mmm, cavities! According to Rita Fortino Brook, Fortino's has thrived in a world of chain store mediocrity by accommodating what people want. "People like old-fashioned stores. It reminds grandparents of how things used to be, parents can get the candy of their youth and it's new and exciting for the children." Take your kids to Fortino's and start a new family tradition.

When I asked what to do in Grand Haven, everyone said Tip-A-Few Tavern (10 Franklin Ave.). Part dive bar and part Mexican restaurant, the Tip has been a neighborhood favorite for more than 30 years. The waterfront spot opened as a hotel in 1874 and was later called the Chicken-Inn before the Tip-A-Few moniker stuck in…