Words by Shelby Deering.
You don’t normally think of the Midwest when you think of the beach. Instead it’s known for its amber waves of grain, but you don’t have to travel to far-flung locales to get your dose of tropical paradise. Between surfing Lake Michigan to year-round indoor luaus, the Midwest can be a surprisingly beachy place, thanks to restaurants, shops and tourist spots with a decidedly island feel.
Boardwalk: Grand Haven, Michigan
The Boardwalk is a nod to those beach boardwalks of old. It wraps a mile and a half around Grand Haven’s harbor and is populated by charming shops and restaurants. Grand Haven has been designated as the only “Coast Guard City” in the United States due to its storied maritime history. In fact, the lights that line the Boardwalk are replica “smoking lights” from the U.S. Coast Guard cutter ship Escanaba, the same one lost at sea off the coast in Greenland in 1943.
Lake Effect Surf Shop: Milwaukee
Wait, there’s a surf shop in Milwaukee? The answer is surprisingly yes with a contingency of devoted surfers who regularly surf Lake Michigan waves. Lake Effect Surf Shop is a sanctuary for surfers who find themselves living in the Midwest instead of Maui, offering board rentals, wetsuits, Great Lakes-themed clothing and other gear. Located in Shorewood, a Milwaukee suburb, the shop is near Atwater Beach, which allows easy access to those tasty waves. They even offer surf classes for newbies.
Shore Club: Chicago
Look around Chicago’s Gold Coast, and you just might believe you’ve been transported to Miami Beach. Shore Club is a jewel on the Lake Michigan coastline that offers pristine views of the water, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and The Oasis, a sandy wonderland where you can reserve a cabana, daybed or sun bed. Top it off with champagne served cabana-side and stylish surroundings, and you have yourself an idyllic getaway right in the heart of Chicago.
Mitchell Park Tropical Dome: Milwaukee
When we need a respite from snow or a rainy day in Wisconsin, we visit the Mitchell Park Tropical Dome. The glass structure is next to two other domes—The Desert Dome and the Floral Show Dome—but if you need to be in a green, lush environment, head to the Tropical Dome. It has a cascading waterfall, chirping birds, the scent of orchids wafting in the air and even a koi pond filled with fish that have resided in the dome for over two decades. It’s a much-needed break for locals during winter, but flower enthusiasts flock here year-round to see the beautiful blooms.
Miko Poke: Madison, Wisconsin
To get a true taste of Hawaii, you’ve got to try a poke bowl at least once, a raw concoction of seafood, veggies and rice—basically, a deconstructed sushi roll. This beloved island meal has arrived in Madison at Miko Poke, found along the city’s famed Monroe Street. It was the first poke eatery in Wisconsin, and continues to be the only one found in Madison. You get to pick everything that goes into your bowl. It’s all sustainable and fresh seafood (or tofu or chicken), plus, you can end your meal with Hawaiian shave ice. Savor flavors like Caramelized Pineapple or Matcha Green Tea and send your taste buds on vacation.
The Tiki Terrace: Des Plaines, Illinois
Just a half hour outside downtown Chicago you’ll find what’s likely the most authentic Hawaiian dining experience in the Midwest. When you walk into The Tiki Terrace, you may half-expect a nearby volcano to erupt at any moment as you take in the authenticity and theming. Handmade carvings fill the restaurant, where you’ll enjoy coconut chicken, taro ice cream (made from a Hawaiian root, this is the only place in Chicago you’ll find it) and tiki cocktails—Lava Flows, Zombies and Mai Tais, to name a few. And if you need your dinner to come with a show, you can reserve tickets to watch Polynesian dancers perform to the sounds of Tahitian drums.