The Sunrise Coast

Calendar of Events

“Welcome Spring,” Open House Weekend
Bay City

St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Bay City

Community Band Spring Concert

Arenac Community Funds 13th Annual Golf Outing, Standish

Annual YWCA Riverside Art Festival
Bay City

Thumb Artists Studio Tour
Port Austin to Caseville

Fairhaven Township Fire Department 5th Annual Walleye War Tournament
Bay Port

Cheese Town Festival

Tuesday Movies in the Park
Bay City

Wednesdays Apps & Ales
Bay City

Fridays at the Falls
Bay City

Fourth of July Fireworks Festival
Bay City

Auburn Cornfest

Cool City Car Show,
Bay City

Downtown Sidewalk Days
Bay City

Tall Ships Celebration
Bay City

Pickle Festival

39th Annual Fish Sandwich Festival
Bay Port

Cheeseburger Festival

Downtown Bay City’s reEvent
Bay City

Urban Salvage & Antique Show
Bay City


The Sunrise Coast

By Jane Ammeson
Michigan’s famed mitten silhouette is shaped by Saginaw Bay, a sparkling stretch of water that opens up to Lake Huron and is dotted with towns, ports, beaches, carpets of forests, rivers and trails.
Each community along Saginaw Bay is unique and charming in its own distinct way: There are the small hamlets of Port Austin at the eastern-most tip; to Tawas Point on the western side of the bay’s entrance — nicknamed the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” with its Victorian-era lighthouse and warm shallow water that’s perfect for swimming; past towns such as Caseville and Au Gres; to bustling Bay City, situated where the 1,143-square-mile bay bottoms out.

“It’s absolutely the best,” says Mark Nossal, a U.S.C.G.-licensed charter boat captain and owner of Absolutlee Fun Charters in Au Gres, who offers walleye and perch fishing aboard his 30-foot cruiser.

Nossal is not only talking about the fishing but also the beauty of the area; during warmer months it’s lively with boaters coming to shore to visit art galleries and restaurants, and to enjoy the myriad of festivals, celebrations and outdoor activities in the port towns.
“I’m not sure a lot of people know we’re here, but once they visit they’re hooked,” Nossal says.   

On the water and close to the action

Upon entering Tawas Bay in the bight of Tawas Point, and within  walking distance to Tawas Point State Park, you’ll find Jerry’s Marina. This warm, protected and friendly full-service marina is the perfect home base to explore the area and enjoy beautiful sunsets over the bay. They also offer a complete repair and service facility with factory-trained mechanics to keep you on the water.

The free shuttle to and from Eagle Bay Marina in Standish transports gamers to the 34,000-square-foot Saganing Eagles Landing Casino — Saginaw Bay’s only casino. Take a chance on the 800 slots, as well as a variety of electronic table games. The casino’s Aerie Café, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday for late nighters.

Situated on one of the deepest entry channels on Saginaw Bay’s eastern shore, the full-service Eagle Bay Marina has more than 60 slips and can accommodate boats up to 30 feet. For families, there’s a covered pavilion with grills. The ship’s store sells beverages and snacks, and offers kayak and canoe rentals.

It’s about a 20 minute walk from both the 100-slip Liberty Harbor Marina, which can accommodate boats up to 60 feet, and Pier 7 Marina, Bay City’s oldest continuous operating marina, to the trendy downtown district and the Midland Street Business District. Both have a distinctive collection of shops, art galleries and restaurants housed in restored, commercial Victorian-era buildings. While there, be sure to take the time to stroll the riverwalk alongside the Saginaw River.

Bay Harbor Marina, located just a short distance up the Saginaw River, is the areas largest, full-service marina. Bay Harbor has more than 350 slips, rack storage, a heated pool, basketball court, laundry and is just a few minutes from local restaurants, golf and shopping.

Bay City is where you can sail aboard the Appledore IV. This tall ship is owned and operated by BaySail, a private non-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmental stewardship of the Saginaw Bay and the Great Lakes. In addition to MainSail, the youth half-day sail training program (may be a fun thing for the kids to do), they offer day and dinner sails aboard the two-masted schooner as it plies the waterways from downtown Bay City, along the Saginaw River and into the bay.

This year, the Appledore is part of the tri-annual Tall Ships Celebration in Bay City. The city was named Port of the Year in 2013 by Tall Ships America — organizer of the Tall Ships Challenge — and will serve as the backdrop to Michigan’s largest gathering of tall ships.


Walleye capital of the world

Saginaw Bay is known as the “Walleye Capital of the World.” No, we didn’t make that up. That’s what Fritz Kuhlman of the Migizi Economic Development Company says when describing the superb fishing in Saginaw Bay. Beyond walleye, there’s bass, perch, salmon, pike and steelhead, just to name a few of the water’s denizens.

For those who want to show off their prowess with a line and reel, sign up for the Fairhaven Township Fire Department 5th Annual Walleye War Tournament at the Bay Shore Marina in Bay Port. Add an extra $20 to the competition fee to compete for the Heaviest Walleye and Heaviest Trash Fish, a category that encompasses catfish and sheepshead.

Because there’s nothing more delicious than freshly-caught fish, Captain Mark Nossal participates in the Catch and Cook — a program developed by several state entities to promote and encourage creative and safe marketing of Michigan’s Great Lakes sports fish by partnering the charter fishing industry with local restaurants.

“I take it over to the Town and Country Lounge in town where they cook it up the way people want it — pan, deep fried or baked,” he says. “No matter how it’s cooked, the taste is phenomenal.”

Say cheese, please

Just a dot of a town on the western shore of Saginaw Bay, Pinconning is called “The Cheese Capital of Michigan” because this is where the Pinconning Cheese Company first opened in 1915. Aged 120 days, most of their cheese is sold throughout the region, but their original super sharp cheese is only available at the store in Pinconning. While there, check out the made-in-Michigan pops, including the classic Vernon’s Ginger Ale and Faygo’s Moon Mist, as well as pickled meats (another local tradition) like the smoked pickled bologna.

Pinconning isn’t Saginaw Bay’s only tiny town with big cheese. The Williams Cheese Company, which is celebrating its 71st anniversary this year, is located in nearby Linwood. Still family-owned, the factory outlet is open seven days a week and offers cheeses such as peppercorn, bacon, swiss and caraway.  

Calling all lighthouse lovers

The lights first went on in 1878 at the Port Austin Reef Light, which stands sentinel at the entrance to Saginaw Bay’s southern-most side. It was built to protect ships from the shoals of the treacherous Port Austin Reef. Renovated after being abandoned in 1953, the history of the lighthouse and the thin, needle-like peninsula jutting into Lake Huron can be discovered at the Port Austin History Center.

With its red-roofed keeper’s house, the Tawas Point Lighthouse is located on a spit of land across the bay at Tawas Point. The building, which dates back to 1878, now houses a museum. Tours of the tower are offered from May to October.  

Abandoned but still revered, the Big Charity Island Lighthouse is the focus of one of the state’s top-rated water adventures. Sip a glass of wine (it’s BYO) and nibble appetizers during the hour-long ride to the 222-acre island in the middle of Saginaw Bay; it’s all part of the “1857 Island Lighthouse Dining Adventure Cruise.” Upon landfall, there’s a short walk to the light keeper’s house for dinner (perch for fish lovers, and carnivores can feast on tenderloin beef tips), followed by a tour, and then a cruise back to the mainland, which is perfectly timed with the setting sun. The light keeper’s home doubles as a vacation home between the months of May and October. The 5-bedroom home can sleep ten for $3,000 a week. Enjoy the view of Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron and Little Charity Island from the home’s wrap-around deck. For serious birders, take a breakfast and bird cruise to spot bald eagles and owls.

Natural designs

“Kayaking at Turnip Rock in Port Austin is on my bucket list,” says Dianna Stampfler, a certified travel ambassador for Promote Michigan.

 The aptly named Turnip Rock — think large, tree-covered top tapering down to a narrow point — is one of the must-stops on the Pointe aux Barques trail (PAB), a water kayaking route along a section of the bay’s mostly undeveloped shoreline that passes some of the prettiest rock formations in Lower Michigan. The water here is shallow, showcasing the flat rocks lining the bay’s floor, and with the perfect lighting the colors give off the intensity of a Caribbean sea. Kayak rentals are available, and the 7-mile round-trip paddle offers opportunities to also explore sea caves carved into stone cliffs. Wear water shoes (the rocks are slippery) to swim in the clear waters and bring along a disposable or waterproof camera for the many photo ops. Very experienced kayakers can opt to traverse two more miles across the open waters of Lake Huron to the Port Austin Reef Light.

Tastes of the bay

Who doesn’t love a great burger? Forbes reports that U.S. restaurants and cafeterias served 9 billion hamburgers in 2014. To prove this point in a more local way, when Caseville held its first Cheeseburger Festival in 1999 — a tribute to both Jimmy Buffet and the varieties of the meat patty and limitless toppings — some 5,000 people showed up. Last year, the 10-day event, which includes concerts and The Parade of Tropical Fools, attracted over 50,000 — no small feat for a town with a year-round population of approximately 750.

Beyond cheeseburgers, Caseville’s Thumb Brewery, located in a 19th century house downtown, features beers on tap, including the intriguingly-named Stone Brewing Arrogant Bastard Scotch Ale and Odd Side Ales Bean Flicker Blonde.

Handcrafted stouts and ales, named after such region locales as Charity Island India Pale Ale and Bay City Light Ale, are on tap at Tri-City Brewing Company in Bay City.

The three-day Bay Port Fish Sandwich Festival started in 1978 and is now the largest eating event in Michigan’s Upper Thumb. Four dollars will buy you a fish sandwich so big that it takes both hands to eat it.

Local arts

From funky fun to the restoration of an old Vaudevillian theater and movie house, the art scene in Bay City boasts a wide range of galleries, studios and venues.

“We’re very lucky because we have so many great artists and people who are dedicated to both the historic architecture and the arts here,” says Candace Bales, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority in Bay City.

Bales includes the old State Theatre, now restored to its original Mayan-influenced architectural style, as one of the adornments of the downtown. She describes the 550-seat theater that first opened in 1908 as, “gorgeous and gaudy in the best sense possible.”

Major attractions at the theater include movies and live entertainment, such as actor/writer and singer Jeff Daniels, a Michigan native who has performed there at least four times, and performances by the Bijou Orchestra, a group Bales describes as “designed to fit the stage.”

“It is a community gathering when you go because people are so supportive,” she says.

Another vital part of the city’s art domain is the Bay City Players, the longest continuously running community theater.

The annual Thumb Artists Studio Tour meanders along the bay coast on Huron County/M25 between Port Austin and Caseville, where participating artists open their studios to visitors. Included are: the White Church Gallery, where owners Mike and Carrie Zaitz exhibit their works and other regional artists in the old Methodist church they’re in the process of renovating; and Bird Creek Farm, where you’ll find the works of Scott Hocking, a sculptor who specializes in site-specific installations, and realist oil painter David Tyndall.

For more celestial adventures, visit the Delta College Planetarium in Bay City, which provides educational and entertaining shows for the public. Funded by NASA, the facility houses a state-of-the-art Planetarium Digital 360 theater, rooftop observation deck, computer lab and the two-story “Space Explorer’s Hall.” The planetarium also assists with astronomy courses for Delta College students.

Between water and land, there’s much to see in and around Saginaw Bay. But you don’t have to take our word for it: come and see for yourself.  



Prestige 750 Skyscraper
South Shore JUN17