Six Reasons Why Michigan's Upper Peninsula is an Ideal Valentine's Retreat

Cuz, Baby, it's cold outside.

While the iconic stencil of Michigan's mitten makes it one of the most recognizable states in the U.S., the portion that comprises the Upper Peninsula looks like an impressionistic quarter-note rest flipped once and turned on its side.

The U.P. has familiar bed-and-breakfast allure and breathtaking vistas with three of the five Great Lakes as a backdrop. But the people and culture of the U.P. possess an eccentric charm, one that's uniquely American and not mired in urbane cynicism.

Natives, called "Yoopers," descended from mostly Scandinavian settlers who started coming over for copper and iron mining in the 19th century. Logging is still a vital industry. And so is tourism – some intrepid romantics even visit in the deep freeze of winter.

Sunny seasons bring suntanned sojourners. Clear waters, sailboat races, floral gardens, gushing falls, and red amber hills make the region an easy sell in spring and summer, but barely beyond fall. Even craft shows and antique shopping are most likely to occur only May through Christmas.

But Valentine's Day is in the heart of winter, and 'da Yoop' might as well be part of that immense national park we call Canada.

So, why go?

Pace and Simplicity

One viewing of this video by an enterprising local known simply as "Steve" speaks volumes of a land of blissfully self-actualized lumberjacks, fisherman, bakers, brewmasters, and snowmen. With his own weekly vlog, he invites you to tour with him so you don't miss the subtle high points.

Steve's Facebook "Live Drive" will take you on a snowy night's land cruise where passing any other driver is so unlikely, that Steve drives, operates the camera, and blatantly disobeys road signs. Before long, you enter a twinkling town with windows dressed for the season.

What Steve unquestioningly calls the "famous Snow Thermometer" is a tall red vertical at the side of the road two-thirds of the way up the Keweenaw Peninsula on US-41 north of Mohawk. "We measure snow in feet up here," he boasts. The ironically repurposed mercury goes to 35 feet and includes an indicator for the 54-year average and last year's total.

It's Cold Outside

So what could be more romantic than huddling inside against the elements? Savor the prospect of being knocked offline for a spell ­– or better – not being able to get back home in time for work if a blizzard kicks up. Just the thought of it could bring giggles, but in reality, chances are pretty good for staying on schedule. What Michigan calls its "Storm of the Century" happened back in 1938. But be prepared for anything.

NOTE: The sailboat race that makes the U.P.'s Mackinac Island a known destination doesn't leave a trace once the winter comes. Ferries will get you to the isle where automobiles have been banned since 1898, but only until conditions turn glacial. Then there's no way to get there but by air or snowmobile over frozen lake water. Nevertheless, there is a Mackinac Island Winter Festival in early February with sledding, bonfires, broom hockey, and cross-country skiing by lantern light on two miles of tidy white trails. But forget about splurging on a night at the famously opulent Grand Hotel until rooms open up in high season. If you do manage to make the crossing, admire the hospitality icon's colossal front porch colonnade ­­­­– eye-popping in any season – then bunk up at the darling Bogan Lane Inn, likewise built in the 1800s but possessing a modest number of white columns.

The Great Outdoors

Prone to cabin fever? Afraid to abandon your paleo plan for an all-eating no-moving vacation? There's plenty to keep the blood pumping after you leave the toasty confines of your lodging and your lover's embrace.

Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, ice-fishing, sledding, snowboarding, tubing, pond hockey, ice golf, snowshoe hiking, and ice climbing can be arranged all over the U.P.

Just across the bridge on the westernmost shore of Lake Huron is the flat and forested St. Ignace (pronounced "IG-niss"), a Native American gathering site and the trailhead for routes headed further north and west into the U.P. It is one of the longest-inhabited localities in the U.S.

An hour north of St. Ignace is the town of Paradise on a coastal curve that looks east across the national boundary toward Canada. From Paradise, it's 15 minutes to the second biggest waterfall east of the Mississippi, with only Niagara topping it. Thundering amber-hued waters cascade 50 feet down from a 200-foot expanse. Tahquamenon Falls State Park is open year-round with a parking lot a half-mile hike from the Upper Falls observation platforms. Bring your camera.

Need a break from water and ice? Curve north 15 minutes along the shore from Paradise to Whitefish Point, and you're at the lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The fabled S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest ship on the Great Lakes and the largest to have sunk there in 1975.

Westward along what is known to be North America's first national lakeshore, you'll find immense rock formations with Lake Superior lapping at their feet. The 42-mile Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore features 15 miles of striated sandstone.

Catch the Sled Dog Race in Grand Marais, and get a dreamy snap of the lighthouse at Sullivan's Landing and further westward the Au Sable Light Station through the crystalline haze of wintertime. Then warm yourself at the Dunes Saloon Lake Superior Brewing Company.

Munising is the next pivotal town for venturing out. The overlook for Miners Castle rock is everybody's photo op. And with snowshoes or skis, a trail will take you on a three-mile stomp or glide to Miner's Falls for a view of a 40-foot-high column of ice.

Or get even more athletic. Ice climbing at 'the Curtains' off Sand Point Road is the featured activity at the annual Michigan Ice Fest.

In the Hiawatha National Forest 15 miles west of Munising are the Eben Ice Caves in the Rock River Canyon Wilderness. The so-called ice 'caves' form every winter from water seeping through the walls of the Rock River Gorge. Go north a mile and a half on Eben Road from the New Moon Bar, turn east on Frey Road, park at the bend, then hike or snowmobile a mile to get there.

Pitch-Black Skies ​

It's low season for viewing the Northern Lights, which show their colors mostly in fall and late spring, but you never know. Auroras or not, the number of stars seen from this latitude is unfathomable. Whether you're in it for scientific stargazing or giving yourself the willies for an excuse to clutch tightly to your travel companion(s), trek to an off-road clearing and look upward.

If uncharted territory is too spooky at night for all the cougars and coyotes you probably won't encounter, just cross the bridge barely exiting the U.P., and spend your cold wee hours at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park two miles west of Mackinaw City. It is open 24/7/365, but you can't camp out. You can, however, bring a sleeping bag, a folding chair, your warmest clothes, a midnight snack, and a red-filtered flashlight.


a typical Yooper pasty (say PASS-tee)

Roxane Assaf-Lynn

Best not pronounced like the nipple coverings on an exotic dancer, the pasty ("PASS-tee") is a handheld beef pot pie. Back in the day, miners would warm them up on a hot shovel when the lunch bell sounded. A shop with a hard-earned reputation is Jean Kay's Pasties and Subs in Marquette, but the long-standing Lehto's in St. Ignace is practically a landmark.

But Yoopers live not on pasties alone. So when variety is in order, try the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery. Part woodsy lodge, part trinket shop, part brew pub, this place romances the region to never let you forget you're in the land of Longfellow's Hiawatha.

Whitefish, walleye, salmon, perch, trout. Find out what's open, and ask what's good that day. Supplement your intake with fudge, maple syrup, and thimbleberry jam.


U.S. and Canadian cities share the name and the international border at Sault Ste. Marie

Roxane Assaf-Lynn

The Great White North is right there, after all. And if staying over night – just to say you did, the Algonquin Hotel in Canada's Sault Ste. Marie will make an impression.

Steve's exuberance comes to mind when visiting each of the U.P.'s "really super-famous" destinations. "It never gets old," he tells his Facebook video audience. "Look at that. Snow-covered cliffs. Isn't that awesome? Isn't this great, guys? I mean look at this, you don't get this down in Chicago, Grand Rapids, Detroit."

And he's right. You don't.

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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).


You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker