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Road trips, kitschy tourist traps and sunset smooches
There's only one way to cruise the Upper Peninsula's U.S. 2: with the one you love, windows down, hands surfing the breeze and one foot ready to hit the brakes. Your ultimate destination is a spot on the miles-long strand of Lake Michigan beach that runs along the highway, but while you scout your place in the sun, stop off at some tourist haunts that stay true to their 50's-era heyday.
Headed west from the Mackinac Bridge on U.S. 2, make your first stop the Curio Fair, about 11"2 miles up — you'll know it by the seashell-encrusted exterior and 85-foot tower. Erected after the bridge opened in 1957, it hawks under its birch-bark ceiling such summer travel essentials as whoopee cushions, one-eyed pirate skull banks and belly-button lint brushes. For 50 cents you can climb the tower stairs, bearing witness along the way to graffiti vows of eternal love to the likes of Gunther Stubbs, Jesus and Rhonda Sue. (Keep an eye out for Joe and Jan, who first autographed the walls in 1978, returned with their son in 1985 and then came back once more in '95; they're due for a visit.) 906-643-8626.
Next up is the World Famous Mystery Spot, 5 miles west of the bridge. Endure the monotone spiel of the high school-age host who leads you through the mystery spot — "a phenomenon of optical contradictions and physical sensations discovered in 1953" — and you will be rewarded. With what? A seat in a gravity-defying chair, rubber balls that roll uphill and a lot of laughs. 906-643-8322.
Before the day is out, pull over on the side of U.S. 2 and park your blanket on the beach. You'll want ample time to swim the shallow but warm Lake Michigan waters before the evening sky fires up its fuchsia and orange flames. We love the stretch just east of Brevort. It's a short walk from the road, but tucked behind the dunes, so the waves — not passing traffic — play your smooch-worthy soundtrack.
At beach-day's end, Clyde's Drive-In, a mile west of the bridge, serves the famous Big C Colossal Clyde Burger, a 3"4-pounder that's best topped with Clyde's cheese of choice — a fat hunk of Velveeta — and paired with a chocolate malt. Order and eat it in your car or belly up to the gold-flecked counter. 906-643-8303.