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Soon after moving to Michigan more than 20 years ago, my husband and I developed a penchant for the west side of the state from staying in places like Saugatuck and South Haven, among others.

So, when our original plans to head north this summer didn’t pan out, we chose to head west once again. This time we would be in Muskegon with day trips to enchanting beach towns like Grand Haven and Pentwater.

Travel serves as a reminder that life is a learning experience and vacation seems to expand our ability to absorb all that is new. For me, everything seems to appeal to the senses in some way.

The food smells better, the air feels fresher and even the ice cream tastes sweeter in another town.

Then there’s the educational aspect. Our border collie befriended everyone from a whoodle to a schnoodle, breeds I’d never known until now.

I also learn from restaurants that tend to reveal a lot about their location. As one local told me, the service where she lives is slow by nature, and that’s fine with me. The food in fast-paced cities often comes so quickly that it rushes our consumption.

Local businesses put a smile on our faces, like the restroom sign at The Baker’s Wife that declares, “It’s not fancy but it flushes.”

Even the basics like back-to-school shopping take on a different tone when you’re away from home. My first impression of the mall we went to in Muskegon was that the common areas were carpeted, which was a first for me in that type of environment.

I also don’t remember seeing the bungee jumping activity they offer there in that kind of venue before. It literally had our daughter jumping for joy in the midst of her favorite store chains.

The downtown areas filled my need to frequent intriguing gift shops, galleries and antiques stores.

As usual, there was no shortage of design inspiration, from the old door turned chalkboard to highlight the specials at an Italian restaurant in Muskegon to the AstroTurf-covered seating sold at Panache Home in Grand Haven.

From the Mason jar glasses in one local restaurant to the surfboard-shaped clipboards in another, unique details were everywhere.

One night our wonderful waitress at a lakefront restaurant suggested we head to Pentwater, which we did the next day. Her tendency to say “cool beans” and her recollection of every last detail about our dinner orders without writing anything down made us trust her judgment and we were not disappointed.

Throughout our stay, there were enough trolley cars, museums and marinas to remind us why this area remains a popular vacation destination. Everything from the florescent sweatshirts advertising local towns to the scenic beaches appeal to tourists.

Wherever you venture this summer and beyond, surrender to your senses and let the area sights, sounds and smells be your guide. Whether you choose a new spot or an old familiar location, there is plenty to observe along the way.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@earthlink.net.

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