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Chicago winters bring beach dreams of Mexico and Michigan

Sunsets are colorful in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Sunsets are colorful in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.By Terri Colby

Chicago is a favorite city most anytime of year, but February is my least favorite time to be here. That’s when I begin dreaming of beaches and want to plan a late spring or early summer getaway.

For spring, the place to go is Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with direct flights from Chicago, a bustling beach scene and lots of options for singles or families. For early summer, get your plans lined up for a trip to South Haven, Mich., just 130 miles by car from Chicago with plenty of hotels, B&Bs and rental houses and cottages to choose from.

Los Muertos Beach in the heart of Puerto Vallarta’s old town is a terrific place to spend a day. You can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas for a decent price from the hotels along the beach, where you can use their pools and bathroom facilities as well. One note about the beach: Make sure to bring swim shoes as it can be a bit rocky at the shoreline for tender feet.

There are people hawking everything from clothes and jewelry to fresh grilled lobster straight from the sea that morning. But if you wave them off, you won’t be bothered. My first visit there, I felt as if I were watching a circus show as I laid back in my lounge chair, sipped my margarita and saw the waves sprinkle the shore. One advantage of renting the beach chairs is that drinks are often part of the package and will be brought to you right on the beach. There are many quieter beaches around, but I like this one for all the activity and access to the heart of downtown.

For more information, including details on family-friendly side trips, check out the Puerto Vallarta tourism office.

Kick off your summer beach time with a short (or long) visit to South Haven, where miles of pristine beaches are the focus of this charming small town where you can have lunch in the middle of downtown and then walk to the beach. It’s a great family destination.

South Haven has seven public beaches along five miles of shoreline. The busiest beach is probably North Beach, named because it’s on the North Side of the Black River, which runs through town. North Beach is an especially good destination for people with kids. There are wide, flat swaths of sand, playground equipment, volleyball pits and a small concession stand where you can plop down on the stools and get a lemonade or ice cream. There’s also a long wooden pathway from the parking lot to the shore that makes it easier for handicapped people to access the beach or for families carrying lots of stuff and strollers.

For more information, including listings of available accommodations, check out the South Haven Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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