When I opened the bedroom window at East Bay Suites in Grand Marais, I heard the lulling sound of waves lapping against the rocky Lake Superior shoreline. It’s a soothing sound and a welcome distraction—just loud enough to remind you that you’re not at home.
Throughout the weekend, our family—including two young kids (4 and 7)—had a lot of reminders that we were definitely not at home in St. Paul. The most obvious reminder was Lake Superior right outside our door. The boys spent many hours throwing a football on the grassy lawn behind East Bay, skipping rocks into the world’s largest freshwater lake, and collecting pretty agates to “sell” at their outdoor “rock shop.” (Apparently that crisp North Shore air and beautiful scenery brings out the creativity in everyone.)
Another reminder that we weren’t in the Twin Cities was the absence of city noise. Ahhh, peace and quiet. There’s one stoplight in town, and because of how downtown Grand Marais was designed, most people get from Points A to B on foot. We could easily walk to the lighthouse on Artist’s Point from East Bay Suites, or across the street to charming boutiques and excellent restaurants (we ate pizza at Sven & Ole’s, burgers at My Sister’s Place, and tuna melts and mac and cheese at Gunflint Tavern—all delicious). And the people! The locals in town are clearly very proud of their city, and seem genuinely happy to share their little slice of heaven with visitors. They seem to want you to have the best stay ever.
For our kids, the “best stay ever” included not one but two trips to the YMCA pool, just a few blocks up the hill. As part of our stay at East Bay Suites, we received free passes to the Y, so we went on both Friday and Saturday nights. Instead of being territorial about “their” Y, the receptionist, the lifeguard, and other families asked us where we were staying and if we were enjoying ourselves. There was no resentment or annoyance or animosity that “we” (the outsiders) were invading “their” (Grand Marais residents) fitness center. We were welcomed with open arms.
When we did spend time at East Bay Suites, we appreciated the extra amenities. In addition to the free YMCA passes, special touches included a staff that truly went above and beyond to make sure our stay was the best it could be, free popcorn in the lobby (Friday and Saturday nights), complimentary board games, DVDs, books, Wii play system, firewood and s’mores supplies, free use of bikes (in the winter they offer free use of snowshoes), and a scavenger hunt for the kids. No detail was overlooked. It was like we were staying with old friends.
And then there was the suite itself.
Sometimes, when you go on vacation, the room you book looks a little, um, different in reality than online (more run-down and neglected). And sometimes the literature makes it sound like you’re a lot closer to the action than you really are (when you say “right outside your door,” do you really mean “10 blocks away?”) … or you later realize there’s an extra charge for every.little.thing that you initially assumed was included in your stay. Surprise! Unexpected expenses are so much fun!
I am happy to report that East Bay Suites was not any of those things. If anything, our two-bedroom suite exceeded our expectations. It was modern and beautiful and spacious, with a fully furnished kitchen—complete with a breakfast bar—serving as the perfect spot to prepare and enjoy breakfast. The see-through electric fireplace added a dash of luxury to the space and I was happy to find Aveda products (my favorite!) in the bathrooms. There was plenty of space for a family of four, with a patio overlooking Lake Superior so that we could take advantage of those stunning lake views at all times. I should also point out that certain rooms at East Bay Suites are dog-friendly. We don’t own a pet, but we know a lot of people who would consider staying here based on this fact alone. Actually, the whole town seemed dog-friendly to me.
The last reminder that we were far from home was the abundance of natural beauty within a short drive. You’re only 30 minutes from Lutsen Mountains, where you can ski or board in the winter or ride down the alpine slide in the summer, and you’re incredibly close to the Gunflint Trail, Superior Hiking Trail, and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We got our Mother Nature fix by driving 40 miles north to Grand Portage State Park, on the Canadian border, to see High Falls, the highest waterfall in the state, flowing down to the Pigeon River. We hiked half a mile to the waterfall, took photos, hiked back (little legs were tired and little boys were complaining), took more photos, watched a maple syrup demo, tried a piece of pure maple syrup candy (surprisingly good), then drove through Grand Portage National Monument, an 18th century trading post with volunteers and park staff dressed in period attire, on the way back to Grand Marais.
People visit Grand Marais from across the country and we’re within a five-hour drive—still in Minnesota, a familiar place—but yet somewhere special. East Bay Suite was the perfect home away from home.