What has one thumb, a top 10 island, a top 10 beach and more vineyards than you can shake a stick at? This place:.
When I’m finally able to quit the rat race, I want to spend my summers on Lake Michigan. (Depending on how flush I am when this day arrives, I would then like to spend my winters in Southern Italy or Kauai, as long as we’re dreaming.) But definitely summers in Northern Michigan. There’s no humidity; many places don’t even have AC because there’s only a couple truly hot days all year. Nights are sweaters-and-shorts weather (my favorite combination), and days are longer because you’re on the edge of two time zones.
First stop was visiting aunts, uncles, cousins and this lovely old dog who was sweet as can be.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Next stop, post-family visits & euchre, was Traverse City. Growing up, this was the "big city" for us. It was 90 miles away and probably had a population of only 10,000; but it had a shopping mall. And that was awesome. It's fun to go back as an adult, and I loved bringing Alistair along for his first trip "Up North." What was not as much fun as an adult, was tramping up the Sleeping Bear Dunes south of TC. I don't remember them being quite so big or having it take quite so long to get to the coastal view. It's slightly possible that I was in better shape back then. Even if you go just to see the dunes from your car, it's worth the trek as they're quite impressive. Highway M-22 is a gorgeous drive that rivals the Pacific Coast Highway IMHO.
Sailboats on Grand Traverse Bay
Roadside view of M-37 (Old Mission Peninsula)
There are two primary wine areas – the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula. Both have great wines and gorgeous views of Lake Michigan. My preference has been Old Mission because I love driving to the end of M-37 and walking on the beach in front of the lighthouse. There’s only 8 wineries on this peninsula which makes it a great day trip. There’s a cute market (Old Mission General Store) to buy picnic snacks and near that is the Old Mission Tavern with yummy, mid-priced American-style fare. Hands-down, our favorite wine was from 2 Lads. It’s one of the newer wineries, and it has a super modern structure as compared to the more traditional, chateau-like buildings of the others. You might think because of how far north the vineyards are that they would only produce white wines (which kinda used to be true), but they have figured out how to make some delicious reds as well. Go there.
My hometown - view of Harbor Springs and Little Traverse Bay
I never get tired of this view of Harbor Springs - it hasn't altered much as long as I've known it thanks to lots of town ordinances that don't allow it to change materially. This view was also the view from my high school and there's a boardwalk that we used to take down the bluff to downtown for lunch at Gurney's which is only the best sandwich shop in the WORLD. I used to feel like I was over-selling just how good this place was until I had friends from other states visiting it and coming up with the same conclusion on its superiority. It's the homemade bread, it's the shaved vs. sliced deli meat, it's the special sauce.... If you go in the summer and/or at a holiday, be prepared for long lines and early sell-outs.
Another favorite: custard long john from Green's Bakery
We stayed in Good Hart in the middle of this forest. It's about 10 miles north of Harbor Springs and a mile-ish from Lake Michigan. Harbor is crazy expensive to stay in plus the drive to Good Hart is worth it - you go through M-119 aka the Tunnel of Trees which is even better than M-22 also IMHO.
Random art in Good Hart fields
One thing I'd forgotten about living Up North is that everything is "only about 30 miles away." Everytime we'd ask where something was, the response invariably was "Oh, it's real close. Only about 30-40 miles down the road." After living in a true big city, I rarely venture more than 10 miles from home without complaining about the drive.
So Mackinac Island is indeed about 30-40 miles from Good Hart, and we spent a day exploring the island upon which Alistair immediately decided we were coming back another time and staying on the island. It's a bit Disney-ish when you arrive on the ferry. A twee little downtown of shops - mostly fudge, ice cream, t-shirts and fudge. The nickname for tourists Up North is actually "fudgie," and like any tourist town anywhere, the locals have a love-hate relationship with them. I quite happily joined the fudgie ranks this time.
WHERE TO STAY
Traverse City – Traverse Bay Inn. Definitely book early for summers; the season is short and places book up fast. This is on the main strip and was close to the beach and Mission Peninsula vineyards.
HarborSprings – VRBO.com listing #497795 . It’s in the middle of nowhere with no wifi; a true get-away-from-it-all location.
WHAT WE ATE
7 Monks Taproom
Grand Traverse Pie Company
Slabtown Café & Burgers
Old Mission Tavern
Tom’s Mom’s Cookies (fav of Ronald Reagan)
Legs Inn (regional Polish fare)
Any fudge shop
WHAT WE DID
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Commercial food and architecture photographer based in Kansas City, originally from Southern England.