An Up North summer begins and ends on a holiday. That’s 59 days to soak up the sun. So I put together a list of 59 ways to squeeze in every last drop of Pure Michigan fun. This year, let’s all Be a Traveler in Traverse City. On your mark… get set… go!
- Hunt for petoskey stones. Point Betsie is a good stony beach with miles of shoreline for walking. Not sure what you’re looking for? Pick up a rock hunting guide from Korner Gem. Kevin’s an expert!
- Watch a movie under the stars. Get a bucket of popcorn with real butter and experience a time warp at the Cherry Bowl Drive-in in Honor. Or check out the Bike-in TC movies in F&M park, and the week-long Traverse City Film Festival with free flicks at the Open Space in August.
- Sip a cold drink under the warm sun. I love to look out over the marina from the deck at Harbor 22, or better yet… cocktails on a boat, in the harbor will do just fine.
- Read a paperback on the beach. Ok, so this one makes my list every summer for nothing more than pure selfish relaxation. I’m usually giggling at Stephanie Plum in the latest Janet Evanovich book, but if you’re looking for a new read I’d suggest a stop by Brilliant Books in Traverse City.
- Buy a flight at a local brewery. Our little town is one of the beeriest cities in the U.S. You’ll find a dozen craft breweries in Traverse City and new ones popping up in small towns, like Stormcloud in Frankfort. So grab a flight and drink local.
- Bike the T.A.R.T. trail or Benzie trail. Follow this stretch of the T.A.R.T. that runs along Boardman Lake behind the Traverse Area District Library and look for the planetary signs. It’s great fun for the kids.
- Celebrate our independence with fireworks. We park and walk for miles to Lake Michigan beach in Frankfort with a bag of licorice, glow necklaces and dig our pit in the sand to watch a spectacular show every July 4th.
- Reel in a king salmon. Forget the worm, up North, the early bird gets the fish! The best bite is at dawn and dusk, but the thrill of the catch is worth it. On a good day you’ll bring home dinner. On a bad day it was a still a nice boat ride that followed the colors of the sun.
- Fill a basket with fresh picked fruit straight from the orchard. Stop at a U-Pick farm for a hands-on experience or pull up to a roadside stand and select from nature’s best.
- Count satellites and ponder the stars. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore holds ‘Star Parties’ several times each summer where you can explore the night sky through powerful telescopes. Or kick back next to a campfire and watch for meteors.
- Try a new restaurant. Our region is blessed with fantastic local eateries. Try one that’s new —or at least new to you— this summer. On my list: The Franklin on Front and Cass in downtown Traverse City and Tucker’s in Northport.
- Walk barefoot along our freshwater coast. Take some time to feel the sand between your toes on a beach walk. You’ll find busy beaches along the shores of West Bay, Frankfort and Empire, or seek solitude at the end of a quiet road in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
- People watch at a festival. From the National Cherry Festival to the Northwestern Michigan Fair to the Traverse City Film Festival there’s entertainment to be found in the crowd. You may catch a glimpse of celebrity locals including Michael Moore, Carter Oosterhouse and Mario Batali.
- Buy art from a local artist. Local art makes a unique souvenir from your trip up north. Check out Michigan Artists Gallery in Suttons Bay, Gallery 50 at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, and Art and Soul in downtown TC.
- Drink the fruits of our land. The wineries are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Grand Traverse region. But as a local, I’m proud to say I love them too. Take a trip on Old Mission or Leelanau county and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Before you go, check out my tips for wine-tasting in Northern Michigan.
- Jump off a dock. Swing from a rope, dive in a pool, take flight over a body of water and land with a splash. That’s summer lovin’ at its watery best.
- Marvel at a Museum. From unexpected treasures at the Music House Museum, to fine art at the Dennos to hands-on fun at the Great Lakes Children’s Museum, there’s indoor fun to be had in Traverse City too.
- Run down the dunes. The Sleeping Bear Dunes is a must-visit every summer. From the dune climb that overlooks Big and Little Glen, to the quieter spots in the National Park, find your spot to run with the wind in your hair and legs out of control.
- Eat dessert from a cone. Is there a more perfect summer food than ice cream? We make regular trips to Moomer’s for homemade deliciousness complete with farm views. But if you want to feel like a local order the Cosmo cone from the Dairy Lodge.
- Roast s’mores over an open flame. My secret for a perfect s’more: buy the giant marshmellos, roast until gooey, remove skewer and slip two squares of chocolate inside the marshmello. Squeeze between two grahams and enjoy. This will be the most delicious mess you eat all summer.
- Float down the Platte. Whether you like to bob on a tube, cruise in a kayak or navigate with a canoe, a trip down the Platte from Riverside Canoes is the best way to enjoy the river. Plan to spend some time at the mouth swimming in the warm current as it empties into Lake Michigan.
- Dinner at the Manitou. After spending my high school and college years as a waitress here I can’t let a summer go by without a trip to the Manitou Restaurant on M-22 near Crystal Lake. No skimping either. Start with the skinny dippers and finish with blueberry raspberry pie.
- Climb a lighthouse tower. Nothing beats the view from the top of a lighthouse in Michigan. We’re lucky to have several you can climb including the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. Did you know you can see four islands from their tower?
- Ride the new Heritage Trail. Bikers will want to check out the brand new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail that runs from the Dune Climb south to Empire. It’s a beautiful new addition to the park.
- Dine al fresco. I do a lot of grab-n-go dining as I’m on the road. But in the summer I try to slow down for a meal al fresco. Check out the seating at Morsels along the Boardman River for a coffee or snack. Or grab a bite from the food trucks that park at The Little Fleet.
- Buy fresh fruit from a roadside stand. Cruise up M-37 on Old Mission Peninsula and you’ll find lovely roadside stands all summer selling cherries, peaches, apricots and flowers. Some are washed and ready to eat.
- Play golf. This region is surrounded by world class golf courses so grab a tee time. My favorite course has waterfalls, pirates and a zipline that traverses over the go-carts. Yep, I’ll be working on my hole-in-one at Pirates Cove.
- Take the boat to South Manitou Island. If you want to experience true north, the way it was before settlements took hold, then take the Manitou Transit from Leland and visit South Manitou Island. Climb the lighthouse, walk the beach and look for shipwrecks off the coast.
- Shop around M-22. Some of my favorite summer shops are scattered among coastal towns along M-22. I always sneek up to Suttons Bay to visit The Happy Woman, and At Home, Haystacks has my favorite skirts, and check Wildflowers in Glen Arbor for great garden gifts and fun jewelry.
- Photograph a sunset at Point Betsie Lighthouse. The most photographed lighthouse in the state, Point Betsie is an iconic subject for so many reasons. Catch the light at sunset, with waves crashing along the sandy shore… it’s a moment worth capturing on film.
- Pick blueberries. It could be strawberries, or cherries, but every year I say I’m going to pick blueberries from one of the farms on Old Mission or in Benzie County but I never make it! This is going to be the year.
- Visit the Crystal Lake Alpaca farm. Along Grace Rd between Benzonia and Frankfort you’ll find the Crystal Lake Alpaca farm. Bring the kids to pet the animals, and bring your wallet to buy some of the amazing clothing and gifts they make on-site.
- Drink from Mineral Springs. I don’t know if this makes you a tourist or a traveler. But every year my family drinks from the Mineral Springs in downtown Frankfort. Drink for tradition, drink for good health, but hold your nose. I still don’t like the smell.
- Learn about our legends and lore. Our native American heritage fills this region with legends, artifacts and traditions. Spend a day at the History Center, or Eyaawing museum near Suttons Bay to learn about our native cultures, and the people who built these communities.
- Find a secluded beach. Most days I’m happy if I can squeeze my towel in between beach goers from all different states, and watch families enjoying the shoreline. But somedays I seek a quiet place to walk and think. Find a happy stretch along the shore and relax.
- Set sail on Grand Traverse Bay. Kids will love to help hoist the sails aboard the Traverse Tall Ship Manitou that cruises daily on the bay. Looking for dancing and cocktails? Check out the Nauti-cat. And if a romantic sunset is what you seek, set sail aboard Scout.
- Take a behind-the-scenes tour. Whether you’re a foodie, a history lover or wine geek there’s a tour to be had if you ask. Sign-up online for a tour at the Grand Traverse Distillery or take an historic tour of the old state hospital grounds at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
- Listen to a concert at Interlochen Center for the Arts. We are so blessed to have a world renowned school for the arts in our woodland backyard. Once you’ve listened to an Interlochen concert at Kresge with the summer breeze on your shoulders and music in the air, you’ll make sure this is on your list every year.
- Catch up with old friends. From backyard BBQs to campfires to a night on the town summertime is my favorite time to schedule time with old friends. Each year I meet my college roommates for at least one weekend of out-of-town fun.
- Make new friends. When you sit down at the bar for a cup of coffee, or are waiting in line at a popular restaurant, strike up a conversation with the person next you. More often than not I’m amazed by our connections and what a small world this really is.
- Tour a local art fair. From craft fairs to fine art juried shows, there’s an artfair somewhere nearly every weekend in the summer. I never miss the Frankfort art fair in August, but not just for the art. I’m in love with the chicken dinners they cook in the park. Best Chicken EVER!
- Boat party at the sandbar. The party crowd heads to Torch Lake where the sandbar is legendary. But the locals? We hang at Power Island when the beaches get crowded. Don’t have a boat? No problem. Hitch a ride from Bowers Harbor over to Power Island on the new transit and you’ll find pop-up parties all summer long.
- Get soaked to the skin in the warm summer rain. Surprise your kids, and perhaps yourself, when you throw logic and reason out the window and dance in the rain. No umbrella, no shoes, just pure spontaneous fun. I promise this will bring a smile to your face on a rainy day.
- Pick a bouquet of wildflowers. Baby’s Breath, Queen Anne’s Lace, wild Thistle, there are dozens of lovely wildflowers growing along the roadside. Pick up a field guide to help identify flowers, rocks and animals found in northern Michigan. Just be sure you don’t pick anything protected.
- Watch a ball game. Traverse City has the Beach Bums to quench our thirst for America’s pastime. Their beautiful stadium just outside downtown Traverse City is fun for the whole family. And every game finishes with fireworks.
- Visit Fishtown. Browse the quaint shops that line the century-old fishing wharf, pick up some smoked whitefish from Carlson’s, have a Chubby Mary overlooking the falls or grab a pretzel bread sandwich from the Village Cheese Shanty. A day in Leland’s fishtown is a summer must-do.
- Tell stories around a campfire. Beach bonfires, campground fires surrounded by tents, patio hearths with potbelly stoves, pick your poison and enjoy one of summer’s iconic experiences. I like mine on the shores of a lake telling stories of summers past.
- Shop the farmers market. We are blessed to live in an agricultural paradise. And that’s never more apparent than on a trip to the farmer’s market. Every town has them.
- Eat cherries everyday! Well, maybe not that often. But when you live in cherry country why not enjoy it? Benjamin Twiggs has everything Cherry so you can shop to your heart’s content. And if you just want a sweet cherry treat: stop by Reflect Bistro inside the Cambria Suites for a cherry bread pudding that’s to die for!
- Party in the street. Wrap up the week with an evening at Friday Night Live in downtown Traverse City. Buy a balloon, enjoy live music, have your face painted. A perfect place to be a kid again…or bring one.
- Savor a simple homebaked snack. The smell of warm bread or cookies coming out of the oven is delicious any time of year. If I walk into Pleasanton Bakery I’m walking out with their Parmesan Olive bread and one of the fudgiest brownies I’ve ever tasted. So much yum!
- Get out on the water. Hop on a boat or a jet ski and ride out to where the deep water lives, clear and blue green as far as the eyes can see…and dive in! That is pure Michigan bliss.
- Eat your fill of fresh sweet corn. Nobody beats Hall’s farm on North Long Lake Road in Traverse City. For a fabulous summer salad try this corn and blueberry salad. It’s great served like a salsa with tortilla chips too. My secret potluck party weapon.
- Photograph the everyday moments. It’s not the parties and holidays that spark nostalgia but the details of summer memories past. Capture the special places, people and things in your life. You’ll thank me later.
- Play a sport on the lawn. Badmitten, croquet, bocce or new favorites like ring toss and bean bag games make fun family competitions a must-do for summer. For an entertaining contest try shooting ping-pong balls off of golf tees with rubber bands.
- Spend a hot day at a cool pool. My kids love the outdoor pool at Waters Edge at Crystal Mountain and can’t wait to try their new ropes course that lies above. Or you could stay and play at the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, an indoor waterpark resort.
- Explore The Village. Wander the old state hospital grounds inside the Grand Traverse Commons, also known as The Village. Sip wine or cider at Left Foot Charley, pick up some Michigan gear at High Five Threads, or walk the trails that wind all around Traverse City’s version of Central Park.
- Watch a movie at an historic theater. Our community is lucky to have several renovated theaters back in action. The State Theatre in Traverse City, The Garden in Frankfort and the Bijou by the Bay (formerly the Con Foster Museum). Restored classic theatres where the movies are great, and so are the prices.
- Eat, drink and shop local. Summer is the absolute best time to enjoy the bounty of northern Michigan and support the businesses that thrive on the extra traffic. So eat at a local hotspot, drink our wines and beers, and buy something that will forever remind you of this summer. The summer you spent enjoying EVERY DAY in this beautiful land of ours.
I’m Brandy from Traverse Traveler, and this is my list. I hope you’ll find something on it to add yours. If you have a favorite that I’ve forgotten, please add it in the comments. I love to discover new ways to enjoy this community. Happy Summer everyone!
I’ve spent 10 weeks of my summer exploring 10 Places I’ve Never Been. And now it’s time for the Mystery location. A location, recommended by our readers and chosen by our Facebook fans. This mystery stop is Nonna’s Restaurant at The Homestead Resort.
It’s been a few years since I have spent any time at The Homestead Resort. So when my husband and I arrived for dinner we weren’t quite sure where we were headed. I remember the Inn lies at the back of the property with beautiful views of the water, so we drove in that direction. The roads meander through tall pine woods with beautiful condos tucked into the hills. We found the Inn and the Beach Club at the end of the road, but no Nonna’s. So we retraced our path toward the entrance. A few wrong turns provided a reminder of how large The Homestead property is, and how much they have to offer. We passed Stony Brook Lodge with it’s breathtaking views and Camp Firefly where they teach the Orvis Fly Fishing. Finally we turned past the Reception Center and found The Village, and Nonna’s.
We planned to arrive when they opened the doors for dinner at 6pm so I would have a chance to talk with Jamie Jewel, Vice President of Sales & Marketing to learn a bit about The Homestead Resort and the history of Nonna’s. The staff greeted us at the door and welcomed us in for a quick tour.
Nonna’s is located in a section called the Village, which you may recognize as the entrance to the Mountain Flowers Par-3 golf course, and in the winter, their ski resort. The Village is home to several shops, lodging and other dining options for The Homestead guests including Beppi’s and Cavanaugh’s. There’s a play area for the kids and decks overlooking Fiddler’s Pond in the back.
Inside Nonna’s the atmosphere is warm and inviting. Since The Homestead caters to guests traveling as couples as well as families, they’ve gone out of their way to make both groups comfortable. The Porch dining room offers larger tables, banquettes and dining overlooking the pond. The Tavern room includes a bar in back, smaller tables and fireside dining. This room is for adults only. There are a few tables on the deck accessed by the bartender so guests can enjoy a drink outside.
Our tour included a visit to the Loft, a special room above Nonna’s that’s available when large groups would like to dine together, such as a family reunion or corporate meeting. There’s even a kitchenette in the back for future cooking classes. But the loft isn’t open for regular dining hours.
The reason I chose to write about 10 Places I’ve Never Been is to showcase some of the amazing shops, restaurants and businesses that we ‘locals’ forget about, or drive right by. When we returned to the Tavern room I spoke with Jamie about what makes The Homestead Resort a place locals should consider visiting.
The Homestead Resort has begun to recognize the importance of welcoming the locals onto the property to see what’s available. In an effort to reach out to the surrounding communities on Labor Day The Homestead held a community block party for 300 people, inviting residents of Glen Lake, Empire, Lime Lake as well as resort guests. Despite the cold they enjoyed hot dogs and popcorn, sales in the shops, facepainting for the kids and trips via golf cart to the top of the mountain.
The Homestead Resort is a vacation destination with amenities any visitor or local would enjoy — some of which you may not even know about. For instance, did you know The Homestead purchased the King’s Challenge course and gave it a complete make-over? So much so, that under their new name, Manitou Passage, this Arnold Palmer course won Best New Course in 2010 from Golfweek magazine. In the winter the ski hills are open to the public. And they just opened a day-spa on property. Of course, the reason I’m here is Nonna’s. A fine italian restaurant hidden in the pines of northern Michigan.
As we were chatting the server arrived and introduced the menu and wine list. The wine list is quite large, with many options available by the glass. And they had some cocktails that sounded fantastic including a pomegranite martini. I like to support the local Michigan wineries and chose one of few on their list, a Black Star Farms semi-dry riesling. My husband opted for an Italian beer, Moretti.
Our drinks arrived, along with fresh bread, olives and roasted garlic in a basket. Moments later, the chef sent out a special appetizer to whet the appetite: Steak Pizzaiolla. It’s a classic homestyle Italian dish that you just don’t see often on menus. Small bites of beef tenderloin in a savory tomato demi glaze served with thin brushetta. A nice warm treat. Along with the dish came a promise that the chef would come out and chat with us.
Our Facebook fans warned us we would love Chef John. Jamie said, "wait until you met Chef John," so as you can imagine I was anxious to finally talk with Chef John. And moments later, out he came.
Chef John Piombo is not a Michigan native, but his new midwestern digs seem to suit him. With two Italian parents John is fluent in both languages and spent some time in Italy which explains his passion for food and flavor. But I think it’s his personality that attracts new fans to the restaurant, and keeps the staff happy and entertained.
Each night the staff gathers for family dinner, a chef’s choice meal that could be off the menu or off-the-wall depending on what he feels like cooking. The 4:30pm meal offers a time for the staff to taste new dishes, sit down together and prepare for the evening’s service. "We don’t open the doors until 6pm. Not 5:50pm, not 5:59pm. That give us time together and time to prepare."
While many chefs in the area focus on "local" Chef John says, "I’m all about relationships." He works with independent farmers who will come to his doorstep and is building relationships with some of the smaller boutique wineries in the area, like Circa, one of his favorites. It seems he’s full of funny stories about trips to meet with the local merchants.
"Ok, just one more story and I’ll let you go," he teased, as he shared a humorous tale of showing up unannounced at the rabbit ranch and getting a glimpse of something we probably don’t want to think about before we eat. And another story about an order of beef from a Kaleva farmer who arrived with one filet, one strip steak, one rack of ribs — not exactly what chef expected when he placed an order for "one beef."
Shortly after Chef returned to the kitchen the appetizers arrived. Since we weren’t expecting the chef’s selection we ordered a couple dishes to share: crabcakes and a mozzarella & heirloom tomato insulate.
The crabcakes were packed with crabmeat, not fillers, seared in a pan and served on a creamy cucumber puree with a couple dashes of hot chili sauce. Very good. I can never pass up a mozzarella and tomato salad this time of year, so I was glad to see this one was made to perfection. Slices of homemade buffalo mozzarella a top four heirloom tomatoes dredged, but not drowned, in balsamic, olive oil and fresh basil. Both were easy to share and we each enjoyed them.
I’m always impressed when a restaurant pays attention to the details. I loved that my husband’s beer came out with a frosty pilsner glass. The plate for the crabcakes was warm as they were, and the salad plate was chilled. Nothing is worse that getting a cold salad served on a fresh-from-the-scalding-dishwasher plate. So kudos on service.
Speaking of service, our server was incredibly knowledgeable about the dishes, often answering questions about ingredients in the sauces, or making recommendations on the entrees. My husband ended up ordering the Rabbit, and I the Veal Scallopini. They arrived with a side of polenta from the chef.
I tasted the rabbit, as I’m not sure that I’ve ever had rabbit before. Sorry to sound cliche but it reminded me of chicken. It was cooked in a flavorful stewed tomato sauce with fresh herbs. The veal I ordered was full of mushrooms and a rich demi-glaze, but what I really noticed were the fresh herbs. I finally asked the server what they were. "Take a look in the garden on your way out. That is fresh mint sage which we grow out front."
As we cleaned our plates, and finished our drinks, chef John sent out a simple but scrumptious dessert. He flambed huge fresh blackberries with Cake Vodka, and served them over vanilla ice cream. The warm berries exploded with sweetness and you couldn’t mistake the flavor of cupcakes that comes from this unusual vodka. A perfect ending to the meal.
We wrapped up the evening agreeing Nonna’s is a restaurant we’d not only recommend, but plan to return to. The atmosphere in the Tavern was comfortable and welcoming, perfect for couples looking for a quiet night out. The menu offered mulitple selections we were anxious to try —some we admired as they passed by our table in route for another.
Before we left I stopped to photograph the Chef’s Table. This special seating for six just off the entrance offers a unique glimpse into Chef John’s creativity. Guests enjoy 8 or 14 course meals paired with wine. The small-plate courses are completely up to the chef. So if you’re looking for adventure, and you brought your appetite, the Chef’s Table at Nonna’s would be a fabulous treat.
Nonna’s is open for dinner year-round from 6-10pm except Tuesdays. Off-season hours are Thursday – Saturday. Chef John likes to change things up during the year so expect menu changes every 3-4 days. On Thursdays you may find a verbal trattoria-style menu or prix fixe meal option.
Reservations are recommended since Nonna’s is a small restaurant, about 13 tables (not including the loft). There’s outdoor seating for the bar, and some limited patio dining available, "on the three days that it’s warm," Chef John jokes. I can see his south Florida roots haven’t completely adjusted to Michigan’s climate.
You can find Nonna’s inside The Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor, Michigan. Visit their website at www.thehomesteadresort.com and find them on Facebook & Twitter. They’re still working on the wayfinding signage inside the resort, so to locate Nonna’s turn right on Wood Ridge Road, pass the Reception Center and you’ll come to the Village. Parking is on the right. For reservations call 231.334.5150. And, as with all my 10 Places I’ve Never Been locations, you can find them on the Traverse Traveler App. To download the free app click here.
It seems appropriate that the 10 Places I’ve Never Been series ended with a beautiful sunset over Glen Lake as witnessed from our drive home across the Narrows bridge in Glen Arbor. Every time I watch the sun sink into the lake, or behind a dune, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place—America’s Most Beautiful Place, in fact. But… that’s another story.
Take a Roadtrip this Fall along the M-22 Scenic Drive
Living in the heart of the M-22 corridor I’ve seen it through all seasons. Each has something amazing to offer, but none more varied and beautiful than autumn in Northern Michigan.
In case you’ve never planned an M-22 Roadtrip I’ve put together a list of some of the fun, food and activities to experience along the scenic drive. Named one of the top five greatest driving tours in America by Rand McNally, M-22 has something to offer everyone. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. Here’s my list of 22 Reasons for a Fall M-22 Roadtrip.
1. Canoe the Platte. Fall is one of the best times to take a canoe or kayak down the Platte River. The calm cool waters reflect mother nature’s painted canvas, but they also reveal a seasonal secret. The salmon run upstream in autumn to spawn and the Platte River is the perfect place to witness this natural wonder. The weir is closed this time of year which means you’ll portage around it. But on the other side the water boils with jumping fish. You couldn’t get a better view anywhere else. Riverside Canoes is located on M-22 and open until the second weekend in October for canoe and kayak rental, or fishing tackle if you’re feeling adventurous.
2. Check out the giant pumpkins by master carver Ed Moody. On a small city street in Frankfort you’ll find giant pumpkins that miraculously change overnight into fantastic jack-o-lanterns. Only here the miracle is performed by Ed Moody. They do change overnight though since it’s the only time he can work. During the day you’ll find him greeting the guests who come to visit his creations that line the sidewalk in front of his home. To catch a demonstration check out the Fall Festival mid-October in Frankfort.
3. Hike Old Indian Trail. Just on the outskirts of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on M-22 between Crystal Lake and the Platte River there’s a wilderness trail known as Old Indian Trail. There are 2 loops available, both about a 2.5 mile hike through evergreens and colorful hardwoods. But if you make it to the end you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of Lake Michigan, expanses of sandy beaches and dunes. It’s a great trip to take with your four-legged friends.
4. Benzie Fall Festival. There is so much to do at the fall festival we couldn’t list it all here. But you won’t want to miss the pumpkin chucking contest. Here you’ll see trebuchets, similar to a catapult, built by local high school students challenged to see whose construction will go the distance. Once loaded the trebuchets launch giant pumpkins into the air over Betsie Bay in Frankfort. Cheers and bragging rights go to the winning team.
5. Dinner at The Manitou. Nestled among the changing leaves along M-22 a few miles north of Crystal Lake, The Manitou Restaurant is a great place to stop and enjoy a fall meal. If you hear someone ask about Skinny Dippers they’re not suggesting a cold jump in the lake. They’re actually ordering a crispy appetizer basket of potato skins. All the soups and pies are made-from-scratch so save some room for their famous blueberry raspberry pie a la mode.
6. Visit Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove. Do you like apples? Then you’re going to love these apples. Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove grows over 280 varieties of antique apples. Great for eating and baking, some dating back to the time of Christ. This is not your typical orchard. And if that’s not reason enough to make the drive, how about the worlds largest bottle collection? Over 10,000 different glass bottles line the walls of their barn, more than the Guinness World Record!
7. Take in Breathtaking Views. The scenic drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park is an absolute must on any visit to Northern Michigan. The park has over a dozen picture perfect Scenic Overlooks which explain why so many of us come back year after year. No matter the season this drive is worthwhile, but the colors of autumn bring out the beauty of this hardwood forest in shining contrast to the crystal blue waters and miles of sand dunes.
8. Explore a 150 year old Lighthouse. Point Betsie Lighthouse celebrated it’s sesquicentennial in 2008. It’s the second most photographed lighthouse in the nation. In the fall don’t be surprised to find windsurfers and kiteboarders donning their wetsuits to catch huge air off the crashing waves along the sandy shore. It’s one of the best spots to surf, Yes surf, in Northern Michigan. The lighthouse is open on the weekends through mid October for tours.
9. Visit Fishtown, the historic fishing village in Leland. Wooden shanties line the boardwalk of this century-old fisherman’s haven. Today charter fishing boats bring in fresh salmon to be smoked at Carlsons, and the Manitou Transit waits to take visitors on the short journey to the Manitou Islands. From unusual cheeses to locally-made clothing, these rustic shanties hold a vast array of treasures.
10. Tour Art Galleries. For the art lover there are dozens of unique galleries all along the M-22 corridor. Stop in Glen Arbor to discover the distinct style of Sticks painted furniture at the Ruth Conklin Gallery. Becky Thacher’s exquisite jewelry is a must-see along the road to the beach. And on the other side of the peninsula you don’t want to miss Michigan Artist’s Gallery in Sutton’s Bay, where art can be fun, fresh, stylish and affordable.
11. Hop on the Wine Trail. The Leelanau peninsula is home to more than 18 wineries. Many of them are off-the-beaten-path, but well worth the diversion. Taking a wine tour has become one of the most popular activities for Northern Michigan visitors. From the tiny tasting room of Chateau Fontaine in Lake Leelanau to the large and impressive Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, the wineries are as diverse and interesting as the wines they produce.
12. Dine along the water’s edge. When the warm summer’s breeze becomes a brisk autumn wind, find a room with a view and enjoy the scenery from the cozy warmth of the restaurant. Check out The Bluebird in Leland, where tables line the windows along the Leland River. Or visit Knot Just A Bar in Omena where you gaze over Grand Traverse Bay or sneak next door for a sip of wine from Leelanau Cellars tasting room.
13. One Fish, Two Fish, They Fish or You Fish. All along the Platte and Betsie Rivers you’ll find fishermen casting their lines for salmon and trout as they head up stream. If you like to fish, bring your wadders as the water’s getting colder. For a learning adventure take a quick detour over to the Platte River State Fish Hatchery on US31 and 669 just past Honor. This is Michigan’s primary salmon hatchery, where eggs are harvested for coho and Chinook salmon to be raised and restocked in Michigan’s lakes.
14. Feeling Lucky? Visit the Casino. The Leelanau Peninsula is home to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and their original Northern Michigan casino, Leelanau Sands. From gaming, to dining to fantastic shows, they’re a little bit of Vegas in the tiny town of Peshawbestown just north of Suttons Bay. The tribe also opened a cultural museum, Eyaawing perched along grand traverse bay on M-22 near the Casino.
15. Bike or Hike the Betsie Valley Trail. One of the newest rail-to-trail programs, the Betsie Valley Trail is a 22 mile pathway from Frankfort, through Elberta and Beulah on to Thompsonville. Much of the trail is non-motorized and perfect for bikes and pedestrians. The entire trail is stunning this time of year. So pack your bikes, rollerblades and walking shoes for a great excursion through the land surrounding M-22.
16. Take a Beach Walk. The waters of fall are often too cold for swimming, but the beaches are still a great place to enjoy nature’s gift to Northern Michigan. Follow M-22 from Frankfort to Empire and explore some of the roads that lead to small beaches. Peterson Beach, Otter Creek and North Bar Lake are great places to hike the dunes, comb the shores for fossils and capture the picturesque views of Lake Michigan. Or join the park rangers for an evening beach patrol along Sleeping Bear Point in Glen Haven.
17. Shop ‘Til You Drop. The M-22 scenic drive takes you through a half dozen quaint towns defined by their unique locations and the collection of small businesses that make up these communities. Take time to browse through their stores, sample their homemade edibles and bring home something to remember your journey. Perhaps some M-22 logowear would be appropriate. The brand was created by local kiteboarders to symbolize the amazing experiences found on M-22.
18. Endulge Your Inner Foodie. From an agricultural perspective this region has become well known for cherries and grapes, but there’s much more to be discovered. Farms and orchards line the M-22 roadside. And the corridor is home to many amazing food producers. Grocer’s Daughter chocolates in Empire makes my favorite sweet; chocolate covered candied ginger. Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor started as a small t-shirt company and now produces cherry BBQ sauce, bottled sodas and so much more. You can watch fudge made on a marble slab at Murdick’s Fudge Shoppe in Suttons Bay. Or create a real memorable experience from Learn Great Foods fabulous culinary tours. Foodies beware, you’ll be in heaven here.
19. Cruise the Dunes. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of this area’s most well-known features. It’s so large it can be seen from outer space! And now visitors can experience the lakeshore from a new perspective. Sleeping Bear Dunes Boat Cruise operates a boat tour of the National Lakeshore from Frankfort harbor. Their narrated tour entertains you and the breathtaking views are unforgetable. If you’ve never seen the lakeshore from the water, you can’t beat this trip. Sailing twice daily until mid-October.
20. Stand on the 45th Parallel. M-22 wraps around the Leelanau Peninsula on both coasts and has the unique claim of crossing the 45th parallel, not once, but twice! So go ahead, get out of your car and take that photo next to the big green marker. You’ll find one alongside Lake Leelanau on your way north to Leland, and then cross it again just north of M-204 and Suttons Bay near the Vineyard Inn. Looking for other ways to experience the 45th? Check out Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery near Lake Leelanau and 45th Parallel Cafe in downtown Suttons Bay.
21. Drive back in Time at A & W. Feeling nostalgic? What better treat than enjoying an A & W rootbeer float, coney dog and fries served carside! At the corner of M-22 and M-115 in Frankfort this family-owned A & W restaurant is a great stop, especially if you’re traveling with kids. With a free jukebox, affordable all-american fare and the best rootbeer around, you just can’t beat it.
22. Stop, Look and Listen. The change of seasons brings much to enjoy if we take a moment to do so. Listen for the honk of Canadian geese overhead as they migrate in their tell-tale V-formation. Examine the forest floor and you’ll discover mosses and fungi of all sorts thriving on the moist soil. Bite into a honeycrisp apple and enjoy the syrup-sweet taste of Michigan’s fruitful harvest. Soak it up and savor this season.
Autumn in Northern Michigan has so much to offer. So to all you leaf-peepers, welcome! I hope you’ll enjoy these stops as much as I do. While you travel along M-22 through Benzie and Leelanau counties don’t hesitate to take a few detours of your own along the way. And whatever you do, don’t forget your cameras!
Join me as I drive, shop, eat and explore my way across the Traverse Area on a mission to fill my displays. Together we’ll be tourists in my hometown.
M-22 Corridor from Empire to Leland
My first travelog begins on M-22, the scenic highway that traces the contours of Leelanau county and beyond. The state highway is 114.5 miles long and crosses four counties. I highly recommend the entire trip, but like a cheesecake I prefer to enjoy it one piece at a time. I have several card display locations along the route in Glen Arbor and Leland. Today my focus was on Leland. It’s less than 30 miles between Empire and Leland, but I like to enjoy trip when I have the time. Slip in some shopping, lunch or a beach diversion, and it’s easily a 3 hour tour.
Just before I head into Empire, and not long after crossing from Benzie into Leelanau county, I come across my first stop. Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate sits right on M-22 along the curve. It’s modest building and signage may slip past you, so pay attention because you won’t want to miss it. Mimi Wheeler left her job as a social worker to produce fine natural chocolates made from organic ingredients, including the herbs from her garden. I can’t drive through Empire without indulging my chocolate fix with some of Mimi’s Chingers; dark chocolate covered candied ginger.
You won’t see much of the village of Empire unless you venture off M-22 into town. There is a wonderful beach, although rather stony for those with tender feet. The Robert H. Manning memorial lighthouse is a fun photo-op. It’s not a working light, more like a monument, but it’s still classified as a lighthouse. There are a few shops in town and along M-22, as well as some restaurants. One of our favorites is The Village Inn, or The V.I. as the locals call it. Today, however, I was just passing through.
M-22 leaves Empire and winds it’s way toward Glen Arbor. This time of year I’m always looking for the little farm stands along the side of the road selling fruits and vegetables from small wooden displays. Hand-painted signs introduce blueberries, cherries and fresh sweet corn just ahead. Many stands are on-your-honor with small glass jars for collecting payment.
One of my favorite stretches of highway is just past the narrows bridge which bisects the turquoise waters of Glen Lake. On the left stunning homes sit back from the road and gaze down their manicured lawns across the highway toward the crystal waters of Glen Lake. The road stretches forward and soon pulls away from the water as you head into Glen Arbor.
It was before lunchtime when I arrived in town so I pulled into Wildflowers to endulge my flower fancy. Whether you have a huge garden, a few window boxes, or just an appreciation for beautiful things, Wildflowers is a treat. Outside you can shop for perennials or wander through their shady gardens in the back. Inside their giftshop incorporates garden, gifts, jewelry, art and much more.
As much as I wanted to leave with a new limelight hydrangea for my front yard it would have to wait for another trip when there was more room in the car. Today the displays were my focus, and my trip to Leland. So it was back on the road for me.
Glen Arbor is a destination of it’s own, to which I dedicate a future trip. In fact I have several display locations in Glen Arbor including The Glen Arbor Lakeshore Inn, Glen Craft Marina & Resort, Le Bear Resort, Leelanau Vacation Rentals and The Maple Lane Resort. So I’ll be back soon to check in on them.
M-22 leaves Glen Arbor as it crosses the Crystal River. The landscape all around is lush and green this time of year. The stretch from Glen Arbor to Leland wanders past fields of wildflowers, weathered barns, hidden lakes and trails that tempt you with their unknown destinations. Trees of maple, beech, ash and cherry create the landscape throughout the trip. These are only a few of the sights that make up the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the area’s largest park and greatest visitor attraction.
Today I left the National Lakeshore, passed county road 667 which leads to Maple City and back home to Lake Ann, and followed the road along Good Harbor Bay. The homes and foliage prevent most of the views of Lake Michigan but you could still hear the waves on a windy day. I drove past M-204, where I often turn to cross the Leelanau peninsula and on into Suttons Bay. Soon Lake Leelanau came into view on the right and I knew I was getting close. Which is good, because I could feel the rumblings of hunger and Leland has some great sights, and bites, to take in.
In the summer the streets of Leland are filled with people enjoying the port town and all it has to offer. Today was no exception. I entered town along Main Street and turned left at the gas station onto Cedar St and around the bend to the right where I’d land behind the Falling Waters Lodge. They enjoy a spectacular view of fishtown, the fishing village for which Leland is most know. Check out my gallery for a great photo of their unique vantage point.
After filling the display at the lodge I took a few moment to stroll down to the beach. If you’re looking for a quiet scenic view of the Leland harbor there’s a great path to the waters edge that starts behind the Falling Waters Lodge. From here you can walk the shore to the right towards the harbor. The stone pier extends it’s protective barrier from the crashing waves throughout the seasons. Today the waters were all but still. A mother and her children balanced along the top of the pier and a few fishermen cast their lines into the water.
With warm sand between my toes I headed back to the car and off to my next stop. My stomach still echoed but I had a few more trips to make before lunch. At the top of the hill on Pearl Street sits The Leland Lodge. They were busy today in the office, so it was a quick trip in and out to fill their display and head back down into the heart of town. As I pulled out under the canopy in front of the lodge I caught a glimpse of guests dining outdoors on their patio overlooking the sloping lawn. One of these days I’m going to stop here for an iced tea and a side of fabulous view.
I park in town after some circling and find a spot across from my last stop, The Bluebird Restaurant. Skip and Lynn Telgard have carried on a family tradition in Leland as third generation owners of The Bluebird. If you haven’t stopped in for their famous whitefish or renowned Sunday brunch, add it to your must-do list. I personally can’t pass up their pea & peanut salad, a highlight on the fresh salad bar, or the sugary cinnamon rolls that arrive at the table wrapped in linen and warmth. Today I’m delivering more cards for them to use in the restaurant. The hostess eagerly accepted the delivery. "Our servers hand them out with the check and the guests love them," she said. I’m always happy to hear that.
So with my goals met for the afternoon I’m free to eat and enjoy some of Leland’s finest. My pick for lunch today is the Village Cheese Shanty. Located in the heart of fishtown on the docks is a tiny shack with amazing sandwiches. The line was nearly out the door, but they’re incredibly efficient. I chose the special of the day to make things easy and to try something new. I don’t think you can go wrong with their selections of fresh shaved meats and variety of cheeses, but you have to try the pretzel bread. The special of the day was capicola ham, lettuce, tomato, onion, fresh buffalo mozzarella and balsamic viniagrette dressing on pretzel bread. Yummy, and well worth the wait.
On my way back to the car I followed my nose to the sweet scents of Murdick’s Fudge Shoppe. It’s hard to resist their creamy blend that’s known across Northern Michigan as the best fudge around. So I selected a half slice of peanut butter to sample on the return trip.
Like Glen Arbor, there is much more to enjoy in Leland than I have time for on this trip. So I’ll be back soon. For now I’ll jump back on M-22 and continue the trip. I’ll introduce you to the rest of M-22 and the adventures to be found along the way in future travelog posts. Until then, check out Empire, Glen Arbor and Leland.
If you have a favorite spot along M-22 that you’d like to share, email me here and I’ll check it out. Thanks!