Though I am an avid traveler of the United States, somehow my travels have never led me to the “Great Lake State” of Michigan, so I jumped at the opportunity to not only visit Michigan, but to specifically experience the sights and sounds of Northern Michigan. For four breathtakingly beautiful days, my companions and I explored all that the destination has to offer its visitors from Mackinac Island to Traverse City and everything in between. The adventure of a lifetime started with a scenic drive from the Traverse City Airport to Shepler’s Ferry in Mackinaw City. From there it was just a 12-minute ferry ride to a truly one-of-a-kind type of tourist attraction where time stands still and horses and bicycles are a part of everyday life…
Known as the Crown Jewel of Michigan, Mackinac Island is as rare and precious as its nickname implies. The community is world renowned for their permanent banning of motor vehicles which has left its beautiful architecture and history immaculately preserved. As my companions and I made our way across the dock and stepped into the downtown area, we were instantly hit by the sweet and distinct smell of decadent fudge! Unbeknownst to me at the time, Mackinac Island is famous for their world-class fudge, but a tasty tour of Ryba’s Fudge Shop quickly brought me up to speed. With a glass of champagne in one hand and a rich piece of chocolate in the other, my taste buds and I instantly knew that we were right where I was supposed to be. Somehow we managed to pull ourselves away from the sweet desserts and hopped on what would be the first of many “taxi” rides through the quaint streets of the island. It’s worth noting that ordering a taxi on Mackinac Island is actually ordering a horse drawn carriage, and I wouldn’t want it any other way! Our hilarious carriage driver Logan proceeded to spill the hidden stories behind the walls around us as two black beauties, Prince and King, led our group on a scenic ride to Mission Point Resort.
The award-winning hotel spans 18 acres of waterfront property on Lake Huron and with its coveted location on the sunrise side of the island, it didn’t take long to see why it was voted “Best Place To Stay” in Michigan by Condé Nast Traveler. From the moment I walked through the doors, genuine hospitality and simple comfort reigned supreme from every direction as smiling staff went out of their way to ensure everyone on property felt welcomed. Our first evening was spent as every vacation should in my humble opinion…with refreshing, handcrafted cocktails! Drinks and laughter by the resort porch carried over to wine over an elegant dinner at Chianti where we savored exquisite Italian cuisine accompanied by live piano entertainment. The night was still young afterwards so we headed over to the Pink Pony—voted one of Michigan’s most iconic bars—and mingled with others who had come from near and far to experience the old school charm of Mackinac Island. The following morning was one of history and adventure with unparalleled views as we embarked on a guided, historic tour of Fort Mackinac. From there it was time to bid adieu to Michigan’s most beloved island retreat and head on to our next Northern Michigan destination, the treasured city of Petoskey.
For accommodations in Petoskey we looked to the Terrace Inn, a Michigan Historic Landmark built in 1910 and opened in 1911. The Inn’s cozy “cottage” rooms appropriately reflected the charm of the surrounding city which we immediately set off to explore. From learning about Ernest Hemingway’s life at the Little Traverse City Historical Museum to scouring the nearby shores for ancient Petoskey Stones at Petoskey State Park, there was an abundance of activities occurring downtown including over 170 unique shops and fine restaurants. After an eventful afternoon of downtown Petoskey explorations, we headed to Stafford’s Pier Restaurant for premier waterfront dining. Built on the original pilings over the harbor, Stafford’s Pier Restaurant celebrates their maritime heritage with expertly prepared seafood that we enjoyed down to the very last morsel. After we wined and dined, it was time to unwind with a little more wine on the Pointer Boat as we toured the beautiful harbor and marveled at the unrivaled sunset reflecting off the still waters around us.
I didn’t think it was possible for us to visit a city that could rival the simple charm of Petoskey, but I found a more than worthy contender in our third Northern Michigan destination. With so much to see and do, Charlevoix quickly became one of my favorite Michigan cities and one day was simply not enough to see it all. I found their nickname of “Charlevoix the Beautiful” to be justified in every way as I admired the lovely results of Operation Petunia. The longtime tradition sees the Charlevoix community come together annually to plant beautiful petunias along a five mile stretch that passes right through the heart of the city. The highlight of our Charlevoix explorations came in the form of a Mushroom House Tour led by the vibrant and passionate owner of the tour, Edith Pair. Designed and built by Charlevoix native and architectural legend Earl Young, the Mushroom Houses are some of the most fascinating stone structures ever built and a definite must-see for any visitor to Charlevoix. Of course in Northern Michigan you can never spend enough time on the water so after our tour we hopped on a boat and made our way to lunch at The Landing Restaurant which welcomes guests via both car and boat. Outdoor seating along the peaceful waters and a family-friendly atmosphere made it hard for us to leave long after our plates had been cleared. However, we only had one day left and there was still plenty to see.
After several exhilarating, yet relaxing days traveling through Northern Michigan, we had finally ended up where our journey had started: Traverse City. After checking into the trendy Hotel Indigo, we wasted no time in creating unforgettable Traverse City memories with a winery tour and tasting at Mari Vineyards. Nestled on the Old Mission Peninsula, Mari Vineyards achieved the status of becoming the first Northern Michigan winery with an extensive underground barrel aging area which my companions and I were able to tour as we enjoyed a private wine tasting. Jenna, our passionate tour guide, showcased the depth of skill and knowledge found in the entire Mari Vineyards team as she expertly shared all about the vineyards and the tastings spread out before us. The lovely evening came to a close with dinner at Mission Table which features the best ingredients available from local farms and fishermen, using only the freshest products. As with every other dining experience I had, Mission Table’s extensive menu proved that it was going to be difficult, if not impossible to order something I didn’t like.
Our final day in Northern Michigan was a bittersweet one as we further explored Traverse City with the knowledge that we would soon be departing from this wondrous place. In making the most of our time, we laced up our sneakers and drove out to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for a walk through what was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC’s Good Morning America. Miles of sand beach and bluffs that tower 450 feet above Lake Michigan afforded us spectacular views of the beloved tourist destination. From there, we made our way home with adventurous and must-see pit stops along the way such as Cherry Republic and Fishtown. Needless to say, visitors clearly flock to Northern Michigan for a variety of reasons, but one thing is for certain. From world-class cuisine, craft beer and specialty wines to unique shopping, historical attractions and the ability to experience nature in its most raw and beautiful form—whatever type of vacation or adventure you are looking for, you are guaranteed to find it in Northern Michigan.
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