Well, here we are—back to school and entering a new season again. I’m ready to shift gears, but before I share anything more here on the blog, I want to go back and revisit summer one more time. Our Michigan visits were always a big part of what I shared here over the years, so I thought I’d share a bit more from this summer but break it down into specific areas of Northern Michigan. Whether you’ve been able to visit that special place of retreat you love these past two crazy years or you’re counting down the days when you can, I think we’d all agree the value of our favorite corners of the world increased a great deal in our minds and memories since the pandemic. Northern Michigan gave us more these past two summers than it ever has before—or maybe that’s just the perspective of someone who appreciates it more and is more acutely aware of how a place you love can anchor you when everything feels to be changing so quickly.
So where in Michigan are we talking about? As beautiful as the entire state is, the Northern part of Michigan is, in my opinion, where the real magic exists—more lakes, more trees, more quiet roads that wind for miles between forests or along rocky shores. My dad’s place in Lewiston is the foundation of our summer visit and where we camp out most of the time, but we make several trips north to explore some of our other favorite Northern Michigan towns which make for great day trips or a few nights away. If you’re holding your left hand up to represent the “mitten” map as true Michiganders do, Lewiston would fall at about the top knuckle of your middle finger. It’s a very small town, established long ago by loggers and now inhabited by about 900 residents year round but nearly 5,000 on summer weekends if you count cottage owners and guests. There’s a simple Main Street that consists of an old True Value hardware, a tiny library, a coffee shop, a mercantile, a bar known for its award winning Talley burgers and a few businesses in between that change in ownership every couple of years. And then there’re the lakes—East and West Twin near town and 40 other smaller ones a short drive from town. These lakes and their allure are the backdrop of our summer. We live near the gulf in Florida, but there’s something about a Northern Michigan lake in the summer—the way everyone knows its peak magic lasts for a short window every year, so it’s more special. The outlining trees, the sunsets, the pontoon cruises, the night swims, the loon calls in the morning, the cold clear water that takes your breath away for one tiny second when you dip past your shoulders and then wakes you up in a way that makes you feel like you’re living in a book you once read about the magic of summer—it’s hard to describe.
I take a lot of pictures of it to fill the gaps where I don’t have the words to describe it.
My dad and Gary expanded their treasure of Northern Michigan real estate to include another cottage this year—one street over from Bliss, their beautiful little garden compound. They’ll host family and friends there, and we’re so grateful we got to be the first to enjoy it—-much more room and convenience than the charming bunkhouse we used to make our summer digs. We loved it, but it’s weathered over the years and needs quite a bit of repair. The new cottage has the cutest little bunk room for the kids.
We still walked over to Bliss every day and enjoyed what my dad and Gary have worked so hard to create—-a summer wonderland.
As for venturing out to other corners of Northern Michigan, we know what we love and continue to return to our favorite destinations but always try and explore one new place every summer. This year, that was the Upper Peninsula.
I’ll be honest, we didn’t love the UP as much as we love some of our other favorite cities along Lake Michigan; but we also know that some of the best places to visit in the UP have a lot of miles between them, and we didn’t want to spend that much time driving being that we drove 24 hours to get to Michigan. The UP is also very different from the well-known tourist destinations along Lake Michigan. There aren’t as many charming restaurants, cute libraries, hotels, etc. We had rented a pontoon to see the Pictured Rocks from Lake Superior at sunset, but the waves were too big that day and all pontoon rentals were canceled. That said, what we saw of Pictured Rocks was still beautiful.
In Munising, we hiked Miner Falls, Miners Castle Trail and Munising Falls.
But I think what we’ll remember most of our UP visit is the little place where we stayed and how there was nothing but a party store close by; so we ate frozen pizza, bagged coleslaw and pop tarts for dinner while we watched old DVDs while it stormed outside. “We’re going to remember this forever,” we kept telling each other.
It’s no secret Mackinac Island is our favorite place in Northern Michigan. We’ve been visiting for years, and we talk about the secret corners of the island like we’re the only ones that know about them. Mackinac Island is a tiny island in between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and known for the fact that there are no cars on the island. You arrive by ferry, and once you’re there, you have three modes of transportation—foot, bike or horse—although the island is only 8 miles wide, so you’re not traveling far. No matter where you are on the island, you can hear the clip-clop of horse hooves and likely have a view of Lake Huron.
We’ve stayed at several different hotels—the Island House, Harbour View and Mission Point. The most famous hotel on the island is the Grand Hotel, but it’s not cheap to stay there.
We love visiting the Grand—having a Big Porch Ale on the front porch, sitting in the bar on the top floor, looking for the secret garden in the woods—but we’ve been loving Mission Point Resort to stay. I love that it’s on the quiet end of the island and so close to Arch Rock so I can hike up there alone when I wake up before my family. The front lawn at Mission Point is also quite glorious, and we have the best spot for sea glass hunting right in front of it.
Our Mackinac Island Favorites:
– The Woods Restaurant
It’s like a secret Hansel & Gretel cottage in the woods. Make a reservation early! And it’s a 30 minute carriage ride to get there, so plan accordingly lest you be running down Main Street with kids crying to keep up, trying to catch the last carriage cab before you miss it—not that I know anyone that’s happened to or anything. Have a drink in the little hunting lodge bar and bowl a game in the little alley.
– Stores: Poppins, Caddywampus, Little Luxuries, Doud’s Market (we pick up snacks late at night and take them to Mission Point lawn or the park by the harbor)
– Watercolor Cafe (little art cafe hidden behind a Bed and Breakfast right in front of the harbor)
– Mackinac Island Library
Ride a carriage. Rent a bike. Hike to Arch Rock. Have a beer at the Pink Pony. Sit on the front porch of the Grand Hotel. Play mini golf at Mission Point. Play at the island school playground. Walk all the way from Mission Point to Grand hotel, along the water, and choose which house you wish was yours. This is what we do all day every day when we’re there. We walk and talk and drink it all in.
Last year was the first time we explored Harbor Springs, and I fell in love. I had been to Petoskey before but had never spent much time in Harbor Springs. “This is where we’re coming back,” I told Brett last year as were sitting next to the marina one night, watching the kids hunt for Petoskey stones. And then during a post Christmas slump earlier this year, I did some online research, found a little cabin right along the Tunnel of Trees and booked it to have something to look forward to. My, my, did that ever turn out to be the best decision ever.
The cabin we rented was straight out of a storybook, complete with a sun porch where I sat early in the morning with my coffee memorizing every inch of the landscape to store in my happiness archives.
Harbor Springs Favorites:
– Drive the tunnel of trees through the little town of Good Hart (stop at the general store!) to Legs Inn at Cross Village. Order the pierogies.
– The Pier restaurant
– Tom’s Moms Cookies
– Rocking Horse Toy Company
– The library downtown
– Zorn Park Beach
– Bar Harbor
– Pond Hill Farm. So many of you messaged me about Pond Hill Farm, and—Oh my Goodness! It did not disappoint. We spent hours there—loved it so much we’re going back this October. The kids ran around and played with the animals, explored the barns, hunted for gnome houses on the trails and climbed on the playground. We all ate lunch up on the deck (had the best rhubarb hard cider, and I’ve been dreaming about it since). We could have stayed all day.
Glen Arbor/Sleeping Bear Dunes
Finally, our cherry on top—Sleeping Bear Dunes. We saved it for the very last week we were in Michigan. It was bittersweet visiting because we knew we were headed home; but it was also our last big hug from this state we love, and it was a good one. So many people message me questions about Michigan—mostly “If we are coming to visit, what’s the one place we should see?” Mackinac Island is great, but it’s a haul getting there and worth staying at least two nights. Glen Arbor and Sleeping Bear Dunes is perfect for that one big “Wow!” and will make you fall hopelessly in love with Northern Michigan. We usually arrive right before lunch and head to town first. If you’re visiting for the first time, you won’t be able to contain your delight.
Glen Arbor Favorites:
– Cherry Republic. Eat lunch there (everything is good!). Pick up true cherry preserves and chocolate covered cherries to bring home. Sit in the tasting room and try some wine while you look out the window and watch the kids compete at cherry pit spitting. Buy the kids some cold Boom Chugga Lugga and *Cheers!* to Michigan.
– The Cottage Book Store. Without even thinking, you’ll hold your phone up to take a picture because it’s straight out of a story book. Check out all the books about local landmarks in the front room. Buy an art print. Wander into the precious little children’s room and pick up something for a child you love. Don’t forget the side wall by the cash register where all the beautiful books about cabins and cottages will lure you into buying one because you’re feeling it in this little book cottage.
– The Pine Cone, the old school ice cream shop. Order a soft serve cone. Bring cash because they don’t take credit cards. The best ones never do.
– Bay Lavender Trading Company. It’s right by the water. Smell all the soaps. Test the sand blaster lotion and wash it off in the little sink right there in the shop. Buy soap souvenirs for friends at home.
– The beach by the resort. Keep walking past Bay Lavender Trading Company, down by the resort, right onto the beach. Behold, the land of the Best Skipping Stones ever. Flat and smooth. Take a handful home because they’re perfect canvases for painting.
– M22 Store (Buy a sweatshirt!)
Then stop by the IGA and pick up some snacks and drinks for the dunes. You’ll want to get there before sunset. There are plenty of dune stops and places to climb, but we are creatures of habit, lovers of tradition. We drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (choose your playlist accordingly—you’re going to the feel the music on this drive!) up to Overlook 9 & 10. We take a blanket. When we arrive, the kids disperse. They know this place well and run off to find their secret hideaways. Nella’s been running up to the same little bluff for years. She stands up there alone and waves her wand. The scene is literally breathtaking, and I always tear up just a bit from the sheer beauty of it and how happy it makes me.
…there you have it—an entire summer in Michigan packed into one post.
And now that that creative exhale’s out of the way, onward we go.