In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that when it comes to northwest Michigan—the whole Grand Traverse Bay, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Petoskey stone, blue water, crimson sunset, ice cream-worshiping slice of the vacation destination world—I feel something embarrassingly close to a schoolboy crush. That is, if I’m correctly remembering my schoolboy crushes of the sepia-toned past. At any rate, every visit reveals something new to love. I’m particularly drawn to the charm and relative serenity of the region’s smaller resort communities: Elk Rapids, Suttons Bay, Leland, Empire and, one from my most recent visit, Bellaire.
On a Friday evening, drive along North Bridge Street in downtown Bellaire and you might be thinking, What serenity? Fair question. The town rocks as a suntan-lotion-scented crowd pours off the golf courses at nearby Shanty Creek Resorts and from the swimming beaches along Torch Lake and a cluster of other inland lakes. They come seeking food, drinks, entertainment and souvenirs. Most dash directly to establishments that became cherished favorites over the course of many vacations.
The ice cream line at Ruthie’s Chicken and Dairy Twist melts away (the savory special of my Bellaire day was deep-fried green beans). The din of the bar at the excellent LuLu’s Bistro quiets to a conversational level. Bridge Street becomes jaywalker-safe for browsers crossing back and forth to shop for gifts and candy at Sassafras, clothing at the Sassy Sunflower and home decor goodies at Uniquely North. And at Short’s Brewing Company—well there’s an exception to every rule. What’s generally acknowledged to be one of the best brewpubs in Michigan (I’d start with the Huma-Lupa-Licious pale ale) always seems to be hopping.
As the streetlights flicker on downtown, I settle in on the balcony—partially hidden by a giant hanging basket of purple petunias—that opens off my room at Stone Waters Inn. I watch as the last of the crowd melts away toward inns or campgrounds, pleasantly tired after a day adjusting to life without schedules and deadlines. In the quite of the deepening twilight I can hear the whisper of a stream curling behind the inn.
George Hendrix is a freelance writer and former travel editor of Midwest Living Magazine. Several of his most memorable moments revolve around Michigan cuisine: the wild morel ravioli followed by cherry pie in Traverse City, pancakes with just-picked blueberries in South Haven, and the day the counterman at a Coney Island along I-75 baffled him by asking if he wanted his coney regular or Flint-style. It turns out Flint-style comes with a dryer meat sauce. His advice: get one of each.