Take a Staycation, Explore Culinary Hidden Gems in Northern Michigan

You won’t find salt water beaches, palm trees, or coral reefs in northern Michigan – and that’s just the way we like it. Traverse City and its surrounding areas are some of the most scenic and beautiful destinations in the world, and they just might be in the comfort of your own back yard. If you’re a northern Michigander, here’s a roundup of some of the off-the-beaten-path food and culture gems to check out when you want to get away without going far.

First things first- the beer.

Traverse City is home to many breweries, taprooms, and pubs that you can only find when visiting.  You can’t truly call yourself a craft beer connoisseur until you try some of the many, many delicious brews that have made the breweries famous.  Some of the most popular destinations to grab a cold one:

  • Brewery Terra Firma fall-color-tour
    • Brewery Terra Firma is unique in its approach as a brewery and as an agricultural destination. Through the integration of sustainable production methods, environmentally conscious waste management and innovative water recycling/reclamation techniques, they hope to become a model for breweries and agricultural destinations throughout the nation.
  • The Workshop Brewing Company
    • The Workshop Brewing Company exists to preserve Northern Michigan’s spectacular natural environment, to reinforce Traverse City’s warm and vital community, and to honor traditional craft. They do not consider their business to be a success unless they are demonstrably and sustainably doing all three. They express this commitment by using the Trifidelity symbol, which stands for their motto: Nature. Community. Craft.
  • The Filling Station Microbrewery ???????????????????????????????
    • Established in the spring of 2012, The Filling Station Microbrewery is a family owned and operated business, dedicated to providing friendly and knowledgeable service and the highest quality of hand crafted brews and edibles.  Located just off the TART Trail in the historic railroad district, the Filling Station Microbrewery features a rotating list of at least 10 craft beers, which pair perfectly with our wood-fired flatbreads and fresh salads.  Whether on your own, meeting friends or with your family, patrons of all ages feel welcomed in our casual pub-style setting.   You’ll enjoy views of Boardman Lake from inside the pub or out on the patio, live music and the occasional train passing by.
  • Right Brain Brewery
    • Right Brain Brewing is committed to using the best available local ingredients in every small batch of  craft brew. Featuring a rotating right brained beer menu & artwork!
  • Short’s Brewing Company
    • Today Short’s Brewing Company continues its efforts to make the best beer on earth in Northern Michigan. Although Shorts has quickly grown to be one of Michigan’s largest breweries, they still take pride in their hands-on, mom-and-pop approach and the energy they put into the quality of our beer, food, staff, customers and facilities.
  • Stafford’s Noggin Room Pub
    • The Noggin Room Pub’s casual and comfortable atmosphere provides a great place to break from shopping the near-by Gaslight District, meet with friends and enjoy our award winning selection of domestic and imported beers. With personal service from the “Best Staff in Northern Michigan” (as voted by Northern Express), we’re sure you’ll feel right at home.

For those looking to enjoy their favorite node of Traverse City wine, check out these taste rooms and vineyards:

  • Left Foot Charley LeftFootCharly
    • The winery has since grown to around 6000 cases and is located in the former Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane in Traverse City, Michigan. The urban environment has served to bring the terroir to the people. LFC is a Michigan version of an Austrian Heuriger – a place where aromatic and flavorful wine is an everyday event. Locals and visitors alike have come to realize that the non-traditional setting pairs perfectly with the atypical fruit sourcing and old style winemaking that defines LFC. Left Foot has a committed a focus on white wine varietals, hard cider, and sparkling wine.
  • Blustone Vineyards
    • Bluestone’s story started 20 years ago visiting Leland as a family for the first time. The simplicity and beauty of the “tucked away” secret that is Leelanau has always been what we treasure most about the area. There is a connection to the land found only here amongst the lakes, dunes, hills, and sunlit fields and our dream to start Blustone was born out of that.

If you give a mouse a cookie, they’ll ask for a glass of milk. If you give a tourist a beer, they’ll ask for something to eat.  

Along with famous craft beers, Traverse City is known state and nation wide as a hub for unique and tasty meals from your not-so-typical mom and pop type restaurants.  Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty breakfast, fresh caught walleye, or a mouth watering burger, Traverse City boasts it all.  At the risk of leaving out some hidden gems, here’s a few nibble nooks you won’t want to miss:

  • Bay Bread Co.
    • Specialties: Breakfast and lunch sandwiches and some of the best baked goods you can find!
  • Cherry Republic

    • Celebrating the beauty and spirit of northern Michigan in everything we make and do, Cherry Republic has grown from a t-shirt sold out of the trunk of a car to the world’s largest exclusive retailer of cherry food creations. Along the way, we have turned one man’s vision into a nation of citizens embracing his creed of life, liberty, beaches, and pie.
  • Pepe Nero Kabob
    • PepeNero is a cozy and intimate restaurant snuggled inside the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Owners Giorgio and Monica Lo Greco are experienced professionals who know how to amaze your palate by preparing simple, genuine Italian food utilizing the gift of fresh seasonal ingredients from local markets and the high quality of imported Italian products.
  • Quay Restaurant and Bar
    • Quay Restaurant + Terrace Bar, pronounced kwā, is located in the beautiful town of Charlevoix, Michigan.  Come enjoy our three story restaurant and bar offering a New American menu along with a comprehensive wine and beer list.
  • Terry’s of Charlevoix
    • With over 35 years in the business since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Terry Left, the proprietor, and Paul Bradley, the executive chef, have brought their years of experience to bear in developing exquisite recipes complemented by just the right sauces. Terry’s offers excellent full course dinners in a warm, casual dining atmosphere. Given the close proximity to the Great Lakes, their fish entrées are a fresh and ever-popular selection.
  • City Park Grill
    • In 1997 Bob & Mary Keedy, Dick & Laura Dinon, Chef John Norman, and Patrick Faylor purchased the Park Garden Café and changed the name to City Park Grill. The menu was changed as well to reflect their scratch kitchen and daily/seasonal specials. Since then, the restaurant has been restored to the glory days of the past, serving a wide array of guests from around the world.
  • Twisted Olive Quattro beef_1920x1200
    • A true Northern Michigan gem, Twisted Olive Quattro offers some of the most unique and decadent samplers, entrees, and drinks of anywhere in the mitten.
  • Cafe Sante
    • A casual, European-style bistro serving The Classics—simply and with flair. Featuring wood-fired pizzas, mussels and frites, pastas, Panini, unique breakfasts and casual cuisine from other fine European traditions.

Now that’ you’re good and full, you’re probably wondering what is there to do?

From the Sleeping Bear Dunes, scenic Lake Michigan beaches, and countless trails to explore, there truly isn’t enough time in one day to see it all.  If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, we encourage you to check out a guided tour or make a stop at one of the local museums.  You can’t go wrong with what you pick to do in TC, but here’s a few of our favorite things to get you started:

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes tour outdoors_naturepark_dunes
    • You will find a wide variety of activities for every age available to you at the Lakeshore. Climb the Dunes, swim at one of the many beaches, or take a hike through the Maple/Beech forest to some beautiful overlooks. Maybe you will want to spend some time in the museums or tour Port Oneida to learn about the rich history and culture of the area.
  • Music House Museum Tour
    • Recognized by Forbes.com as one of the ten reasons to visit Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Music House Museum offers a unique collection of instruments that provide guests with a walk through the history, the artistry and the engineering of automated music.
  • Earl Young House Tour
    • This tour will take you around the triangular block bounded by Park Avenue, Grant Street, and Clinton Street.  Here you can see some of the most famous, and most beloved, work of long-time Charlevoix resident, Earl Young, homes he built or remodeled beginning in the late 1930s, and culminating in the construction of the “mushroom house” in the 1950s.
  • Castle Farms Garden Tour kings_grand
    • Northern Michigan’s very own fairy tale castle! With cobblestone courtyards, soaring stone towers, and magnificent sweeping gardens, Castle Farms has earned a reputation as one of Michigan’s premiere historic attractions, as well as a celebrated wedding venue. Whether you’re on a travel adventure, or searching for the perfect site in which to exchange marriage vows, this French Renaissance style castle offers the perfect blend of old-world charm and modern-day elegance for visitors seeking family fun and bridal couples-to-be.
  • Little Traverse History Museum
    • The Little Traverse Historical Socity was established in 1905 and, 1969, it was incorporated as a non- profit organization, “To preserve, advance and disseminate knowledge of the history of the Little Traverse Bay Area.” To this end, and with the support of members and winter and summer residents, they acquired and restored the abandoned Chicago and West Michigan Railroad depot. Originally built in 1892 to accommodate the large influx of summer resorters, the depot now serves the area as The Little Traverse History Museum.  The museum houses the historical society’s archives, long term displays, and an annual new summer display.  It is also the site of ongoing programs.  Currently, the museum is only open during the summer season (Memorial Day – mid October).
  • Cooking demonstration at Fustini’s
    • The company was founded by Jim and Lane Milligan, who lived in Minneapolis/St. Paul and took frequent family vacations to the beautiful resort town of Traverse City, Michigan. Like many others before them, the Milligans fell in love with northern Michigan and hoped to “someday” settle down there.  Flash-forward to today and Fustini’s is a Northern Michigan staple!

With everything there is to eat, drink and do in Northern Michigan, there’s no reason not to plan your staycation!  These are just a few of our own suggestions, however.  For more information on how to plan your own staycation in Northern Michigan or any other #PureMichigan destination, visit michigan.org

An Annual Summer Getaway to Harbor Springs, More than a Family Tradition

Melanie Dawson currently lives in Minneapolis, but she’s been visiting Harbor Springs, Michigan for 15 summers now. Today, she shares with us what draws her family back to the area year after year.

Photo credit: Lou Peeples-Photography; www.pointephotography.net


I grew up in Phoenix, AZ, the desert landscape being infinitely different from northern Michigan. But I lucked into marrying a Midwestern man from Indiana, whose family comes to Harbor Springs every summer. I’ve been visiting Harbor Springs for 15 summers now, my husband for 39. His mother spent her summers there, as did his grandmother and her parents, making our daughter the fifth generation. It’s more than a family tradition, for them (and now for me) it’s a way of life. A summer not spent in Harbor Springs is a summer with something missing. Every year we look forward to revisiting old favorites and finding new gems.

Restaurants we love: Depot Club & Restaurant, serving gourmet food. Coat required indoors, more casual on the patio. New this year is Petoskey Brewing, housed in an old brewery from 1898. This family-friendly place serves delicious microbrews (try a flight of three or four 4 oz pours) and a solid pub menu and is located on the drive between Harbors Springs and Petoskey. We also thoroughly enjoy sitting outside at Dudley’s Deck, which provides covered dining on the patio or the open grass area across from the dock. On a gorgeous night it’s a pleasure to sip one of their famous Hummers and watch the sun go down. Don’t miss Turkeys Café & Pizzeria (serving pizza and sandwiches) and Gurneys Harbor Bottle Shop (a liquor store that makes amazing cold sandwiches to order at lunchtime). There’s nowhere to sit at Gurney’s so take your sandwiches down to the pier and watch the yachts come in and out.

For ice cream and treats, my daughter would tell you that Yummies is a must, serving her favorite flavor of ice cream: Superman. As a grown-up, I am loving the new Velvet, an ice cream shop with a more sophisticated interior and delicious flavors. Not a summer goes by where we don’t get a cookie from Tom’s Mom’s. Housed in the tiniest shop you may have ever seen, the cookies are fresh baked. If you love fudge, check out Kilwin’s and Howse’s.

Leaving the downtown area, Pond Hill Farm is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. The farm is home to cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and geese. It features a café and winery with farm fresh ingredients.  There’s a trout pond to fish in, a squash rocket to experiment with, and a market that features pesticide and herbicide free produce hormone and antibiotic free organically raised beef, pork, and lamb, plus other organic products. My daughter’s grandparents enjoy taking the grandchildren to Thorne Swift Nature Preserve, featuring a boardwalk through dense woods and beach frontage and several stopping points with educational information on trees, flowers, animals, insects, and environmental topics. You can’t go wrong visiting the beach at Petoskey State Park where you can spend hours searching for the hard-to-find Petoskey Stone.

Pirate’s Cove Mini Golf in Petoskey is my daughter’s number one favorite activity to do when we visit Northern Michigan. With several locations around the country, it isn’t exclusive to Michigan, but it provides an hour or so of wicked fun. What kid (or kid at heart) doesn’t enjoy miniature golf with the family?

If you love being active on the water, visit The Outfitter. This comprehensive shop features all the gear you need (you can rent paddleboards and kayaks) plus a generous amount of activewear, shoes, and accessories for all of your active pursuits.

Melanie Dawson is an avid traveler who loves exploring the United States and abroad with her husband John and 8 year old daughter Reese. She lives in Minneapolis, MN where she pursues her passions of cooking, nutrition, and living an active lifestyle.

For more things to do and see in Harbor Springs, visit michigan.org.

Treasures Along the Little Traverse Wheelway

On a girls-only trip to Petoskey, Hannah Agran, Midwest Living®assistant travel editor, and her mom rent bicycles to explore a portion of the Little Traverse Wheelway.

While on vacation, my mom and I prefer to explore on foot or bicycle (and let the car take a break), so staying at the century-old Stafford’s Perry Hotel in downtown Petoskey’s historic Gaslight District was perfect for us. We could walk out the door to shopping, dining and spectacular sunset views of Lake Michigan.  

Less than two blocks from the hotel, we discover North Country Cycle Sport, a bike shop that also rents gear (bicycles, helmets and locks). We pedal a few blocks west to the Little Traverse History Museum and pick up the Little Traverse Wheelway, a 26-mile paved trail running along Lake Michigan’s shore from Charlevoix through Petoskey to Harbor Springs.

On a spectacular warm weekday, we encounter only a couple of other people on the flat trail as we head south. Magnus Park beach is empty except for a couple hunting for speckled Petoskey stones. It’s not a destination beach, so it’s relatively unknown to tourists. Cutting through woods and residential areas, riders know they’re still on the well-maintained path because of the large signs. Dedicated overlooks invite pulling off for photos, and the occasional stairway makes it easy to dip your toes in the lake. (Don’t forget to secure your bike with a lock!)

North of Petoskey, the trail reminds us of Chicago’s Lakeshore Path, with sailboats, lots of green space, benches, a marina and a concession stand. The Waterfall Area is a gem, and a few families enjoy a picnic lunch as we ride by. The large falls flow into a pretty creek. Warning: Past the falls, the trail runs parallel to the highway. We thought it would be great to ride to Petoskey State Park area, but traffic noise and cars entering the highway made for a less scenic ride. Still, we savored our hard-earned picnic on Petoskey State Park’s wide sand beach.

The Little Traverse Wheelway is a fabulous opportunity to take in what makes Michigan beautiful—the lake, the parks and the wonderful people you enjoy it with.

Hannah Agran has worked at Midwest Living since 2006, traveling to spots around Michigan. She visited the Petoskey area on a girls’ getaway with her mom, and a year later, they’re both still talking about it!