Things to Do on Old Mission Peninsula: The Ultimate Pure Michigan Guide
Old Mission Peninsula is home to enough wine and culinary amenities, scenic hikes and beaches, antique shops and cozy inns for a vacation in itself. Use this trip guide to help you explore what this northern Michigan destination has to offer.
Just north of Traverse City, the Old Mission Peninsula is a narrow finger of land extending into the center of Grand Traverse Bay. The road that cuts down the center of the Old Mission Peninsula was named a Scenic Heritage Route in 2007. Just a few miles into the 18-mile trip from base to tip, you'll catch peeks of deep blue bays beyond fields patterned with grapevines and trees drooping (depending on season) with ripe, red cherries or round red apples. Here, you'll find intentionally preserved farmland as pretty as an artist might portray them.
1. Sip Along a Wine Trail
You'll find 10 wineries within five miles, most with a stunning water view, light snacks and frequent live music, with options for a traditional tasting or purchase by the glass and chance to sit and soak in the scenery. The narrow peninsula, hilly terrain and surrounding waters help stave off early frost and cold spring temperatures prevent premature budding in spring. This makes a microclimate perfect for producing Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and ice wines.
Wine is so prevalent in the culture here that even a local Catholic church runs its own vineyard at which congregants help plant and harvest what ends up as its communion and feast wines, and the peninsula's Gray Hare Inn, Vineyard Bed & Breakfast sells grapes for winemaker hobbyists. For nectar crafted by the experts, head to spots like Mari Vineyards, which uses special techniques to keep red wine grapes longer on the vine, Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery and 2 Lads Winery, also known for sophisticated reds. Chateau Grand Traverse first planted and has perfected wine made from the Riesling grapes that some consider the region's signature. To visit all, try one of the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula wine trail events that include a popular Macaroni and Cheese cook-off and fall festival that features grape stomping.
2. Dive into History
The Reverend Peter Dougherty is credited with planting the area's first cherry tree on the peninsula in 1852. It flourished, and others followed suit, planting the area's first commercial orchard (40 years later) on the same spot. You'll find cherries aplenty at farm stands dotting the roadside; you can also take an audio tour to explore the house the reverend built in 1842 and envision what the peninsula was like many years ago then stroll the half-mile hiking trail nearby. Explore the Log Church, a replica of the mission and school for Chippewa Indians, then head to the tip of the peninsula to the pretty Mission Point Lighthouse, built in 1870. There are exhibits, hiking trails and a beach here too. Those who want more historic immersion can sign up to be a light keeper.
3. Stay at a Cozy Inn
You'll get bay views from the rooms, breakfast and wine tasting (and no worry of a drive) when you stay at the inns at both Chateau Grand Traverse and Chateau Chantal, both elegantly outfitted and with access to common areas with cozy fireplaces. Brys Estate rents a full house on its vineyard property, and there are several peninsula B&B options, too. For a Tuscan experience, try Grey Hare Inn Vineyard Bed & Breakfast, an old-world Italian B&Bs notable for its gourmet food, vineyard views and the occasional bocce game, or opt for the sprawling Old Mission Inn for its water views and story; the inn was built in 1869 and over the years hosted famous guests like Babe Ruth and Joe Louis.
4. Dine on Local Cuisine
Old Mission has been called one of Michigan's “hidden gem” dining regions, with casual to special occasion waterfront dining, there's an option to fit most every mood. For a special occasion—or to just celebrate the view—head to The Boathouse Restaurant on the Bowers Harbor shoreline, and in summer, ask for a table on the deck and watch the sun set over the bay before taking the slow lane home. The cottage-style setting of Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant, Brewery and Distillery shares a building with the more upscale Mission Table, and at both, you can enjoy their popular microbrews and spirits. If you like art with your lunch, Old Mission Tavern brings the European gallery-in-a-tavern tradition to Michigan, featuring the work of more than 100 artists and menu offerings like almond-crusted whitefish and homemade cobbler.
5. Explore a Local Market
Across the peninsula, vineyards are interspersed with cherry orchards, apple trees, and waving fields of lavender. Past Chateau Grand Traverse, you'll find the fruit of generations of farming sold at colorful farm stands dotting the roadway. The Downtown Farmers Market is full of local produce and fares worth exploring. Pick your own dessert treasures at Buchan's Blueberry Hill (blueberries, apples, peaches and more) or Santucci Farm (cherries). The Secret Garden at Brys Estate lets you shop for all-things-lavender amid Provencal-style fields, and Old Mission Flowers features a self-serve cutting garden.
6. Find Hidden Gems and Antiques
The Old Mission General Store has antiques all right—you might find a Civil War uniform hanging above a reproduction coonskin cap, not far from the impressive selection of wines from around the world. The store's an antique in itself as the first retail store between Fort Way and Mackinac (then a wig-wam), and is where Henry Ford installed the state's second ever gas station. For more antiques, turn onto Nelson Road off M-37 toward Old Barn Antiques for vintage clothing, dishes, gas pumps and other treasures. Bella Galleria at the Old Mission Tavern features the work of some 100 artists, and Tinker Studio features traditional art, artisan made gifts and decorative paper. It also offers art classes in a variety of techniques.