This past weekend, we loaded up the car to explore a part of the state we haven’t spent much time in – northern Michigan’s Petoskey area – and in particular, the quaint and charming Harbor Springs community situated on Little Traverse Bay.
Given that it was a four-hour road trip (and the toddler doesn’t necessarily hang like his parents while listening to podcasts), we extended our visit to a long weekend. With two full days sandwiched between our driving days, we had plenty of time to roam the shop-lined streets, hike to the bay, and generally soak up the springtime resort town vibes.
I’ll note up front that spring isn’t exactly the *ideal* time to travel to town if it’s your first visit. You’ll find many of the area’s popular spots and activities still in their winter slumber, yet to wake up in mid to late May. (For instance, Pond Hill Farm, Swift Nature Preserve and the Harbor Springs trolley we’re all on my list to look into, and all we’re closed when we stayed in late April.) But while the towns were sleepier than normal, they were also less dense, quieter and we avoided long lines and crowded beaches.
As it turns out, both towns are only a 20-minute drive from one another, so I’ve mashed up our recommendations together, since we found ourselves bopping to and from each on a daily basis.
Here, I’m breaking down our suggestions on what to see and do, eat, and where to stay while you’re in the area.
In Petoskey, consider a night or two at the polished waterfront Inn on Bay Harbor. We cashed in our annual free Marriott night – a perk of the Marriott credit card, or some might say, an exchange for the annual fee – for one night in the Autograph Collection property. With an outdoor pool overlooking the lake, several dining options and a short walk to the Harbor’s small shopping district, it’s a classy stay and offers family-friendly rooms with kitchenettes and gorgeous waterfront balconies.
In Harbor Springs, we stayed just outside of town at a mod A-frame AirBnB called MICabin6. It’s a stylish stay that sleeps up to eight, and offers a convenient base for heading downtown, while sitting just north of the area’s two ski resort’s, Nubs Nob and Boyne Highlands. Fittingly, you’ll find a bonfire pit, boot warmers and a slew of cozy blankets strewn about. But in the warmer months, you’ll appreciate the way the space fills with afternoon light, the green treescape outside the vaulted windows and the clean, crisp design elements scattered throughout.
Side Note: We loved the vacation rental’s lowest level, which had two double beds, a chaise sofa, large TV and game cabinet for the little guy to play during his early-rising mornings, which didn’t wake the rest of our snoozing crew.
Choose one of two easy to moderate trails at Petoskey State Park to reap the reward of bluff views or a sandy dune-lined beach after a short hike. The park’s location on the bay means that you’ll likely find calm waters, and if you’re lucky, a Petoskey stone or two.
Drive the famed Tunnel of Trees route along M-119, which begins near Harbor Springs and ends at Cross Village, where you’ll find the much-loved Polish restaurant, Legs Inn. On the road, you’ll take in plenty of lake views from inside a canopy of tree cover. Expect plenty of motorcyclists and bicycles along the way, which can also make for a slow (some day leisurely) drive.
Swing into the Toski Sands Market and Liquor Shop near the entry to Petoskey State Park to stock up on brews and gourmet goods, like prime cuts of meat, cheese wedges, chocolates and a limited selection of fresh produce. (Perfect for picnic packing!)
Grab lunch to go at the unassuming Gurney’s Bottle Shop in Harbor Springs, offering a busy sandwich counter loaded with most of the fixings, sans tomatoes, and a fast-paced assembly line of made-to-order options.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a bag of’ dessert from Tom’s Mom’s Cookies in Harbor Springs. The Original Chocolate Chunk is a staple, but there’s always plenty of options to choose from. I say grab a dozen; they’re a classic, soft cookie that’s the perfect size (and if you fall in love, you can now order them for mail delivery!).
Make a dinner reservation at Harbor Springs’ Willow restaurant, across from the marina, and go right ahead and order the filet. We snuck out for an adults-only meal and savored every single bite.
Side Note: Chandler’s in Petoskey also came highly recommended by several friends!
Last call should go to City Park Grill in Petoskey, which has an old fashioned bar that was once frequented by Ernest Hemingway himself. Have a cocktail or two and imagine the bare-knuckle fighting that Hemingway used to stroll outside to watch at the namesake park after imbibing.
Resort towns are known for their collection of independent shops and boutiques, so it can’t be entirely off putting to round up a few favorites, right? I mean, whether your strolling the windows or dropping a dollar, it’s a fun way to spend a cloudy afternoon and – ahem – support the local economy.
– Toy Store: If you have a kid, it might be cruel not to step inside the Rocking Horse Toy Company, which is stocked to the ceiling with children’s toys, books and odds and ends.
– Gourmet Gifts: Pop into Symon General Store in Petoskey for an impress selection of cheeses, dry goods, wines, lotions, candles, and such all tucked into a tiny footprint.