Everyone knows that person who spends weeks sniffing around travel blogs, going deep into Tripadvisor rabbit holes, collecting Google docs from friends of friends, and creating A Beautiful Mind–style spreadsheets to come up with the best vacations and itineraries possible. In this recurring series, we find those people who’ve done all the work for you and have them walk us through a particularly wonderful, especially well-thought-out vacation they took that you can actually steal.
I live in New Orleans, but because I married a Minneapolitan, we have a long-standing tradition of visiting my husband’s family in the Twin Cities and then renting a cabin in northern Minnesota near the Canadian border. We like to go in late May — it’s already gotten hot in New Orleans, but in Minnesota, the wildflowers are in bloom, the lakes are frigid, and we can build fires. But this year, we decided to mix it up and visit northern Michigan instead. We’d heard good things, specifically from Meghan McEwen, who runs the marvelous In Hand Substack, a treasure trove of secrets celebrating craft, travel, and hotels. She sometimes rents out her charming 1900s farmhouse in the orchard-filled Leelanau Peninsula. I’d read about the house’s renovation years ago, in Meghan’s previous travel blog, Designtripper, and I always had it in the back of my mind as this really special place. Thankfully, it worked out that we could stop over for a couple of nights in the middle of the trip. She gave us a bunch of recommendations for where to eat, but it’s such a charming area, you also come across incredible places without even meaning to. Here’s how we spent six days tree-climbing, admiring historic homes, and hiking the trillium-studded lakeshore.
Day 1: Green Bay to Munising
12 p.m.: Fuel up with midwestern-style pizza
Took a little plane from Minneapolis to Green Bay and picked up our rental car. We had a lunch of tavern pizza at old-school joint Cranky Pat’s (709 Bellevue St.). This is a midwestern style of pizza where the crust is so thin it’s almost a cracker. They get it that way by putting the dough two turns through what looks like an oversize pasta roller. My older son cadged $1 out of us for the claw machine and actually won something! A stuffed penguin. Everyone clapped.
1 p.m.: Make a pit stop for midday ice cream
The road to Munising follows the coast of Lake Michigan, goes through the Escanaba River State Forest, and ends at Lake Superior. There are lots of pleasant-looking, modest cabins alongside the picturesque road that follows the lake. On the way, we stopped for great local ice cream at Barn on the Bay (7272 US2 & 41 & M-35). I had the rhubarb-crumble ice cream, and my younger son tried a psychedelic-colored flavor that stained his mouth for hours, so everyone was happy.
5 p.m.: Have a smorgasbord dinner while watching the sunset
As a hotel nerd, I enjoy going down deep rabbit holes looking for special places to stay, but sometimes, there’s just a Hampton Inn (461 South Lakeshore Blvd.). This one was right on the lake, with expansive blue views and a huge heated pool no one but us was using. For dinner, we stopped by old-school smokehouse Matson’s Fisheries (1336 Commercial St.) to pick up an array of smoked-fish products, crackers, and a six-pack of local beer at the “party store” (what they call the liquor store) and went to a beach called Sand Point for a sunset picnic. It was gorgeous and we were the only ones there, probably because of the million mosquitos.
Day 2: Munising to Suttons Bay
10 a.m.: Hike a national lakeshore
We made a stop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, where the views were so pretty we decided to take a walk. It was a landscape I was not expecting in Michigan: fairy carpets of white trillium in bloom, dramatic red-tinged sedimentary cliffs a hundred feet above the water, and multiple waterfalls.
12 p.m.: Pick up a beef-and-potato-stuffed pastie
Driving around this area, you see lots of roadside places advertising pasties, hand pies filled with meat and vegetables. For lunch, we stopped at Lehto’s (open since 1947) (626 N. State St.), where the only thing for sale is pasties — it seemed like the authoritative place. The ones we got were filled with beef, potatoes, onion, and rutabaga. Spoiler alert: not that delicious.
2 p.m.: Tour around the historic houses of Petoskey
We drove across the Mackinac Bridge and discovered the lakefront town of Petoskey, which has hundreds of well-preserved Victorian homes. This place was a revelation! The town is hilly, so there are terrific views even fairly far away from the lake. House after house had fantastic turrets, ornate gables, gorgeous bay windows, and wildflower gardens. My hotel colleague, Michigander Mary Beth Bennett, just purchased the Terrace Inn (1549 Glendale Ave.) there, so we peeked in. It has a beautiful dining room from the turn of the last century and a super-pleasant flower-filled terrace with roses. I can’t wait to see what she does with it.
4 p.m.: Pull over for a beachfront playground
Brett had to make a work call, so we took a break in Traverse City, where the kids played in the sand at Clinch Park on the lakefront while we watched a group of teenagers horse around in the icy water, shouting and splashing. I sat in one of the oversize Adirondack chairs provided by the park and passed a pleasant hour with my feet in the water.
5 p.m.: Settle in at the farmhouse
Got to the farmhouse we had rented on the Leelanau Peninsula, owned by my friend Meghan McEwen. The house is decorated with Shaker furniture and great quilts and has so many thoughtful touches — real beeswax candlesticks, tea from herbs grown in the garden, hand-thrown mugs to drink it out of, tons of board games, and trees for climbing. While we unpacked, the kids boomeranged between the tree swing and the fields.
7 p.m.: Melt Michigan-made raclette alfresco
We ate dinner in the garden and made raclette with the terrific local Leelanau cheese, some tiny new potatoes, and grilled asparagus, which was abundantly in season and for sale at roadside stands all over.
9 a.m.: Hang out at the farm
Went for breakfast at 9 Bean Rows (9000 E Duck Lake Rd., Suttons Bay), a cute bakery–slash–pizza place–slash–farm that Meghan had recommended, and spent the day chilling at the house. This house was so fabulous, like what you hope Airbnb is going to be but never is. It’s very much lived in, but in a gorgeous, luxuriously casual way. Someone in that house is into Russian literature, so I picked up a Chekhov short story one night instead of reading my book.
The bedrooms are small with just a wooden bed and a nice quilt, but that’s all you need. We opened all the windows; a nice breeze was going through the house, and the smell of the lilac was wafting in. I felt like I could do my own thing inside, but still hear the kids having fun outside, which was bliss. We live in a city house. When they’re outside, they’re on a sidewalk. If they’re inside, we’re all on top of each other. This was nice.
We played with a bunch of their board games too. Our kids are the same age as Meghan’s and made themselves at home. We played a couple of rounds of Settlers of Catan Junior. Our younger son is just getting into board games, and this felt like the first time he was fully engaging.
7 p.m.: Dine on whitefish escabeche
For dinner, we went to Farm Club (10051 Lake Leelanau Dr.), a striking modern structure serving food grown in the fields around it. We ate beans in broth, whitefish escabeche, and the farm board with a bunch of different crudités and dips. It was a wholesome vibe; the local running club was having post-run beers, and there were lots of families. After we ate, our kids ran off to play with a gaggle of other kids, so dessert was chill.
10 p.m.: Wind down with a game of cards
The days up north are so long in June that we drove home late to a gorgeous sunset, a novelty for us in the tropics. After the kids went to bed, Brett and I played cribbage, drank a few Michigan UPAs (Upper Peninsula Ales), and listened to records. The house had a couple of crates we had fun flipping through. There was some Detroit-specific stuff, like a J Dilla record called Donuts. We also played an old record by Balka Sound, a Congolese band, and an Arthur Russell record called World of Echo.
9 a.m.: Grab croissants before hitting the trail
Breakfast at 9 Bean again, then I looked up a nearby hike on AllTrails, which directed us to the Manitou Lookout, a pleasant, upwardly sloping walk through the forest to great views over Lake Michigan. We hiked for about an hour and a half. In late spring, the trees haven’t fully leafed out yet, so the ground gets plenty of sun and the wildflowers are sensational.
12 p.m.: Nap, then pick some flowers
In the afternoon, I took a nap with a book on my chest — how I really know I’m on vacation — and did laundry, mainly because I was excited to hang it on the line outside, a total fetish for a city girl like me. I also made some giant bouquets with the lilac that was blooming in profusion in the driveway.
7 p.m.: Pick up eggs and veggies from the farmstand
We found a terrific farmstand with a little honor box and Xeroxed recipe suggestions, then picked up supplies for dinner. Brett grilled asparagus and made a frittata with some local eggs, and I made a rhubarb crumble while the kids played Battleship. We sat on the porch rocking chairs and watched the moon rise.
Day 5: Suttons Bay to Saugatuck
9 a.m.: Snack on leftovers before heading out
Ate the remaining rhubarb crumble for breakfast, with what was left of the Leelanau fromage blanc, then packed up and headed south.
11 a.m.: Slide down sand dunes
We stopped at Sleeping Bear Dunes, miles of gigantic scalable sand dunes that we scrambled up and down, with a lake at the end if you make it that far, which we didn’t. While I was blithely flying down a dune, arms outstretched, Sound of Music–style, my phone flopped out of my pocket, something I only realized once we had driven several miles and a Good Samaritan called Brett’s phone with mine to tell us about it. Lucky break!
5 p.m.: Order trout cakes for dinner
Once reunited, we kept driving til Saugatuck, where we had fine cocktails and trout cakes at Pennyroyal Cafe (3319 Blue Star Hwy.), our rousing game of restaurant Uno marred only slightly by our older son’s explosive nosebleed. There are some great-looking hotels in Saugatuck, including the Lake Shore Resort and the Saugatuck Retro Resort, but they required a commitment of several nights and we only had one, so we stayed at a chain hotel.
Day 6: Saugatuck to Detroit
8 a.m.: Stroll the farmers’ market
In the morning, we played at the hotel pool and its video arcade, then made it to Grand Rapids in time to check out the city’s vibrant farmers’ market, chock-a-block with heaping piles of (more) asparagus. The Heritage Hill neighborhood nearby had some really pretty houses and a lovely vibe. It reminded me of Jamaica Plain in Boston or Linden Hills in Minneapolis. Again with the well-tended gardens!
11 a.m.: Wander around a botanical garden
We spent the afternoon at the Frederik Meijer Gardens, a sprawling assemblage of horticulture and botanical gardens filled with sculptures funded by the deep pockets of the DeVos family. My favorite was the glass-roofed conservatory filled with carnivorous plants and the oversize marble faces sculpted by Jaume Plensa.
7 p.m.: Have a final meal before heading home
Stopped for an early dinner at Saffron De Twah in Detroit (7636 Gratiot Ave.) for the harissa potatoes, Moroccan chicken sandwich, and couscous, and then flew home.
Nathalie’s Northern Michigan Road Trip Packing List
Baseball mitts and baseball so we can play catch anywhere.
We pretty much take this anytime we travel.
We’re reading it to the kids at night.
This brand makes the dress in the same cut but in many different patterns. It’s become my work uniform — I have seven of them now — and they’re also nice for traveling. They work for a walk, but the patterns are interesting enough that they feel dressy enough for going out to dinner, too.
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