1. Where to Stay
Have breakfast in bed at Tesoro Inn (from $210, including breakfast), a fresh-feeling B&B that opened three years ago in the heart of Old Mission wine country. Its three well-appointed suites all have modern furnishings and views of the property’s vineyards and orchards, but book the Trellis Suite for the most space and a private courtyard where you can enjoy a pre-dinner glass of wine.
Relax in a rocking chair on the veranda of the stately Antiquities’ Wellington Inn (from $170, including breakfast), a 1905 neoclassical mansion on a quiet street in the heart of the city. Nine impeccably restored rooms capture a bygone era with antique furniture, Oriental rugs, and original wall murals, while the Carriage House offers private two-bedroom apartments (from $300) featuring full kitchens and décor inspired by the thirties and forties.
Roam 160 acres of orchards, vineyards, stables, and trails at the Inn at Black Star Farms (from $150, including breakfast), located near Suttons Bay on Leelanau Peninsula. Named after stars in the Northern galaxy, the ten individually decorated rooms come with spacious bathrooms (some with whirlpools and glassed-in showers), down comforters, and complimentary bottles of “Red House” wine. In addition to the farm-fresh breakfast, afternoon snacks and pre-dinner wine and hors d’oeuvres are all complimentary.
2. Where to Eat
Reserve several weeks in advance for dinner at the Cook’s House, a popular downtown restaurant where seven tables are packed closely together in the living room of an old house. The open kitchen turns out seasonal dishes like local whitefish roasted in grape leaves with white cucumber relish, pea shoots, and baby leeks ($24), but the tasting menus ($50 for five courses, $60 for seven courses) are quite reasonably priced. If you can’t nab a dinner booking, stop in for small plates between 2 and 5 p.m. (Tuesday–Saturday).
Feel like you’re in a wine grotto at Trattoria Stella, a surprisingly lovely basement space with exposed brick walls and flickering candles. The daily menu highlights local produce in simple dishes like squash blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta ($12), but specials, including handmade maltagliati with lamb ragù ($15) and quick-fired pizzas with house-made mozzarella and smoked tomato sauce ($12), are the main draw.
Head north for a fireside dinner at Mission Table, the area’s most authentic farm-to-table restaurant, which sources nearly everything it serves from the 22-mile peninsula it’s located on. In addition to crafting all beers and spirits on-site, the staff forages for mushrooms, makes sausage in-house, and does most of the butchering, pursuing a level of detail and quality that’s reflected in delicately flavored dishes like slow-cooked rabbit with fennel, beets, watercress, and aioli ($9) or a duo of lamb shoulder and loin, served with split peas, yogurt, and pea shoots ($13).
3. What to Do
Go on a self-guided tasting tour of Old Mission Peninsula, a skinny 22-mile peninsula just north of the city. Start out with a handcrafted beer tasting ($5 for five tastes) at Jolly Pumpkin Brewery, where you should try the spicy, Belgian-style Oro de Calabaza (available year-round) and the seasonal, amber-colored Fuego del Otono. Next, visit the area’s newest winery, Hawthorne Vineyards, to taste some of their local varietals before driving up the road for a tasting at Two Lads Winery, which features a sleek tasting room ($5 for a six-wine tasting) overlooking East Grand Traverse Bay and arguably the best wines in the area. Finish up with a sunset winery tour at Chateau Chantal, one of the oldest wineries in the area, where you can have a seven-course wine pairing dinner ($70; available Friday evenings through the end of October).
Explore lush farmland and wineries on Leelanau Peninsula, where Mario Batali owns a summer home. Watch cheesemakers at work, and then sample their products at Leelanau Cheese, the creamery at Black Star Farms that produces raclette and French-style fromage blanc. Next, sit amidst the vines at L. Mawby and taste their sparkling wines (with tongue-in-cheek names like Sex, Fizz, and Detroit). The first two tastes are free, and for $5, you’ll get two more with a tasting of local cheese or pate. Then taste the boozy byproduct of Michigan apples at Tandem Ciders, where they serve eleven varieties of artisan beverages ranging from the easy-sipping Early Day to the more potent Pomona, a mixture of apple brandy and sweet apple cider.
Pick up the best produce from surrounding farms without leaving the city at the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market, held every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. until noon (through the end of October). Located across from Clinch Park between Cass and Union Streets, the weekly lineup includes more than 100 vendors hawking produce, meats, baked goods, eggs, jams, honeys, crafts, and more. Wake up early if you’re planning to stop by, as the market tends to be packed by 9 a.m.
4. Insider’s Tip
Some of the area’s best food and wine establishments can’t be found in the city or on either peninsula. Instead, head west of downtown to the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, formerly a state-run mental hospital that’s currently being repurposed to house offices and apartments, but where you can already find a fantastic artisan bakery housed in a former fire station (Pleasanton), a roasting company (Higher Grounds), and a winery (Left Foot Charley).
5. Oddball Day
Take a break from eating and drinking to experience the area’s natural beauty. Start the day downtown with handmade croissants, quiche, and lattes at family-run 9 Bean Rows Bakery. Then drive northeast to Leland, a small town near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park ($10 for a vehicle pass), a pristine 35-mile retreat with hiking trails, deserted beaches, and enormous sand dunes. Wander the weathered fishing shanties of Leland’s historic Fishtown, and pick up boxed lunches ($8.50) the Village Cheese Shanty. Next, drive south on the 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which offers a perfect overview of the park. Along the way there are various stopping points with great views of Glen Lake, towering sand dunes, and Lake Michigan. After a lunch break (there are picnic tables throughout, but you’ll have to carry your trash out of the park), take a hike on the hilly 2.8-mile Sleeping Bear Point Trail over sand dunes and through the woods, and if you time things right, you’ll make it to Pyramid Point before sunset. Make your way out of the park and finish your day in Suttons Bay at Martha’s Leelanau Table, a cozy restaurant where, following the area’s ethic, everything is made from scratch using local ingredients.
Read up on the city’s microbreweries and distilleries on the official tourism site.
Find all the events happening in town on Downtown Traverse City’s site.
Oldmission.com highlights the peninsula’s non-culinary offerings.
Chart your own wine trail at Wineries of Old Mission.
Leelanau.com features useful maps of the larger peninsula.
Track down discounts and special deals for vineyards at Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association.