Family over 4 years ago by Liz Adams

Our Trip to Northern Michigan + Our Favorite Must See Spots

Hi friends! I am so excited for today’s post because it has been highly requested since last summer (oy, so sorry). A few weeks ago we took a trip to Northern Michigan and received so many questions about where to stay, what to see, where to eat, etc. that I wanted to share our favorites here! To quickly note, this is not a “Guide to Northern Michigan!” mainly because we aren’t super knowledgeable of the area. In fact, I had never even been to Michigan before meeting Dave. When you’re from Illinois, I feel like your family either goes to Wisconsin or to Michigan and mine always chose Wisconsin (even though my mom is from Michigan originally). Dave’s mom was born and raised in Traverse City so all his life he spent summers in Northern Michigan, his dad also owned a farm in Leland so Dave has such a strong love for the area. We try to get up there at least once a year but because it is a 5-6 hour drive from Chicago, a weekend doesn’t really cut it (especially when you’re driving with kiddos). Last summer Dave’s mom rented a house in Suttons Bay (a great town!) for a week and this summer we rented a house in Frankfort – both are beautiful locations with so much to see and do with family and friends. 

Ok but let me break down the location for you…using this handy little map (haha!).

M-22 is the highway that goes around Leelanau County. Traverse City is a great place to start and is definitely a bigger city feel. Last summer we stayed in Sutton’s Bay which is the first “lake town” around the peninsula and north of TC. We didn’t venture up to Omena and Northport, instead we would jet over to Leland, down to Glen Arbor and then just south of Empire (not in Leelanau County) is Frankfort where we stayed this year (it is in Benzie County on Crystal Lake + Lake Michigan) and from there you can drive back over to Traverse City which is about an hour drive. A few additional locations that are NOT a part of Leelanau County but also great places to visit are Bay Harbor, Petoskey, Walloon Lake and Charlevoix (all about 1 hour/1.5 hours from here!). Ok I digress, but these are the towns that we love the most and that I’ll be talking about!

Sutton’s Bay – we rented a house here last summer with Dave’s mom! It was a short little dirt path walk down to Lake Michigan and had a big wrap around front porch. I personally feel like getting an Airbnb or VRBO house with kids is way more cost effective and enjoyable for families. If my kids can have their own rooms or if there is a place we can hang out after they go to sleep, that is way more enjoyable to me than any hotel room. I am not going to provide links to where we stayed but trust me there are plenty of options, especially if you plan in advance!

*Note, when I mention specific spots, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love other spots in town! It’s just that these are the places I/we loved and I wouldn’t miss and every other place is just great, up-north options! Like I said, this isn’t a “guide to…” but more like our family’s favorites. I know if you visit any of these spots you’ll find so many places and things to love. 

Must See Spots in Sutton’s Bay

Hop Lot Brewing Co. – amazing beers + food plus a HUGE outdoor area for kids to play and parents to enjoy! Fire pits, games, and so much more! Charlie even cooked his own hot dog on the fire. We went here 3 times in one week! 

At Home – the cutest home decor store! The prettiest furniture, table settings, decor, planters, textiles and so much more. 

Must See Spots in Leland

Fishtown – Leland itself is such a cute town but Fishtown is a commercial fishing area with many of the original shanties filled with cute boutiques, food shops, galleries and more. It’s such a fun area to explore! Make sure to get a sandwich at the Cheese Shanty! Leland Gal is also a super cute boutique in Fishtown!

The Bluebird – our favorite restaurant in town! Such a pretty setting and the Early Bird next door is perfect for breakfast + lunch!

Blue Boat Coffee – pretty lattes and delicious pastries!

Must See Spots in Glen Arbor

Art’s Tavern – this was the first place Dave took me, the first time we went up north. It has been a local watering hole since 1934 and is a favorite! Great for a burger and a beer. 

Cherry Republic – you can’t go to Northern Michigan and not go to Cherry Republic. Get a jar of the cherry salsa – yum!

Sleeping Bear Dunes – Glen Arbor is 10 minutes from Sleeping Bear Dunes which is a great place to visit with kids! Our boys may be a little too young still but such a beautiful place to visit and a fun spot to explore!

Must See Spots in Frankfort

Stormcloud Brewing Co. – a great restaurant and outdoor area for families! They have delicious beers, yummy food and just a great vibe! I love their pizzas.

Birch & Maple – a great spot for breakfast/brunch/lunch! All farm to table food and so so yummy. Such a cute little spot!

L’Chayim Delicatessen – a classic Jewish deli with the yummiest sandwiches and bagels! Pick up a sandwich to have a picnic on the beach!

Crescent Bakery – oh my goshhhhh the donuts, get all of the donuts. 

Betsy Bay Furniture – beautiful decor! I bought a few cute things for the boys like camper hooks + a watercolor fish print!

Point Betsie Lighthouse – make sure you take a trip to see this beautiful spot! I think you may be able to ride bikes here?


Ok, obviously we spent majority of our time in Frankfort this year so quite a few more recommendations there! Honestly, even if I didn’t mention a cute shop – there is so much to explore in all of these adorable towns! And so many other towns to explore too! Great restaurants, all of those quintessential lakeside boutiques with sweatshirts and hats and other vacation stuff. Each little town is nestled and sweet and just picture perfect. We love this area so much! Again, I personally recommend renting a house vs. a hotel (I can’t give recommendations there because we’ve never stayed at a resort Up North!). But I hope this little list is helpful for any upcoming trips! Northern Michigan is such a fun place to explore with family and friends!

Have you been?? What is your favorite town? What are your favorite spots that I’m missing?!

PS: You can find all of these outfits in the LTK APP! Linked here (: just scroll through to find the item you’re looking for!

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  1. Earlier this summer we were thinking of going to Petosky or that area of Michigan. It was when it was rather chilly for summer in Illinois. But then my husband thought about taking the ferry over Lake Michigan to the other side from Wisconsin. Now with the summer coming to an end I am not sure if we will be able to even go just over the boarder to Lake Geneva. It is the busy time for my husband now at work.
    I am going to keep these areas that you have mentioned in mind because I have wanted to go back to that area of Michigan.
    Thank you for posting.

    1. We did the ferry last summer. So you don’t make the same mistake we did…if they tell you when you enter the parking lot that it’s rough out there, don’t proceed on the boat. We asked the parking attendant what he would do and he said he would go and didn’t think it would be THAT bad. It was horrible. Everyone was sick, you physically couldn’t walk around the boat, people were laying on the floor, and workers were walking around handing out Dramamine like candy. It would’ve been a cool experience, though, on a completely calm day!

  2. We LOVE Michigan! My grandma lives in Montague which is just two hours south of where you normally stay! It’s such a cute town (home of the world’s largest weathervane!) and has cute spots including: The Book Nook, Fetch Brewery and Old Channel Inn. The boys love horseback riding at Rainbow Ranch and canoeing at Happy Mohawk! SO many memories!!

  3. Well Adams family, for someone that has never visited Michigan, you spoke very eliquently, accurately & compassionately about our great state. The area you all visited this year is remarkable, especially if you had the opportunity to visit Grand Traverse Bay…BEAUTIFUL AREA, but not your typical tourist stuff, just gorgeous area & down to earth “good people”.
    Maybe your next visit, you could look into staying in Ludington; (also West side of Michigan, just South of Traverse City. There is so much to see & do in Ludington & you want beautiful sites, you must go to Ludington State Park…they also have Hamlin River thats runs alongside the park, which you could lazily ride on a raft, and it will take you down into Lake Michigan, right next the parks beach house, with games for the kids, area for an adult beverage on the very large balcony over looking Lake Michigan.
    You could also get adventrous & travel to The UP (Upper Pennisula)…starting at the Mackinac Bridge…again very beautiful, then travel up to another sightseeing spot…Paradise/Newberry & Whitefish Point (which has the Tachammon Falls, beautiful scenic drives & The Shipwreck Musuem, which also shows the Edmond Fitzgerald, which I believe went down in Lake Superior in 1972 or 74. Great educational spot for kids. The Falls could be an entire day visit if you see the upper falls, then hike to the lower falls (you could also canoe to the lower falls). So much to see & do in Michigan surrounded by ALL these beautiful GREAT LAKES. Safe travels for you & your family.

  4. I’m from Michigan and grew up in Midland and lived in east lansing(good town). Live in Indiana now which is one of the nothing states to do anything like Illinois too as lived there. Also. Lived in Miami and Los Angeles which I liked both.
    But I have to say there is more to do in mich. Then those places and the people are laid back! Most people from Chicago and out east think we are hicks and nothing further from the truth…when you go there you always want to stay another week as so relaxing..glad you had a good vacation and such a safe place to take kids!

  5. Sorry to break it to you, but that is NOT Northern Michigan. It’s Northern LOWER Michigan. NORTHERN Michigan is across the Mackinac Bridge, in the Upper Peninsula.

  6. I love Michigan!! It’s a quick and fun getaway from Chicago. The drive to traverse city is not bad at all with all of the other cute beach towns along the way. I love Saugatuck (cute restaurants and stores)

    My recommendations for Traverse:
    Apache Trout Grill (dinner right on the water)
    Winery Trail (Such a fun day trip for couples or group of friends)
    Moomers Ice Cream (fresh ice cream…’s right next to a farm with the dairy cows lol so, a little smelly but such a fun atmosphere!)
    Sleeping Bear Dunes- Empire Trail (such an easy hike for families with beautiful views!!)

    Also, you can’t forget to stop at the Stray Dog in New Buffalo for a bite to eat before heading back into IL.

  7. We rent a lake house on Walloon Lake then spend evenings in Petoskey, Harbour Springs, Charlevoix etc. Sometimes we venture out to the UP which takes about an hour and has little villages along the way.

  8. Just got back from Glen Arbor! My boyfriend’s family has a house on Glen Lake so I have been going there the last 4 summers. It’s gorgeous every way you look there! I have been to nearly all the spots you mentioned-I think Cherry Republic is my favorite. Next time you are there check out Good Harbor Grill…yummy spot for brunch and dinner! Such a beautiful part of the country! Xo

  9. Looks like you had a nice, relaxing family vacation. We are originally from Chicago but lived in Niles, MI (next to South Bend) and had the beach towns at our fingerprints! We loved St. Joes, South Haven, Sagautuk, Grand Haven and they would be an easy drive for you from Chicago.
    At St. Joes there’s the beach, cute downtown area and the pizza spot on the way to the water! I agree with Ludington, cute area, we did our baby moon there and stayed at a quaint b& b. We live in SC now and miss the beautiful beach towns and drives!

  10. The cheese shanty! Fishtown! Arts! You are making me want to go up north. Great recap of the best place on earth! Sleeping Bear Dunes for the win too.

  11. Born and raised in MI! That part of the state is truly one of the most beautiful places in the country. The people, the towns, the food…just a cherry on top (pun intended). Your kids may still be a little too young now, but one day you must get up to the UP. Truly is God’s country. So glad to see Michigan love on your blog!

  12. Spent every summer going to Walloon lake with my best friend’s family. It’s the most beautiful place!!

  13. I’m sorry to say Ms Adams but where you were is not “northern” Michigan…you’re missing out on the true Northern Michigan, which is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Where we don’t need a “big city” feel and never will. Great place to visit, great place to grow up, great place to raise children. We have cell phones, indoor plumbing, and some of the most spectacular views in the country…eh!

  14. Thanks for all of your recommendations! We just spent 3 weeks in Charlevoix at a family lake house and always like to explore more of northern Michigan! It’s perfection in the summer. We have two boys and they loved sleeping bear dunes and we grabbed sandwiches and bagels at L’ yummy!

  15. Hi! We just got back from Beulah! Could’ve crossed paths! Stopped at pointe betsie lighthouse in our way out of town! We stay in Beulah every year but with my sis and brother in law multiplying we may grow out soon! We love the bike path along the lake. We stay just outside of town. Thanks for sharing!!! Also how warm was the water this year?!?!

  16. We love Northern Michigan. I highly recommend checking out Harbor Springs, and especially Tom’s Mom’s Cookies! It’s housed in an adorable tiny storefront where customers simply walk in about 4 steps and buy the BEST homemade cookies ever! It’s the reason I exercise while on vacation!

  17. Loved Frankfort and the places you mentioned especially Storm cloud. We stayed in Honor just outside Frankfort last summer and loved the Cherry Bowl drive in!! All family friendly movies. Also the Arcadia Overlook outside of Frankfort is beautiful and we love the little beach in Empire. Big playground and gorgeous view of dunes and sunset ❤️

  18. I’m a Michigander and have called Traverse City my home away from home for over 30 years. We love Northern Michigan so much that we are considering retiring there (like my parents did) even though we hate the cold weather! That’s saying a lot!

  19. I love your pictures, Liz. All on the iPhone? Do you have any suggestion for how they turn out so great?

    1. Yes all iPhone! We take A LOT of photos, at all different angles and there are usually a few diamonds among a lot of failed attempts – ha. Just keep shooting! I edit the photos in Lightroom APP for iPhone and use Kathleen Post’s presets 🙂