Sunny or cloudy, warm weather or cool, people head to Petoskey’s Bayfront Park carrying lawn chairs, picnic lunches and empty buckets. Young families, couples and retirees arrive to walk the pier, watch boats docked in the marina and hunt for coveted Petoskey stones. They find a spot to relax and take in the scenery.
It’s the reason a lot of people make their way to the area, says Diane Dakins, assistant director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. “It’s always amazing to me to see the people in Bayfront Park who brought their chairs and parked there next to the bay, to sit and watch the water and soak up a whole lot of relaxation.”
A resort destination since the Victorian era, the Petoskey area is also an up-and-coming wine destination with diverse outdoor recreation along Little Traverse Bay. The region offers a quintessential northern Michigan escape: fresh air, breathtaking bay views, unique shopping, wine tasting, hiking, beaches and rockhounding, with the bonus of some Hemingway history. You can come for a weekend or easily extend it to a week. Check off these top things to see and do on your first—or next—trip.
AT THE WATERFRONT
Bayfront Park, just a short stroll from the shops and restaurants of the downtown Gaslight District, has 7,800 feet of public shoreline with a playground, city marina and boat launch. It’s also the site of the Pere Marquette Railroad Station, which was built in 1892 and is home to the Little Traverse Historical Museum. Exhibits include “Hemingway’s Michigan Story,” which describes the summers young Ernest spent with his family at the Hemingway cottage on nearby Walloon Lake and in Horton’s Bay, the setting for some of his stories.
At the waterfront, catch the “million dollar sunsets” that visitors have enjoyed since the 1880s, when city dwellers first started coming north to escape the stifling heat and take in the refreshing, clean air and waters of the Little Traverse Bay region.
THE GASLIGHT DISTRICT
Petoskey was named for Odawa chief and businessman Petosega, known as Ignatius Petoskey. A statue of Petoskey overlooks the park and waterfront from a spot near Stafford’s Perry Hotel, the last of the many 19th century resort hotels that once stood in the Gaslight District.
American Spoon Foods, a small-batch maker of preserves and condiments, is one of the independent shops and eateries that fill the century-old buildings. Some of the locations— identified by plaques—were known to Ernest Hemingway. A statue of the young man as he was starting his writing career stands between the City Park Grill (his photo hangs above the second seat at the long bar) and Pennsylvania Park, where you can catch free concerts at noon on Wednesdays and Fridays in the summertime. The music is sponsored by the Crooked Tree Arts Center; check out the art workshops and exhibits in its renovated, 1890 church building.
RIDE THE WHEELWAY OR THE RAPIDS
Bring your bicycle and hop on the Little Traverse Wheelway to explore the coast.The 26-mile bike path connects the communities of Charlevoix, Bay Harbor, Petoskey and Harbor Springs, passing by Petoskey State Park, Bayfront Park and roadside stops to relax, picnic and beachcomb.
“The Little Traverse Wheelway is one of the top draws” to the area, Dakins says, noting there are places to rent bicycles and e-bikes. “That is super, super popular, and there is an off-shoot of it called the North Western State Trail.”
For the more adventurous, Bear River Valley Recreation Area features a quarter- mile stretch of whitewater rapids on the Bear River, leading to Little Traverse Bay. Kayakers can find numerous launch points, or take a trip through Bear River Canoe Livery and enjoy a leisurely paddle down the Bear River. Nearby, the Boyne Resorts offer biking, horseback riding and zipline courses, as well as 10 golf courses.
SIP AT THE TIP OF THE MITT
When it comes to Michigan wine tasting, many people think of the four American Viticultural Areas to the south, along the Lake Michigan shore. But the Petoskey Wine Region is an emerging wine scene, with 13 tasting rooms, wineries and cideries in the Tip of the Mitt American Viticulture Area, where Marquette, Frontenac, Vignoles and other hybrid varietals are suited to the colder clime.
These are largely family-owned operations that sprung from a passion for wine, and sharing it with family and friends.Ralph and Laurie Stabile started making wine in 2004 in the Upper Peninsula. With their son Dustin, they expanded their relaxed Mackinaw Trail Winery in Petoskey, then added a brewery. Next came Resort Pike Cidery & Winery, an unpretentious farm setting for sipping Dustin’s sparkling cider and wines.
Beer connoisseurs have a choice of a half dozen craft beer makers including Petoskey Brewing, which also has a casual restaurant. It’s located in the imposing 1898 “Old Brewery” building where Petoskey Sparkle beer was made until 1915. Downtown, Beards Brewery has 24 taps, an inventive food menu, a variety of entertainment and a nice view of the bay.
FROM BAY VIEW TO BAY HARBOR AND BEYOND
Many travelers admire the Victorian cottages of the historic Bay View Association while driving past the Chautauqua community, not knowing that the association’s summer music program, worship services and lecture series are open to the public. There’s a self-guided walking tour of the National Historic Landmark, which was founded in 1875 as a Methodist camp. Further south along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Bay Harbor, a luxury mixed-use development, a variety of artists from ballet to pop take the stage at the state-of-the-art Great Lakes Center for the Arts.
Petoskey makes a great home base for day trips to other quaint, northern Michigan communities. Head north to Harbor Springs, drive the famous Tunnel of Trees and stop at Pond Hill Farm, which has trails for hiking and biking, plus wine and beer tasting and a farmers market. Have lunch or dinner at the historic Legs Inn in Cross Village.
Lavender Hill Farm in Boyne City is an off-the-beaten path treasure, where more than 26 varieties of the fragrant flower grow on 33 acres. Walk the lavender fields and labyrinth, or take a guided tour of the farm. On select summer evenings there’s live music in the 1920’s barn, and concert-goers are welcome to pack snacks for a pre-show picnic on the lawn.
With Lake Charlevoix as a backdrop, self-taught builder Earl Young constructed 26 homes and four other buildings using boulders and other rocks and stones he found in the region. Their fairy tale-style wavy rooflines, cedar- shake shingles and organic feel of the rock placement make the “Earl Young Mushroom Houses” a popular attraction in Charlevoix. Narrated tours, or a map for a self-guided tour, will take you to many of the quirky structures, which Young built between 1919 and the 1970s.
A trip to Petoskey wouldn’t be complete without a keepsake of Michigan’s state stone. It’s bountiful along the shores of Little Traverse Bay, but it takes the right conditions to find them. So, where are the hot spots? Petoskey’s breakwall, Magnus City Park Beach, Petoskey State Park, and public access points along the bay in Harbor Springs, Bay Harbor and Charlevoix.
“People think they are going to find a fist-sized Petoskey stone, and it’s more of the small ones,” Dakins says. But, those have an advantage. “You take back this memory, and make your own jewelry, so that is really cool to have that memento.” em
12 Swell Summertime Events
- June 19-21 In Water Boat Show, Bay Harbor
- June 27 Vintage Car & Boat Festival, Bay Harbor
- June 30 Night of the Arts, Harbor Springs
- July 4 Fireworks over the Bay, Petoskey and Harbor Springs
- July 4-5 Petoskey Antiques Show
- July 10-12 Blissfest Music Festival, Harbor Springs
- July 18 Art in the Park, Petoskey
- July 18-25 Venetian Festival, Charlevoix
- July 23-26 Northern MI Flywheelers Antique Tractor-Engine & Craft Show
- July 24-25 Bay Harbor Arts Festival
- July 24-26 Little Traverse Bay Regatta
- August 6-9 Boyne City PirateFest
Photo: Kath Usitalo