People don’t fly all the way to Hawaii for the beaches, but rather because the islands offer abundant things to do after tourists finish their surf lessons and hula show. Along the Third Coast, Petoskey plays the same role, satisfying both the beach bums and the energetic folks in a group.
One of several all-American communities cozied up along picturesque Little Traverse Bay, a cove of Lake Michigan blessed with postcard views and low humidity, Petoskey is the biggest and most popular destination between hip Traverse City and historic Mackinac Island (both close enough for there-and-back excursions). Real life and vacation overlap in this small city—fudge shops aren’t far from Walmart, for instance, and local firefighters decorate their engines for the Fourth of July parade. Locals and “fudgies,” as tourists are called, converge every morning at Johan’s Pastry Shop for Michigan-cherry Danish. Petoskey’s first impression, though, caters to visitors: Where Highway 131 crests over a hill coming into town, a dramatic view of the bright-blue bay takes your breath away.
Such vistas keep unfolding on the way to Petoskey State Park. The clean, flat beach occupies a prize piece of real estate, stretching a good 100 yards with volleyball courts, a swimming area, and a concession stand. The town sits in view, but the park is isolated from its noise. As your toes dig for a cool layer of sand, the sun sparkles like diamonds off the cerulean waters, and sailboats dance in the distance, all you’ll hear is surf and laughter.
Despite the beach’s beauty, anyone with an explorer’s itch will be beckoned away to other points Up North. Located 10 minutes around the bay, Harbor Springs is the Hamptons of these parts, home to Ford and Goodyear family compounds, high-end boutiques, and dreamy maxi-cottages. The same road continues to the scenic Tunnel of Trees, a 27-mile route that leads to a charming hamlet called Good Hart, where Bob Seger lives; Legs Inn, a famous lodge-like restaurant on the lake; and the most isolated beaches this side of Gilligan’s Island. In Charlevoix, you can drive through a neighborhood of quirky “mushroom houses” that looks like Smurf Village. Caribbean-hued Torch Lake (page 71) is close enough to check out its sandbar party in one day. No matter the route, you’ll pass signs for orchards and farmstands.
But leave time to explore Petoskey, too. The Gaslight District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, brims with independent eateries and shops. It’s a tough decision whether to sip away the evening there or close it out with a Brain Freeze Waffle Cone Raspberry Cream Ale at Petoskey Brewing, a taproom that has revived the original use of its imposing 115-year-old building.
Travel Time: 7.5 Hours
Getting There: Petoskey State Park (2475 Hwy. M-119, 231-347-2311) charges $9 for a day pass, and parking is available right by the beach.
Stay: Designed as a chautauqua in 1875, Bay View thrives as a stopped-in-time residential neighborhood in Petoskey. Gingerbread cottages and Victorians nestle together on shady streets, and the summer-long music festival stages more than 50 performances, including Bay View’s own handbell choir. McCune-Erhart Real Estate is the only company authorized to rent Bay View houses.
Shop: You half expect to bump into Martha Stewart at the tasting station inside American Spoon (411 E. Lake St., 231-347-7004), a gourmet-catalog emporium known for fruit preserves, pancake mixes, and other artisanal products.
It would be unthinkable to leave the area without a Petoskey stone, identified by its decorative hexagonal pattern and honored as the state’s official rock. But we’re partial to Fordite, hunks of auto paint chipped off machines at Ford factories. Find Fordite jewelry at NorthGoods (306 Howard St., 231-347-1775).
So many fudge shops, so little tolerance for standing in line. Our taste test solved the problem: Murdick’s Fudge (311 Howard St., 231-347-7551) has the smoothest, creamiest texture.
Eat: A mosaic of coffee cups and plates studs the exterior of Roast & Toast (309 E. Lake St., 231-347-7767), a quirky breakfast joint known for housemade cinnamon rolls.
The Endorsement: Guy Markusfeld, manager of Beauchamp Antiques in Westfield, who grew up in northern Michigan
“Michigan is my favorite place in the world. Up north, where people of affluence have lived a while, you find quirky things and weird nautical stuff at antiques fairs. Petoskey’s Antiques at the Fairgrounds [July 4–5] is a good one.”