Help me have a blast in northern Michigan
July 21, 2012 7:19 PM   Subscribe

What are the most super fun things to do in the eastern upper and northern lower peninsulas of Michigan?

Next week, I'll be travelling from Sault Ste Marie, ON to somewhere in northern Michigan with my parents (mid-sixties) and my nine year old daughter, for a couple days. Right now it looks like our most likely destinations are Mackinac Island, Petoskey and/or Traverse City. I think 4 hours driving away from the Sault is the outside limit, but I am totally open to going places that are none of the above, if the attraction is compelling enough.

I'm looking for suggestions of great places to eat, fun things to do, interesting places to shop and unusual things to see. Weird and woolly is cool. Kitsch is also appreciated. Interesting to children is a high priority, though my kid has pretty sophisticated tastes, so it doesn't have to be entirely childish.

I'm not looking for any camping, hiking, nature-y things since we'll be spending a week camping at the most beautiful beach in the world the following week and that's all the outdoorsiness any of us needs. I've already favourited this earlier post but I'm curious about the Huron side, too.
posted by looli to Travel & Transportation around Barryton, MI (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up in Manistee, but we went up that way occasionally.

There's definitely some interesting historical stuff and goofy tourist stuff on Mackincac Island--if she's excited by "this is the way people used to live" and fudge, natch. Take a carriage ride around the island. I remember there being plenty of kitschy stuff kids that age might like, but have no idea if it's still there or still likeable.

Traverse was always our go-to for shopping, but that's because it's the only outpost of mall-like shopping within an hour of us. There are a couple of ok "adventure" mini-golf courses there.
posted by stevis23 at 7:26 PM on July 21, 2012

If you guys are into cultural stuff, historical sites, and the like, Fort Michilimackinac is worth checking out. It's a living history site about French and English colonial life in the 17th century fur trade.
posted by Sara C. at 7:26 PM on July 21, 2012

And stevis23 reminds me, what the hell is it about northern Michigan and fudge? I have family up there, and it has always stuck me as odd how damn much fudge there is in every quaint little tourist town.

Thanks, now I'm craving fudge.
posted by Sara C. at 7:28 PM on July 21, 2012

Other than the fort I'd avoid Mackinac Island like the plague - overpriced, touristy, unpleasant. Traverse City is pleasant - little zoo, good restaurants & shopping. If your beach plans the following week don't include Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore you need to re-think and go there - seriously incredibly beautiful place. We like the Leelanau pensinsula as a whole - nice little towns. Stone house bakery, Carlson's smoked fish in Leeland. Charlevoix and Petoskey are both pretty towns, fun to wander around in. Suttons Bay has the Inland Seas - shipboard and land based environmental education - you may be able to go out on the school ship for a cruise - remarkable and fun day trip. There is also a tall ship cruise that goes out in Grand Traverse Bay from Traverse City and may be something similar out of Charlevoix.

Further south from Mackinac is Hartwick Pines State Park - interesting logging museum and the state's only stand of virgin timber. I know you said not outdoorsy stuff but the museum is great for kids and the trees are astonishing - easy amble of a walk on paved trails. Really interesting sense of what 19th century Michigan's logging industry was like.
posted by leslies at 7:39 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well a couple tips:

-Let got of the idea that you aren't looking for hiking, nature-y things. There ain't nothin' else to do in Northern Michigan.

-Be prepared to drive. A lot. There is a low population density and it's a very big area that we're talking about.

-It's too bad that you're having to stick to the Eastern half of the U.P. The Western side is the breathtaking part.

That said, Taquahmenon Falls is about an hour from the Soo and it's unmissable. Certainly worth half a day. If you like Italian food, cross into Soo, Ontario and eat at Paisano's deli.

The pasties just off the Bridge in St. Ignace are really good. Seconding Ft. Michilimackinac- take a tour if you can.

Take bucketloads of money to the Island. Rent bikes rather than horses (cheaper and faster) and be sure to check out the Devil's Kitchen. Don't plan on spending the night on the Island. The hotel rooms in Mackinaw City are much cheaper and much nicer. There's also a water park in Mackinaw City that is boss and not too pricey. It's all outdoor though, so only look for it if it's a nice day. Mackinaw City has a "strip" instead of real downtown. It's all ice cream and cotton candy and fudge and trinkets and tshirts, and the sort of thing that older kids with a twenty go nuts over.

Pearl's in Elk Rapids (about half an hour north of Traverse City) is an excellent restaurant, but it's on a peninsula and out of the way. Short's Brewery is about an hour north of TC, but is on a main route from the Bridge. I used to work with Joe Short and he's a magician and master mind. If you are into beer, don't miss it. Less than hour West of TC is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which is lovely and very, very fun for kids. Climbing and sliding down massive sand dunes, and the shallows of Lake Michigan which are plenty warm enough to swim in.
posted by Athene at 7:39 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Fort Michilimackinac is on the Straits, not the Island. Sorry to be pedantic.)
posted by Athene at 7:46 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Get an ice cream at Moomers in TC. There are several good indie bookstores in the area listed on Indiebound.
The petoskey museum has an exhibit about Hemingway, whose descendants still own a place in the area.
posted by brujita at 8:37 PM on July 21, 2012

Best answer: Traverse City has a whole lot to offer that isn't fudge.

The Traverse City Film Festival is pretty awesome- it has exploded in the last couple years, and it is the first week in August.

There are a decent number and variety of good restaurants, and the different Museums around town- Grand Traverse Heritage Center(local history), The Music House(One of the best collections of musical automata) , and the Children's museum is apparently pretty good too, though I haven't ever been there.

Seconding Shorts, though there is lots of other good beer in town, such as Right Brain and others.

Sleeping Bear Dunes is stunning and has a lot of cool history stuff as well as all the nature things.

I grew up there, haven't lived there for ten years or so, but I go back with some regularity.
posted by rockindata at 9:05 PM on July 21, 2012

Best answer: When I think of Traverse City, I think of delicious pie. So there's something to eat, at least!

Um, I do have to agree that that neck of the woods is largely outdoor-oriented, but remember when being outdoors was fun and entertaining? It doesn't have to be boring!
posted by vetala at 10:34 PM on July 21, 2012

Take a boat tour to see Pictured Rocks, and visit vineyards north of Traverse City. I remember the Leelenau Country Inn as having great food, but that was on my honeymoon, 17 (erp!) years ago.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:19 AM on July 22, 2012

Paradise, MI is one of my favorite little places. Just north of Tahquamenon Falls on M123. Hit the falls, check out the brewpub at the upper falls, and if you feel brave bring a swimsuit and play in the rapids at the lower falls (officially, you aren't supposed to, but in practice the park staff doesn't care so long as you remember it is an at your own risk activity).

Definitely stop at Brown Fisheries restaurant in Paradise. It's on the left side of the road, just before the light as you drive north from the falls. Fresh whitefish, caught daily, and DAMN is it good. If you plan to buy smoked fish in MI, buy it here, because Lake Superior whitefish cannot be beat. Last time we stopped one of the employees brought out a freshly caught fish to show our son; it was close to a foot and a half long, he was really interested. They have a fish soup that is supposed tube amazing, but even though they open at 10 they were out of it by noon when we stopped, so I didn't get to try it - and the locals say this is the normal pattern, it is too good to last through lunch!

When you hit Paradise turn left at the light, drive until the road stops and you'll be at Whitefish Point where you will find a lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, which is pretty neat. They have the ship's bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald and a lot of info about life saving from the bad old days of shipping.

Two other tips: 1) pasties are great but buy them locally made. Some of the places carry Albies (I think?) which may not be bad but are not made in the UP. Get the local ones.
And 2) Fudge is for tourists. If you want to be immediately marked as one, buy the fudge.

(What do you call a tourist? A fudgie. What do you call a tourist in winter? A fudgesickle!)
posted by caution live frogs at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the suggestions. I grew up in Sault, Ontario, so I'm familiar with the area, but it's been at least 20 years since I last visited. (My favourite parts then were the Jellystone Park campground, miniature golf, and American Hershey bars.) I'll pop back next week with an update about where we went and what we most liked.

Just a note on outdoorsy: we're spending a week at Pancake Bay in this, which is about 75 feet away from this, so we really do have nature covered.

And I don't know what the deal is with the fudge, either, but it's one of the things I'm most looking forward to.
posted by looli at 10:53 AM on July 23, 2012

Response by poster: Well! Turns out the most important piece of advice when going to visit the area around Traverse City, MI is to not wait until the week before you plan to visit to book your hotel. Finding no rooms under $300 within 90 minutes of town, we decided to say NO! to Michigan for this summer. I've marked as best answers the things I was hoping we'd do and maybe will do next summer.
posted by looli at 8:33 PM on July 27, 2012

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