Old fashioned vacation spots in Michigan?
October 16, 2015 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I grew up in Wisconsin and spent many summers of my youth vacationing in small towns like Minocqua, St. Germain, Egg Harbor, and Bayfield. Where should I vacation in Michigan?

In particular, I like tourist towns that haven't entirely been replaced by chains. Bonus if there are old-fashioned resorts you can stay at, the ones that have a pool and maybe lake access with paddle boats, canoes, bicycles, a tennis court, etc. Cute walkable downtowns, proximity to natural beauty, that kind of thing.

I'm not a fisher or a hunter, but I do like to ride my bike and see nature. Historic buildings that have been turned into museums are always a plus, too.

Thank you for your recommendations.
posted by rachelpapers to Travel & Transportation around Michigan (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Oh yes, and I am thinking in particular about summer vacations.
posted by rachelpapers at 8:09 AM on October 16, 2015

I was in Manistee over the summer for work, and I found it quite charming. Friends recommend South Haven as well.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:18 AM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mackinack Island was quaint and really charming when I stayed there. That was 20-some years ago, though, so I don't know what it's like now.
posted by _Mona_ at 8:29 AM on October 16, 2015

The area around Crystal Lake just south of Sleeping Bear Dunes (Frankfort, Beulah, Honor) is gorgeous and sleepy and completely chain-free. Those towns are all tiny, but it's about 45 minutes from Traverse City, which is touristy but not mobbed and has a dangerously cute main street.
posted by theodolite at 8:32 AM on October 16, 2015

We have a cabin in Au Train, mid-way between Munising and Marquette in the UP. We LOVE the peacefulness and remoteness of that area. No franchises around - cell phone service is spotty - great pizza in the local store - and the best beach on the Great Lakes. Pictured Rocks National Seashore 10 miles away. Marquette is a fun, college town if you want some night life or need to find a good place to eat. (There is a cajun restaurant there to die for ...)
posted by scarzak at 8:35 AM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Petosky and environs are really nice; there's a few things to do but not mobs of tourists or chains. Definitely nature. Probably resort type places also, though we always just stay in cabins so I'm not familiar with them.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:01 AM on October 16, 2015

Pentwater is very cute.

Near Frankfort (also very cute) is Watervale, old family cottages turned into a small resort.
posted by cecic at 9:38 AM on October 16, 2015

Mackinac Island sounds like what you want. Mission Point resort in particular.
posted by dzot at 9:42 AM on October 16, 2015

Adding, in Onekama (near Manistee mentioned above), the historic Portage Point Inn has been purchased and there are plans to refurbish it. There are still cute parts of it you can stay in now, but maybe add to your list for a couple of years down the road.
posted by cecic at 9:44 AM on October 16, 2015

Big Bay. Stay at Big Bay Lighthouse. You are only a short drive to Marquette. The lighthouse is fantastic.... Lake Superior is beautiful...
posted by HuronBob at 10:32 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mackinac Island is OK for that kind of thing, but I find it too touristy. OTOH, you may like it -- there's lots of biking and walking trails, and a decent amount of stuff going on in the evenings.

Houghton/Hancock/Calumet might be nice -- a little less touristy than Mackinac, so a few more chains because there are reasons to live there besides the tourists. North of Traverse City, into the Leelanau Peninsula, might also be an option -- it's been years since I was there for more than a day trip, so I have no specific recommendations.
posted by jlkr at 3:33 PM on October 16, 2015

What time of year are you planning to go? My partner and I recently went up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and car camped for a couple of nights, then rented a lovely cozy cabin 15 minutes south of Traverse City for the remainder of the trip.

We had a wonderful time, and I think it meets a lot of the criteria you mentioned in your post. I could see Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City being nuts in the summer, but in autumn it was really fun!

Here is a rough sketch of our itinerary:

At Sleeping Bear Dunes (we camped at the D.H. Day campground, a short walk to Lake Michigan where there is beautiful star gazing on a clear night), we rented bikes in Glen Arbor at Crystal River Outfitters and biked down to the Dune Climb. The bike path goes through a tiny restored historic village (the buildings are only open between Memorial and Labor Day) on the way to the Dune Climb. The Dune Climb is no joke! You think you're going to go over one giant dune of sand and then the lake is on the other side, but nope, it's still about 2 miles away. But the walk is 100% worth it. There are other wonderful little trails around SBD, when you buy a permit at the visitor's center in Empire, you'll get a newspaper with the suggestions.

After Sleeping Bear Dunes, we traveled to tiny Leland and visited the Village Cheese Shanty for delicious sandwiches. There are lots of wineries on Leelenau Peninsula -- I don't care for most Northern Michigan wine (a little too sweet for me), but many of the wineries are getting into cider, and many do it quite well. I really enjoyed the cider at 45 North.

In Traverse City itself, there are lots of great places -- we saw a movie at the Michael Moore owned State Theater, Horizon Books was one of the best bookstores I've ever been to, and there are several excellent restaurants and breweries. While in TC, we had a lovely easy hike on the Vasa Pathway.

For what it's worth, all over the area between Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City, tons of people had bike/kayak racks on their car. You would be right at home!
posted by mostly vowels at 5:16 PM on October 16, 2015

For the antithesis of the Traverse City - Mackinac Island approach, if you can go the distance, look at Copper Harbor, the northernmost point in Michigan. On the way are Houghton-Hancock and Calumet.

Michigan is a large state, and has many such finds. You would have to drive 12 hours north from Detroit to get to Copper Harbor. You could make it well into Virginia in the same time.
posted by megatherium at 9:04 PM on October 16, 2015

Downtown Grand Haven remains charming, walkable, and mercifully free of franchise chains. Not many tourists know to visit the green belt running through the dunes but there is substantial green space available and trails running through a good portion of the city if you know where to look. Accommodations lean more towards the cottage-y end of the spectrum than old-fashioned-resort (if you really want the latter I'd look further north.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:09 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you want to stay somewhat south, Saugatuk is all kinds of quaint and awesome and artsy.
posted by jasondigitized at 1:16 PM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thank you all. Looking forward to exploring these places!
posted by rachelpapers at 10:37 PM on October 19, 2015

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