By John Burlingham
Heading up the western coast of Michigan, my wife, Kathy, and I had an idea about what we wanted to explore but were delighted with the little surprises awaiting us—like the quaint town of Saugatuck. It seems this little gem has more charming bed & breakfasts per capita than any village, town or city on the planet. The Park House, at more than 156 years old, is the wonderful inn where we stayed. It was originally built by the Peterson Mill’s owners as a private residence to house mill workers. Peterson Mill (see photo), right next door to us, is likely the most photographed place in the region.
Dinner out at Checkrz, an English-style restaurant and pub downtown, was well worth the trip, as was a late afternoon of beer sampling and conversation at Saugatuck Brewing Company south of town. We got lots of advice from our server, Katy, on things to see in advance of our trip up to Traverse City.
It was difficult to leave our wonderful Park House hosts, Toni and Melissa, who met after Melissa’s husband, Rich, was hired out by Toni for some carpentry work at the inn. We made our way to Traverse City, a fun bustling city at the southern end of Grand Traverse Bay. There’s no lack of places to stay here, either, and our base of operations was Pointes North Beachfront Resort on the east side of town. A short car ride or a pleasant bike ride on the city’s TART (Traverse Area Recreation Trails) brings you to the center of town, where we found an old-time downtown of shops and restaurants.
One of our favorite stops for great burgers and ales was North Peak Brewing Company, which had an inviting modern/vintage space in an old brick building at West Front Street and Hall Street. Make sure you stop at Tom’s Food Market on Highway 31-72 to take advantage of great prices on the most delightful cherry treats you’ll find anywhere (we lean toward the dark chocolate-covered cherries, and the dried cherries are superb on salads and in desserts).
Two peninsulas poke out into the bay from Traverse City. If you like to sample wine, or you just want to get great views of the bay, head out to the wineries on Old Mission Peninsula north of town. We began our peninsula exploration on Old Mission’s west coast by fueling up at the Jolly Pumpkin, built in a former inn with lots of nooks and crannies. A wide variety of choices included artisan pizzas, steak and ribs from the wood-fired grill, and lots of sandwiches (we washed our food down with North Peak Brewing’s silky-smooth Siren Amber Ale).
On our tour of some but not all eight wineries on Old Mission Peninsula, we were most impressed with the 2007 Signature Red from Brys Estate, which approached the quality of California’s finer reds. Of course, everyone will have their own tastes, so make sure to take part in tastings, some of which were free for the first three to five samples. At Chateau Chantal, we enjoyed pleasant wine and gorgeous views of the vine-covered hills sloping down to the bay.
The much larger Leelanau Peninsula is dotted with 25 wineries, including Gill’s Pier with a very pleasant collection of reds. At Silver Leaf, we got a cheery greeting from a black Labrador puppy and a friendly chat with the owner, who happened to be a fellow Wisconsin native.
The rest of our trip was spent exploring the amazing topography at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, about a 35-minute ride from Traverse City, and the enjoyable bike trail heading north up Leelanau Peninsula. There are also beautiful beaches, lighthouses and golf courses to explore among the many pleasant diversions in this surprising city by the bay.