Summertime in Northern Michigan
Growing up in the Mitten State gives you a different perspective on a place that most people don’t have on their bucket list. You get accustomed to the four seasons and watching the leaves change into incredible colors in your backyard. You take for granted the fresh cherries and the craft beers and ciders made from locally grown apples and other fruits. You cherish the thought of a Saturday afternoon at the Big House with 110,000 of your closest friends or a bonfire on the lake as the sun sets.
But what makes Michigan truly unique is not what it’s known for – downtown Detroit. It’s the place we trolls like to call “Up North.” It’s places like Mackinaw Island, Traverse City, and the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. As Kid Rock says, “It was summertime in Northern Michigan,” and I'm here to share with you what makes it so special.
Getting there: There’s a few different options. Most Michiganders just fly into DTW (Detroit) and drive the four hours. You can also look into flying into Traverse City Airport. It’s small but right there. Where to stay:
Wine Tasting: Grab an Air BnB up on the Leelenau Peninsula right on the lake. Most of the wineries are up on the peninsula north of Traverse City, so it’s easier to stay there. This is definitely a plus if you have a larger group, like a bachelorette party.
Mackinac Island: There's always the famous hotel, but you're probably better off saving some money and getting an Air BnB. Remember that there are no cars on the island, but there is a ferry out there and back in the summer, so staying in Mackinac City on the mainland isn't a bad option either.
Other Options in the area include all of the hotels in the Traverse Area. One of our family favorites is Sugar Beach/Grand Beach. It’s right on the beach and there’s a bunch of restaurants nearby. You can also rent a boat right off the beach there and take it out into the bay for the afternoon.
A lot of people like to stay at the Grand Traverse Resort, but remember that it’s pretty far out of town, so you’ll need to drive if you want to leave
Shanty Creek is another great spot to check out or stay if you’re willing to drive or you're just looking to get out on a boat on Torch Lake for the weekend. A lot of the owners there rent out their condos for the summer months because it’s a ski lodge and it's busier in the winter. They do also have a great golf course on the premises and there’s a grocery store nearby.
For getting there, rent a car.
For getting to Mackinac Island, there's a ferry in the summer months and once on the island, rent a bike! There's no cars allowed so you'll get accustomed to the smell of horse poop mixed with fudge :).
For getting around to the wineries, definitely get a tour company, especially if you have a larger group like a bachelorette party.
Being a West Coast girl these days, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with wine tasting in Michigan. That said, I got to go with 11 other girls for a bachelorette weekend and we had an amazing time. Most of the wineries are beautiful and have great views of the water or adorable interiors. Honestly, it wasn’t much different from wine tasting in Napa, except add a lake and a beach.
My friend hired the tour company called Grand Traverse Tours for us and they picked us up and dropped us off at the house we were staying at. I think it was $65 dollars each and we went to four wineries. The driver even mentioned that he’d drop us off at the local cider brewery on his way back to Traverse City if we wanted to.
In general, there is a tasting fee at each place, although it’s usually cheaper than something in Napa Valley. Also if you buy something they waive the tasting fee, which i found to be an excellent option. In addition, their bottles tend to be a bit cheaper than out on the west coast. That said, the focus in Northern Michigan is on fruity whites. Even the reds that they do have are on the fruit-heavy side, so this isn’t a spot for Merlot-lovers to hang out. I’d say the driest red was similar to a Syrah or a Sangiovese. They do, however, make a plethora of dessert wines, usually infused with brandy. A couple of places also make different flavors of hard cider, because Michigan is known for its apples.
The Four Wineries:
This was our first stop on the tour, and we arrived right when they opened at 10am, so we were pretty much the only people there. Who says you have to wait until noon? :) The tasting room staff was super friendly and made a bunch of suggestions. It was here that I discovered I am truly a west coast full-bodied red wine girl. I tried their apricot brandy infused dessert wine and I was not a fan. However, they did have some good reds, and I bought a bottle. They were also right on the water, and their tasting room had expansive views.
This was our last stop on the tour because it was the farthest south of the peninsula. At this point, we were all pretty heavily buzzed, but luckily this tasting room also came with a pizza oven. We were seated at the bar itself and we had a couple of waiters helping us. The pizza you order separately from the wine tastings. At this point in the day, I’ll be honest, I don’t quite remember the wines or which pizzas we ordered, but I do know the food was excellent, and we tried a bunch of them. This tasting room also has outdoor seating with views of the bay.
3. Black Star Farms – Suttons Bay
This was a gorgeous vineyard and tasting room on a large 160-acre farm. The tasting room for our group was outside, but I think normally they do tastings inside as well where they have their storehouse. We had a staff member all to ourselves, and he was fantastic. When the other girl from Cali and I mentioned liking West Coast wines, he immediately went inside and pulled out their reserve. He told me it would taste exactly like a Washington red, and he was right. It was excellent – I bought a bottle even though it was $40, which is pretty pricey for this area. It looks like this is also a popular spot for weddings and dining. Apparently, you can even dine in the vineyard if that’s what you’re looking for!
This was a fun location that we added on last-minute, but it was so worth it. The outside entry wall is decorated in a vibrant mural that makes for great photos. The inside is actually a rather small tasting room, but they made both wine and cider at this location. I absolutely loved the peach fizz, which is basically a peach flavored prosecco. They mixed it with orange juice to make a twist on a classic mimosa and I ended up buying two jugs of it to bring all the way back to Seattle with me.
As the summer progresses, I'm planning on adding more to this post, including Mackinac Island, the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, Pictured Rocks, and where to get the best beer in Northern Michigan (*cough* Shorts *cough*). Stay tuned!