It’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s near the highest point in the Lower Peninsula, and it’s the mushroom capital of the world. If you love hunting for those Morel mushrooms come spring, this is the place for you! I spent countless weekends here as a child, where we would rent a small cottage for a minimal price, and spend the days walking miles in the enchanted forests.
A short drive from Silver Lake Sand Dunes and Ludington, Pentwater is a town geared toward young adults. Volleyball courts line the beach, the bars are fun and lively, and there are multiple campgrounds to guarantee a good time. A chill downtown vibe attracts visitors for a stroll through surf shops, t-shirt displays, ice cream hangouts, and toy stores. It’s a place that lives for summer, good times, and fun-in-da-sun.
Located between Traverse City and Charlevoix, Elk Rapids sits at the top of Grand Traverse Bay. Although tiny in size, it is filled with beauty and peace. It is home to The Local, one of my favorite restaurants in Michigan, and offers quaint and quiet beaches compared to other tourist towns in Northern Michigan. I even once witnessed a coyote running along its beach! Summer brings a lively downtown, and winter offers knick-knack stores filled with hot cocoa. You can also take a tour of the famous Shorts Brewery Production Facility. It doesn’t get much better!
If it weren’t for the sign along US-2, there wouldn’t be a way to know that this town exists. The town is comprised of a small convenience store that sells various smoked meats and fish, the charming Bayview motel, and a restaurant that is a must for those seeking a cheap and hearty breakfast. It sits high on the bluff, and although the hotel is not your Ritz Carlton (or Holiday Inn for that matter), it offers million dollar views of Lake Michigan for a mere $45/night. At the bottom of the bluff is a campground, which is not visible unless you venture down a small, winding road. Only paces from Lake Michigan it sits virtually empty, even in high-tourist season.
One night will not be enough, and you’ll probably find yourself extending for two, or maybe a week, or maybe a month. St. James is the harbor town located on Beaver Island in the middle of Lake Michigan. To access the island, one must take a 2 ½ hour ferry ride from Charlevoix. The Toy Museum is a ‘can’t miss’, and neither is Daddy Frank’s ice cream shop. It’s what started my ongoing addiction to flurries, malts, and hot-fudge brownie sundaes.
The entire M22 area is rad and Leland is just one of the many great towns in the area. I would rather visit Leland in the winter, but only for lack of crowds. When snow and cold arrive, the town turns barren, except for the occasional cold water surfer who comes to brave the waves. Come summer, there is a bustling crowd of beach-goers road tripping M22 and backpackers that come to take the ferry to South Manitou Island. It’s the ideal location for a bon fire on the beach, and Milky Way star gazing far from light pollution.
Famous for its summer Cheeseburger Festival, Caseville knows how to have a good time. It’s the east side’s most popular “Up North” beach town. Summer months bring thousands of visitors who enjoy mini golf, go carts, giant ice cream cones, great food, and sandy beaches for miles. And flamingos, lots of flamingos. Although located on Lake Huron, it faces west from the thumb, so if you’re worried about missing that sunset, a massive surprise is in store for you. It’s also situated in Saginaw Bay, causing the water to be generally warmer than other areas in Lake Huron.
It transports you from Michigan to Bavarian Germany in a blink of an eye. This is arguably the most culturally unique town in Michigan. The Bavarian Lodge is perfect for families (and sometimes has Groupon deals!). The lodge is equipped with indoor mini-golf, restaurants, a waterpark, and a never ending theme of old town Germany. Frankenmuth is also home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the biggest Christmas store in the world. If you go, be sure to stop and try the world-famous Zehnder’s Chicken Dinner. Winner Winner!