Nestled on the south side of Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay in downstate Emmet County, Petoskey makes for a beautiful weekend getaway locale. Long home to summer resort communities built by wealthy Midwesterners who flocked to the area during the summer months for beautiful scenery and natural air conditioning offered by Lake Michigan, Petoskey is filled with history.
"You'll ... find in the shopping in Petoskey and Harbor Springs that you'll find a lot of antique shops and curio shops and very fine dining restaurants, things that support the desires of the lifestyle of these folks that have been coming for, now, six generations," said Peter Fitzsimons, executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. "So it's got a different feel to it than a tourist town. We are resort communities."
Petoskey is also immortalized in the Nick Adams stories of writer Ernest Hemingway, who spent every summer of his first 21 years in the area, with the exception of the year he spent driving an ambulance in Italy during World War I.
Mount McSauba Recreation Area is home to one of Michigan's greatest disc golf courses as well as an award-winning hiking and skiing destination. The view from the top is spectacular. (Photo courtesy Kris Balasz)
"We have a plaque program in downtown Petoskey which highlights some of the buildings, both in Hemingway's youth that he visited and/or in his writing that he referred to," Fitzsimons said.
Petoskey also has an abundance of outdoor activities for the more adventurous traveler. The 4,600-mile North Country Trail, which also runs through Marquette and the entire U.P. on its way from North Dakota to New York State, bisects Emmet and Charlevoix counties.
The Little Traverse Wheelway, a 26-mile non-motorized trail from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs, is also a huge draw. "People just love it," Fitzsimons said.
Perhaps most unique in a very unique area is the 600-acre Headlands park, which lies along Lake Michigan just west of Mackinaw City. In 2011, the Headlands became one of only 10 parks in the world and only six in the country to receive designation as an International Dark Sky Park - so named for its lack of light pollution, air quality and its adherence to a number of other environmental standards.
For more information, visit www.petoskeyarea.com.
Just 17 miles west of Petoskey along the coast, where the lake of its namesake empties into Lake Michigan's blue waters, sits Charlevoix, another charming small town with an expansive view of pristine beaches bordering waters dotted with sailboats.
"Definitely get out on the water. That's one huge thing that's kind of mandatory once you get here," said Amanda Wilkin, executive director of the Charlevoix Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Sailing in Charlevoix is amazing. There's a lot of options, too - you can charter your own sailboat or you can go out on a chartered sailboat as well, which is really nice."
For those who'd like to experience the water but want to kick back and relax, Wilkin recommended a tour with Keweenaw Excursions, which pilots its 140-person Keweenaw Star on a combination cruise and history tour through Round Lake and out into Lake Michigan.
For those interested in shopping, "our downtown is absolutely gorgeous," Wilkin said. "We've won some awards for greatest public spaces in America. Our East Park is beautiful, with the marina in the background. I always tell people to spend a half-day downtown and just walk around and enjoy the ice cream shops and snack shops and everything like that, as well as a little bit of shopping."
As far as lodging goes, Wilkin said there's a whole range of hotels and motels, for travelers on a budget as well as those seeking to vacation in style. For the outdoor lovers, the nearby 2,678-acre Fisherman's Island State Park offers secluded, rustic campgrounds right on the lake.
"You're not right next door to your neighbor like a lot of campgrounds," Wilkin said. "They're more spaced out. It's really, really nice. It's kind of a hidden gem."
Beer lovers and culinary connoisseurs can delight in the newly opened Bridge Street Tap Room, featuring 32 Michigan brews on tap, as well as restaurants Edgewater Bistro, The Quay and The Weathervane.
Really, Wilkin said, Charlevoix has something for everyone.
"It's just classic northern Michigan - a relaxing, beautiful place," she said. "It's great."
For more information, go to www.visitcharlevoix.com.
Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.