Home to pristine golf courses, charming first-class resorts and some of the best waterfront views in the state, Bay Harbor is a Northern Michigan treasure. Centered between Petoskey and Charlevoix, the idyllic destination is one of the state’s well-kept secrets.

Bay Harbor locals spot celebrities often — especially in the peak summer months. Tim Allen has visited by boat, and Nigel Barker, famous model and photographer, frequents the area each summer. Locals say they often bump into NBA, NFL and NHL athletes. ABC’s  Good Morning America Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee chose Bay Harbor for her destination wedding in 2014 because of the crystal blue water.

Explosive beginnings

Credit: Bay Harbor

Many Michiganders are unfamiliar with Bay Harbor because its history doesn’t run quite as deep as older cities like Mackinac or Muskegon. Originally an area that operated mines for more than 100 years, the town became the Bay Harbor it is now in 1994 when it was — quite literally — imploded.

For over a century, a 1,200-acre cement plant was resting on the shoreline. Visionary developer David V. Johnson, good friend of Sir Richard Branson and current president and CEO of the Oil Nut Bay real estate company, had a dream of turning the area into a beautiful year-round resort town.

In the summer of 1994, that dream came to fruition with then-Michigan Governor John Engler. Thousands of spectators watched the demolition of the cement plant smokestacks. The following year, the barrier between Lake Michigan and a local quarry was imploded, welcoming in over 1 million gallons of water per minute, and the new Bay Harbor Lake. It marked the largest reclamation project in the United States in 1995.

After more than 20 years and millions of investments in the surrounding land, the area now sees thousands of new visitors each year and new property owners from around the globe. 

Picturesque play

Credit: Bay Harbor

Although the town of Bay Harbor has a population of less than 17,000, the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau notes the region more than doubles each summer when vacationers pack their swimsuits, golf clubs and sandals for a visit.

“The most important thing about Bay Harbor is location, location, location,” said Diane Dakins, assistant director of Petoskey Area Visitor’s Bureau. “Bay Harbor shares its zip code with Petoskey and is almost a municipality within Petoskey, which has a rich history. Bay Harbor is an amazing place to visit with some of the greatest views and the best golf in the state.”

The Bay Harbor Golf Club was voted one of the “Top 50 Most Beautiful Courses in the World” by Golf Advisor, and was designed with the intention of becoming the “Pebble Beach of the Midwest,” a title it has rightfully earned. The 27-hole course has repeatedly been ranked a “Top 100 Public Course” by Golf Digest, and each hole features one picturesque view of the bay after another.

The Village Suites at Bay Harbor will have guests feeling at home after a day on the links or a charter fishing trip, complete with views of the 5-mile shoreline out their windows. Although the peak travel season is from May to October, the condo-style suites and penthouses are available year-round.

“Summer and fall are absolutely stunning in Bay Harbor; the Village is vibrant, and the Marina is bustling with boaters,” said Michelle Denise, marketing manager at Bay Harbor Company and Harbor Sotheby’s International Realty. “The swim and fitness Olympic-size pool is open for guests and is located adjacent to Bay Harbor Lake with gorgeous views. It is definitely our busiest time of year. However, there is something to be said for winter months with fluffy snowfall and ski resorts within a short driving distance from your fireplace suite. We have winter and romance packages during these months for visitors to enjoy all that Northern Michigan has to offer.”

Spirited sights

Balloons Over Bay Harbor takes place every September
Credit: Bay Harbor

Pikers can’t go wrong near the water, and the summer event schedule reflects the nautical vibe in Bay Harbor. A stroll through the Bay Harbor Lake Marina will have boat lovers gawking; mega yachts and million-dollar boats are docked here.

The In Water Boat Show each June is the ultimate outdoor parade and will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer. Visitors can stroll the docks and see the latest in watercraft and boating accessories, featuring both in-water and on-land boats.  

Balloons Over Bay Harbor returns in September. Spectators can witness giant hot air balloons gazing over the Little Traverse Bay during the day, but the “night glows” over the marina each evening are a fan favorite.

If your trip to Bay Harbor includes a desire to be inspired, entertained and educated, look no farther than the Great Lakes Center for the Arts. The state-of-the-art 525-seat theater opened in 2018 and has been an energizing addition. From offering the movie viewing of Polar Express during the Christmas season for kids, to Lyle Lovett and his Large Band on tap for a performance this summer, the theater entertains all ages.

“There was a not only a need for the residents, but for community overall to have this wonderful venue in the area,” Dakins said. “When you look at the number of people with second homes here and the attraction of Bay Harbor — this theater and all it brings to life has been an incredible addition.”

Tasteful delights

Credit: Maple + Batter 

After a day of wine tasting, the spa, golf or biking the local 26-mile paved Little Traverse Wheelway, your palette may be ready for some local eats.

“Don’t miss stopping at Mammoth Distilling for a specialty cocktail in the Village, or if you prefer wine, stop into Sip — our new Wine Lounge that is absolutely stunning; both have outdoor seating,” Denise said. “Both Local and Knot Just a Bar are popular waterfront restaurants that offer casual dining in the Village as well.”

Many have already fallen in tastebuds love with the new Maple + Batter restaurant that just opened in summer 2021. Breakfast Tacos, Flap Jacks, Sweet Potato Maple Hash, and the Bay Harbor Benedict are crowd favorites for brunch. Bloody Mary’s, espresso and mimosas are on tap to ensure you enjoy every sip of vacation. 

Bay Harbor businesses like Maple + Batter are trying to navigate the 2022 travel period with the COVID-19 pandemic still on Michigan’s radar. But they are optimistic that 2022 will equally bring in familiar faces and new visitors.

“We are very excited for the upcoming season, and to continue offering a fresh new look to breakfast and brunch in Bay Harbor,” said Laura Morrison, owner of Maple + Batter. “We have been thrilled to be embraced by locals and those visiting for a weekend getaway.” Haven’t thought of Bay Harbor as a destination to cross off on your Michigan map until now? If The Pike hasn’t enticed you enough with tasteful eats, beautiful views, countless activities, and tons of outdoor fun, maybe you just need to see it for yourself.

Article written by Tara Hernandez