A couple weeks ago, my friend and I took a road trip up to the Leelanau Peninsula for a mother-daughter weekend. To say the fall views were nice would be an understatement — vivid hues of red, orange and yellow lit up the trees on the scenic drive along M-22 — it was absolutely incredible. Pictures did not do it justice.
Fall is arguably the best time to head north in Michigan, and this trip was no exception. Despite the moody, cloudy skies and bits of rain, it was still an enjoyable weekend on the Leelanau Peninsula.
The peninsula, located just northwest of Traverse City, is home to Leelanau County. Empire, Glen Arbor, Leland, Northport, Suttons Bay, Lake Leelanau and Maple City are just a few of the charming towns you can visit along the peninsula.
Home to plenty of wineries, farms, local shops and restaurants, and tons of outdoor recreation, the Leelanau area is definitely worth exploring.
We stayed at Jolli-Lodge, a cozy resort in Lake Leelanau tucked in the woodlands overlooking Lake Michigan. The waterfront views were absolutely beautiful, and waking up to sounds of waves crashing against the shore wasn’t bad, either.
When I look back on our trip, three spots immediately jump out to me.
Good Harbor Vineyards
Our first night took us across the street to Good Harbor Vineyards (which was a little too convenient, I might add). The fourth winery established on the Leelanau Peninsula, Good Harbor Vineyards was opened in 1980 by the Simpson family. It’s now owned and operated by family’s second generation.
Today, Good Harbor dedicates its 125 acres of vineyard sites to growing and producing riesling, chardonnay, pinot grigio, gruner veltliner and pinot Noir. There is also an assortment of merlot, pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc, zweigelt, lemberger and cabernet franc that are grown in smaller quantities.
All four of us did a quick tasting and tried a variety of wines, which understandably led us to taking a bottle (or four) back home.
My personal favorite was the Labernet — a dry, red blend inspired by the winery’s late black lab, Betty. Everyone else raved about the Fishtown White — a longtime favorite that was introduced in the 1980s. It’s a crisp, refreshing white wine that’s packed with fruit and floral flavors.
After our tasting, we made our way over to Leland’s Fishtown — a place that has been on my bucket list for years. Northern Michigan’s commercial fishing heritage is alive and well in Fishtown — you can walk the docks among the fishing shanties, smokehouses and drying fishing nets. Fishtown still operates as one of the only working commercial fishing villages in Michigan.
Many of the little shanties now house gift and clothing boutiques, art galleries and specialty food shops.
For dinner, we stopped by The Cove, a laid-back grill that specializes in gourmet seafood and steaks. Our table overlooked the Leland Dam, which gave us a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands.
And of course, because we were up north and on the water, we all had to order the whitefish — it’s just what you do. I had the whitefish tacos, which were topped with chipotle mayo, hot salsa and avocado. They were fresh and absolutely delicious; it was hard not to order seconds. The others ordered a variation of whitefish, including fish and chips and garlic parmesan whitefish.
After dinner, we strolled through the shanties and headed back to the lodge for a cozy evening around the fire with a few rounds of Bananagrams (and a few glasses of Fishtown White).
45th Parallel Cafe
We started the morning with a leisurely stroll along the beach hunting for Petoskey stones — a pebble-shaped rock and fossil comprised of a pre-historic fossilized rugose coral, Hexagonaria percarinata. As Michigan’s state stone, the Petoskey stone can be found along the shores of the lower peninsula, and is best found during the spring season and also right after a storm.
After finding a few stones, we hopped in the car and drove to Suttons Bay for breakfast. Suttons Bay is located in the heart of Michigan’s wine country, and it’s filled with specialty shops, galleries, unique dining experiences, B&Bs and historic inns.
We put our name in for table at 45th Parallel Cafe and browsed a few boutiques while we waited. The cafe got its name from its unique location — it’s halfway between the equator and the north pole.
After about 45 minutes, we made our way back to the cafe and instantly figured out why there was always a wait — the breakfast is unbeatable. I ordered the huevos rancheros — three over-easy eggs, sauteed onions, jalapenos, Monterey Jack cheese, grilled tortillas and freshly made salsa, with a side of homemade hash browns.
Everyone else got the morel mushroom omelet — local morel mushrooms sauteed with onions and topped with a layer of Fontinella cheese — which was easily a favorite on the cafe’s menu.
And because the breakfast was so great, we went back the next morning — I wasn’t kidding when I said it was unbeatable.
Our short, but lovely trip in Leelanau was something I’ll always remember; from trying the local fare and wines to exploring the great outdoors, Leelanau already has me wanting to come back for more.