Petoskey, Michigan, Travel Guide
Magic in Northern Michigan
"It's great northern air," Ernest Hemingway wrote to a friend in 1919. "Absolutely the best trout fishing in the country. No exaggeration. Fine country … absolute freedom." Who better than Little Traverse Bay's native son (or seasonal son—Hemingway spent all his boyhood summers here) to capture the bracing magic of northern Michigan and its Victorian resort town of Petoskey?
Nearly a century later, that magic endures. Set atop a hill with sloping streets that overlook the blue-green bay, this town of 6,000 year-round residents is a front-row seat for Lake Michigan. Along with those water views is a Manhattan/Mayberry dichotomy that lures urbanites from Chicago with sophisticated shopping at more than 100 independent businesses, while maintaining a small-town feel. Similarly, homes here—from colorful Victorians dotting the waterfront to upscale lake cottages—are prize catches, and the median home price of $165,500 is remarkably affordable.
Just outside Petoskey on Lake Walloon lies Hemingway's boyhood cottage, where a beautiful new hotel and pop-up shopping plaza modeled after German Christmas markets attract residents and tourists as much, perhaps, as that crystal-clear lake. "People want to live here," says Jon Borisch, who grew up on the lake and has redeveloped the village. "It becomes personal, the history of this area, and that northern air gets in your blood." Fine country, indeed.Schedule
Where to Eat
Talk about farm to table: The fruits and vegetables on the plates at American Spoon Café are gathered from local farms every morning in a pickup truck, and breakfast and lunch here are simple perfection (as are the retail store's fabulous fruit preserves—blueberry-lime, black raspberry—next door). Lively, chef-driven Chandler's, tucked below street level, wows with seasonal, progressive American cuisine like fried-green-tomato tacos and fresh lake fish with local mushroom risotto. The brick courtyard is perfect for warm summer evenings. And the pie's to die for at Jesperson's, which has been serving cherry-berry and coconut cream for more than 100 years. (Hemingway ate there.)
Where to Shop
Grandpa Shorter's, family owned and operated since 1946, sells classic Michigan-themed gifts. Walking into Symons General Store—which offers gourmet cheeses and wines, nostalgic candies, and a delicious deli— is like stepping back in time. Second generation–owned McLean & Eakin Booksellers is heaven for beach readers and book lovers. The two-level shop is filled with books and gifts for children and adults, and hosts a year-round lineup of visits by bestselling authors. Tour the Crooked Tree Arts Center—a former Methodist church adorned with stained glass—which holds art galleries, studios and classes, a theater, a ballet/dance school, and a youth orchestra.
Explore the Shoreline
The Little Traverse Wheelway—offering stunning views of Lake Michigan—is a 26-mile gem connecting Petoskey to its beautiful resort town neighbors Charlevoix and Harbor Springs. The re-established turn-of-the-century railway is open to nonmotorized uses only, and is a dream for bikers/runners. The Tunnel of Trees, a breathtaking drive just outside Petoskey, couldn't be more aptly named. A tiny, two-lane road meanders through an arbor of dense trees alongside Lake Michigan. Stop on the drive at quaint Good Hart General Store, a 1934 post office cum deli, bakery, and grocer, and Pond Hill Farm, a combination working farm/vineyard/brewery that offers kids—and adults—the chance to shoot the "Squash Rocket" (a massive slingshot that flings fruits and veggies into fields for sheep to eat). Petoskey State Park's wide public beach sits tucked behind rolling dunes and swaying pines, while Petoskey's Sunset and Magnus parks are perfect for stone gathering and sunsets. Tour Hemingway's Haunts, thanks to a guide by the Hemingway Society, which offers an annual weekend focused on the Nobel Prize–winning author.Schedule
Stay the Weekend
On the sandy shores of Walloon Lake, the new Hotel Walloon combines the elegance of a turn-of-the-century hotel with of-the-moment amenities. The great room, with its bar and massive stone fireplace, is akin to an historic lodge, while the ample, modern first-floor rooms feature beautiful decks, rocking chairs, and a view of Hemingway's lake. Rooms start at $150; 231-535-5000 or hotelwalloon.com. Built in 1899, the historic yellow Stafford's Perry Hotel sits like a daffodil overlooking the bay and is the last of 20 original luxury hotels still operating in Petoskey. Enjoy a generous breakfast (and house-made sticky buns) on the geranium-lined front porch or in the H.O. Rose Dining Room, with killer views of the coast. Rates start at $119; staffords.com.