Northwest Michigan hugs the shoreline of gorgeous Lake Michigan and offers incredibly scenic vistas, particularly in the route that runs up the mitten state’s ring finger through regions that have drawn visitors since the Victorian era. Visitors to the area enjoy exploring an assortment of charming small towns, scenic hiking, and some of the state’s best wine.
Where to Stay
My husband Chris and I stayed in one of Young’s commercial properties, The Earl of Charlevoix, a boutique hotel within walking distance of downtown Charlevoix. It was originally built by the famous designer in 1959, and it was updated in 2019. In the renovation, the owners did their best to preserve as much of the original architecture and details Earl Young utilized throughout the original construction.
The hotel has a very charming ambience, and the cozy lounge features a unique Earl Young fireplace.
The hotel has a LO Bar located in the lobby, and a HI Bar up on the rooftop. The you can enjoy one of their seasonal specialty drinks and some tasty bar bites (like cheesy flatbread, fondue for two Bavarian pretzel sticks served with Charlotte boys own Mike’s Mustard and more – all while soaking up gorgeous views of Round Lake, Lake Charlevoix and downtown.
What to Do
Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix
The Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix are architectural treasures found nowhere else in the world! Charlevoix is home to these unique creations of master builder and visionary, Earl Young. Young considered himself an artist as opposed to an architect. He didn’t use blueprints at all. Instead, he created organic structures designed to fit the site where they would be built, rather than forcing the landscape to accommodate the design. He built them all in the early to mid-1900s, and they remain is beloved treasures to the city of Charlevoix to this day. Over the course of his 50-year career, Young built 26 residential homes and four commercial properties. His works are made primarily of stone that he found throughout northern Michigan, including limestone, fieldstone, and boulders. Each structure is individually different, but most include his signature design features, such as a wide, wavy eave, exposed rafter tails, cedar-shake roofs, chimneys that look like the cement is melting at the top, and a horizontal emphasis in design. In addition to being referred to as Mushroom Houses, they are also creatively known as Hobbit Houses, and Gnome Homes.
Chris and I highly recommend taking the guided tour to learn even more fascinating details about the homes, the area’s history and Young’s work. It’s much more interesting than simply driving around and looking at the houses – although you can do that as well with a self-guided tour. Some of the homes are privately owned and some are used as vacation rentals.
Where to Dine
Bridge Street Tap Room
Chris and I dined a couple of times in this charming restaurant tucked in the heart of downtown Charlevoix. It’s perched near tranquility round Lake and boasts a selection of 32 taps of the finest Michigan craft beer and hard ciders, complemented by an assortment of wines and spirits. Their food was tasty, offering everything from delectable small plates and succulent burgers to delicious pizzas and well-crafted entrées brimming with the flavors of northern Michigan. Since it was summer, in the evening they had live music out on the lawn beside the restaurant. People were spread out among the outdoor seating, and on blankets and chairs to listen. It was a good time!
Harbor View Café
we stopped at this cozy, family-owned little restaurant for a delicious breakfast, which is their specialty. Their menu features a wide assortment of homemade bread, thick-cut bacon, their renowned skillets, breakfast burritos, eggs Benedict doused in hollandaise, fluffy waffles, hearty oatmeal, and more. They serve up generous portions at affordable prices.
City Park Grill
Chris and I enjoyed an absolutely delicious dinner at this Petoskey, MI restaurant, and learned all about its storied history. Originally constructed in 1875, it is one of Petoskey’s oldest buildings. It used to be known as McCarty Hall, a male’s-only billiard parlor that offered cigars and “intoxicating beverages.” In 1888, the owner changed the name to The Annex. And began serving food as well. As a writer, I was particularly excited to learn that between 1910 and 1920, Ernest Hemingway made northern Michigan his summer home, and The Annex was one of his favorite places to eat. He would always sit in the second seat in the end of the bar (you can see it in the photo above) where he would sip gin and tonics, and write his ideas for short stories and books. The short story “Gentlemen of the World” mentions The Annex!
Since Chris and I were celebrating an anniversary, we decided to splurge on a special dinner for our last night. We learned about this Traverse City dining establishment from a local couple we met during our wine tasting adventures. They raved about it, and it did not disappoint! Every single thing we ate was absolutely delicious. Our new friends insisted we try the Wagyu steak. I’m not normally a red meat person, but it was soooo tender. They also suggested we try a soup that was another winner. Chris and I can’t recommend the Morel Chanterelle Bisque highly enough. It was incredible, served with chateau d’orignac, cream, and white truffle oil. Yum! The restaurant setting was gorgeous offering exquisite panoramas of the bay no matter where you sat. And the service was excellent!
We had a much more casual meal at this restaurant we enjoyed in Boyne City. They consider themselves a European-styled bistro serving the classics with a flare. They serve mussels and frites, pastas, Panini, and wood-fired pizzas. They also boast the finest patio in the city – one that includes both covered and open air sections, and has a glass wall to shield diners for many unruly leg breezes. They had an excellent beer selection with multiple drafts pouring bruised from the best European beer-producing regions, including Germany, the UK and Belgium. Plus, they offer delicious local microbrews such as Shorts in Bel Air and Founders in Grand Rapids.
Where to Wine
Traveling south from Charlevoix – along Grand Traverse Bay – Chris and I spent a couple of days in northern Michigan’s most famous town, Traverse City. We explored this beautiful the area and did a wine tour in the area’s famous Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas.
Black Star Farms
Nestled in serene setting, this sprawling vineyard unfolds over 160 acres. They even include an equestrian-inspired 10-room Inn where you can stay. Their tasting room offers opportunities to sip from a selection of internationally acclaimed wines and spirits crafted from local fruits. Visitors can enjoy farm-fresh culinary delights at their Traverse City Bed and Breakfast, the famed Arcturos Dining Series, or the inviting Bistro Polaris. There beautiful site offers three miles of winding trails, multiple picturesque patios and vineyard walks, and strolls past their numerous horse paddocks. They are the first and only Michigan winery awarded Best in Show at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge.
Shady Lane Cellars
This exquisite Leelanau boutique winery is dedicated to producing small-batch wines that embody the unique terroir of the northern Michigan region. Their grapes thrive in mineral-rich soils, and they offer guided vineyard tours that delved into their sustainable farming practices and unique craftsmanship behind each bottle. There warm, inviting tasting room offers the perfect space to savor wines amidst fellow enthusiasts.
French Valley Vineyard
Chris and I have done wine tastings in the Leelanau Peninsula before, however this was a new winery for us. They planted their first five acres in French varietals in 2000. Their 12-acre expanse brims with mature grapevines. And beyond the grapes, this winery grows eight acres of tart cherries which they use to craft delicious cherry wines. They’re cultivating hay for livestock and harvesting barley and hops for their upcoming microbrewery. In 2020, they began transforming their existing warehouse into the new tasting room and wine cellar where we sat to sip our wine. The uniquely designed space is housed within their existing structure and includes apple box walls, thick hand-sewn posts and beams, intricate chandeliers, and vintage touches such as for hand-built saddle seats. They’ve even constructed a four-season pavilion and playground for kids.
Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery
This 155-acres estate is located on the old Mission Peninsula, where the 45th parallel gifts it’s magic – the soft Bay breezes, the verdant soil, and the sunlight hitting the earth at just the right angle for optimal grape growing. In 2000, the Brys family and in 2004, the estate initial 10,000 vines yielded their first harvest. While the majority of local vintners focus on white wines, this winery is committed to creating the region’s finest reds. And they’re committed to producing quality from grape to glass, employing meticulous care, hand harvesting and small-batch craftsmanship.
Bower’s Harbor Vineyards
This is the other Mission Peninsula winery we visited. Once a horse farm, it was established in 1991. And it now flourishes with 20 acres of vinifera vines, each bearing the essence of this unique northern Michigan terrain. From Rieslings to Cabernet solving known, every varietal captures the peninsulas character and echoes its distinct flavors.
You can indulge in the view while savoring a glass of wine and light bites on their patio, near their fire pit, or at tables tucked among the vines. If you have any furry friends you want to bring along, they are embraced here, just like the vineyard dogs featured on the winery’s select labels. You can also enjoy scenic hikes through the grounds.