Centered City Guide: Northern Michigan

If you are new to the blog, you may not realize I have several CENTERED CITY GUIDES – don’t miss these suggestions if you’re traveling anytime soon to one of these USA destinations!

My family has been traveling up to Northern Michigan since the 1980s. We were introduced to the Traverse City area by my cousin’s Grandma, who purchased a cottage in the town of Elk Rapids, MI back in the 1950s (she actually named the street the cabin sits on!). Over the past 10 years Northern Michigan has become quite the trendy area for vacationing families and couples. I’ve been lucky enough to spend many childhood, teenage and adult summers up at the lake, and my parents now own that original 1950s cabin (some updates have been made over the years, see pics below).

We love to get up to the cabin for summertime vacation whenever possible! This year, we had a full week up north and explored some new areas. Here are a few of the highlights and some of my favorite cities (all which I’ve visited multiple times!) that I recommend you visit for day trip, long weekend or find a cottage rental. Enjoy this quick northern Michigan travel guide!

Gorgeous Lake Michigan near Old Mission Peninsula.

Traverse City / Elk Rapids

From the Chicago area, Northern Michigan travel can take anywhere from 5-7 hours depending on how far north you are heading. In my opinion, the incredible water and usually consistent hot weather in July and August make the long drive worth it. Also, July is cherry season and there is The National Cherry Festival that brings lots of tourists to Traverse City. Traverse has lots of fabulous restaurants, breweries, hotels and is a fun place to stay if you like to be IN the action. If you prefer an area that’s a bit more peaceful (bit still close the big city) Elk Rapids, Suttons Bay or Old Mission are all good areas to look for cabin rentals.

Here’s our family cabin in the Traverse City / Elk Rapids area:

Highlights in Elk Rapids include:

Highlights in Traverse City:

  • There are so many fun things to do in Traverse!
  • Parasail over the Grand Traverse Bay and eat fudge at Doug Murdick’s
  • Dine out at one of the many excellent restaurants
  • Don’t miss the annual Side Walk Sale or Film Festival

Rennie’s Orchard the BEST fruit picking.

Old Mission Peninsula

Old Mission Peninsula is just a 20-30 minute drive from Traverse City, but feels isolated in the best way. It also feels a bit like California with amazing wineries, lush gardens, beautiful beaches and a secret lavender farm.

Highlights Include:

The amazing field of lavender at Harbor View nursery.

Watch for road signs and stop at these hidden gems!

Michigan wine country.

Old Mission Flower, pick your own right out of the garden!

Mackinaw Island

If you want a little island fun, don’t miss the quaint Mackinaw Island with famed Grand Hotel – decorated by the famous Carleton Varney of Dorothy Draper & Co. There are 393 rooms each uniquely decorated! You can rent bikes and ride around the six mile island very easily. No cars, just bikes and horse and carriage rides. It’s very kid-friendly and a really fun place to spend a long weekend.

Grand Hotel room decorated by CV.

Some of my other favorite Northern Michigan cities on the water include: Northport, Harbor Springs, Petoskey, and Charlevoix. These are all great beach towns with lots of accommodations, but book early! Northern Michigan is no longer a hidden gem. If you want an INSIDER LOOK at accommodations, rentals and places to stay check out linked post from Traverse City resident and blogger, Megan Gilger, of FRESH EXCHANGE. Her list is very comprehensive with all types of rentals!

Happy travels! Would love to know your favorite towns and Michigan finds. Please share in the comments!

XO – CLAIRE (+ LUKE + WILLA)