Cathead Bay, snuggled into the northernmost tip of Michigan’s renowned Leelanau Peninsula, is the perfect place to relax and “get away from it all.” But, if our sun-drenched, sparkling, sugar-sand beaches are not quite all the glitter that you had in mind, don’t worry. Cathead Bay offers easy access to all of Northern Michigan’s tantalizing pleasures.
Seven miles to the south, the tiny village of Northport is still large enough to boast several ideal dining choices, quaint antique stores and a busy recreational harbor, where all summer long Friday evening open-air concerts wow locals and visitors alike.
Only a few miles further down the coast, Sutton’s Bay expands on the theme, adding art galleries and interesting boutiques, not to mention a good dose of “Olde English” atmosphere. For several weekends during the summer, Sutton’s Bay throws off its quiet, old-world persona and plays host to some of Northern Michigan’s most exciting tourist events. Jazz Fest, in July, draws some of the nation’s finest jazz musicians and thousands of visitors each year.
The Sutton’s Bay Art Festival, in August, attracts artists from all over the United States to compete in juried shows and to display and sell their creations. No media is left unrepresented, so a stroll through the stalls here is just like visiting a great, open-air art gallery.
In September, the Harvest Stompede offers visitors an opportunity to savor a variety of home-grown products. Local chefs compete to create dishes that will tempt you and our vintners, many already heralded nationally, with growing respect every year, regale you with their finest products – a fun and filling time for all. For those with a taste tending toward the esoteric, The Bay Theatre, a Sutton’s Bay landmark, offers not only Hollywood blockbusters, but also a selection of fine independent films, of the kind one might normally be challenged to find, and it presents them all in an old-time cinema setting
If area history is more to your taste, just a few miles to the west lies the village of Leland. Here you might be tempted to soak up more sun on their silver-sand beaches, but more adventuresome choices await you. Charter a fishing boat for the day and pit yourself against the mettle of Lake Michigan Tuna. It’s a great way to enjoy our Northern Michigan camaraderie as well as our indigo waters. The fish will give you a good run too.
Leland is also a mecca for art lovers and home to specialized vendors like Reflections Art Gallery, the Mary Frey Studio or Becky Thatcher Designs. For a more exotic display, try Tampico Imports, and while you are wandering, savor the sweets from Murdick’s Fudge Shoppe, whose products have enticed so many visitors to this area for so many years that the locals affectionately call tourists “Fudgies.” Murdick’s is, without a doubt, a must-not-miss treat. For a different kind of treat, however, consider visiting for the Leland Wine and Food Festival, yet another opportunity to sample northern fair and flair.
But for the history minded, the real draw of Leland is “Fishtown.” This wonderful, wharf-side “village within a village,” with its boarded walks and weathered fishing shanties, has remained virtually unchanged since frontiersmen settled the area – and “virtually” only because, today, the tiny wooden shanties house a selection of specialty and gift shops. This is still a working wharf , where, each morning, a few boats set sail to ply their nets, and each afternoon they return, loaded with fresh lake trout and salmon which will find their way into the best local restaurants – like The Cove, nestled next to the weir and overlooking the long wharf of Fishtown. Ah yes, the fish can be purchased too, if a quiet beach barbecue at your Cathead Bay Cottage is on the evening agenda. Some of Fishtown’s specialty shops feature the day’s catch amongst their wares.
Once again, in Glen Arbor, you will find the ubiquitous galleries and boutiques, but this is town known for its nightlife – clubs and restaurants abound – and also, by way of contrast, for its environmental consciousness. It is home to the Leelanau Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of this area, and is also the launch point for a visit to The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
No visit to Northern Michigan is complete without this experience, although climbing the Dunes (it is permitted in a couple of controlled areas) is definitely not for the feint of heart. Sleeping Bear, of course, is one of our country’s National Parks, and there is a small entrance fee, but it is well worth the cost. It is an area of delicate ecological balance, where you will see flora unknown to the world beyond this area. And the Dunes, these amazing mountains of sand, were immortalized a few years ago as the answer to the puzzle “Where are you?” in the national magazine Conde Nast Traveler. Tremendous lakeviews from their summit can be accessed, sans climbing, from Pierce Stocking Drive, a couple of miles south of Glen Arbor. Just to the south again, right outside the village of Empire, the Park Headquarters houses a Museum and rangers who will organize guided tours and relate the sad Indian legend for which the area was named.
A visit to Traverse City is an absolute must! Though located a little further from your Cathead Bay home-base than the aforementioned villages, Traverse City will draw you back for more than one day with its special attractions. Here you will find opportunities galore for active – or passive – enjoyment. There are tall ship tours of the bay, parasailing, sailboat and personal watercraft rentals. You can take an early morning balloon ride or an evening cruise on a catamaran. Sample specialty beers at micro-breweries, or just stroll through the stores, where you will find everything from Armani to Zac Posen. The Visitor’s Center in Traverse City is complete with brochures and maps of all must dos in the area. Be sure to check it out!
The Traverse City Old Town Playhouse offers a well-rounded repertory schedule, The Traverse Symphony offers the music lover auditory excitement, and The Dennos Museum will undoubtedly attract the art lover. And of course, no Northern Michigan town is complete without its array of fine restaurants. Try Trattoria Stella, located on the first floor of the old, newly-reclaimed, and soon-to-be spectacular Traverse City State Hospital. The building, with its institutional-gothic towers, is a treat, but the food is even better.
And for that late-night experience, there are casinos. Turtle Creek, just east of Traverse City on US72, is the bigger of the two, but only a few miles from Cathead Bay, Leelanau Sands offers gambling, restaurants and a showroom. Or choose something from Interlochen’s full tableau of concerts. The World-famous music school, alma-mater to many of Hollywood’s finest, presents fabulous Nationally-known acts all summer long.
But it is Northern Michigan’s countryside with which no other vacation spot can compete. Gently undulating, hillsides covered with woodland, acres of delicate cherry blossom, fields full of wild flowers, crystal clear inland lakes, babbling streams. Emerald, azure, turquoise and indigo; jewel tones are the colors of Northern Michigan. You must plan a day just to drive. There are tiny antique stores, artists’ studios and galleries tucked into out-of-the-way corners. And, of course, wineries everywhere, each with their tasting room and selection of specialties.
Whatever your taste, Northern Michigan offers something to whet it, and your Cathead Bay beach front cottage offers you just the right place to enjoy it. Happy vacationing!!