Lake Michigan Ports of Call

We’d all love to just sail away, leaving any sight of land (or civilization) far behind, and just claim the open water as home.  Yet even the most passionate sailors must come ashore on occasion.  Here are a few of our favorite ports to make the most of your time on dry land.

Charlevoix

Passing under the drawbridge in Charlevoix is like sliding into another world. Just inside the endless Lake Michigan horizon, Charlevoix’s marina is snuggled into the calm waters of Round Lake (entirely a no-wake zone). Having just received a total makeover, Charlevoix’s marina waterfront presents a smartly landscaped park, new band shell and state-of-the-art docking for 67 boats. While in Charlevoix, walk the Lake Michigan pier or fish alongside the anglers casting for trout, salmon, perch and walleye. Unleash your inner child at the Rocking Horse Toy Store downtown or grab a latte at the Woolly Bugger Coffee Shop, which roasts its own beans. On a rainy day, the gorgeous Charlevoix Public Library offers a children’s reading room and jam-packed programming all summer long. Charlevoix hosts its free annual Venetian Festival July 19–25, with concerts, carnival games, fireworks and the famous boat parade (think boats festooned with Christmas lights and manned with badly costumed captains and mates—musically choreographed and hilarious). 231-547-3272

Suttons Bay

Nestled into a nook of Grand Traverse Bay, Suttons Bay’s prim neighborhoods, unexpected shopping, intriguing eateries, cool retro film theater and 174-slip marina all make for a quintessential Up North port town. Expect inventive merchants, like at the Painted Bird gallery, which features the work of more than 100 artists—many of them local—presenting clothing, home goods, jewelry and more. In the morning, head over to the Silvertree Deli, and pick up a tin of the locally made By the Light of Day organic tea. Sunday Morning is a perfect flavor to start the day. While in port, stock up on local wines, as the town is in the heart of Leelanau wine country. Find more local foods devotion at Martha’s Leelanau Table restaurant, where dishes are all about the farm-to-table movement. The town’s Blues Festival happens July 25 this year, and the annual art fair sets up the first weekend in August, both adjacent to the marina. 231-271-6703

Northport

Northport, the gateway to Grand Traverse Bay, serves up a 120-slip marina with a gas dock and a classic port town layout. Just a block from the boats, find a grocer who lets you borrow carts to take goodies to the docks, restaurants, and shopping. The town also makes a perfect stop for boaters seeking a small town with a big history, which Northport wears with pride. Look for brochures that tell of historic homes and buildings downtown, and plaques that reveal the area’s cultural past. Outdoor concerts happen every Friday in Marina Park at 7 p.m. Other must-do’s while in Northport? Eat a twisty cinnamon roll at Barb’s Bakery (also the spot to talk about all things Northport—well, most things—with locals each morning) and stop for ice cream at The Galley. 231-386-5411

Petoskey

One of Lake Michigan’s most celebrated ports of call, Petoskey’s 100-slip marina on Little Traverse Bay sits beside a manicured, expansive waterfront park and is a short walk from an enchanting downtown. On calm evenings, the breakwall beside the marina offers an ideal water-level panorama of the red and orange hues that color the skyline. Walking up the path from the waterfront, folks can grab healthy, often-local groceries from the Grain Train Natural Foods Co-Op or the Friday morning farmers market (a section of street is closed off for the event every Friday from 8 a.m. till noon). Alongside the farmers market is Julienne Tomatoes, where fresh pastries and fantastic sandwiches (try the Tom’s Peppered Turkey Club) will lure you back. In addition to a plenitude of smart shops and green space ideal for a picnic or game of Frisbee, Petoskey also boasts plenty of cultural opportunities. This summer, stop by Crooked Tree Arts Center’s exhibit “An American Century,” or find plenty of dockside reading material at the independent bookstores McLean and Eakin or Horizon Books. 231-347-6691

Quick Links to More Fun in Every Port!

  • Looking for a restaurant? Check out the region's most comprehensive Restaurant Guide.
  • Time your visit around a Festival, concert or art show. Find Events for every port.
  • Whether you're cruising for a weekend or a month, the Vacation Guides are packed with fun ideas to add to your list.
  • Plot your trip up the coast using this interactive map that will connect you to attractions, trails, lighthouses and more!

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