One fall day cruising the 40-mile west coast of Leelanau County serves up seasons of lush memories. Start your tour at the peninsula’s tip in Northport, near Traverse City, then let your whimsy lead you—or let our suggested stops steer you to fantastic food, wine, woods and water.
STOP 1: Barb’s Bakery
Leave the tiny tables and solo stools to urban coffee shops. Barb’s Bakery is all about cozying up, elbow to elbow, in old-fashioned neighborly style. To that end, owner Barb Holcomb has filled her warmly lit bakery with family-sized dinner tables and clusters of bottomworn chairs. The 122-year-old space has been home to Leelanau County’s first butcher shop, a dentist and doctor’s office, a shoe store and a clothing store. But since Peter Eiken first transformed it into a bakery in the 1920’s, the alluring scent of rising dough has wafted from the kitchen and drawn in customers across its old maple floors.
Barb rolls out dough each morning long before dawn on the bakery’s original oak tables and serves customers over timeworn oak countertops that previously lined the town’s old drugstore. Bear claws, donuts, sweet rolls and other carb fixes are available, but follow the lead of the locals and go for Barb’s golden pairing: one of her famous, always-fresh cinnamon twists and a hot mug of Bakery Blend coffee. Barb and local bean maestro Steve Arens of Leelanau Coffee Roasting Company developed the blend—a full-bodied, rich-tasting Sumatra mellowed with a little Colombian. It is available elsewhere, says Barb, “but it always tastes best here.”
Aptly fueled up, pop into Barb’s backroom for a whirlwind international shopping excursion. You’ll find Pashmina scarves, ornate Kilim pillows, Hereke carpets—hand-tied carpets once made only for Turkish palaces—and more for sale. GET THERE: BARB’S BAKERY IS LOCATED IN DOWNTOWN NORTHPORT AT 112 N. MILL STREET, 231-386-5851.
STOP 2: Gill’s Pier Winery and Tasting Room
Don’t let the size fool you: Gill’s Pier may boast a modest four-acre vineyard, but this boutique winery has made a giant impression on palates around the nation. Kris and Ryan Sterkenburg opened Gill’s Pier in 2002 and in its first year in business—before even the tasting room was complete—Gill’s Pier nabbed a statewide Best of Show with its 2002 semi-dry Riesling. A silver for its 2002 Chardonnay followed at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. They launched to gold with their full-bodied merlot and their Houdek Dunes Whitewater, a light and fruity blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Vignole and Traminette grapes. And their 2007 Cabernet Franc/Merlot won a gold and Best of Class at the Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition in 2009.
The tasting room, with its deep red walls and walnut floors, is the perfect place to spend an autumn hour sampling this year’s winners—or any of five other fabulous wines crafted by legendary local winemaker Bryan Ulbrich. Sidle up to the elaborate bar rescued from a late-1800’s New York watering hole. Or slip through doors from an old English abbey to take your place at a King Arthur–style table and chairs that once sat on a silent movie set in Hollywood.
New releases include the Best of Class 2007 Cabernet Franc/Merlot, an award-winning 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling and Edlin Ridge Vineyard, a Reserve Riesling. Don’t despair when your glasses are empty; they’re yours to keep, and staff will help you select a bottle of wine to bring home. GET THERE: GILL’S PIER IS OPEN MONDAY THROUGH SATURDAY, 11 A.M. TO 6 P.M. AND SUNDAYS NOON TO 5 P.M. THE WINERY IS LOCATED FOUR MILES NORTH OF LELAND OFF M-22. 5620 N. MANITOU TRAIL. 231-256-7003 OR WWW.GILLSPIER.COM.
STOP 3: Leland’s Fishtown
Take a break to wander the picturesque coastal village of Leland and historic Fishtown, a collection of shops in the original commercial fishing shanties. Hungry? Grab a sandwich at the Cheese Shop or some smoked Chub at Carlson’s, both in Fishtown, and take your picnic to the marina to watch the boats or to Van’s Beach to sit on the shores of Lake Michigan. Another way to eat outside on a pretty fall day? Check out The Bluebird Restaurant’s new outdoor dining on the river.