The annual shopping rush can shrink even the hugest holiday-loving heart down to Grinch-like proportions. But we’ve found an Rx: Make a holiday out of the experience, combining shopping and getaway, in a small town both historic and artsy—the more twinkly lights, traditional carols and roasting chestnuts, the better. Here’s our guide!
December means the chance to stroll one of the state’s favorite shopping districts amid gently falling snow and lit trees casting a warm glow. Your whole giving list is easily covered within some 180 shops in the Front Street and Old Town shopping districts alone—shops with hats and beer-making supplies, earth-friendly goods, perfumes, equestrian gear, travel goods, magic, M-22 wear, vintage clothing and more. Or take a wine tour and do some holiday shopping for a perfect bottle in one of the dozens of wineries on the Old Mission or Leelanau peninsulas. Go: Nov. 30, to watch Santa arrive on Traverse City’s antique fire engine or to sing around the downtown Christmas tree. Book: the Antiquities’ Wellington Inn, a circa-1905 mansion decked in over-the-top holiday finery each December. traversecity.com.
You can count on a town with its own gaslight district of shops to cast a Hallmark-style glow on the gift-buying experience, especially when the old-style lampposts are wrapped in tiny white lights and topped with giant red wreaths. Find holiday collectables, fuzzy moccasins, specialties for the foodies on the list, and original gifts galore at some 100 boutiques and galleries. Go: Dec. 7, for extended shopping hours, in-store treats and caroling. Stay: Stafford’s Perry Hotel, where the lobby fire blazes, and its Victorian architecture looks right at home when decked out in holiday finery. petoskeyarea.com.
Postcard perfect is how you’ll likely describe the Leelanau County town of Suttons Bay when painted Victorian stores are fronted by 100 glowing trees, individually decorated by shop owners and community groups. Shopping’s just as personalized at shops featuring regional artists and beach glass jewelry, custom spice blends, kitchenware, Michigan-made food and gifts, even telescopes collected by a retired astronomy professor. Go: Nov. 30–Dec. 2, when the Suttons Bay Holiday Festival weekend brings live reindeer to its annual Antlers and Elves festival and luminaries line the streets during Friday evening’s caroling. Book: The Korner Kottage Bed and Breakfast, a short walk from your $17 prix fixe dinner at Martha’s Leelanau Table. suttonsbayarea.com.
The vibe here is all Victorian, with live garland draping historic riverfront shops and mulled cider scenting the air. Pick up a Victorian walking stick—if that’s on someone’s list—inside the Manistee County Historical Museum. Or browse Manistee’s two book stores, antiques shops, magic shops, combination wine stores and galleries or shops featuring fun stuff for kids or cooks. For the man who has everything, how about The Ideal Kitchen’s bear claw—a meat shredder resembling brass knuckles with spikes. Go: Dec. 7–9 to shop amid full-on Dickens: grilling chestnuts on every block, a trombone band and sleigh rides at the Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend. Book: Tickets to White Christmas at the Ramsdell Theatre and a turreted room equipped with fireplace and lake views at The Ramsdell Inn. visitmanistee.com.