The Northern Michigan towns adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are both quaint launchpads for your Dunes adventures or perfect Northern Michigan vacation pit-stops to enjoy a small-town shopping spree or a meal at a Northern Michigan restaurant. From north to south, the three Sleeping Bear Dunes towns most closely associated with the Dunes are Glen Arbor and Empire in Leelanau County and Frankfort in Benzie County. Read on to learn more about these unique towns and to link to other informative pages at MyNorth.com.
Glen Arbor sits between two large portions of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. To the north are Port Oneida—home of Pyramid Point Trail and the Port Oneida Historic District—and Good Harbor beach. To the south are Glen Lake, the Dune Climb, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and, eventually, the town of Empire. M22 runs directly through the small town, and the town’s charming shopping and dining district spans either side of the road.
The town boasts a unique array of shops and dining options: Cherry Republic offers an exhaustive supply of imaginative cherry products, while a stop at M22 (the store, not the road) can equip you with their famous line of M22-themed merchandise. Galleries and jewelers are tucked into small shops on the main drag and off several side streets, and visits to Boonedocks and Art’s Tavern for food are definite bucket-listers.
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At the intersection of M72 and M22 is the town of Empire—named after a ship that was trapped in the ice near the small town in the mid-19th century. The town is home to the Sleeping Bear Dunes’ Philip A. Hart Visitor Center, making Empire the de facto capital of the Dunes. To the north sits Glen Arbor, to the east Traverse City, and to the south Frankfort.
Empire’s beautiful beach is the stuff of legend: huge swathes of sand, epic sunsets, and—wait for it—a picnic pavilion. Stop by Joe’s Friendly Tavern for a burger and a brew, then shop for antiques and curios at a number of small stores like the Miser’s Hoard or the Sleeping Bear Gallery, and indulge your sweet tooth at Grocer’s Daughter for an artisanal chocolate (or two).
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The southern-most town bookends the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The town is actually something of a Twin City, with its little sister, Elberta, located directly across Betsie Lake to the south. Frankfort and Elberta are cumulatively the largest of the three Sleeping Bear towns, although Frankfort is actually about 10 minutes south of the southern tip of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Frankfort and Elberta both have sprawling, sandy beaches, and, between the two towns, some of the most eclectic shopping and dining spots in Northern Michigan. The Fusion in Frankfort serves up a potpourri of pan-Asian cuisine, while Cru Cellars offers a meticulously curated wine menu and small plates just down Main Street. Frankfort’s new microbrewery Stormcloud Brewing (note the pun, please) sates the palates of the most discerning palates with fine Belgian-style brews, while Coho’s menu features inspired entrees—like locally-raised emu.
For an artistic adventure, be sure to check out the events, exhibits, classes and special artist services at the Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts at the newly renovated U.S. Coast Guard Station at the mouth of the Betsie Bay, Frankfort. There are three floors to explore with two exhibition galleries, classrooms, a demonstration kitchen, an outdoor deck, and ceramics studio space.
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For shopping, plenty of beach and resort wear stores line the streets; check out a full list of shops in Frankfort here. Do not, however, miss out on Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm 15 minutes east of downtown Frankfort on M608.
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