Leelanau County isn’t just a vacation paradise. The peninsula has a rich cultural history of 19th century farmhouses, unnerving shipwrecks, immense logging & fishing industries, and Native American settlements. Stop in the blacksmith exhibit at Glen Haven, part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or tour the gravel roads of Port Oneida to get a glimpse of what this place looked like before it became a 21st century tourist destination.


A connection to Great Lakes maritime culture is being preserved, in a functional way, in this collection of weathered fishing shanties, smokehouses, tugs and charter boats along the Leland River. The nonprofit Fishtown Preservation Society offers self-guided walking tours. 203 E. CEDAR STREET, LELAND, 231.256.8878, FISHTOWNMI.ORG.

Watch more Northern Michigan videos.

Empire Area Museum Center

This multi-building museum lets you stroll town as it once looked. Walk through the Roen Saloon, a one-room schoolhouse nestled in trees, a blacksmith’s shop, an old-time fire station and more. 11544 LACORE ST., EMPIRE, 231.326.5568.

St. Wenceslaus Church and Cemetery

Set atop a lofty ridge with a view of Lake Michigan and the rolling countryside, this Gothic period beauty was constructed by volunteers in 1914 to replace the original church built by Bohemian settlers in 1890. Browse a cemetery remarkable for its metal gravestones shaped by Bohemian craftspeople. 8500 E KOLARIK RD., SUTTONS BAY, 231.271.3574.

Glen Haven District

The entrance to one of the region’s prettiest beaches is characterized by a historic village restored to its 1920s appearance and function. Pick up vintage goods at the General Store, find historic boats at the cannery boathouse museum, or interact with a blacksmith forging tools. Off M-109, just south of Glen Arbor. 231.326.5134, NPS.GOV/SLBE.

Port Oneida

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore uses 18 farmsteads to convey historic themes through exhibits, kiosks, tours and field guides and an annual hands-on historic fair. 231.326.5134, NPS.GOV/SLBE.

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Exhibits feature lighthouse history and archaeology, shipwrecks and area Native American settlements, and new Historical Ghost Walks bring that history to life in a particularly eerie way. A rare opportunity to live a lightkeeper’s life is offered through a volunteer keeper program. 15500 N. LIGHTHOUSE PT. ROAD, NORTHPORT, 231.386.7195, GRANDTRAVERSELIGHTHOUSE.COM.

Watch more Northern Michigan videos.

Photo(s) by John Newland