Wineries are certainly a big draw these days on scenic Old Mission Peninsula, a narrow finger of land that divides Grand Traverse Bay and stretches 19 miles into the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.
But spend any time exploring Old Mission, the smaller of the region’s two peninsulas—the other is Leelanau—and you’ll discover much more than vineyards and world-class wines. Tidy cherry and apple orchards and expansive family farms share the bucolic landscape, along with unparalleled views—both east and west—of Grand Traverse Bay from hillside vistas.
The peninsula is also home to some of the region’s finest restaurants, where the chefs take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables from local farms. Roadside farm stands are not only part of the local culture but also an enduring legacy of the peninsula’s agricultural past.
Speaking of the past, no trip to Old Mission would be complete without a stop at the Mission Point Lighthouse, which crowns the peninsula’s tip, a few hundred yards south of the magical 45th Parallel. Once a beacon for mariners, the preserved lighthouse today welcomes 21st century land travelers.
We’ve come up with a list of five things to do on Old Mission Peninsula, capturing the best of what the area offers and easy enough to tackle during a day-trip. Here they are:
Old Mission Peninsula Wineries
Old Mission (along with that other peninsula) is at the heart of the Traverse Wine Coast, where 60 percent of the wines in the state are produced. While the two peninsulas remain distinct American Viticulture Areas, collectively they are producing world-class wines. You’ll find wonderful red and white varietals—think pinot noir, merlot, cabernet franc and riesling, chardonnay and pinot blanc—as well as some fruit wines, among the 11 wineries that dot Old Mission.
You won’t drive too far along Route 37 before you arrive at the first must-see winery: Mari Vineyards. The stone villa perched atop the hillside looks like it was plucked from Tuscany and dropped in northwestern Michigan. One of the peninsula’s newest wineries, Mari is growing Italian varietals and tapping unusual methods to grow grapes in this cool climate. Nearby, the modern tasting room at Hawthorne Vineyard sits high on a bluff, offering impressive views of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay and acres of rolling vineyards. Step up to the tasting room’s circular bar and sample gamay, pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay, to name a few.
Farther north, Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery, a family-owned operation, pours some of the best red varietals in the region, including pinot noir, cabernet franc, merlot and Bordeaux-style blends. The winery was formerly an 1890s homestead, and a former barn has been converted into a charming guest house with views of the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. At the far end of the peninsula, you’ll find 2 Lads Winery, housed in a minimalist, industrial-style building. Try wonderful red and white varietals and inhale spectacular views of the bay, just 1,000 feet away.
Old Mission Peninsula Farm Stands
Farm stands have long dotted the rural roads of Old Mission Peninsula, still home to many family-owned farms and orchards. Some farms trace their roots back to the early days of settlement. The folks here are friendly, eager to talk about their farming operations and share local history. The bounty of seasonal produce available from Old Mission farms will astound you.
Edmondson Orchards (12413 Center Rd.)
About halfway up the peninsula on Route 37, Edmondson Orchards is well-known for its sweet and tart cherries. Stop at the small roadside stand or pick your own fruit. The 150-acre farm has apples, melons, peaches, blackberries, pears, plums, pumpkins, raspberries, rhubarb and squash. The farm also produces other products, including apple cider, cherry cider, dried fruit, honey and maple syrup. Come at the right time of year and join countless others in picking your own cherries.
Island View Orchards (2211 Island View Rd.)
There is no traditional roadside stand at Island View Orchards, but visitors are welcome at the 100-acre farm. Island View has been growing cherries since the 1930s. The sixth-generation family farm traces its beginnings to a 40-acre tract secured in 1881. Chances are, if you stop by the orchard to pick up fresh fruit, you’ll be greeted by owner Mary Lyon, who married into the family and has been a fixture on the farm since the 1970s.
“We were one of the first to plant cherries on the peninsula,” notes Mary, who is quick to share a family story about the farm’s beginnings. “My husband’s great grandfather walked to Traverse City every day for two years to work to pay off the property. In the winter time, he’d walk across the ice. In those days, you didn’t want to be beholden to anyone. That’s a strong story, and it’s true.”
The farm today grows apples, peaches, plums, apricots, one variety of tart cherry and eight varieties of sweet cherries. A visit requires guests to leave their name and address. Mary has been logging guests visits since 1999, and today counts 5,619 visitors from around the country and the world. Repeat visitors, by the way, don’t sign unless they’ve changed zip codes.
Photo by Dave Weidner
Mission Point Lighthouse
The main route along Old Mission ends, fittingly, at the base of Mission Point Lighthouse, which opened for maritime service in 1870. Decommissioned in 1933, the lighthouse has become an iconic symbol of Traverse City and a popular destination for day visitors.
The five-acre township park, Old Mission Point Park, surrounding the lighthouse includes a wide, sandy stretch of beach and wooded hiking trails. Hundreds of acres of state-owned forests neighbor the park and are popular with hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.
The one-and-a-half-story wood-frame lighthouse is unusual—it resembles a house topped with a tower—and sits 14 feet above the water on a dune. During its decades of service, the lighthouse’s perch enabled its beacon to shine 13 miles out to sea. Visitors are welcome to explore the lighthouse and climb the tower.
“It’s a million-dollar view from the lighthouse and the beach,” says Ginger Schultz, lighthouse manager. “A lot of people like to use the beach because of the shallow water. It’s also really quiet here. The water is too shallow for boats. It’s really a nice, peaceful place.”
Also on the grounds is the Hessler Log Cabin, once the home of early peninsula pioneers, Joseph and Mary Hessler. The family likely arrived on Old Mission by boat from the Straits of Mackinac. The cabin was built between 1854 and 1856.
The Old Mission Scenic Overlook is near Chateau Grand Traverse.
Old Mission Peninsula Views
Thanks to the narrowness of the peninsula, just three miles wide, and the hilly terrain, stunning water views are plentiful along Old Mission.
About halfway up the peninsula, right on Route 37, the Old Mission Scenic Overlook is among the vistas with mesmerizing views. In this case, the overlook affords views of both sides of the peninsula: the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay and the East Arm. The overlook is between Bonobo Winery and Chateau Grand Traverse. Bonobo’s deck, by the way, is a beautiful spot to sip wine and watch the sunset over the vineyards.
Nearly three-quarters of the way up the peninsula, right off Route 37, Chateau Chantal Winery & Inn claims the best water views. Its deck overlooks both sides of Old Mission and acres of rolling vineyards. Sunset views can also be enjoyed from the deck at Chateau Grand Traverse, one of the region’s first wineries.
To catch a sunrise, head to Haserot Beach in the village of Old Mission, one of the oldest settlements in the region, located at the northern end of the peninsula. Many of the village’s 19th-century buildings remain standing, including a church and general store still in use. The beach at Old Mission Point Park (home of the lighthouse) faces north but with some head stretching, you can catch glimpses of the sunrise and sunset. Just south of the park, many visitors pull off along the road to watch sunsets over the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay.
Old Mission Peninsula Restaurants
Some of the region’s best restaurants are found on Old Mission, including Boathouse, Mission Table and Peninsula Grill. Both Boathouse and Mission Table are farm-to-table restaurants, procuring fresh fruits, vegetables and other food products from nearby farms.
Located on the shores of Bowers Harbor, on the peninsula’s western shore, Boathouse Restaurant is considered one of the region’s most elegant restaurants, with a dining room overlooking the bay and docked boats. Chef Jim Morse’s menu highlights seafood from Lake Michigan and elsewhere, as well as premium beef and lamb. The destination restaurant also offers a chef’s seasonal, six-course tasting menu. The Boathouse secures much of its fruits, vegetables, herbs and hydroponic microgreens from the owner’s 10-acre farm, nearby. The family also raises chickens and Muscovy ducks.
Mission Table, part of Bowers Harbor Inn, also procures seasonal produce from local farms and fishermen. Opened in 2010 in the historic building, formerly the summer home of a Chicago lumber baron, the restaurant sits on the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, surrounded by majestic oaks and pines. The menu changes with the seasons. The restaurant also taps local winemakers, craft brewers and distillers for libations, reflecting the bounty of the region.
For a more casual option, check out Peninsula Grill right on Route 37, about halfway up the peninsula. The rustic dining room offers small plates, soups, salads and fish, including Lake Superior whitefish, a staple in Northern Michigan. It also has an extensive selection of Old Mission wines, as well as craft beers from local and Michigan breweries.
Good Eats To-Go
Stop by the Old Mission General Store in the village of Old Mission. A remnant of another era, the store has been a staple in the village since 1839 and claims to have the oldest post office in one room in Michigan. The store is not just a treasure trove of antiques. It has a small cafe offering sandwiches, pickles on a stick and what some customers say is the best cherry pie in the region. And that’s high praise, considering the abundance of cherries and pie makers in the region. Grab lunch to-go and find a picnic spot at the nearby beach or park.
Writer Greg Tasker splits time between Ann Arbor and Leelanau County. email@example.com