Festive Things to Do in December in Northern Michigan

From Cadillac and Manistee to Traverse City and Petoskey, these merry small towns are full of holiday cheer. These are some of the best things to do in December in Northern Michigan.

Harbor Springs winter

Photo by Angela Brown // Downtown Harbor Springs

Things to Do in Harbor Springs

Celebrate the holiday season in Harbor Springs, a postcard-perfect town on Little Traverse Bay. The merry glow from the town’s Christmas tree has welcomed rosy-cheeked visitors since 1915 to the harborside hamlet filled with quaint boutiques and carolers.

SHOP

Main Street is lined with 19th-century storefronts, eateries and galleries. Cozy up with a book at Between the Covers, sample artisanal goodies at American Spoon and meander down to the historical society’s gift shop, crossing gifts off your list along the way.

SANTA’S SECRET

Ephraim Shay, an inventor who lived in Harbor Springs from 1888 to 1916, built 400 sleds one year so every child would have a gift. The Harbor Springs History Museum has one on display. Admission by donation.

MAKE MERRY

A brilliant, starry ceiling twinkles above moviegoers at the Lyric Theatre. See a show between stops at your favorite shops. (And pick up a theatre gift card for that hard-to-shop-for friend!)

Get in the spirit at these Harbor Springs holiday events.

Photo by Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau // Statue of Chief Petoskey Overlooking Little Traverse Bay

Things to Do in Petoskey

Petoskey’s historic Gaslight District glows beneath twinkling lights during the holiday season, and local merchants welcome visitors with festive treats and gift ideas for everyone on your shopping list.

SHOP

Mitchell, Lake and Howard streets bustle with shoppers strolling between sips at Petoskey Farms’ downtown wine tasting room, Roast & Toast Cafe, Populace Coffee and Beards Brewery.

SANTA’S SECRET

Santa himself flies in to light the big, fat evergreen in Pennsylvania Park at Petoskey’s Holiday Open House, always held on the first Friday of December.

MAKE MERRY

Symons General Store has been on the same corner for 60 years. Stop in for made-to-order sandwiches and the absolute best gift baskets.

Celebrate the season at these Petoskey holiday events.

Photo by Charlevoix Main Street // Downtown Charlevoix

Things to Do in Charlevoix

Charlevoix shines with holiday lights and festively decorated galleries, boutiques and restaurants. And Earl Young’s famously whimsical stone buildings are even more charming covered in snow.

SHOP

A flurry of snow and shoppers blow into merry stores, restaurants and pubs along Bridge Street. Get nice and toasty at Lake Charlevoix Brewing Co. then head down Van Pelt Alley (next to Cherry Republic) and discover the tucked-away mercado.

SANTA’S SECRET

The Boss Family Christmas Display has been a Charlevoix tradition since 1978. Each year, the family transforms their home on Pearl Avenue into a light-covered holiday spectacular. Follow their Facebook page for updates.

MAKE MERRY

Castle Farms is simply magical during the holiday season. Ole St. Nick stops by for story time, the Polar Express chugs through the annual holiday train display and children mail their wishlists to the North Pole.

 Bring your friends and family to these Charlevoix holiday events.

Photo by Kim Mettker, Michigan Barefoot Memories // Downtown Boyne City

Things to Do in Boyne City

Boyne City is for winter lovers. A frozen Lake Charlevoix sits in the front yard, Boyne Mountain is just 10 minutes away in Boyne Falls and Avalanche Mountain Preserve has areas for snowshoeing, snowmobiling and skiing. Let it snow!

SHOP

Cozy eateries and boutiques abound downtown. Outdoor Beerdsman shares a space on Water Street with Long Road Distillers. You could do all of your shopping there, but try and resist so you can experience more sweet shops like Peninsula and Alpine Chocolat Haus.

SANTA’S SECRET

Gildas Berrou was born and raised in France and spent years baking with some of the best bread chefs in Paris, Tours, Bordeaux and Lyon. Lucky for us, Gildas moved to Northern Michigan and is making délicieuse pastries at Boyne City Bakery.

MAKE MERRY

Head to the Adventure Center at Boyne Mountain. The guides will help you plan a whole day of winter fun. Horseback riding, fat tire biking, tubing, snowshoeing, skiing, ice skating, a zipline tour—you’ve got options.

These Boyne City holiday events are full of cheer!

Photo by Gaylord Area Tourism Bureau // Downtown Gaylord

Things to Do in Gaylord

Bask in the Swiss-themed vibes while strolling the charming stores and eateries of the North’s “Alpine Village.” Gaylord beckons snow lovers for snowmobiling, skiing, winter rafting and more.

SHOP

Main Street is the can’t-miss shopping hub, then head to Old Spud Warehouse off Second Street for out-of-the-ordinary gifts.

SANTA’S SECRET

Martell’s Northwoods Tree Farm is your holiday decor destination with wreaths, centerpieces and ornaments, plus U-cut and pre-cut trees. 205 Arrowhead Trl. (Martell’s is on the December cover of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine!)

MAKE MERRY

Let us introduce you to the Mac Waffle. Tater tots and mac ’n’ cheese are mixed together, pressed on a waffle iron and served with jalapeño ranch. Yep. Head on over to Snowbelt Brewing Co. after you’re done shopping.

Put these Gaylord holiday events on your calendar.

Photo by Traci Cook // Grayling

Things to Do in Grayling

In winter, locals and visitors are busy snow tubing, snowboarding, downhill skiing, cross country skiing and snowmobiling. After a jolly day outdoors, gather in downtown Grayling at welcoming local restaurants and breweries.

SHOP

Michigan Avenue is home to the incredible Artisan Village (featuring more than 60 regional artists), Tip‘n the Mitten (Michigan-made gifts) and The Sweet Life (lots and lots of treats). On Norway Street, The Old Lumberyard Shoppes has more than 40 vendors, all under one roof.

SANTA’S SECRET

Hartwick Pines State Park is a 10-minute drive from downtown. Go snowshoeing with friends or reserve a spot on a guided hike. The DNR even hosts snowshoe building workshops (Nov. 2–3, Dec. 7–8, Jan. 4–5) and beautiful lantern-lit hikes (Dec. 28, Jan. 25).

MAKE MERRY

Families, catch a show at the historic, single-screen Rialto Theatre, which opened in 1915. Paddle Hard Brewing and Rolling Oak Brewing are waiting for adults afterward.

Don’t miss these Grayling holiday events.

Photo by Bellaire Chamber of Commerce // Short’s Brewing Co. 

Things to Do in Bellaire

Spend a day in the crisp winter air—skiing, tubing and sled dog rides at Shanty Creek; snowshoeing and fat tire biking at Glacial Hills Pathway; nordic skiing at Grass River Natural Area—then head to downtown Bellaire for holiday shopping and dinner.

SHOP

Fun stores and eateries are sprinkled between Short’s Brewing Company, Mammoth Distilling, Bee Well Mead & Cider and Hello Vino, a wine and cocktail lounge. Shop, sip, stroll, repeat!

SANTA’S SECRET

On Christmas Day, you’ll find Santa tearing up the slopes of Schuss Mountain. Ski free with him from 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and bring canned goods, gently used clothing or household items to benefit local food pantries.

MAKE MERRY

Ruthann Dexter, the fabulous baker behind Ruthann’s Gourmet Bakery, is a frosting artist. Her Christmas cookies and cupcakes are almost too cute to eat—like the jolly Santa Claus cookie with a fluffy frosting beard.

Shop locally at these Bellaire holiday events.

Photo by Graydon DeCamp // Downtown Elk Rapids

Things to Do in Elk Rapids

This darling village is tucked along Lake Michigan, Elk Lake and the Elk River, so there’s no shortage of spectacular, frozen views. Browse the boutiques and galleries downtown then fill up at one of the intimate eateries in Elk Rapids.

SHOP

Downtown on River Street, Relish, Ginger Snaps, Nifty Things and Cellar 152 have gifts galore. On the other side of US 31, Blue Heron Gallery and Planetary Coffee are waiting for you on Ames Street.

SANTA’S SECRET

The Local’s banana bread French toast make us swoon, and the giant vanilla buttermilk pancakes—mmmm! Claim a spot at the diner for a hearty pre-shopping brunch.

MAKE MERRY

On the first Thursday of each month, Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen donates 5% of sales to the Elk Rapids Community Cupboard. Share some oysters and share the love.

These Elk Rapids holiday events are fun for all ages.

Photo by Liz McGuffin, With Wonder and Whimsy // The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Things to Do in Traverse City

Grand Traverse Bay winks in the background as happy families make their way from Traverse City’s Christmas tree set at the corner of Cass and Front streets to Santa’s House at City Centre Plaza a block away. 

SHOP

Of course, Front Street is a must, but don’t miss the galleries and boutiques along Union and find food and drink delights on Eighth Street at Bon Vin, Raduno, Rose & Fern Cafe and Potter’s Bakery.

SANTA’S SECRET

The residents of Traverse City’s Central Neighborhood (between Fifth, Union, Ninth and Division streets) string thousands of lights along their homes, yards and alleyways. Come dusk, it’s twinkle town.

MAKE MERRY

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is a winter wonderland. Start your day with a cinnamon roll at S2S, roam the one-of-a-kind shops in the Mercato and glide along cross country ski trails out back. Experience Christmas in the Village, December 13–15.

These Traverse City holiday events are full of cheer.

Photo by Angela Brown // Downtown Suttons Bay

Things to Do in Leelanau County

The villages tucked along the Leelanau Peninsula’s scenic M-22 and the byways between glow with lights and cheer during the holiday season.

SHOP

Black Friday and Shop Small Saturday make for big festive fun. Glen Arbor retailers offer early bird deals during the annual PJ party (Nov. 29, 6:30–9 a.m.) and don’t miss the quirky bed parade! In Leland, there’s a town-wide shopping scavenger hunt (Nov. 30, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.).

SANTA’S SECRET

For the perfect tree, venture across Leelanau’s hills, past a 19th-century church to Kolarik Tree Farm in Suttons Bay (near the corner of Kolarik and Houdek roads). Pre-cut or chop your own.

MAKE MERRY

Sip a craft brewski inside a cozy igloo at Hop Lot Brewing Co. Reservations recommended one to two weeks in advance if going on a weekend. 231.866.4445.

Experience local markets, parades and more at these Leelanau holiday events.

Photo by Kris Riley Productions // Downtown Frankfort

Things to Do in Frankfort

The storybook town of Frankfort is decked with a top-flight brewery (with curling each winter!), a state-of-the-art theater, memorable eateries and fun shops.

SHOP

Park on the east end of Main Street and work your way west with stops at Lynn & Perin Mercantile Co., Betsie Bay Furniture and Sunbeams of Promise. End the day with a movie at The Garden Theater.

SANTA’S SECRET

Does your Christmas wish list include the words sweet and savory? Order the chicken and waffles at Birch & Maple. The toasty warm waffles and juicy buttermilk fried chicken are topped with bourbon maple toffee. Yes, yum.

MAKE MERRY

Something special is always on tap at Stormcloud Brewing Company. Winter brings trivia, game nights, curling and more. Warm up with a pint of Fun Guv’nr Black IPA and the brewery’s honey sriracha popcorn.

You’ll have a jolly time at these Frankfort holiday events.

Photo by St. Ambrose Cellars // The view from the tasting room. 

Things to Do in Beulah

Beulah, tucked along the edge of Crystal Lake, has that quintessential Up North vibe and a charming downtown shopping district.

SHOP

Benzie Boulevard is brimming with boutiques. 254 South (the address and the shop’s name), Unearthed (incredible jewelry, fossils and minerals) and Crystal Crate & Cargo (home and kitchen nirvana) are just a few of the highlights.

SANTA’S SECRET

Thompsonville’s Crystal Mountain is only a 14-minute drive from downtown Beulah, and the resort honors winter with snowy activities well beyond the slopes. Hop on a fat tire bike, explore the Nordic trails, go ice skating or strap on a pair of snowshoes.

MAKE MERRY

Cozy up in the bright-red-barn turned tasting room at St. Ambrose Cellars with a flight of award-winning meads, wines, ciders and beers (which also make great gifts!). Open seven days a week, year-round for maximum merriment.

Start a family tradition at these Beulah holiday events.

Photo by Andrew Allen // Manistee Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend

Things to Do in Manistee

Downtown Manistee’s lumber-era Victorian architecture is even prettier frosted with snow, and winter sunsets over Lake Michigan at 5th Avenue and 1st Street beaches—spectacular.

SHOP

River Street is where you’ll find welcoming storefronts for Snyder’s Shoes, Glenwood Market, The Ideal Kitchen, Moving Spirits Boutique, and many more to explore!

SANTA’S SECRET

Each year, the Village of Bear Lake in Manistee County hosts Sparkle in the Park, a free drive-through light display at Hopkins Park. Opening night festivities include chili, hot chocolate and cookies (all free!) plus visits from Santa. Open nightly from Nov. 30 through Jan. 1, 5–10 p.m. Carolers on Saturdays at 6 p.m.

MAKE MERRY

The Victorian Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend is the event of the season. The entire town transforms into a scene from an advent calendar with bagpipers, reindeer, roasted chestnuts, carolers and draft horses pulling a 30-foot Christmas tree down River Street. December 5–8.

Here’s your guide to Manistee holiday events.

Photo by Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau // Cadillac 

Things to Do in Cadillac

With lakes Cadillac and Mitchell, this northern escape is an ice fishing hub. Bonus: the Victorian-era downtown is filled with boutiques, gift shops, eateries and a brewery—Cadillac is a jolly time for all.

SHOP

Mitchell Street is home to Serendipity, The Ultimate Gift, The Barn Social, Charming North and so many more must-visit stores. Make it a day with breakfast at Blue Heron Cafe and lunch at Raven Brewing & BBQ.

SANTA’S SECRET

The holidays are busy. If you run out of time to finish shopping, call Toy Town and give them a budget and age, and Santa’s Elves will pick out the perfect present and wrap it. You pick it up when you’re ready.

MAKE MERRY

Stop into The Sweet Shop for shopping sustenance—plus incredible aromas—in the form of bacon cheddar popcorn or freshly roasted cinnamon almonds. Snag a few boxes of Snowbirds for stocking stuffers—a local delight made with white chocolate and pecans. Good stuff.

These Cadillac holiday events are fun for everyone in the family.

X
X