Best Things to Do in Charlevoix MI if You’ve Got 24 Hours

This classic Lake Michigan vacation town gets some good-natured ribbing for a slogan that caught on in 1882 when a local paper proclaimed the city the new playground of the captains of industry and dubbed it: Charlevoix the beautiful. Today, “where it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road” might fit even better. The main route through town cuts between a bucolic harbor dotted with sailboats and a string of boutiques, microbreweries, gourmet restaurants and a fish market. Just strolling downtown makes for a perfect day, but here are five more things to do in Charlevoix to round out 24 hours.

Catch a Sunrise and Later, Sunset

There’s an unexpected bonus to a Northern Michigan vacation (or staycation) with a lake to the west and another to the east—the joy of seeing the sun coming and going. Take your morning coffee to Ferry Beach or Depot Beach, both on Lake Charlevoix’s west side. At day’s end, follow the Pine River Channel to the wide Michigan Beach Park and capture the sun setting beyond South Pier Lighthouse. Or hike to a sunset vista 320 feet above Lake Michigan at the hilly Charles A. Ransom Nature Preserve.

Play like Royalty—or a Hobbit

Architect Earl Young built 30 houses between 1918 and the early 1950s, all from boulders he collected while exploring the North’s shores and forests. Then he added whimsy, turning them into something out of Middle Earth with touches like wavy, thatched roofs. Grab a mushroom house map or better yet, stay in one. Then walk the grounds or take tea at Castle Farms, a century-old castle complex built by a former vice president of Sears, Roebuck and Company as a showpiece for Sears’ farm implements.

Get on the Water

People once used the Ironton Ferry’s 650-foot crossing of Lake Charlevoix to tote across their horse and buggy, even sheep. Today, you can still take the world’s shortest ferry ride across Lake Charlevoix’s south arm for a brief on-water stint or join the town’s sailing set with a daytime or sunset cruise on Sunshine Charters. Want to dive in all the way? Shallow Oyster Bay is great for a warm-water swim and snorkeling over sunken logging boats.

Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant

Shop, Sip and Nibble

Floor-to-ceiling views make Round Lake the perfect pairing for any of the 32 taps at Bridge Street Tap Room, and there’s more sense of place offered by the historical photos of the drawbridge, boats and lighthouses. For breakfast or lunch, try Harwood Gold, where the current branch of family that’s made maple syrup since the 1800s now crafts hand pies, salads, wraps and drinks, everything sweetened by syrup only. Come snack time, top your crackers with the wildly popular Three Fish Dip from John Cross Fisheries, where you’ll see boats coming and going as they have for more than 70 years. Don’t forget to leave time to shop. North Seas Gallery features paintings by Dutch masters; the vibe’s all French at Maison & Jardin and the clay works at Bier Art Gallery and Pottery Studio are crafted by Michigan potters—100 in all.

Boat Watch by the Bridge or Catch the Ferry

Since 1859, the Charlevoix Memorial Drawbridge, and the five bridges that came before it, have been cumulatively raised more than 500,000 times for vessels traveling between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix, from international ships to early canoes. Watch from a channel-side seat on Jeff’s Deck at Stafford’s Weathervane, notable for the Earl Young-created boulder fireplace, or hop the ferry vessel, Emerald Isleto Beaver Island, the largest island in Lake Michigan. There you’ll find lighthouses, great paddling, Irish pubs and history describing the reign of James Jesse Strang, Michigan’s only self-proclaimed king.

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