Our travel writer maps out a perfect summer day with the best things to do in Harbor Springs, so you can make the most of your vacation.
M-119 hugs Little Traverse Bay as it winds north of Petoskey into Harbor Springs. Then, the road narrows, tree canopies arch over it until they meet in the middle, and there are bluff-side curves—all forcing a visitor to slow down and soak in the view of the lake, wildflowers and ancient trees.
The effect is a metaphor for Harbor Springs itself. The beauty queen of a beach town whispers “slow down” through cottage-style resorts, in-town beaches and benches, and a downtown with a coastal vibe that’s decked out with colorful window boxes along galleries and shops. But don’t mistake slow for sleepy, not when storefronts reveal bronze sculptures by world-class artists, Fijian pearls and impressionist paintings you’d swear you once saw in a museum. The food’s upscale and memorable, the scenery more so. And the vibe is fun—especially on Thursday nights when the town throws its weekly “Street Musique” event.
To craft your ultimate 24-hour getaway in Northern Michigan, here’s a list of favorite things to do in Harbor Springs.
Some of these events and businesses may be affected by COVID-19. Check online or call ahead for hours. If traveling, please do so safely and responsibly—remember to practice social distancing by staying 6 feet away from others, and wear a cloth mask or other face-covering while in enclosed areas or near others.
Picnic Along the Harbor
Small Batch is a cozy local favorite for breakfast with decadent pastries, lemon ricotta pancakes or some rosemary ham with Florentine sauce on your Eggs Benedict. But lunch is best on a bench. Pick up a “Train Wreck” at Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop—your choice of bread loaded with meat and veggies ($7.50)—and a beverage of choice (wine, craft beer) to finish the picnic. Dessert’s to-go too when it’s anything chocolate from Howse’s Fudge or a large scoop on a Yummies cone.
Downtown Harbor Springs // Photo by Rachel Haggerty
Stroll the Shops
This town has art and jewelry lovers covered with necklaces inspired by seascapes at Belle Aquatic, anything from Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls or a sculpture from Knox Galleries. At Boyer Glassworks Studio and Gallery, you can watch handblown creations getting made; and no worries if you forgot your beach or cottage read. Between the Covers has you covered.
Golf a Course (or Walk a Former One)
Some seriously may have taken up golf just to catch the stunning water view over forest and valley at Little Traverse Bay Golf Club. Now soaking in the scene requires no investment in clubs. The Little Traverse Conservancy, its new owners, let you stroll with only a camera in hand through the recently established Offield Family Viewlands and its more than 4.5 miles of trails that follow old golf course paths. Golfers have plenty of remaining options though, like Boyne Highlands’ four championship courses and nine-hole Par 3. Those with energy left can zip-line across a mountain or ride a horse to a ski hill-top vista at the resort.
Little Traverse Bay // Photo by Dave Weidner
Ferry Over, Bike Back
Catch the brand new ferry through Little Traverse Bay Ferry Company ($13 with your bike) and play like you’ve got a boat of your own on the 25-minute ride to Petoskey. Take it round-trip or glide back on the Little Traverse Wheelway, 9 miles from Petoskey to Harbor Springs.
Go to the Movies the Northern Way
The classic Lyric Theater tells stories through its screens in three cinemas and décor both. In one cinema room, artist Glenn Wolff painted murals to resemble local railroad passenger cars of the ’20s, while another offers the feel of a ship traversing the bay between Harbor Point and downtown. There’s also craft beer and popcorn with real butter.
Stafford’s Pier // Photo by David Weidner
Yacht Watch with Dinner
At Stafford’s Pier restaurant, you’re on the water—literally. It was built on pilings in the 1920s when it served as a boathouse for the Harbor Point water taxi. Drinks have been served up with the city’s best marina views since the repeal of prohibition. Take the last sip before sunrise, best viewed from the vantage point called the Bluffs, the vista of harbor and trees captured by all that art downtown.
Drive the Tunnel of Trees
Explore this 20-mile slow road to scenery and quirky stops as time allows. It’s worth heading just a bit north to Pond Hill Farm to pick up produce, sip wine made from on-site vineyards, shoot the squash rocket or feed a tiny calf. There’s a scenic pull-off north of Stutsmanville Road, and the Good Hart General Store store has famed pot pies, cookies and your M-119 souvenir caps and mugs.