Here’s the mission: You have 24 hours to explore a bayside vacation spot that never goes out of style, and we’re here to help. Our travel writer maps out a perfect summer day around the best things to do in Petoskey.
You’re in a time warp already as you carry a vintage View-Master along a sidewalk lit by gas lanterns. An old-time trolley passes by. Then you click through slides of Italianate architecture and scenic bluff views with a walking tour guide who points you to today’s variation, and you may think for a minute not all that much has changed.
But look again and see how the billiard rooms and dress shops have given way to whitewater kayaking in a downtown paddling park, to craft breweries, coffee shops, indie bookstores and creative galleries. And yet somehow that timeless spirit is infused throughout this, your perfect Petoskey day.
Photo by Allison Jarrell
City Park Grille // Photo by Allison Jarrell
Have a ‘novel’ dining experience
Order that martini with your meal at City Park Grill, maybe the fresh fish special of the day; you’re just modeling author Ernest Hemingway. He favored the second stool from the end when he spent time here in the early 1900s, a just-returned and wounded young war hero, penning short stories along the mahogany bar. Then splurge on dessert with a story of its own—fresh gelato from foraged berries and local orchard fruit is the landscape in a cup at American Spoon Gelato Cafe.
Photo by Carly Paszek
Photo by Carly Paszek
Soak up the Chautauqua spirit
The railroad—a popular way for Victorian vacationers from industrial cities to reach the healing climate of Michigan’s North—extended its route to land north of Petoskey back in 1875. It also deeded the land to the United Methodist Church for a tent camp that evolved into the striking collection of pastel-painted Victorian homes within the Bay View Association’s Chautauqua community. Lectures, classes and concerts are still open to the public, when held, and a stroll (guided or not) lets you soak up the wisdom of past guests like Helen Keller, William Jennings Bryan and Booker T. Washington. Rumor has it that Hemingway liked to imbibe here—during Prohibition.
Photo by Rachel Haggerty
Petoskey State Beach // Photo by Rachel Haggerty
Experienced paddlers like to tackle the boulder-dotted whitewater stretch of the Bear River as it empties into Lake Michigan. Others take a more leisurely paddle on the river’s upper stretches or into Little Traverse Bay. Or head to Petoskey State Park for a walk as you like it. Hike up the Old Baldy Trail dune to a bay view, or stick to the beach for a hunt for Michigan’s state stone, the Petoskey. The ancient coral’s namesake is Chief Pet-O-Sega, whose Odawa name meant rising sun or sunbeams of promise.
Old Baldy Trail // Photo by Rachel Haggerty
Hit hangouts new and old
Petoskey’s The Back Lot started as a handy use of unused space and morphed into a popular beer garden filled with food trucks worthy of dinner cuisine. Sample freely under patio heaters situated around fire tables perfect for cool nights. Just check in to the Stafford’s Perry Hotel well before sunset. This is the only of the 21 grand hotels operating in 1900 still in business, drawing guests to its massive wraparound porch. It’s also a perfect perch for watching the centerpiece of a town nicknamed “Land of the Million Dollar Sunsets,” and after-dark entertainment is just an elevator’s ride to the Noggin Room, a regional singer-songwriter favorite.
Photo by Allison Jarrell
Full Moon Pizza’s “Beetza” can be found (and subsequently devoured) at The Back Lot in Petoskey // Photo by Allison Jarrell
Shop the Gaslight District
The Gaslight District’s where those Victorian counterparts might feel most at home, though the Italianate and Revival buildings with decorative cornices and tin roofs now house options like a modern general store with a gourmet flair—Symon’s—and galleries of artists, both local and from around the country. Try Lake Affect for a necklace in the shape of a local lake (or a $700 leather picnic handbag); check out Grandpa Shorter’s for Minnetonka moccasins or gifts crafted from Petoskey stones.
Photo courtesy of Petoskey Farms
Linger in wine country
The creativity you’ll find at the 14 stops on the Petoskey Wine Region results in national awards; but most memorable will be the experience. Country lanes take you from one to the next, and the owners are likely the ones handing over a pour of classic European varietals, the popular hybrid Marquette, fun blends of cider or even, at one stop, the state’s only wine made from distilled maple sap.