Ya know, i don’t think I appreciated the beauty of Northern Michigan or the little town of Charlevoix when I was growing up. It was just the place we spent our summers, and many a winter weekend as well — we were equal opportunity outdoor enthusiasts boating in the summer and skiing in the winter. As an adult, I can easily say that Charlevoix sure does live up to it’s reputation of being beautiful and I love the idea of sharing what this little corner of the world has to offer because if you aren’t from these parts, you probably have no idea it even exists . . .
Nestled between Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan on a harbor known as Round Lake, Charlevoix offers the best of both worlds — a smaller lake perfect for water activities, sailing and even big boat cruising as well as access to the full Great Lakes water system. The two are separated by a draw bridge that is the center of the town and opens every 30 minutes to allow passing vessels access to one or the other.
Keweenaw Excursions offers 2 hour sunset and sightseeing cruises around Lake Charlevoix on a 110 foot, 149 passenger vessel. $25/adult
Sunshine Charters offers 2 hour tours where you can help trim the sails or even take the wheel on their 40 foot catamaran that shows you both Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan on 3 daily departures. $35/adult
The Emerald Isle, a car ferry that shuttles between downtown Charlevoix and Beaver Island. She makes the 32 mile trip under the bridge and across lake Michigan in approximately 2.5 hours. The island is a lovely retreat with about a dozen shops & restaurants, eight small hotels, vacation rentals, camping, hiking and more. $27/adult, $80/car.
Jet skis, ski boats, fishing boats, water sport accessories and the like can be rented through Summertime Rentals located half way down Lake Charlevoix.
Beaches — There are 4 beautiful white sand public beaches in the Charlevoix area, two on Lake Michigan and 2 on Lake Charlevoix. Homes and vacation rentals offer up private beach front as well.
See and Do
For the architecture buff — a drive in and around town reveals beautiful century old homes with large porches, bright green lawns, and a real country town feel worthy enough of a little tootle. But there are also some true architectural gems that shouldn’t be missed:
Known as the Mushroom Houses — there are 18 of these hobbit like stone homes plus two commercial buildings (The Weathervane Hotel and Lodge Motel right downtown on Bridge Street), designed and built by developer Earl Young between 1918 & 1956. You can pick up a map at the Chamber of Commerce and self drive or the Ellair & Co. Art Gallery offers walking and trolly tours on weekends, $12/$20, respectively.
Horton Bay General Store, 05115 Boyne City Road — located just a short drive out of town in a little village where writer Earnest Hemingway spent time in his youth.
This little store recently turned into a darling cafe offering up fine meals at the old soda fountain counter, baked goods, sandwiches and pizza to go, figures into some of the author’s famous stories. Stop for a bite, a soda, or just to soak in the literary history.
Little Traverse Wheelway — a 26 mile paved path that starts in Charlevoix and ends in Harbor Springs, teaming with breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and water access at many points along the way. Perfect for hikers, bikers, runners and in-line skaters.
Shopping — the shopping in Charlevoix is your typical Northern Michigan resort town fare with lots of souvenir shops, bad art galleries, fudge shops and cherry specialists. But it’s always worth a look. After all, picking up a little memento is what vacations are for. I recommend dried local cherries (great in oatmeal), a t-shirt (because you can’t have enough t-shirts) and some Murdick’s Famous Fudge.
There’s lots of competition in the fudge category but this corner shop with the blue and white awnings, is the one of my childhood. You can watch them make the fudge on the old marble topped tables during the day and I remember being mesmerized by this as a kid.
Clearly being a lake town, fish is a must have and in Michigan, Great Lakes Whitefish is what it’s all about. It’s a marvelous, flavorful fish that is plentiful in these parts. As much as you can eat while on vacation is great but if I still lived in the state full time, I’d limit my intake wary of what pollution levels do to the fish population. But that’s me, don’t let me scare you off. Here are two of the best places to partake:
John Cross Fish Market, 2090 Belvedere Avenue — this is the grand-daddy of fisheries in Charlevoix. A family run business, they supply most of the local restaurants with their catch but also have a tiny little retail outlet where they sell not only fresh fish of all types but smoked delicacies including their signature Smoked Whitefish Spread and Smoked Whitefish Sausage. I never leave town without a bit of both to take home — they’ll pack ’em up on the appropriate amount of ice according to the length of your trip.
Terry’s Restaurant, 101 Antrim Street —
Pan sauteed fish (Whitefish, Walleye or Perch) served one of four ways — Meuniere, Almondine, Robinson (olive oil and tons of garlic) or Grenobois (meuniere plus capers). Each comes with salad, choice of baked sweet or Idaho potato, and buttered green beans. A real mid-western style, hardy meal. I know they have a full menu of other items but honestly, I’ve never ventured beyond the Whitefish Meuniere.
more good eats . . .
The Grey Gables Inn, 308 Belvedere Avenue — a 75 year tradition in Charlevoix the restaurant is great for classics like white fish, prime rib or a filet. In recent years children of long time owners (both CIA graduates) have taken over and added a new flair to the establishment including bistro fare and sushi. The jury is still out amongst diners but at the very least, stop by for a drink and some live entertainment just to experience the atmosphere.
Juilleret’s Restaurant, 1418 Bridge Street — if your looking for a sweet breakfast, this is your place. Pancakes, French toast made from their home made cinnamon bread, banana bread french toast, sweet rolls (try them grilled), and the list goes on. I still have a sugar hangover.
Dairy Grille, 1111 Bridge Street — for years this was the local Dairy Queen but the owner went independent when he was told by corporate he could no longer serve his own menu of locally sourced, daily ground burgers. People say they are the best burgers for miles around. Of course the soft ice cream treats aren’t bad either.
Local Food Tip:
if you’re new to Michigan, you must try a Boston Cooler — vanilla ice cream blended with local Vernor’s Ginger Ale (more of a ginger beer taste). It is one of my all time favorites, cool and refreshing on a hot summer’s day. In fact, whenever I venture home to Michigan my no soda rule goes out the window and I drink Vernor’s over ice like there is no tomorrow. But it’s even better mixed with ice cream, float or cooler style.
One of the best things about Charlevoix is it’s central location with easy access by car or boat to the surrounding towns and sights of Northern Michigan:
- Harbor Springs, Petoskey, Traverse City, Bay Harbor (where Madonna owns a home in this, her home state) are all towns with their own followings and reasons to visit
- Mackinaw Island, where cars are forbidden and transportation is by horse drawn buggies or bike, is an easy trip north
- Miles and miles of sand dunes line the shores of Lake Michigan for unparallelled fun — the only in the nation where you can legally take a 4 wheel dune buggy ride
- There are over 115 lighthouses in Michigan with one right in Charlevoix and many that are accessible in the surrounding area
- Art fairs and cherry festivals abound throughout the region and summer season
- Roadside stands selling local crops and homemade baked goods are everywhere — how to pick your favorite is anyone’s guess
- Great fireworks displays can be seen on the 4th of July in surrounding towns and in Charlevoix on their famous Venetian Celebration Weekend in late July
As you can imagine, the summer season is chock-o-block full and the town gets crowded so expect waits at restaurants and traffic along Bridge Street especially when the bridge is up. Or visit in the winter when things are quiet and the lakes are teaming with ice. There is a plethora of local ski resorts and the skiing’s not bad at that.
Getting There: Charlevoix, Michigan is approximately, a 4.5 hour drive north of Detroit. There is a small airport in town servicing private aircraft and small jets, or a commercial airport just 40 minutes away in Traverse City with multiple flights daily from Detroit, Chicago, New York and other cities.