By Mary Casey-Sturk
Snug against the southeast corner of Little Traverse Bay, off Lake Michigan, lies Petoskey. This coastal city has been a favorite destination of travelers for decades and was once home to Ernest Hemingway. Later, Hemingway chose this Michigan enclave as the setting for several of his Nick Adams short stories that were inspired by his childhood summers on nearby Walloon Lake.
You may be inspired to write as well once you’ve taken in this charming area packed with natural beauty, Victorian architecture, a multitude of activities and those famous Petoskey Stones that tourists have been bringing home for generations.
In addition to Petoskey, the region is comprised of several communities, including Harbor Springs, with its array of galleries, shops and culinary options. Boyne City offers up more activities as well as Boyne Mountain’s renowned golf courses, and neighboring Bay Harbor is a luxury resort community with upscale shopping and dining and the award-winning Bay Harbor Golf Club.
While each community certainly has its own vibe, the entire area is easygoing and packed with treasures you’ll want to discover.
Little Traverse Bay awaits with many opportunities for boating and fishing adventures (charters available) or just hanging out on the beach—and perhaps look for a Petoskey Stone yourself. Among the beaches to explore include those at Petoskey State Park. In the northern part of the bay, this park has 303 scenic acres, a sandy beach and two campgrounds. Hike, build a sand castle, listen to feel the wind in your face.
Petoskey Marina and Boat Launch is just steps away from the Historic Gaslight District and is a lovely place to peruse docked boats, dock your own or just sit back and watch the action.
Sport sits along the Little Traverse Wheelway bicycle path and provides adult and kid’s bicycles for use on the Wheelway and
beyond if you wish. With Lake Michigan just yards away, they offer kayaks, canoes and paddleboards for rent. You might also opt to navigate Bear River Whitewater Park or numerous area in-land lakes. They also rent skis and snowboards in the winter and have a wide selection of goods for sale. You might opt to buy some cold weather gear if you visit for some winter fun.
Diane Dakins, assistant director at the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, shares her insights on winter activities: “Petoskey is in the middle of three ski areas, one in Boyne Falls (Boyne Mountain) and two in Harbor Springs (Boyne Highlands, sister to Boyne Mountain, and Nub’s Nob.) These resorts offer a combined 160-plus runs and some of the best skiing in the Midwest.”
Dakins adds, “Petoskey also has a winter sports park that is free to all to use. It touts an ice rink, a separate hockey rink and a good-sized sledding hill. The warming hut is a big log cabin, complete with fireplace and the scene is often like that of a Norman Rockwell painting.”
Bicyclists will enjoy the Little Traverse Wheelway. Gripping the shores of Lake Michigan and Little Traverse Bay, this 26-mile wheelway provides the perfect opportunity for some exercise while taking in stunning views of the water. You can also walk or rollerblade along this paved trail that leads through parks, Bay Harbor, and historic Bay View.
If you’ve packed your clubs, you’ll be hard pressed to find a golf course that does not suit your skill level nearby. BOYNE Golf is a world-class golf destination with 10 championship-caliber courses spanning three resorts and designed by masters including Robert Trent Jones Sr. The Bay Harbor Golf Club is rated one of the best in the United States by Golf Magazine. There are also several municipal and other courses to choose from.
Equine lovers are equally at home with a variety of options to saddle up and take a trail ride, hayride or even a sleigh ride. Ziplines, hot air balloon rides and chairlifts will satisfy those seeking a higher view. Land lovers can also stay grounded and do some birding. Bear River Valley Recreation Area, Little Traverse Conservancy Nature Preserves and Spring Lake Park all provide trails perfect for viewing our winged friends.
Pick up a self-guided Downtown Walking Tour brochure and explore the Historic Gaslight District. Many of the buildings were constructed during the Victorian Era and are just as charming today. There you will find more than 50 specialty shops as well as cafes and restaurants. Architectural highlights include the Stafford’s Perry Hotel, City Park Grill, the Little Traverse History Museum, the Flatiron Building and Symons General Store. These gems have been lovingly preserved and you feel as is you have stepped back in time as you explore these streets.
Ernest Hemingway has connections to many places in Petoskey including having stayed at Eva Potter’s Rooming House (at the corner of State and Woodland Streets) where he would hide away and write.
Crooked Tree Arts Center was constructed in 1890 as the Old United Methodist Church and today is home to an award-winning cultural center. Featuring fine art exhibits in the gallery and a chance to purchase works from local artists, the center is also a venue for plays, concerts and films.
Stafford’s Gallery of Art and History is adjacent to Stafford’s Perry Hotel and features a selection of fine art in a warehouse setting. Watercolors, glass, photography, jewelry and more are on display and for sale—perfect for gift giving or curating memories from your visit. Michigan wines are also available from Stafford’s Cellar.
There are numerous independent merchants, cafes and restaurants in Petoskey and, during warm weather months, there is even a trolley to help you navigate this lovely town.
McLean & Eakin Booksellers is the kind of bookstore that will make you wish you’d brought a bigger suitcase. From bestsellers to Michigan-centric reads, they’ve been serving the community for more than 20 years.
American Spoon crafts fruit preserves and condiments by hand in small batches using locally sourced ingredients including those famous Michigan cherries. Cheeses, crackers and other goodies are available if you wish to put together a splendid bay side picnic, or you can visit the cafe next door.
Grandpa Shorter’s has been described as the place to go to for souvenirs. If you did not find your own Petoskey Stone, pick up one here as well as a myriad of other goodies including many uniquely Michigan items. Run by the same family for more than 60 years, take a look at the mural on the back of their building for a walk down memory lane. This is one of many area murals created by regional artists. n