In Northern Michigan that you may not have heard of. It sits along the coast of Little Traverse Bay, not far from it’s better know “Up North” sister city of Petoskey. It is the quaint town of Harbor Springs. You won’t find any big hotel chains or shopping malls. Instead you will take notice of the peaceful and tranquil setting of this charming little town.
Harbor Spring is about a 4 hour drive north of Detroit. If you are flying, there is a regional airport just north of town, Pelleston, that offers daily connections to and from DTW on Delta. You will need a car as there are many places to visit around the area but for now, let’s focus on Harbor Springs. As head down M115 towards town, one of the first things you notice are the beautiful homes that line the streets. Most of them over a 100 years old with large front porches , perfect for sipping lemonade on a hot summer day. Entering into town, you will see a country church at the end of the street, and a Main St with lots of fun little shops, and a harbor with beautiful boats (and yachts) docked for a day or for the season. During the height of season, the Main Street is full of tourists but it is not the hustle and bustle of other resort towns. It is as if everyone knows its ok to slow down, maybe put away the iPhones, and engage in life in a small town.
First stop for me is always Johan’s Pastry shop on the corner of 3rd and Main. The delicious smells of homemade pastries and donuts …and fresh roasted coffee welcome you. You will notice a group of locals sitting at a small table in the corner. They are regulars that have been coming there for years. They know everyone, can share the history (and a little gossip) of the area, offer a recommendation or two on where to eat or what to do.
Once you are fueled up, take a stroll down Main St. It seems rare these days to find a small independent bookstore but there is a great one in town- Between the Covers. A great selection of books (Bestsellers, Fiction and Non, Biographies, cookbooks, and a great children’s section). Each September the town hosts “Festival of the Book”. In 2020, the event will be Friday September 25th- Sunday September 27th. When the tickets go on sale in early July , you will want to get yours right away as some of the events sell out. The festival features nationally published authors and illustrators across a variety of genres.http://www.hsfotb.org If you are a fellow lover of the published word, you will not want to miss this. This is a great festival for all ages and also includes food, music, and crafts. Fall is such a beautiful time to be in Northern Michigan so you will want to include a trip to the Tunnel of Trees on M115 just outside of town.
If reading isn’t your thing, don’t worry there are plenty of other attractions. For food lovers there are 15 different restaurants with about about half of them all within a block of each other. A favorite of mine is Willow http://www.willowharborsprings.com. Chefs Chris and Daniel talents have created a very eclectic menu combining local grown ingredients along with delectables from the lakes and farms. The service is impeccable. And, they will even go off menu if you would like to enjoy something special like an Affagato. Another stop that you need to make is at Tom’s Moms Cookies. Nationally recognized and locally made, some of the BEST cookies you will ever have. They open and 10am. There will be a line. But it is worth it.
If you want to enjoy the beautiful weather and spend a bit more time outside. There are plenty of things to do. The Thorne Swift Nature Preserve has over 30 acres of land just off Lake Michigan. You can do a formalized tour or venture out on your own on a choice of 3 hiking trails. The wildlife, flowers, dunes and views are spectacular. Evenings in July and August they offer a Night Walk which is great for viewing the starry sky and the ambiance of the water and the beach in the evening. For beach lovers there is Zoll Street beach, small but a great place to launch a kayak to enjoy the water or hang out a the dog friendly beach with the family. An alternative to Zoll St, is the Zorn Park Beach which has a large sandy beach area, play structure for the kids, and restroom facilities.
There is so much to do that a long weekend or even a week long trip is recommended. There are several great “Up North” towns within a 10-30 drive of Harbor Springs. Petoskey is a big larger and has several more options with shopping, theatre, and dining. There is Bay Harbor, home to the Inn at Bay Harbor (an AC Collection hotel by Marriott)- modeled after the famous Del on Coronado Island. Another favorite spot as they do their famous campfires at night by the water, complete with s’mores. Charlevoix is not much further down M31. Another great town for summer and fall festivals.
My family likes to visit every 4th of July week. We utilize http://www.vrbo.com to rent a house for the week in Harbor Springs or a neighboring community. It is great time to visit and partake in classic American traditions of parades down Main St and fireworks. Nothing beats a Michigan summer night – it is light until way after 10pm, there is the smell of camp fires, the sound of laughter from family and friends enjoying time together, and the laid back atmosphere that let’s you take a break from the world. If you have never experienced “Up North”, now is the time to start making plans.