The Weathervane restaurant looks over the channel in downtown Charlevoix. Photo by Mike Schlitt.
The Weathervane restaurant looks over the channel in downtown Charlevoix. Photo by Mike Schlitt.

“Up North” is a phrase as common in Michigan as “Go Spurs Go” is in San Antonio.

It refers to the beauty and serenity of Northern Michigan, from Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island, south to Traverse City.  The clear blue waters of Lake Michigan and hundreds of smaller lakes in the region, the rolling green hills and unique barns make “Up North” a beauty to behold.

Many San Antonians fantasize about a cool-weather getaway when temperatures hit the 90s and beyond. I, like many, have been fortunate to find just that in the town of Charlevoix, Michigan.

“Up North” – sometimes referred to as “the top of the mitten” – has summer temperatures usually in the 70s with blue, sunny skies and long, bright evenings that enhance all activities until the 10 p.m. sunset.

The charming towns along the coast of Lake Michigan vary in setting and size. Each has its own ambience and unique history. Hotels are very reasonably priced, as are homes, and some of the best golf courses in the world are in Northern Michigan.

Working class towns like Petoskey and Charlevoix have become the weekend destinations for Chicago families with money who jump Jitney flights from the Windy City across the lake to their second homes in the woods and along the lake.

Up North Michigan is known for its cherries and fudge. Kilwins and Celeste Murdick’s Fudge fudge stores are predominant in the region. American Spoon and Cherry Republic will take care of the needs of cherry lovers. Try the Cherry Salsa – it is a winner.

Traverse City and Elk Rapids

Most people fly into Traverse City, known for its popular summer film festival. Located on Lake Michigan, it boasts more than five miles of beach along the horseshoe stretch that is called Grand Traverse Bay. The downtown area is quaint, with sidewalk restaurants and stores along Front Street. The State Theatre and Horizon Books are “must look” stops.

Heading Up North about 10 miles on Hwy 31, you hit the charming town of Elk Rapids, which is situated on Elk Lake to the east and Lake Michigan on the West.

Charlevoix

Downtown Charlevoix with Round Lake in the foreground, leading out to Lake Michigan. Photo by Kim Way.
Downtown Charlevoix with Round Lake in the foreground, leading out to Lake Michigan. Photo by Kim Way.

Another 40 miles along Hwy 31 is the City of Charlevoix.  Charlevoix is, simply put, breathtaking. Driving into town, one descends a steep hill to Bridge Street, lined with charming stores and restaurants on either side of the road, plus an enormous yacht harbor. Along the harbor you will find open areas where kids play, music is heard in the amphitheater, and the hills surrounding the harbor are lined with mansions of every design. Charlevoix boasts its own architecture, inspired by local resident Earl Young.  These homes and buildings are frequently called “Mushroom houses” and are unique to Charlevoix.

At the turn of the last century, Charlevoix (and Up North Michigan) became the summer place for families from Southern Michigan and far beyond to escape the heat. Large parcels of land were purchased and two or three-story “cottages” were built with large front porches where families would sit while watching the children play in the garden. Many homes have central dining halls for evening gatherings.

The Chicago Club was mostly families from Chicago. The Belvedere Club was founded in 1878 and includes 89 Cottages owned primarily by families from Saint Louis. These homes have been handed down from generation to generation and never come up for sale. The association has its own beach, casino dining club, tennis center, and parks for the children to play in.  The award-winning Belvedere golf club course, designed in 1927 by famed course architect Willie Watson, is semi-private.

The architecture and grand homes along Michigan Avenue take you back nearly 100 years.  A stroll is especially enjoyable down this expansive tree-lined street with its white wood mansions, half of which overlook Lake Michigan.  These homes are sometimes available for rent.  The grand three-story white colonial home halfway down the avenue was built by one of the May Department store heirs and the “smaller” one next door was built by his sibling.

Round Lake in downtown Charlevoix. Note the charming homes on the waterfront. Photo by Linda Gall.
Round Lake in downtown Charlevoix. Note the charming homes on the waterfront. Photo by Linda Gall.

The Venetian Festival in July features nightly bands and entertainment along Round lake and the marina. Two huge firework shows highlight the festival. The boardwalk is busy with strolling couples enjoying the interactive fountain and admiring the harbored yachts.  All events at the festival are free.

Ten miles north along Hwy 31 takes you to Bay Harbor, which celebrates 20 years since it rose from what had been a mining and cement factory for more than a century.  Situated on Lake Michigan, this resort features one of the best 27-hole championship golf courses in the nation.  Unique to this resort is its equestrian center, situated on a hill with views of Lake Michigan.  The 42,000 sq. ft. equestrian center also incorporates a large indoor arena. Elegant resort hotels will make your stay a memorable one.

Petoskey

The city of Petoskey is just a few miles away.  The name comes from the Odawa Indian Tribe and means, “where the light shines through the clouds.”  The downtown spreads out from a large hill overlooking the crystal clear bay and marina. This historic town, enhanced by the charm of 100-year-old buildings, hosts a unique shopping experience and a variety of fantastic restaurants. Cutler’s is the place to go for kitchen and gift needs. This corner store is where you would go for “unusual finds.”

City Park Grill dates back to 1880 (when it was called The Annex) and is mentioned by Ernest Hemingway in his book “Man of the World.” Ernest Hemingway, perhaps the town’s most famous former resident, wrote the celebrated “Nick Adams” stories from Petoskey. He spent his childhood here and on Lake Walloon a few miles away.

Unique to Petoskey one must see the Petoskey Stones. Petoskey stones are really a rock and a fossil formed as a result of Glaciations. When dry, the stone resembles ordinary limestone; when wet or polished, a distinctive decorative fossil pattern emerges.

Bayview

An enclave in Petoskey is the Bayview Association. This area is known as a Chautauqua on Lake Michigan. It is situated on 337 wooded acres and is home to 450 century-old  cottages.  Every summer the Bayview Association offers music, plays, lectures, and seminars – all open to the public.

Ten miles to the west, in a sheltered bay on the north shore of Little Traverse Bay, is fabulous Harbor Springs. Downtown Harbor Springs resembles both a fairytale book and a Peyton Place. The long street with clean white washed Cape Cod style buildings and shops ends at the tall wooden community church.

The area is known for historic summer resorts, such as Wequetonsing, founded by Illinois businessmen in the 1800s. A great place to stay is at the Colonial Inn, a sophisticated boutique hotel that is across the street from a sandy Lake Michigan beach. The Inn’s elegant rooms feature gas fireplaces.

Two golf courses in the general area are the Wequetonsing  and Harbor Point Golf Clubs. Winter Skiing at Boyne Highlands ski resort is five miles away.

One of the most beautiful and scenic roads in the United States is the Tunnel of Trees Heritage Route on U.S. 119. This narrow 20-mile road takes you through breathtaking scenery along the forest and shore line of Lake Michigan. You will need to stop at Leg’s Inn, a 1920s stone lodge situated on top of a bluff with views of Lake Michigan. This colorful, odd Polish restaurant features hand carved art and furniture. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is grand.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island, (pronounced Mackinaw) is a “must” stop. You get off at Mackinaw City (spelled correctly) or you can cross over Lake Huron on the five-mile long Mackinac expansion bridge. From either location you will board a ship that takes you to Mackinac Island, where cars are prohibited. The charm of this island will take you back a few centuries. Bikes and horse-drawn carriages are the island’s modes of transportation. The island’s architectural and social centerpiece is the Grand Hotel, built in 1887, which claims to have the world’s largest front porch in the world and draws visitors from across the globe.

The former CEO of San Antonio-based Kinetic Concepts Denny Ware and his wife Suzanne have purchased two resorts on the Island: The Silver Birches Lodge and Mission Point Resort. Mission Point Resort, built in 1927, is a traditional, 239-room resort with expansive lawns descending to the waterfront. The Wares are committed to providing guests with a great family experience. The Silver Birches Lodge is a 1907-era wooden Adirondack Lodge situated on the waterfront with breathtaking lake views. The island has its own golf course and a charming town where time seemingly has stood still.

Many families from San Antonio have discovered Up North in Michigan. The scenery and the moderate summer weather make this an inviting family environment. It’s affordable, relatively easy to reach in a day, and memories will last forever for you and your family.

*Fetaured/top image: The Weathervane restaurant looks over the channel in downtown Charlevoix. Photo by Mike Schlitt.

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Jon Hess

Jon Hess is a local San Antonio Realtor with the Phyllis Browning Company who has a home in Charlevoix, Michigan. He has lived in San Antonio for 35 years. Contact Jon at jhess@phyllisbrowning.com.