Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Sweet villages on the Leelanau Peninsula

Sunday June 8, 2013
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore


We have to make a drug run.


Leelanau Map

David has to have several prescriptions filled each month along the road.  He can get them at any CVS but this area only has one city large enough to have a CVS and that’s Traverse City.  The other towns call themselves “villages” and that is a great name for them.

We have been in this area twice before and really loved it so we want to visit again these villages on the Leelanau Peninsula.  So rather than drive to Empire on M22 and turn east on M72 for a direct route to Traverse City, we are going to do make a day of it and do the entire 127 mile loop on M22 up around the coast of the Leelanau Peninsula.   What fun!!

The map shows our route from the Campground which is both A and H, around the Peninsula and back.

We drive 10 miles north on M22 to Empire and then through Glen Arbor where we will be biking on their Heritage Bike Trail tomorrow.  We’ll see it then. 




We find we’ve arrived pretty early on a Sunday for Leland.





Our first stop is the little town of Leland 26.4 miles north of Empire through orchards of cherry trees.

Leland is still closed up when we arrive but I really do have to see the Leelanau Bookshop again.  The sign on the pole says Closed, the sign in the window says Open.  So I look inside.  Definitely closed for another hour.






We wander around the town.  No one is out at 8am.  I spy a cute T-shirt in a window. I’ll come back just to see how much they want for it.  David says $30.  I say $50.  This is a touristy town after all. 



Then we stumble upon  Fishtown



This commercial fishing district has provided a livelihood for the people of Leland for over a hundred years.  Small fishing shanties and related buildings such as ice and smoke houses were constructed during the peak years which spanned the first three decades of the twentieth century.  Some still serve their original purpose.  Other have become shops and stores including one which houses the headquarters for transportation to the Manitou Islands.



This wooden fish seems to be the symbol, flying over the area.  Is this a whitefish?  That seems to be the big catch here.  Clearly I’m no fisherman.


We can’t quite figure out what this dam at the head of the channel separating one row of buildings from another was for originally and there is no one around to ask.  But it’s pretty. 




The Carlson Family fish house is still in operation and the boats still anchor along side.  Pete Carlson was brought up fishing with his father Will and his uncle Gordon.  In 1941 an accident resulted in the death of Pete’s father and the destruction of their tug.  The Leland community united to build Pete a new tug which he named the Good Will.  Because of this, the Carlson family was able to continue in the fishing business and be here today.







Nets are still drying.  Clearly this area is still a working fish town despite perhaps decreased numbers of fishermen.




There is a an alcove with some tables for eating were several story boards telling about the lives of the local fishermen. 


In addition to the fish houses the shops have the usual and some very interesting tourist items not to mention names.







This store has a plaque which tells the story of the name.  Business began booming when it was changed from Leland Candy Store.  Apparently the kids love it.  They can swear without getting into trouble.  We didn’t get to see what kind of candy was for sale here.  Everything was closed.   A minor drawback to getting an early start but a money saving one.








By now it’s time for the bookstore to open so I’m there on the dot and have a wonderful time looking at books I’d like to read but are too new for me to purchase either in book form or e form.  Over my price budget.  But I make a list for the next time I have access to a library.  I just enjoy being in bookstores.  Not the Barnes and Noble type but these little independent book sellers.   I love to thumb the pages and smell the paper and ink.



Remember that T-shirt?  We walked into the shop just before leaving Leland.  Turns out it isn’t a long sleeve T, it’s more like a yachting sweater and the cost is $98.   All righty then.  We’re both wrong.



More fields of cherry trees on the way to Northport.


The blossoms are over in the groves although we have seen individual trees in full bloom in people’s yards.  Everything is behind due to the severe winter this year.  They had snow on Mother’s Day.  Good grief.   But the trees line the roads for miles.




David is very relieved to find that Barb’s Bakery is open and they still have two cherry cheese Danish left along with a large selection of chocolate iced donuts.

Don’t you love the planters along the bridge over the stream?  Small town touches.

















We purchase 2 cherry cheese danish, 3 pretzel twists, one blueberry danish and one chocolate iced donut.  We eat half now and take half for breakfast tomorrow.

David’s parting comment, “Based on what I tasted, I’ll try everything in the bakery”.  Must be nice to even be able to think such a thought.








Country roadside stands are numerous in the Leelanau.

In spite of having JUST had bakery goods, David has to stop for this eye catching pie stand.   The bakery desire has been taken care of, now we’re on to pie.   Cherry berry doesn’t tempt him.  He’s looking for THE cherry pie to rival his own.






We’re midway in our trip when we arrive at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.


The first thing we see is the map of all the light houses along the coast of Michigan.  Wow, you could fill up an entire summer just coming to see them.   And you know Wisconsin has them all along their side of Lake Michigan as well.


The grounds of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse are lovely.  There is a Northern White Cedar over 200 years old.  It’s a gorgeous tree. Its low growing arms make it too big to hug and they ask you please not to climb or sit on it.  So we settle for having our pictures taken with it.  Just look at those limbs.







The Lighthouse was erected by the U.S. Lighthouse service in 1858.  A fog signal building was constructed in 1899.  In 1900 it was converted to a two family dwelling. In 1916 a kitchen was added.  In 1952 electricity was added.  Think about it NINETEEN FIFTY TWO.   In 1972 an automatic light tower was erected and the Lighthouse closed.  It opened to the public in 1986.










So let’s go inside.

We love lighthouses and their furnishings which are usually turn of the 20th century which is the period of all our farmhouse furniture.  So we pay our $4 per head to go inside, see the house and walk up in the “tower” which in this case is pretty short.   The money goes to the restoration and maintenance of the lighthouse.  Seems the least we can do to keep them open.

This one does not disappoint.   The kitchen is our favorite room so that’s the only one I’m going to show here although the tour showed the living area, the keeper’s desk and some bedrooms.

What a fabulous wood cook stove.  I really wanted one for the farm kitchen but they were all just too big although we did have a cooking burner on our blue enamel Vermont Castings wood stove in the kitchen and we used it a lot when the power was out which happened very frequently since we were the last house on the line that went over Heards Mountain.







It’s a self guided tour and David is the tour guide. 


He has his script in hand although we know the function of nearly everything in the room.




The kitchen has daily dinner wear with the coast guard pattern while the dining room has the formal wear.  What fun!










Have you seen a kerosene oven before?







And now for the view. 

We walk up the stairs to the light area and the views are of course wonderful.





I can see there are paths out to the water so when I go down that’s where I want to go.



Turns out they are midges, not mosquitoes.


All around the perimeter inside the tower are sketches and labels of what you are seeing.  They are really well done and on one of them David takes a picture of what we now learn are not the biggest mosquitoes we have ever seen but rather midges.  They are a serious nuisance but they don’t bite which is why neither of us has been scratching.  But look at their size.   A swarm of them is enough to make anyone move to get out of their territory.





And when I walk down to the lovely shoreline, while David refuses to accompany me, I find them in the biggest swarms I’ve ever seen.  So it’s a couple of quick pictures and I’m outta there waving my arms all around me as I go.   When I see the pictures I took, you can see them around the camera lens.   It thought that was pretty incredible.   Those are not birds.



The residents of Lighthouse found some very lovely ways to put the many rocks to use. 




We’re now heading back down the East side of the Peninsula.


Our last stop before Traverse City is Sutton’s Bay, another lake side town geared for summer fun.   It has cute little shops including a café in the former Sutton’s Bay Hose House.  Haivng a theater makes it unique among the towns we’ve seen.







It also has an ice cream shop selling Moomers, Michigan’s own home made ice cream.  Now if I hadn’t just had a huge cone at Gemma’s yesterday and all those pastries just a few hours ago, I could for sure talk myself into one of these great sounding flavors.  Maybe two scoops, chocolate Peanut butter chunk and Coconut Almond delight???

But not today.







Sadly for us, Martha’s isn’t open on Sundays until July which is when everything seems to go into high gear here.  That’s when the National park ranger programs begin, all the hours for the historic buildings go to daily rather than just on week-ends.

Bear that in mind when you plan your trip……you can have all the summer people or you can not have all the programs, and everything open.






Up rolls a canoe and it stops right next to us.

We are about to leave Sutton’s Bay since we have to get to Traverse City before CVS closes at five o’clock when down the street comes a beautiful wooden canoe.  He tells us he is from the Great Lakes Schoolship Inland Seas Education Center and that he and 10 5th and 6th graders have built this boat which will now be auctioned off with the proceeds going to build other boats with other school kids.   This is a volunteer organization funded fully by grants and the sale of their boats.   We are just amazed that 11 and 12 year olds are learning to do this kind of beautiful work.






As we leave Sutton’s Bay people are stopping by to admire the boat and buy raffle tickets.  He’s certainly got a great backdrop for his afternoon of ticket sales.





Don’s is a disappointment.



We make it to CVS in time to get David’s prescription and now we can think about dinner.  And just down the block is the Grand Traverse Pie Company.  They close at 5:00 too so we just have time to run in and grab two pieces of their Cherry Crumb pie to take home with us for dessert.   We’re in such a rush since there is a line, that we don’t take any pictures but we do stop back later and get a couple.  We’ve been told that this is the only real competition for David’s cherry pie and we are anxious to find this out.  We try cherry pie everywhere we travel and so far, no one has been able to even match him.

Now on to dinner. Several commenters made recommendations and we decide to visit Don’t Diner which has been dishing up malts and burgers since 1958.

The décor is great!  The food, no so much.  We order their famous burger, with seasoned curly fries and a cherry milkshake.  The burger is ho hum, the fries are barely seasoned and the milk shake is more vanilla soft serve than cherry.  Something has definitely happened to Don’s quality over the years.   I think next time we’ll have to pay more attention to on line reviews and less to how cute the place is.  





The look on David’s face sort of says it all doesn’t it?   There are much tastier dinners for $30 to be had in Traverse City I am sure.   Darn, if Martha had only been open.



So we’ll leave you with where we wish we had quit today.  With the Grand Traverse Pie Company.  Check back tomorrow for the review on the pie.






  1. Look forward to hearing about the pie! Too bad about the food at Don's. Cute looking place, but that doesn't always mean it's good.
    Mosquitoes and now midges. Michigan is getting less and less attractive!

  2. One of my favorite days in Michigan was following the same path you did today. Love Fishtown, we spent a long time watching a family of otters in the canal. I didn't find any affordable tshirts either.

  3. One of these days we are going to have to explore Michigan....I have been to Detroit on way to Canada once...there is so much more out there... --Dave (GoingRvWay.com)

  4. You just had to go and mention cherry cheese danish, didn't you? They are my favorite!

    Michigan has the most standing U.S. lighthouses of any of the states, with 114; with New York in 2nd place with 70. It's hard to believe until you look at a map and see the coastlines.

  5. I love to visit lighthouses, I almost bought one about 20 years ago. It was on the shore of Lake Superior and my husband thought I was nuts, said I could not handle the cold weather up there. It would have been cool to live in though.

  6. WOW...that was a spectacular day and you managed to consume almost all the major food groups. Just can't believe you passed on the ice cream;o)) I really believe Danish for breakfast, Ice Cream for lunch and Pie for dinner would have been the way to go!!! Love the little villages and the lighthouse:o)) Very doubtful that you will find a rival for David's Cherry Pie!!

  7. What a fun day, now I want cherry pie which is one of my favorite pies too. More places to add to the never ending bucket list. One of my favorite bookstores is Rivendell Books in Montpelier VT, nothing like an old bookstore or a library in an old building.

  8. You're in my favorite part of Michigan. We lived in Traverse City just over 7 years ago and were married in Suttons Bay. Love the wineries - have you had a chance to visit any? Another favorite is a Chubby Mary at the Cove in Fishtown - it's a bloody mary with a smoked chub.

    You're making me want to get back up there.

  9. We camped near a couple that loved to fish. He caught 4 coolers full of delish Salmon. Would you believe he gifted us an entire half salmon? Oh, how yummy it was. I think one could spend an entire summer in Michigan and not experience everything. We will be sad to leave Saturday after three wonderful weeks here.

  10. My parents lived in Traverse City shortly after they were married in the early 1950's. Mom told me that is where swore for the first time. It was their first winter there and mom had stepped outside to walk to work (she was a nurse) and was hit by a large blast of arctic wind off of the lake. She told me she said "damn". She didn't like cold any more than I do.

    When we finally meet up, I want to try a slice of David's cherry pie and be completely spoiled.

  11. Those cute little bookstores you like are not going to stay open if you write down titles and buy some place else. Just sayin'.

    1. Flowergirl, I don't buy anyplace. I only use book swaps and libraries. As a full timer I don't have room for books and don't have the money for them unfortunately as I did when I had a huge library and always bought my books from our hometown bookshops, Quest and New Dominion Books. I know what a hard time the independents are having against the super chains. I just don't have the money or the place anymore but if you'd seen my library, you'd know I did more than my share.

  12. Never knew that area could be so beautiful! Had a former pastor of my home church that was from Traverse City, used to talk about the winters all the time, not so much the beautiful area :) Love those small little fishing towns.

  13. Bummer that the food did not match the decor at Don's. That Bakery looked terrific.

  14. I've always heard how fabulous that area is. Now I'm convinced. Guess everything will be open when we get there but lots of people too! Oh well. Thanks for the tour!

  15. It must be hard for some of those places to stay in business what with the short season and all.

  16. Love all those little quaint towns. Sounds like you had a fabulous day with the beautiful scenery and yummy bakery items:)

    Those tree limbs are great!!

    Independent book stores are real treasures. Even though we don't buy "real" books any more at full price, I still enjoy browsing and getting new titles. Sherry, we use our library from home for our ebooks. We use our daughter's address. I can get on the waiting list for the best sellers. They email me when it is my turn. I, also, download audio books from the library on my phone. It is great to have the library at our finger tips for free.

  17. What a beautiful area, I think it is good that you aren't there at high season. When Kevin and I drove near that area both last September and this April we said we could easily spent the summer exploring that area and in Minnesota and Wisconsin.


  18. That cedar tree is magnificent!

    I too love book stores. I like to browse the used book stores we encounter on our travels. Goodwill stores sometimes are good, reasonably priced sources of used books. I have a very low threshold of what I am willing to pay for a book, used or new!

  19. I was SO wishing I was in Fishtown with you. That's my kind of town. Thanks for taking me along on your ride. Your pictures just get better and better. Loved the river flowing through the town. Reminded me somewhat of the Oregon Coast.

  20. The Janice Sue looks like a sub?! I love the little fishing towns (even the smell). In Seaport Village, San Diego, is the Upstart Crow bookstore. With wood floors, walls and stairs plus the smell of brewing coffee and fresh pastry, plus a great variety of books, it is my favorite bookstore. Once inside you'd swear you were in a small town, local store :-). One shirt or 3 nights with FHUs - I know how I'd rather spend my money :-). That said, I do love the shirt!

  21. Traverse City used to (we left TC in '97) have a great farmers market on Saturday down by the water, just below the town. I do miss that.

  22. ah. . .once again I realize, we shall need to return to Michigan. . .so much to explore!

  23. That was a Flying Fish...it was flash frozen in the severe winter they had in Michigan. ;c)

  24. Well now...this is my kind of tour...wonderful places you visited...this will be on my list when i am able to travel...as to the ice cream...i would have done it anyway...but then i am weak!!!

  25. What a wonderful day -- exactly the kind of meandering through small towns that we enjoy! Your posts and wonderful photography are making us excited about traveling in Michigan. Although those midges were frightening looking! Good thing they don't bite. The map of your day is a great visual aid, too. I've been working on adding maps to our site but haven't got it figured out yet. :-)

  26. That is a lovely drive the pictures brought back some nice memories. The only thing we add is a few wineries. One comment though, it is a shame the person who made the "MI chairs" did not know what the state of Michigan actually looks like. They left off the best part of the state but maybe it is better we are kept a secret...:)

  27. Sherry and David, what a terrific day ......Thanks for sharing !!!!!

  28. You do realize you're in a jacket? it's 500 degrees aroun heah … love the chairs!

    $98??? for a T-Shirt ~ oh a yachting sweater that looks like a T-shirt? get out

    I could not get enough of the cherries and apples …. really really liked Michigan especially the UP … and OMG those are not birds but the midges? oh man?

    yeah… cute is not always the best food but fun to investigate … and no I await your pie review … sigh

    another gorgeous tour!

  29. Great road/eating trip. Sure glad those aren't mosquitoes because that's what it looks like in Minnesota. Love that magnificent Cedar tree.

    Sorry I haven't been around much, internet connection is awful.

  30. That picture of midges sure does look like it's birds! Great view from the lighthouse. I am impressed with that kid canoe. Beautiful! Sorry to hear about "Don't" Diner :( But the other sweets sound delicious! I doubt that pie is going to win over Dad's ;)

  31. I think I'd go for fewer people than having everything open all the time.

    Those bugs are turning me off to Michigan though. I guess I could handle the midges, but not the mosquitoes.

    I love all the lighthouses along the lake. It would be fun to take a day or two and see them all...

  32. Wow What a blog today!! Lots of things I love. Quaint little towns, light houses, bakeries just to name a few and by the looks of the expression on David's face...........Don't think you'll be going back to Don's Diner any time soon.


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