To longtime Cincinnatians, “up north” means just one place: Northern Michigan.

Specifically, the communities that sit on or near the long, craggy arc of coastline in the northwest corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

Even if you’ve never been there, you’ve probably heard the names: Glen Haven, Cross Village, Mackinac Island, Petoskey, Elk Rapids, Boyne City and, of course, the epicenter of life for summering Cincinnatians, Traverse City.

“June and July are very different months in the Traverse City area,” notes Mike Norton, media relations director for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Thanks to the influence of Lake Michigan, June is still a sort of late spring in this area — the bay is still cool, the streets and restaurants are still relatively uncrowded, and life still has a lot of the laid-back atmosphere that’s traditional here throughout most of the year.

“July, on the other hand, is for people who like to keep busy — and there’s going to be plenty for them to do this year because we have three major festivals that overlap each other: the National Cherry Festival from July 4 through July 11, Horse Shows by the Bay, which runs from July 8 through Aug. 2, and the Traverse City Film Festival from July 28 to Aug. 2.”

“The Traverse City area has much to offer,” adds Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City CVB. “For example, there’s the seemingly endless miles of sugar-sand beaches where you can find solitude and incredible natural beauty; there’s more than 25 wineries offering great wine trail adventures; 18 championship golf courses with designs by the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Weiskopf; great shopping throughout Traverse City and other nearby port towns offering unique boutiques and galleries; imaginative dining with many local chefs specializing in using locally grown products for a fresh northern Michigan taste; and miles and miles of hiking and biking trails throughout the hardwood forests.”

“Up north” has all the comforts of home without the irritations you have to deal with the rest of the year. The shopping is great. The dining is fabulous, whether you’re a lover of haute cuisine or quirky joints. And everywhere you turn, there’s an abundance of retro Americana, holdovers from a blissful and innocent era that existed only in our minds.

Today, the entire region is awash in summer activities, thanks in no small part to the terrific weather. “One thing Cincinnatians should know about Petoskey is that our area averages only four days a year with temperatures above 90 degrees, so our cool lake breezes are one of our attractions,” observes Diane Dakins, assistant director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. “Ernest Hemingway called this ‘a priceless place.’ He should have known. Papa (Hemingway) spent 22 summers at his family’s Walloon Lake cottage.”

Dakins hastens to add that “Petoskey has long been known for ‘Million Dollar Sunsets’; the phrase was coined by a Grand Rapids newspaper man as he arrived via Petoskey’s first train in 1873.”

Indeed, towns such as Petoskey, Harbor Springs and Boyne City have achieved stature as classic Michigan destinations due to their enduring allure and irrepressible freshness. The magical appeal of this gathering of resort communities in northwest Michigan is the memories they generate — jet skiing, the peacefulness of hiking or biking through magnificent forests or teeing it up on one of the highly regarded golf courses. In fact, there are so many northern treats, it’s hard to know where to start. Plan badly and you could end up with something that resembles the rat race you live the rest of the year. That is definitely to be avoided. Remember, life “up north” is supposed to be savored at a leisurely pace.

“Discover northern Michigan’s wine and cherry country,” recommends Celeste Young at Exit Realty of Elk Rapids. Young also suggests the area’s great golfing destinations and white-sand beaches.

Here are a few other highlights:
Grand Traverse Resort

Located just outside of Traverse City, this huge resort was a highly controversial addition to the region’s tourism offerings. And it’s true that physically, it is wildly out of scale. The centerpiece is a glistening 17-story tower that dwarfs everything around it. There’s a six-story hotel, too, and 190 condominiums, along with all the other amenities you’d expect from a full-sized resort — spa, golf course, swimming pools, restaurants, and more. It was a shock to the system for people who still thought of Traverse City as a sleepy little town that catered to the occasional traveler. But for those who want luxury, the Grand Traverse is it. And its unstinting push for quality has had the effect of forcing other hotels to pay attention to their service. No one seems to be complaining anymore. Not the visitors, at least.100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd., Acme. (888) 335-7045 or

Grand Hotel of Mackinac Island

There are fancier hotels in northern Michigan. As the name suggests, however, the grand dame of the state is the grandest of them all. Situated regally on a hillside overlooking Lake Huron and the sprawling Mackinac Bridge, it is an elegant relic of an earlier age. You’ve almost certainly seen photos of the Grand, which opened in 1887. It was featured in that heart-tugging filmSomewhere in Time. The Grand’s 660-foot-long front porch is purported to be the world’s longest. It’s not for everyone, though. It has many modern amenities, but the island, which permits no cars, is a place for a slower, more refined holiday. You can ride bicycles around the island and stroll along streets with gracious architectural relics of the 19th century. The hotel offers golf, tennis, swimming, horseback riding and a spa.1 Grand Ave., Mackinac Island. (906) 847-3331 or

Hartwick Pines State Park

A couple of centuries back, Michigan was covered with a dense forest of white pines. But after a few decades of intense lumbering, the old growth forest was almost completely gone. Fortunately, an heir to a timber fortune named Karen Michelson Hartwick decided to withdraw a small chunk of the forest near Grayling from active lumbering. Today, what remains is a 49-acre stand of old growth forest, the largest remnant of the crop that once defined the region. At 150 to 160 feet, the trees are among the tallest in the eastern United States. With 9,672 acres, the surrounding state park gives visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the forest experience. And for those who care about how all of it happened, there is Hartwick Pines Logging Museum. Near Grayling and I-75, no phone.

Lighthouse and Maritime Festival
Set near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, the charming village of Northport is probably best known as the home of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. This year, for the first time, the town will host the Northport Lighthouse and Maritime Festival (on June 20), featuring a traditional Lake Michigan whitefish boil, live entertainment, boat-building demonstrations and more.15300 N. Lighthouse Point Road, Northport. (231) 386-9145.

Mackinac Lilac Festival

Celebrating Mackinac Island’s lilac collection with a horse-drawn carriage parade first began in 1949 and is now a tradition. What began as a one-day event called the Mackinac Island Lilac Day has blossomed into a 10-day festival of all things lilac (June 5-14). Mackinac Island.

Mackinaw City Parasailing

Come view the straits of Mackinac from a new perspective: Parasailing. Customized boats enable parasailers to take off and land without ever getting wet.209 S. Huron Ave., Mackinaw City. (231) 436-7144 or

“Petoskey Stone” Hunting

These “stones” are really chunks of fossilized coral thought to be 350 million years old. The best hunting places are the beaches at Petoskey State Park and Magnus City Park. No license is required. Area beaches, no phone.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Climb enormous hills of it that seem to go on and on forever, and explore the park’s unique sand-and-water eco-system that’s unlike anything else in this part of the world. There’s also a seven-mile scenic drive and a first-rate visitor center. Stop at the visitor center first to get directions and safety tips.9922 Front St., Empire. (231) 326-5134, ext. 328 or

The Cherry Bowl Drive-in

The Cherry Bowl has been open since 1953. But by the time Harry and Laura Clark left their corporate jobs in Detroit and moved up north in 1997, the Cherry Bowl had hit on hard times. The Clarks — two diehard drive-in fans — bought the place. Today, driving into the Cherry Bowl is like driving back in time. Everything always seems freshly painted, as if this retro gem had opened just last week. The menu includes roasted chicken dinners and nicely tart BBQ ribs.9812 Honor Hwy., Honor. (231) 325-3413 or

Village of Elk Rapids

Elk Rapids is a beguiling community, unique in charm and ambiance, within 20 minutes of Traverse City. The village borders Elk Lake, which contains 78 miles of navigable waters, and the harbor at Elk Rapids Village, which leads to Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. The harbor is considered one of the best in Michigan, and its proximity to downtown makes it a perfect place to tie up for a few hours or for the entire season. Public boat launches give anglers endless chances to cast their lines for lake trout, bass, steelhead perch, whitefish and pan fish.Village of Elk Rapids.