There’s a destination on Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula with everything that a food and wine tourist looking for classics could ask for. The destinations is Leelanau County. Along the picturesque Michigan coast, vineyards are growing various cherries and grapes — including the famed white grape — and wineries are making award-winning wines to taste and take home. Several of the wineries also have gift shops, wine accessories, cafés and overnight accommodations to make for a vibrant road trip. There are around twenty six wineries in Leelanau County.
Northern Michigan is well-known for its rieslings. Some riesling grapes are spared in the summer and fall and are picked when they freeze, from which Ice Wine is made. Another delicacy is the elusive and delicious, morel mushrooms. Morels may be the best known wild mushrooms in Michigan and are hunted by hundreds of thousands of people.
We recently visited the great state of Michigan to taste wines, eat cherries, and enjoy a little R and R. It was so much fun I wanted to share what we did and my recommendations!
The village of Suttons Bay is a charming town located in Leelanau County. First head for breakfast and coffee at 45th Parallel Cafe in Suttons Bay.
They offer delicious menu items like morel mushroom omelette- Savory local morel mushrooms are sautéed with onions and topped with a layer of fontinella cheese, the greek omelette with baby spinach, black olives, red onions and roma tomatoes making a tasty combination, accompanied with fresh feta cheese, and a side of crispy and golden corned beef hash. Then spend the morning exploring the shops in town like Anchor Cottage.
Just a fews miles away began your wine exploration at Good Harbor Vineyards. They are known for their great wines, but more for the artistic wine labels all created by local artists. Good Harbor Vineyards has over 65 acres planted to vine and one of the largest Pinot Grigio plantings in Michigan.
Finish up your day in the storybook fishing village of Leland. Go to the Village Cheese Shanty for the Pretzel Bread Log Jam Sandwich made with roast beef, feta, red onion, lettuce, tomato, 3-pepper relish, guacamole and don’t forget a pickle.
There are many places to browse in fishtown like gift and clothing boutiques, art galleries and specialty food shops. You can stroll along the marina or rent boats, SUP, kayaks, and bicycles. If you want a real local treat sit on the deck overlooking the Fishtown dam and waterfall at the Cove and sip on the famous Chubby Mary complete with a smoked chub.
If you get hungry a great place for dinner is The Riverside Inn just a block walk from the downtown. They start serving dinner at 5pm and are located right on the the river’s edge, creating a gorgeous place to dine at sunset. We were not that hungry so decided to try the oysters on special, munch on a charcuterie board, and sip champagne.
Before heading in for the evening stop for a quick game of pool at the Bluebird. For over 80 years, the Bluebird has been the gathering place in Leland for locals and tourists alike.
After sleeping in head to a late brunch at Boone’s Prime Time Pub in Suttons Bay, home of the Massive Mary. For $20 it’s definitely big enough for two people to share.
For your next stop, it’s only a short drive to the Black Star Farms. Their 160 acres produces some of the most sought after wines and spirits in Michigan.
Just a few steps away eat lunch at Hearth & Vine Cafe, where you will enjoy true farm-to-table cuisine. We decided to pair the Arcturos Pinot Noir with starters of olives, nuts, fromage, and the charcuterie board. It was a lot of food!! But totally worth stuffing ourselves.
Back on the road, drive through the 45th Parallel on your way to 45 North Vineyard & Winery.
Located in Lake Leelanau and just minutes away from Good Harbor Bay Beach, 45 North Winery serves up a variety of sweet, semi-sweet and dry wines in the quiet atmosphere of its tasting room. Or, enjoy a glass and a charcuterie in the outdoor seating area.
They are a family-owned and operated winery with the goal of creating the most approachable yet elegant wines possible. My favorite part was finally tasting Ice Wine. Ice wine is one of the hardest wines to produce. It is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Because of the hard nature to harvest they are usually pretty expensive.
Next stop, Northern Latitudes Distillery. It is Leelanau County’s first full service distillery, creating small batch artisan spirits from Michigan’s rich agricultural products.
After a tasting we had to purchase the Jack Pine Gin (Local Leelanau botanicals like jack pine seed and lavender create a distinct and deeply regional gin) and Horseradish Vodka ( I can’t wait to make a bloody mary).
After tasting wine and spirits all day, take a bottle down to nearby pet-friendly Good Harbor Beach. Pack a little picnic with the leftover Village Cheese Shanty sandwiches.
Day 3: TRAVERSE CITY
Get an early start and head 25 minutes down the state from Suttons Bay to Traverse City. It is also known for its cherries, beaches, shopping, and the ever growing craft beer scene.
Mackinaw Brewing, Traverse City’s original brewpub pub, is located in the heart of downtown. Try the beer sampler! ( I loved the Summer Love Seasonal Brew) and Smoked Whitefish Bake- blend of smoked whitefish, select cheeses & green onion with a hint of garlic, served with MBC garlic rounds. Smoked whitefish is excellent to eat. It has a sweet, light flavor that many who “don’t like fish” can appreciate.
We really loved the Stuffed Mushroom Caps- Individually baked caps filled with cream cheese, bacon, krab, parmesan, spinach & scallions, topped with provolone cheese
The Grand Traverse Distillery is just a short walk away. They are Michigan’s original grain to bottle distillery. They create award-winning vodkas, whiskies, gin and rum. Try the Rose Whiskey Sour and the Espresso Martini for a little pick me up!
Next, head to down to Seven Monks Taproom. A cozy, woodsy tavern with refined American pub food, tons of beers on tap plus a keg of sparkling rose.
The Sprouts are so good! Fried Brussel Sprouts, almonds, pecorino, with a balsamic drizzle.
From there, head to State Street Marketplace and Monkey Fish Brewing Company. The community marketplace is home to local businesses, including food vendors like Wren the Butcher, retail shops and artisans of all kinds.
If all of the tastings have created an appetite, you’ll love Gaijin Restaurant where East Meets Midwest Japanese Comfort Food. Featuring a affordable authentic menu and sumptuous sakes, Gaijin makes for a sophisticated ramen lunch or dinner.
From there, head down the street to the renovated U and I lounge. A Greek & American pub and neighborhood hangout with TVs playing sports & darts.
There are so many great choices for food and wine experiences in Leelanau County and Traverse City that aren’t just limited to this itinerary. We invite you to venture out and find your own amazing food, wine, and beer pairings.
Winery hours vary seasonally. Please call ahead to be sure the vineyards you want to visit will be open when you arrive. Please drink responsibly. Designate a driver.