Looking to add some serious lake time to your upcoming vacation plans? There’s no question that the Great Lakes State of Michigan has got you covered. While the southern Lake Michigan coast is chock-full of adorable towns, we suggest a jog a bit farther north to the lakeside charmer of Charlevoix. Getting there is always half the fun, and once you settle in, there’s no shortage of incredible things to experience in this small town.
What To Do In Charlevoix
Farther afield than many resort towns along Lake Michigan, Charlevoix is a terrific destination if you love the great outdoors and want to break free from the tourist throngs, but there are also enough cosmopolitan amenities to make big-city types happy as well. From marveling at wild, weird architecture to beachcombing with the best of them, here are a few must-dos for your visit.
Hunt For Mushroom Houses
Yes, you read that right. On their first visit to Charlevoix, most folks scratch their heads at the round stone homes that look a little like some sort of Smurf village. But these two dozen homes, designed by local self-taught builder Earl Young, have become beloved symbols of the town. They’re constructed of materials Young sourced straight from northern Michigan: limestone, fieldstone, and even boulders.
You can simply stroll by many of the homes on a self-guided tour, but consider renting a bike to cover more ground. Keep in mind, however, that the homes are privately owned. Of course, you’re free to admire, but keep a respectful distance.
Check Out The Castle
To experience firsthand what life was like in northern Michigan a century ago, head to Castle Farms. Built in 1918 as a working dairy farm by an executive at Sears, Roebuck and Co., the main house and grounds have been lovingly restored and feature collectibles and curiosities, including Michigan’s largest outdoor model railroad, an enchanted garden full of gnomes, an enormous hedge maze, and ponds where you can feed the resident ducks and fish. Castle Farms is a great place to spend the day. Don’t forget to bring a picnic (and your curiosity).
Get Your Art Fix
In Charlevoix, art is everywhere — gorgeous works created by locals who were clearly inspired by the beautiful surroundings. The Charlevoix Circle of Arts is a great first stop for anyone seeking a culture fix on their vacation. It features rotating exhibits, gallery talks, and a terrific gift counter selling works produced in the surrounding area. There are more than a half dozen galleries in and around downtown, and they feature all sorts of media, including pottery, fiber, paintings, and sculptures. You’re guaranteed to find a one-of-a-kind reminder of your time in Charlevoix!
Sample Local Produce
Throughout the summer months, small farm stands and markets in and around Charlevoix come alive. Many offer locally grown fruit — including northern Michigan’s famous Bing cherries — plus berries, veggies, baked goods, and honey. Consider stopping off at one for a light snack or a you-pick afternoon.
Friske’s Farm Market and King Orchards are both just a few miles south of town; to stay closer, hit up the Charlevoix Farmers Market in town to shop a variety of purveyors at once. It takes place on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Hit The Trails
No matter your recreation preference, Charlevoix has plenty of incredibly scenic trails that are gently sloped and perfect for a jog, hike, or bike ride.
For a short haul, take the Lake to Lake Trail, a 3-mile path that connects Lake Charlevoix to Lake Michigan. As you might expect, it’s got incredible views!
The Little Traverse Wheelway is a marathon-length gentle trail that will take you from the shoreline through the wetlands. It’s a great place to spot wildlife and has two parks along the way where you can stop for a break. Take on as much — or as little — of it as you’d like.
Ferry To Beaver Island
For a beautiful 2-hour boat ride, outdoor adventures, and a truly bizarre piece of Michigan history, take the ferry to Beaver Island. Nicknamed “America’s Emerald Isle,” the island sits 32 miles from Charlevoix in Lake Michigan, and life here moves at a pace of its own. In 1847, a religious leader named James Jesse Strang brought his followers to the island, set up a small town, and crowned himself king. He then became a member of the Michigan state legislature but was assassinated on the island in 1856.
Today, Beaver Island has a year-round population of just 600 people, many of Irish descent. The small community hosts a variety of annual festivals and events and is a popular destination for anglers and families alike.
Enjoy Lake Life
Our last must-do is fairly self-explanatory. Plan to allow a day or two to simply stick your feet in the sand, read a good book, soak up some sun, and listen to the waves rolling in. Charlevoix is blessed with many gorgeous beaches, and most are free and open to the public. Some are loaded with amenities and pretty packed, but there are quieter options farther afield. Check out some of the area’s best beach options here.
While you’re spending time on the sand, don’t forget to look for Petoskey stones! These fossilized coral remains present as smooth stones with intricate patterns, and they are a favorite keepsake from many a Michigan summer vacation.
Where To Eat In Charlevoix
You’re bound to work up an appetite during your Charlevoix adventure, and fortunately, there are plenty of dining options, from fancy to pub grub. You’ll find wild-caught lake seafood on most menus. You won’t find fresher whitefish, walleye, or pike anywhere! In the summer, Michigan cherries will take center stage in desserts, and other locally grown produce is often showcased.
Terry’s serves elegant multicourse dinners and has a terrific wine list. If you’re craving a hearty breakfast — or barbecue later in the day — Smoke On The Water should be a stop. Jax Northside Food & Spirits offers an easygoing upscale menu that will satisfy all palates, and it doesn’t get more local than the Charlevoix Dairy Grille. The small shack serves up burgers, Coney dogs, soft-serve ice cream cones, and sundaes. The food is terrific, and the price is right.
Where To Shop In Charlevoix
To pick up a reminder of your visit to Charlevoix, head downtown. Bridge Street is the main artery that cuts through the center, with smaller streets radiating out. Here you’ll find a great selection of gift shops, home goods boutiques, and much more.
True North Interior Design and Antiques is a great place to go treasure hunting, as are Elements and The Lake House. Head to Cherry Republic to grab jellies, jams, and pie fillings featuring Michigan’s favorite fruit, and Ga Ga for Kids has the little folks on your gift list covered with clothes, toys, and games. They’ve got Mom and Grandma taken care of as well with fun accessories and loungewear.
Where To Stay In Charlevoix
The Inn at Bay Harbor, an Autograph Collection Hotel under the Marriott brand, is a few miles north of Charlevoix and boasts spacious rooms and suites with top-of-the-line amenities. The lakeside resort is a terrific option for couples and families.
For a quaint but comfortable stay, consider the Charlevoix House, a bed and breakfast situated in between Lakes Charlevoix and Michigan. The MacDougall House, a Victorian charmer built in 1893, is another terrific bed and breakfast option.
If you’re traveling with a larger group or want to self-cater, there are a wide range of beach cottage rentals available on homesharing sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. No matter where you stay, plan to book far in advance for the busy summer season.
What To Know Before You Go
Traveling to northern Michigan is the perfect respite from the scorching, summer heat many of us have to deal with each year. However, that doesn’t mean you should leave your sweater behind! Plan to pack and dress in layers, as the evenings can cool down quite considerably the closer you get to the Upper Peninsula — especially if you’re staying lakeside.
For more to see and do in Michigan, see this page.