Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Perfect Northern Michigan (Part II)

There was so much that kept us busy in Petoskey it makes me wonder how we found time to do it all.  This was our ideal town – small size, cute and compact downtown, beautiful water views, friendly people, plenty of outdoor activities, and lots of good eateries and drinking establishments.  Definitely a place we would come back to and even inquired about seasonal sites for next summer. 

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The first thing you will learn about when you come to Petoskey are Petoskey stones.  These “stones” are actually coral from a remnant ancient sea floor that was here some 350 million years ago when the glaciers covered this area.  Polishing the stones brings out their unique and attractive coral features and you quickly understand why they are fashioned into jewelry, turned into decorative items for the home like clocks and coffee table tops, and even incorporated into the stems of wine glasses.  Searching for Petoskey stones along the shoreline is luring and a popular activity.  However, a local told us that most of the stones have been plucked from the easily accessible shoreline in Petoskey so you really won’t find any but other areas in the region you will still find them.   

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Downtown Petoskey was a place we found ourselves quite often.  Food, breweries, and the farmers market were some of the biggest draws but there is more.  The downtown is a very busy place and easily walkable and entertaining.  Storefronts in the old gaslight district are full with a mix of interesting shops, galleries, restaurants, hardware stores, and even a J.C. Penny. (When is the last time you saw Penny's in a historic downtown?)  The downtown is visually appealing with an array of buildings adorned with potted flowers, plenty of green space available for afternoon picnics, historical artifacts, and no trash.

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The weekly farmers market held every Friday downtown was a magnet for me as I couldn’t resist fresh greens, super sweet strawberries, and plump vegetables.  After the farmers market we walked a couple of blocks to the Crooked Tree Art Center.  The center is housed in a 135-year old church and recent renovations have made the inside warm and welcoming while retaining the visually appealing historical features like the theater.  The art center is more than just a gallery to view works of art. It attracts visitors and comes alive with concerts, live theater, classes and workshops and various exhibits.  When we were there there was an Ansel Adams exhibit called “Through the Lens” that displayed 48 of his black and white images and live music was playing in the concert hall.

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From downtown it is an easy walk down to the waterfront where the breakwater and lighthouse are a draw for people to take a stroll, cast a line, or just get a different view of the downtown.  The neighboring marina is busy in the summer with boaters from Chicago looking for a little peace and quiet and the parks are filled with people soaking up the sun and kids braving the cold Lake Michigan waters.

Near the marina is the Little Traverse Historical Museum.  The museum resides in a restored 1892 train depot and displays various exhibits on the city’s history which are yours for the viewing for a suggested $3 donation.  Some of the historic features of Petoskey are still visible today such as the Wheelway, churches, and the Perry Hotel.  Some of the interesting exhibits are those that have historic photographs paired with a photograph of the same place today showing the town's transformation or preservation. 

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Michigan is beer crazy … which is not a bad thing!  And, let’s face it we would be doing an injustice to our readers if we did not sample some of Michigan’s pride and explore this side of Petoskey.  Anyone believe that?  Within five miles of town are three breweries all of which 20170618_154459have different styles and atmospheres.  Breweries range from those who brew in the Belgian saison style to another that puts a charred marshmallow in its porter.   We started at Beard’s Brewery in downtown Petoskey for an afternoon flight and both enjoyed the selection and the dark chocolaty porter.  The beer and atmosphere lured us back for lunch where Betsy slurped down a bowl of pho with smoked pork and I dove into a lamb gyro.  Of course, beer was the beverage of choice at lunch and we found the saison quite delicious.  Just a few miles north of town is Petoskey Brewing where it is hard to get a table so we set our sites on an early lunch to beat the crowds and are glad we did because the black and blue burger and black bean burger were delicious and the beer selection broad and delicious.  Lastly we tried Burnt Marshmellow Brewing Petoskey's newest nano brewery.  This place sits just south of town on land where the tasting room (which is also associated with a winery) opens up to outdoor tables, a bocce ball court, fire pit, and plenty of room for kids to roam.  All in all, it is a great atmosphere for enjoying a glass of beer or wine outside.  Their signature beer actually comes with a burnt marshmallow floating on top. 

Food was a draw for us and many restaurants appealed to us with their creative menus.  We ate at Palate Bistro twice – once for lunch with our friends Paul and Loanne and another time for dinner – both of which we were highly satisfied.  Petoskey Pretzel Company always has a line out the door but was worth the wait.  Happy Taco makes authentic Mexican street tacos served with a cold cervasas that costs less than a soda.  Grand Traverse Pie Company seems to be everywhere – which is not a bad thing when you want a slice of cherry pie.  Symons General Store is a great place to pick up a sandwich or some gourmet foods and take them to the park.  Just north of town (across from Petoskey State Park) is a shopping center that we frequented many times.  Someone recommended the fish tacos (on Tuesdays) at Freshwater Grill and they did not disappoint.  Next door is the Crocked Tree Bakery which has the most delicious baguettes that rival those in Europe.  And at Toskey Sands you will find great cuts of meat and fish, a large wine selection, and plenty of cheeses.  One place that is always popular is Kilwin's Chocolate Kitchen where you get a free tour of how the hand-crafted chocolates and other sweet items are made followed by free samples.  Love the word “free.”  Tours are at multiple times during the day but be warned this place is pretty popular in the summer. 

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Petoskey attracts people downtown in the evening with “Petoskey Rocks.”  This is a weekly summer event that brings people downtown with the wafts of music and sights of a movie.  When the sun goes down after the concert a family-friendly movie hits the screen (of which we did not stay for).  There are also carriage rides, a ghost walk, plenty of stores open late for shoppers, and dining.  After the concert, we opted to walk down to the waterfront to the bay front park along and out the breakwater to witness a sunset in a place that is dubbed “Land of the Million Dollar Sunsets” and it certainly was pretty.  And the sunrises weren’t bad either.

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There are plenty of places to get out and be active in Petoskey.  From boat launches and beaches to drop in your paddle board or kayak to mountain biking or a leisurely walk in the woods.  The Little Traverse Wheelway is a paved 26-mile paved path dating back to the late 1880's that runs from Harbor Springs to Charlevoix.  In downtown Petoskey the Bear River Recreation Area is a 36-acre, 1.5-mile long waterway and valley that underwent a $2.4 million dollar makeover to create a white water paddle attraction with its class 3-4 rapids.  Alongside  the river are hiking trails that are a great place to walk and enjoy the water.  Back in the mid 1800’s the river was an important industrial area housing grist, paper, and lumber mills and a dam that supplied continuous water to a power plant.  When the mills closed the area was abandoned until the city created the Bear River Recreation Area and brought new life back to the area.

For hiking, we found the Little Traverse Conservancy Nature Preserves were ideal.  There are some 200 of these preserves scattered about northern Michigan many of which are less than a hundred acres but some number in the thousands.  Many preserves have a trail system that range from a short two-mile hike to five or six miles.  The trails are very well marked and at every intersection is a laminated map to help guide you.  Only a couple of times did we ever encounter other people on the trails which made for a very peaceful walk.

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One morning we headed about five miles east of downtown to the Michigan Fisheries Visitor Center.  The facility has a small interpretive area and gift shop and they offer daily guided tours in the summer.  You are also welcome to stroll around the grounds on your own where you can walk by the hatchery, raceways, and rearing ponds.  Bring quarters because they have fish food to attract the brown and rainbow trout over for a better look.  Outside the visitor center is a restored antique rail car that was used to transport small fish from hatcheries to rivers and lakes across Michigan.  The exhibit is really interesting and highlights a portion of Michigan’s conservation past.  

Petoskey (and the surrounding towns of Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, and Boyne City) has so far been our favorite area in Michigan.  We would recommend anyone traveling to upper Michigan to put this on their list of places to see. 



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