CultureMap Top Story: Hello Gorgeous! Northern Michigan


Good Morning America has voted the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan the "Most Beautiful Place in America."A couple weeks ago, Traverse City, Mich., was featured in The New York Times travel section. It’s great to see Michigan getting some kudos. I spend all year looking forward to my summer pilgrimage Up North: the sandy beaches, the fireworks, the cherry stands, and the sunsets. It’s the bee’s knees. If you are lucky enough to spend a day in Northern Michigan, here are my suggestions...

 There are many fantastic restaurants in Traverse City, but if I could pick one breakfast spot, it's Patisserie Amie. The French food is decadent and the décor is cozy. Your day hasn’t started until you sip a Hitch, sweetened espresso with homemade whip cream. Don’t feel guilty about stocking up calorically. You’re about to burn it all off at our next stop: the sand dunes.

A vertical journey

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore covers 35 miles of beach. Its natural beauty will knock the wind out of you. And if that doesn’t, the dune climb will. Park your car at Lookout Point #9, apply sunscreen, and don’t forget your water bottle.You are about to embark on the most intense dune climb of your life.

You might be tempted to walk over to the observation deck to get an overview of your challenge. Don’t. You will see climbers gripping the side of the insanely steep dune, face into sand. It’s not an encouraging sight. If you are in shape, just go for it. Take running leaps down the 450 foot drop to Lake Michigan. It’s exhilarating. It feels like you are flying.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore covers 35 miles of beach. Its natural beauty will knock the wind out of you. And if that doesn’t, the dune climb will. Park your car at Lookout Point #9, apply sunscreen, and don’t forget your water bottle.You are about to embark on the most intense dune climb of your life.

When you reach the bottom, look up. That’s what you have to climb. There aren’t any other options. (I’ve heard you might be able to walk down the beach a few miles to some sort of pick up area, but you aren’t a quitter!) At this point, some climbers wade into Lake Michigan to cool off. I would not advise that. The sand will stick to your wet body on the climb back up. You’ll be like a human swiffer for sand.

The climb is 90% mental. Take it slow and steady. Set mini-goals for yourself, like: I must pass that sunburned guy ahead of me, or,I’ll climb for thirty seconds before I moan and rest. Think up a reward: I’ll have an extra scoop of Moomer’s ice cream tonight. Imagine an army guy yelling at you to get to the top. Think about how good it will feel to brag about the fact that you did this.

You’ll witness powerful moments of camaraderie on this vertical journey: strangers sharing a water bottle, kids encouraging their aggravated mother to take one more step. Perhaps, in the classiest moment in Michigan history, my husband passed two teenage girls clinging to the side of the dune, and overheard this...

Girl #1:  Oh no. I have to pee.

Girl #2: Go back down to the water.

Girl #1: I can’t. I’ll never be able to climb back up again.

Girl #2: So, just pee.

Girl #1: On myself?

Girl #2: I won’t tell.

You will feel exhausted and invigorated when you reach the top. Flex your muscles. You are an animal! Now, go to the lookout point and marvel at your accomplishment. You climbed 450 feet of sliding sand!

If you aren’t up for a cardio-induced heart attack, or if you are recovering from an injury, it’s still worth the visit. Chill out on a beach towel. Soak in the views. Admire the sailboats passing by on their way to Mackinac Island.

Dining options

Is that your tummy growling? Get back in the car. Next stop: the Old Mission General Store. This place is a time warp. Scoop candy out of the barrels, order a sandwich, and drive down to the little beach nearby for a picnic. Go for a swim. Fall asleep in the afternoon sunlight.

Now you’ve got a couple options. Explore the wineries on the Peninsula or drive back into Traverse City to shop on Front Street.

At dusk, take a walk down Sixth Street to admire the Victorian mansions. And then, drive over to The Village at Grand Traverse, a re-development of the former Traverse City State Hospital. It’s dinner time at the asylum! Reservations should be made in advance for Trattoria Stella. It’s a farm-to-table restaurant with a mind-blowing wine list. The wait staff are experts in good food and wine, and they are friendly to boot. Ask the staff if they’ve seen ghosts. They have stories. Order drinks and make a toast to your beautiful, action-packed summer day in Northern Michigan.

Patisserie Amie - 237 Lake Ave #200, Traverse City, MI, (231) 922-9645

Link for Directions to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Old Mission General Store - 18250 Mission Road, Traverse City, MI (231) 223-4310

Trattoria Stella - 1200 West Eleventh Street, Traverse City, MI (231) 929-8989