Small Towns near Sleeping Bear Dunes
Most people visiting the area are somewhat familiar with Traverse City and all the accolades it receives as a vacation destination for foodies, wine connoisseurs, craft beer lovers, bikers, boaters, outdoor enthusiasts…the list goes on. Traverse City is an absolute “must visit” on your list of things to do while vacationing in Northwest Michigan. In fact, if you’re vacationing for a week, we would recommend spending at least a day exploring all Traverse City has to offer.
Another “must do” on your vacation to-do-list should be a visit to some of the quaint little villages scattered around the Leelanau Peninsula, along the famed M-22 Scenic Drive and on the shores of Lake Michigan. The charm and character of these small towns is what makes the area such a beautiful place to visit. Below is a list of some of the towns we recommend visiting.
Our List of Best Small Towns near the Dunes
Suttons Bay sits along the west shore of Grand Traverse Bay. It’s located along the M-22 Scenic Highway 17 miles north of Traverse City. It’s a popular vacationers’ shopping destination. A couple of our favorite spots in Suttons Bay are Hop Lot Brewing Co. for craft beer and outdoor fire pits, Boone’s Prime Time Pub for burgers and North Country Grill and Pub for outdoor dining. Walking distance from the downtown district is a beautiful beach located in the municipal park. Suttons Bay is a great stop on your M-22 circle tour around the Leelanau Peninsula.
Glen Arbor is a very popular summer vacation destination. The town is hopping with tourists and with good reason. Glen Arbor is located along the M-22 Scenic Highway and is flanked by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on it’s east and west sides. To the south is the beautiful Glen Lake. To the north is Lake Michigan’s Good Harbor Bay. While in Glen Arbor, make sure you visit Cherry Republic, The M-22 Store and grab a bite to eat on the deck at Boonedocks.
Empire is one of the best places to watch the sunset over Lake Michigan and is kind of the “Gateway to Sleeping Bear Dunes”. This small town is best known for it’s fantastic park and beach, the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Center, Joe’s Friendly Tavern and just outside of town is Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate. Oh yeah, one of the best kept secrets is the Deerings Market fried chicken. Call in advance to have Deering’s prepare a chicken dinner for your group.
Leland is located on M-22 along the western shore of the Leelanau Peninsula. It’s best known for it’s historic district called Fishtown. This is another very popular summer vacation destination with a unique and charming downtown district. While in Fishtown, enjoy a meal or a drink on the deck at The Cove, stop in Harbor Town Trading Company for an ice cream cone and stroll along main street and stop into one of the many unique shops. For an upscale memorable dining experience, try the Riverside Inn. They have very nice outdoor seating with a view of Lake Leelanau.
Northport is located near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. This picturesque town has a marina along a beautiful waterfront, unique shops, art galleries and good restaurants. While in Northport, make sure to check out the park and marina and walk through the downtown district to see some of the local artisan’s work. The kids will enjoys Tuckers of Northport and the adults will appreciate the Mitten Brewing Company. When you leave Northport, head north to the Leelanau State Park at the very tip of the peninsula and check out the lighthouse grounds. There’s also some excellent hiking trails.
The Village of Lake Ann is located on the north shore of Lake Ann. It’s best known for it’s landmark general store called Lake Ann Grocery whose motto is “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”. If you visit Lake Ann, a stop in L.A. Grocery is a must do! The newest addition to the downtown district is Lake Ann Brewing Company. It has quickly become one of the hot up and coming craft breweries in the region. The Stone Oven located next door to L.A. Brewing has excellent food and the Red Door Coffee House has specialty coffees and breakfast sandwiches.
Frankfort – Elberta
The town of Frankfort is best known for it’s beautiful public beach. There’s a walkway along the pier taking you out toward the “Frankfort Light”. The town of Frankfort sits on the north side of the Betsie Bay and Elberta sits on the south side of the Bay. Both towns sit on the shores of Lake Michigan. Frankfort got it’s name from it’s early German settlers that compared it to the beauty of Frankfurt Germany. Frankfort is also known for its fishing charters and its charming downtown district. Just north of Frankfort is the Pt. Betsie Lighthouse which is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan.
The Village of Beulah sits on the eastern shore of Crystal Lake. Crystal Lake is the 9th largest lake in Michigan at almost 10,000 acres. It’s 165 feet deep and has a beautiful deep blue color. There’s a nice park and beach downtown Beulah along with some restaurants and retail shops including Crystal Lake Adventure Sports where you can rent kayaks, bikes or stand up paddle boards. One of the best biking trails is the Betsie River Trail that goes from Beulah to Frankfort. While in Beulah, make sure to visit the Cherry Hut for some of the best Cherry Pie you’ll ever taste! They also have many other cherry products available.
Downtown Cedar is located in southern Leelanau County. The most popular business in Cedar is Pleva’s Specialty Meat Market where you’ll find their award winning Plevalean hamburger “cherry burger” and award winning cherry pecan sausages. Just south of Cedar is The Cedar Sol Taco Stand open Memorial Day thru Labor Day. This is a fun stop to enjoy a couple tacos and tortilla chips for casual outdoor picnic table dining.
Downtown Maple City has a post office, a gas station, Gabes Country Market and Pegtown Station restaurant. It’s the closest gas station to Sleeping Bear Resort and Pegtown Station is the closest full service breakfast spot. They also serve lunch and dinner and it’s very good! Six miles north of Maple City is the Little Traverse Inn and Pub. This old Inn has a lot of character and the Innkeeper, Graeme, from the UK and Ireland is a fun guy. If you go there, make sure you tell Graeme you were referred by Sleeping Bear Resort.
All that remains in the once thriving town of Burdickville are three businesses! Burdickville is worth the visit if you’re in the mood for a romantic authentic italian dinner at Trattoria Funistrada, an authentic french country dinner at LaBecasse or a Moomers ice cream cone from Laker Shakes. Burdickville sits on the southeastern shore of Glen Lake where you’ll also find Old Settlers Park which is a nice place for a picnic lunch.
The Village of Honor sits along the shores of the Platte River and is best known for the National Coho Salmon Festival and the Cherry Bowl Drive Inn Theater. The Coho Salman Festival has been held each year in late August since 1967. The Cherry Bowl has been open each summer since 1953 and has updated and state of the art theater equipment. Plan on a late night if you plan on going to the Cherry Bowl. The first movie doesn’t start until dark and each night there are two movies included in your ticket. The second movie doesn’t usually finish until close to 2am.