Michigan in October is something else. Jeremy and I spent the past week traveling around the state, and only just very lightly scratched the surface of all the beauty, history, and attractions it has to offer.
It’s hard to believe that such gorgeous fields and waters and roads are, essentially, in our own backyard. Now that I’ve gotten a taste, I can’t wait to go back – and we’ve already started discussing the areas we want to visit next time around!
This was a slightly different adventure for us, as the goal was to disconnect and relax as much as possible, rather than knock out a list of must-dos and must-sees (although we did plenty of that along the way!)
It was rather grey and rainy for the majority of our trip, though we had a few hours of sun here and there over the course of the week. The scenery was beautiful regardless of what the skies were doing, and the thunderstorms made for some incredible waves on the lakes and many cozy hours spent taking it all in – and lounging and napping, too.
I thought I’d share some photos and some of our favorite stops along the way with you, should you find yourself in any of the areas we ended up someday.
Here’s a look at the path we took:
We made a few other stops, but the following are the highlights!
Golden Harvest Restaurant: A kitschy little restaurant decked out in wacky, retro decor. The menu is so unique and fun (we tried the Cap’n Crunch french toast!) It’s cash-only, so come prepared for that – and plan to wait for a bit in line, as it’s quite tiny and seating is limited.
Old Nation Brewing: We took the back roads from Golden Harvest to get here, which allowed us to see lots of farmland. The brewery itself is sleek and modern, and has an impressive selection of brews (try the Sanders Bumpy Cake!) Their food menu is solid, and they also make their own wine.
Uncle John’s Cider Mill: This was perhaps the biggest surprise of our trip. We had a couple of people recommend this place to us before we left, but we were not expecting what felt like a full-blown fall-festival village!
Uncle John’s is home to a pumpkin patch, corn maze, and apple orchard, and guests can also enjoy a glass of their wine or hard cider while strolling through the grounds, which has a ton of stuff for little ones to do, as well as food trucks, shops, a cider press, pie shop, live music, and more.
We stocked up on fresh-baked doughnuts and cider before taking a stroll through the pumpkin patch!
Cops & Doughnuts: We’ve seen signs for this shop in our area, and even more as we made our way through Michigan. So, naturally, we had to pull over and see what all the fuss was about. Totally worth a pit stop, if you have the time! The flavor selection is unreal – it was so hard to pick just one!
Jacobs Family Cabin Airbnb: We loved this little family cabin (although, will admit that it could use a few minor updates.) It’s situated right on Torch Lake (which has the clearest blue lake water I’ve ever seen in my life) and has a private dock, as well as a picnic table, grill, hammock, and firepit.
We weren’t able to use any of the outdoor amenities as it rained the whole time, but we enjoyed sitting in the screened-in front room watching the storms roll in over the lake. It’s a conventiently located place, just a 5-10 minute drive into the town of Bellaire.
Shorts Brewing: Shorts is definitely up there for us in terms of the establishments we visited on our trip. The atmosphere, service, food, and drinks were all wonderful, and we love just how much the little city of Bellaire adores the brewery. They’re even featured on the “Welcome to Bellaire” sign as you enter town.
Dockside Restaurant: This restaurant, as the name implies, sits right on Torch Lake. It’s one of those places where it seems like everyone-knows-everyone, yet we felt like we fit right in.
The food and drinks were great, and even though it was too drizzly and windy to sit outside to eat, we were able to walk along the pier after lunch and get a better view of the lake.
Glacial Hills Trails: If you need your forest fix, these trails are definitely a must-do! We hiked the Lake Bellaire Overlook Trail, which is about 1.6 miles and ends with gorgeous views of the trees and a hint of the lake.
Moka: After our hike, we popped in for a coffee at this quaint shop before taking a stroll around town and were not disappointed. The staff is really friendly, and it seems like a spot that the locals visit regularly.
Rennie Orchards: We stopped by Rennie’s on our way to Traverse City and picked an assortment of apples ourselves (our first time doing so!)
It was a lovely orchard, and we could have stayed far longer, just breathing in the fresh, crisp, apple-scented air.
7 Monks Taproom: We made a quick stop in Traverse City on our way to the coast (we plan on spending a solid few days there another time) and grabbed lunch here. Cannot recommend the grilled cheese, bisque soup, and seasoned popcorn enough!
Traverse City State Hospital: This one probably caught you off guard, huh? There are several abandoned buildings in Traverse City – in what is now known as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons – that were once home to mentally patients under the care of Dr. Munson, known for his “beauty is therapy” philosophy – focusing on nature, kindness, comfort, and pleasure, rather than the likes of straight-jackets and other restraints.
The hospital opened in 1885 and its grounds were full of lush greenery, flowers, trees, and wildlife. After a time, the asylum expanded and opened its doors to other patients – physically ill, drug addicts, the elderly – and became totally self-sufficient through the “work is therapy” philosophy, which encouraged patients to find a sense of purpose through work like farming, furniture building, and more. Sadly, it closed in 1989, and now many of the most gorgeous buildings sit empty, though the grounds are still spectacular. There are haunted tours (unfortunately, we weren’t able to book one – RSVP in advance if you’re interested!)
The “village” still houses newer, in-use medical buildings, as well as little shops and restaurants, and really is a beautiful area to walk about if you get the chance. We dropped into Left Foot Charley Wine & Hard Cider to grab a Cinnamon Girl cider (I’d had one at 7 Monks) before leaving the grounds.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Empire Bluff Trail: Before making our way down the coast, we stopped at the Empire Bluff Trailhead to get a look at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
This is a fairly easy (although hilly) 1.5 mile hike that is totally worth the effort! We made it to the top and just sat in awe for several minutes, not saying a word. We would love to spend more time exploring this area.
Odd Side Ales: We made a pit stop in Grand Haven to check out this brewery, which had a massive selection!
Lighthouse: There was some construction being done on the pier out to the lighthouse, but we were able to walk along the beach a little and catch a glimpse.
We saw the sweetest flock of seagull babies being led around by their mama and it was fun to watch them as the ice-cold lake water grabbed at our toes.
Tunnel Park: Our first stop in Holland was Tunnel Park, which has a set of stairs that take you up high enough for a spectacular view of Lake Michigan.
We hit this at the most beautiful time of day, and watched several boats go by and read up on the history of the area.
Big Red Lighthouse: We had to swing by and see Michigan’s “most photographed lighthouse” – which has a rather deep history, which you can read about here. We walked out on the pier a bit and watched a family of ducks (I guess this was a bird-watching kind of day), who were happily feasting on a meal of algae on the rocks along the path.
At one point, they started screeching and flying away and we saw that a river otter had emerged and scared them off, as they probably woke him from his afternoon slumber! We were also able to see several fish swimming about in the clear waters. Go to see the lighthouse, but keep an eye out for the adorable animals, too.
New Holland Pub on 8th: We walked around town for a bit, but it was getting late and not much was open. So, we made our way to this brewery for dinner before heading out. We sat outside in the beer garden, which was cozy and fun.
The Amble Inn (Fennville): This perfectly located inn is a recently refurbished log cabin motor lodge, owned by the sweetest couple. The grounds are beautiful – there are plenty of places to sit, surrounded by greenery and gardens, and guests are welcome to use a the firepit, grill, and have 24/7 access to the “barn” (guest lounge) out back, where they serve a homemade breakfast each morning. Places like this always inspire us to consider starting up our own bed and breakfast!
Saugatuck Brewing: Just down the road from the inn is a delightful little brewery. We enjoyed a delicious dinner here, and Jeremy was feeling a little bummed that the barrel room was closed for the night. He went to take a peep through the door and an employee just happened to see him and invite him back. We got a private tour of the back room, along with some samples and a great conversation!
Saugatuck Antique Pavilion: Right next to the brewery is the most intense antique pavilion I’ve been to yet. We meant to pop in for just a few minutes, and ended up getting lost for an hour or two, walking out with a few treasures each. It goes on forever, and ever, and ever. Highly, highly suggest visiting here if you’re a fan of thrifting!
Mount Baldhead Park: It was recommended to us that we climb up to the overlook at Mount Baldhead Park before leaving the area. We were warned it was intense, but worth it. Guys, there are over 300 steps going straight up into the air.
We were so winded and had to stop every few flights for a breather, but it was absolutely the most stunning view at the top! We had to laugh at the notes of encouragement (and those of frustration) written on the railings on the way up, and had to high five each other when we made it back down again.
Floyd’s Cottage Airbnb (Lakside): This cottage in the woods – just a few minutes drive from the town of Sawyer, loads of antique shops, and the dunes – is far and away one of the most unique places we have ever stayed. It’s owned by a husband and wife duo, who are both artists by trade – she a sculptor and he a woodworker.
So, the entire place was furnished with handmade furniture, antiques and art pieces, thrifted finds, and little details. There was a wraparound, screened in porch that went on for days, and the space includes everything one needs for a cozy stay (including a wood-burning stove.) We will 100% be back for another, much longer, visit here!
Warren Dunes State Park: Neither of us had been to the dunes before, so imagine how surprised we were as we pulled into this area. They’re massive!
It was about to storm, so Lake Michigan looked and sounded more like the ocean than even the ocean does, and we walked along the beach, against the wind for awhile before turning back and walking toward the dunes to watch a few brave souls run up them at full speed.
Places like this certainly made it easy for us to forget that we were still in the midwest.
Greenbush Brewing: Our final brewery stop in Michigan, and one of the most fun! Greenbush is definitely a staple of Sawyer, and they even have an annex across the street that we stopped in after dinner. The food here was so good and we always love watching locals who know each other, run into each other and interact. In a weird way, it makes us feel right at home, every time.
There are countless apple and cherry orchards, pumpkin patches, antique stores and thrift shops, hiking trails, breweries, wineries, and more throughout this entire trek, which makes it the perfect fall adventure!
Something to note: many of the establishments in these smaller towns have odd hours, are only open a few days a week (or are seasonal), and just a few that we encountered are cash-only. Be sure to do a little research beforehand!
We also swung over to Chicago after leaving Sawyer, and had a very relaxing couple of days at the Hotel Lincoln before seeing Iron & Wine at Thalia Hall! It was definitely a change of pace, but the perfect ending to our trip. You can check out our 24 Hours in Chicago Guide for some ideas on what to do if you find yourself in the Windy City anytime soon!
I cannot wait to get back to Michigan soon! We’ve even tossed around the idea of a spring trip already. This trip definitely motivated us to explore more of the area that surrounds us – there is so much to see and love right here in the midwest!