Petoskey Area? What? Where? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, before heading to this northern Michigan lakeside treasure. There are a handful of little towns that make up this section of the state, each with their own charm. Some boast quaint downtowns brimming with gourmet restaurants, tasting rooms and high-end stores, while others have waterfront homes that will have you searching out ‘For Sale’ signs. Some have wineries serving the local juice, and others have mountainside adventures (like disc golf!). And all have beautiful shores dotted with yachts bopping in the water and million dollar sunsets. You will not be lacking in things to do and see in the area, and here are some of the best.
1. ✦ Hunt for the Famous Petoskey Stones
The Petoskey stone is both a rock and a fossil, and hunting for them in the Petoskey area of Michigan is one of the top things to do for kids and adults (myself included!). The fossilized rugose coral stones are unique to the beaches of the Great Lakes and can be found on Petoskey’s shores.
The stones were formed after the dead corals were covered with sediment, and gradually became a part of Alpena Limestone. Stone seekers from all over the globe trot to the Petoskey area to find the fossilized treasure. However, it is sometimes easier said than done. It took some hardcore searching and lots of tips from the locals, but I was lucky enough to find more than a dozen of them!
You can pretty much find them wherever you see rocks near water, but some of the most popular places are Petoskey State Park, Magnus City Park Beach and East Park.
2. ✦ See the Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix
What is a mushroom house? I knew you’d ask—think hobbit house meets gnome home. Architect Earl Young built around thirty homes in Charlevoix in his very unique style of using large boulders, curvy eaves and exposed rafter tails. You can use a self-guided tour map to navigate on your own (many are walkable right from the downtown) or take a guided Mushroom House group tour.
The house pictured is my favorite and the first mushroom home Young built, so make sure to see this one!
3. ✦ Take a Tour at Kilwins Chocolate Kitchen
Kilwins Chocolate Kitchen may just be an actual heaven for all you sweet-toothed, chocolate lovers. They offer homemade chocolates, truffles, corn brittle, ice cream and fudge (try the sea-salt caramel!). But, the best part is that you can soak up the divine scents of cocoa, caramel and nuts by taking a free tour of the magical kitchen. The tour offers a glimpse into the fascinating history of the store and a detailed review of how the delicious sweets are made. Oh, and did I mention that there are samples?!? At the end, you get to pick a little piece of chocolate, but that wasn’t enough for me. I came home with a handbag filled to the brim.
Tours are conducted Monday to Friday from 10 am – 4:30 pm, every half hour. Reservations are recommended, but we were able to walk right in and take the next tour.
4. ✦ Go Wine Tasting
Next to chocolate, wine is my favorite thing. Are you with me? The wines here are very distinctive and unique to the Petoskey area.
At Walloon Lake Winery, you can have a great wine tasting experience along with arranging a wedding of your dreams or joining one of their sip & paint events (FYI—I found a Petoskey stone in the vineyards here!). Petoskey also houses America’s first and only maple winery, Maple Moon. They have about 10 different wines, but don’t miss a taste of the maple blackberry! Plus, their straight up maple syrup is delish. We brought a bottle of the Bourbon Barrel Aged wine home.
Go to Petoskey Farms Vineyard not only for the wine, but for the beautiful patio that overlooks the vines below. In the summer they even have a wood-fired pizza oven food truck. Pizza and wine? A match made in heaven. If cider is more your thing, stop by Resort Pike Cidery and Winery, which specializes in unique flavors, like local red beet and apple cider.
5. ✦ Window Shop in the Historic Gaslight District
Offering twinkling panoramas of Little Traverse Bay, Downtown Petoskey is settled in a world of its own. I am not exaggerating when I say it is like taking a trip back in time. Lit with vintage-looking gaslight street lamps, the boulevards are lined with charming little independent stores, boutiques, art galleries and winery tasting rooms. It was actually a surprise how unique each store was—I didn’t even know that I wanted/needed anything until peeking through the windows. Then window shopping turned into shopping.
Stop by Symons General Store and treat yourself to Michigan candy (or a handful of sour gummy worms), pick up a fine gift for the home at Shed, buy some polished Petoskey stones at Grandpa Shorters, have a delicious meal and coffee at one of the many cafes. We loved Palette Bistro for its food and stunning views.
With all of this, and more, it really is no wonder that it has been named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the best small towns to visit in the USA.
6. ✦ Walk Through a Lavender Field
You definitely have to time your visit right to Lavender Hill Farm in order to be surrounded by a sea of purple blooms for that perfect Instagram photo. But, even if it’s not the season, don’t miss a stop here! We were early by a couple of weeks, but still loved roaming around because there are plenty of things to do even when the flowers are not blooming.
Peek into the cute shop that sells everything lavender inside (and it smells heavenly in there!), partake in one of their movie nights or dance to the live music in the barn.
Lavender Hill Farm is located in Boyne City and open from May through October, from 10am-5pm daily. Check their website for official dates and times.
7. ✦ Follow the Footsteps of Ernest Hemingway
The famous American journalist and writer, Ernest Hemingway, has spent a few chunks of life in the Petoskey area (that guy got around, didn’t he?). Follow his footsteps by visiting the historical sites such as the Red Fox Inn where he and his bride stayed, Greensky Hill Indian Methodist Church that is a sacred location mentioned in Hemingway’s writings and Charles Farm where Hemingway spent his summers. Also, make sure to pop into Horton Bay General Store in Boyne City to see the place where Hemingway had his nightly cup of coffee (BTW, it’s right next door to the Red Fox Inn).
8. ✦ Take a Tour of Castle Farms
Yep, there’s a castle in Michigan! Castle Farms was a dairy farm built in 1918, and today it’s a premier wedding venue (who doesn’t want to get married at a castle?) and a chance for visitors to walk through 100 years of history. In the summer there is a guided tour, though the strategically placed numbers throughout the property make it easy to do a self-guided tour as well.
There are plenty of things to see and do on the property, but definitely don’t miss these highlights:
- Do a wine tasting at 1918 Cellars
- Get mesmerized by Michigan’s largest outdoor model railroad (over 2500 feet of track!)
- Stroll through the handful of pretty gardens, and feed the ducks
- Get lost in the Hedge Maze
For an extra bucket list adventure make sure to take the Ironton Ferry over! It is an historic four-car ferry that has been in service since 1883 and crosses a very narrow part of Lake Charlevoix. It only takes 5-minutes, but you’ll be riding on something that is listed in Michigan’s Directory of Historic Places and Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
Some activities are seasonal, so check the Castle Farms website to plan your visit.
9. ✦ Catch a Million Dollar Sunset
I had heard that the Petoskey area was the home of the million dollar sunsets, and they didn’t disappoint. If you are anywhere along the water when the weather is right, it’s pretty hard to miss a stunning one. With that said, I did have a couple favorites. Time your evening stroll to the Petoskey beacon correctly and you can get wowed with orange reflections along the water. Or grab a nice glass of wine at the Inn at Bay Harbor and head to their patio, because wine and sunsets are a perfect pair.
For even more sunset options, see Stafford’s top 5 picks.
10. ✦ Have a Bucket List Adventure on Boyne Mountain
Disk golf, paintball, ziplining? What’s your bucket list adventure? Boyne Mountain is best known for it’s winter activities on the snow, but don’t discount the fun you can have at other times of the year too. Play one of two championship golf courses, try their 18-hole disc golf course, load up on ammo for a fierce game of paintball or fly up in the trees on a zipline.
For a milder adventure, rent a golf cart and drive the 7-mile loop around the property. Follow the ride up with a wet and wild time at the year-round indoor waterpark, Avalanche Bay™.
The Petoskey is indeed a small area, but it is packed with plenty of things to do! It’s full of picturesque lake scenery, hidden gems, historical sites, and a whimsical ambience.
Essential Tips for Visiting the Petoskey Area
Getting There: Flying into Cherry Capital Airport (TVC) is the easiest and Delta, American, and United Airlines will fly into it. Then it is just over an hour to the Petoskey area. Another option is the Pellston Regional Airport (PLN), serviced by Delta. For driving directions, see the Petoskey Area website.
Where to Stay in the Petoskey Area: The Petoskey area is known for its lakefront views, and I was fortunate enough to stay close to the water. I stayed in an historic Victorian, Stafford’s Bay View Inn, and it was perfectly located, plus put the BEST cookies on my bed every night and complimentary sticky buns at breakfast!
The Inn at Bay Harbor is a great choice if you are looking for a higher end hotel (we loved their restaurant there, too!). For something on the less expensive side, try the Terrace Inn. You can find a full list of lodging properties on the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau website.
Getting Around: If you fly in, renting a car at the airport is really the best way to experience the Petoskey area. A list of rental companies in the area can be found here. If you are not renting a car, there are a few other options. There are shuttles available at the Traverse City airport (you can see a list here). It is possible to get around by taxi, but that can get quite expensive (especially if you want to check all the things to do off this bucket list!). If you choose, Uber and Lyft are also available.
More Information: For more information about visiting the Petoskey area and its attractions, see the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau website.