Enjoying West Michigan

The Local Arrangements Committee looks forward to seeing you all in Grand Rapids for the 47th SSR Annual Meeting from 19–23 July 2014. In addition to the science, there is a lot to do in West Michigan, so plan to stay and enjoy our beautiful outdoors!

Michigan-based SSR Members who are passionate about their summer fun have been writing blogs to give you information about the recreational activities they enjoy so you can, too. With the winter months dragging on, what better way to "think warm" than to plan things to do in the great outdoors during the summer?​

Asgi Fazleabas, Ph.D.
SSR Local Arrangements Committee Chair
Michigan State University

The Irelands: "Lakes, Campsites, and Cottages"

Scenic state and national parks abound in Western and Northern Michigan and await your arrival to enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches and scenery in the U.S.A. Whether a secluded and rustic camp site is what you are looking for, or a cottage on Lake Michigan with all the amenities, you can find a place to enjoy Michigan's scenic beauty while touring the beaches, sand dunes, and quaint local towns.

Mackinac Bridge at Sunset

Mackinac Bridge at Sunset
Image by Dehk, via Wikimedia Commons

There are several campgrounds located within 20 miles of Grand Rapids, where you can enjoy peaceful lake and river surroundings, yet be close to the city's sights, restaurants, and shopping. For your convenience, camping gear can be rented and delivered to your hotel.

To experience the true splendor of Michigan, head west toward Lake Michigan, the fifth largest freshwater lake in the world. Within 50 miles of Grand Rapids, you will discover lakeside communities from Grand Haven to Pentwater and perhaps take a dune ride along the beach. Within 100 miles, you can kayak, canoe, or raft the rivers that flow near Luddington and Manistee, or walk on dune trails to discover Lake Michigan lighthouses.

Drive 150 miles north of Grand Rapids and you will discover why Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is considered one of the most beautiful places in America. With a visitor center, camp grounds, historic lighthouses, maritime museum, scenic drive, and many trails, Sleeping Bear Dunes offers a complete vacation, with something for everyone to enjoy. In particular, The Dune Climb is nature's sandbox to play in. With bluffs towering 450 feet above Lake Michigan, it tests your endurance to see how much of the 3.5-mile round trip to Lake Michigan you can walk. No matter how far you make it, any point in the climb offers stunning 360-degree views of lakes and offshore islands.

If you venture 3.5 hours farther north of Grand Rapids to Mackinaw City and cross The Mighty Mac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula, you will experience historic forts, waterfalls, lighthouses, sandstone cliffs, museums, and some of the most stunning views of the Great Lakes from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Whichever path you choose, the nature of Michigan is well worth the drive.

James J. Ireland, Ph.D.
and Janet Ireland
Michigan State University

Asgi Fazleabas: "Travel Accolades"

Travel accolades bestowed on West Michigan destinations, as collected by Michigan Travel, include:

Grand Haven State Park

Grand Haven State Park
Image courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

  • Lake Charlevoix: No. 2 Best Lake in America, USA Today
  • Petoskey: Best Lake Beach, The Weather Channel
  • Grand Rapids: Beer City USA and Lonely Planet's list of U.S. destinations to visit in 2014
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes: Most Beautiful Place in America, "Good Morning America"
  • Travers City: No. 4 Best Winter Vacation Destination, Livability.com; Best Summer Trips of 2012, National Geographic Traveler
  • Leland: No. 2 Best Sunsets, USA Today
  • Grand Haven: Best Secret Beaches on Earth, Travel + Leisure
  • Mackinac Island: Top 10 Islands in the World, Conde Nast Traveler
  • Marquette: America's Top Mountain Bike Towns, The Active Times
  • Holland: Best Small Town Festival, Reader's Digest
  • St. Joseph/Silver Beach: 6 Terrific Towns on Water, CNNMoney.com
  • Alpena: US-23 named Best Drive in the Midwest, The Weather Channel

Asgi Fazleabas, Ph.D.
SSR Local Arrangements Committee Chair
Michigan State University

Mark Olson: "SSR Golf Blog"

As winter drags on, I am sure many of you are dreaming of warm summer weather, and those of you who love to play golf just cannot wait to get on the greens.

So if you are attending SSR this year and are an avid golfer who wants to enjoy an outdoor activity in "Pure Michigan," then a round of golf may be your perfect solution. Within 15 minutes of downtown Grand Rapids, there are close to 15 courses available for public play. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced golfer, there is a course for you in Grand Rapids. Below, I rank my Top 5 Courses in the Grand Rapids vicinity based on value and quality:

Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club

18th Hole at Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club
Image by Dan (golfpro1) from Schaumburg,
IL, USA, via Wikimedia Commons

5. The Highlands Golf Club ($): This Donald Ross-designed course features tree-lined fairways and fast greens, giving one the impression of playing a private club. Created in 1908, this course is rich in history, with the course hosting the Champions Tour from 1986 through 1993.

4. L.E. Kaufman Golf Course ($–$$): L.E. Kaufman is managed by Kent County Parks and is one of the nicest-maintained courses in the area. This course has a great mix of holes, with several creeks running throughout.

3. Quail Ridge Golf Club ($$): Quail Ridge opened in 1999, and has become one of the area's top-rated courses. This course is very playable and offers a unique mix of pot bunkers, marshland, and forests.

2. The Meadows Golf Club at GVSU ($$): The Meadows is the home golf course to Grand Valley State University, and is one of the most challenging courses in the area. At 7000 yards long and featuring many tight driving holes with tall fescue grass, this course will test your skills. In my opinion, this course offers the best value of any in the area.

1. Thornapple Pointe Golf Club ($$–$$$): Thornapple Pointe is set along the Thornapple River and is located a half-mile from the Gerald Ford Airport. This course is challenging, but very fun to play, with beautiful vistas of the river and the surrounding wilderness. The staff here are very friendly, and the 19th hole offers a great patio and tasty local craft beer for your post-round enjoyment.

If the courses in Grand Rapids aren't enough, or if you have a little more time on your hands, there are a couple of other courses that are worth the trip. Two hours north along the shores of Lake Michigan, you will find Golf Digest's #1-Ranked Public Course in Michigan in Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club. This links-style course offers incredible views of Lake Michigan and brings you back to the style of golf played at the home of golf in Scotland. The greens fees are upward of $150 during peak season, but checking a Top-100 Course in the US off your list will surely be worth it.

Another course worth taking a road trip for (albeit much shorter at 40 minutes) is Pilgrims Run Golf Club in Pierson, Michigan. Quite the contrast from Arcadia Bluffs, this course is set in a forest, offering beautiful vistas of the surrounding wilderness. Opened in 1997, Pilgrims Run is a must-play in West Michigan, and the greens fees are a more modest $65 during peak season.

For local deals on golf, visit www.golfnow.com and search Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo area. Wherever you decide to play, you are assured to have an enjoyable experience! So bring your clubs and enjoy everything Grand Rapids and West Michigan have to offer!!!

Mark Olson
Michigan State University

The Risingers & Sue Ferguson: "West Michigan Fishing Paradise"

(The text below is excerpted from the full fishing article, available in PDF format.)

When it comes to outdoor activities, West Michigan is really outstanding! This blog will focus on some of the great fishing within the city itself and within a short drive from the city. It is not just our opinion that the fishing is great here, but also that of Field and Stream, one of the largest outdoor publications in the world. Their writers ranked Grand Rapids as the sixth-best fishing city in the US.

Let's start with our fishing team.

Read the full fishing article for...

• Winter: Sue spears pike on Reeds
Lake and fishes for steelhead in
downtown Grand Rapids. (Pages 2–6.)

• Spring: One of the best times to fish.
Crappies, bluegills, catfish, suckers...
and trout season! (Pages 6–8.)

• Fall: Spawning ​coho and Chinook
salmon. (Pages 11–13.)​

  • Sue Ferguson. Sue is a Research Assistant working for Asgi Fazleabas at Michigan State University and is our Department's expert in tissue acquisition and all things related to such processes. More importantly, Sue is our downtown-fishing contributor, who regularly fishes the Grand River and Reeds Lake with the locals.

  • Emma Risinger. Emma, age 9, is part of the JET Farm fishing team. JET Farm is John, Emma, and Tracy Risinger's farm in Belmont, Michigan, about 11 miles from downtown Grand Rapids and located in scenic Cannon Township. Emma sometimes accompanies her dad on his fishing exploits.

  • Tracy Thompson (Risinger). Tracy is an occasional fisherperson in the JET Farm team. Tracy has battled big Chinook salmon on the Muskegon, but prefers the more constant action of "tiddlers" (small panfish) when she fishes.

  • John Risinger. John is a Cancer Biologist in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Biology at Michigan State University whose lab focuses on gynecologic oncology research. John is a lifelong angler who likes catching just about any species of fish, whether in fresh or salt water. John's brother once said that John can catch a fish from an empty bathtub. John is also part of Team JET.

Fishing is a year-round experience in West Michigan. Something can be caught any time of the year. Even in the dead of the coldest winter (like we had this year!!) or on the hottest summer day, something is likely to be biting. The four seasons drive our fishing calendar regarding what fish we target and which fishing methods we use. West Michigan is blessed with both outstanding cold-water (trout, salmon, whitefish, etc.) and warm-water (bass, yellow perch, walleye, pike, bluegills, catfish, etc.) fisheries. In fact, Lake Michigan serves as sort of an inland ocean in that introduced West Coast anadromous species like salmon (coho and Chinook) and steelhead (anadromous rainbow trout) live the majority of their life in the big lake, then venture up our rivers and tributaries to spawn.



Bass from Local Lake
Image courtesy John Risinger

As late spring transitions into summer, the ways we fish for some of our favorite species also transition. All those concentrated and accessible larger bluegills and crappie have moved out to deeper-water weed beds, making them harder to locate in big numbers, although small bluegills are easy to fish all year. Catching these is still on many anglers' agendas, but summer really shines for our bass fishing.

When bass season opens, we see hundreds of anglers start in pursuit of America's number-one sport fish. Our area in West Michigan has plenty of exceptional bass fishing. Our local inland lakes all hold good populations of these fish, particularly largemouth bass. And since most bass fishing is catch-and-release, there are some good-sized largemouths swimming in these lakes.

When it comes to smallmouth-bass fishing, it is again hard to beat the Grand River. The Grand has a very healthy population of these fish, and as the water levels recede from spring highs, the fish become concentrated in predictable locations and can be readily caught using typical smallmouth techniques. In the Grand, I have had a lot of success catching these fish with tubes and simple jigs rigged with a 2- to 3-inch gulp minnows, which effectively mimic the invasive goby (the tube) and minnow (the gulp minnow jig) population in the Grand.


Summertime Pike
Image courtesy John Risinger

When these baits are tossed close to deadfalls, river obstructions, current breaks, and holes downstream of riffles, you will catch these bass. Outside of town toward the east, where the Grand becomes increasingly shallower, many anglers wade out, targeting bass in the summer. Many of the same bass hideouts also harbor the channel cats and walleyes, so multiple species may be caught in the same outings with the same baits. The Thornapple and Flat Rivers join the Grand east of town in Ada and Lowell, and are both very easy rivers to wade into with multiple warm-water species and good bass fishing.

The Grand and local lakes also support good populations of pike. These fish have always been an incidental catch for me, but some anglers target these fish and enjoy good success. On a typical day fishing a lake like Wabasis and targeting largemouths, I will also catch a few yellow perch, some crappies, a few small pike, and perhaps a bowfin, all as incidental catches on my bass baits.

Trout fishing is still open, but those easy-to-fool spring trout are now becoming increasingly tough to catch. Clear water and low water levels lead to easily spooked fish, making it a real challenge to catch them. This is a good time to fly fish, as many good insect hatches happen, and fishing for brown trout on a summer evening can be productive.

Salmon and Steelhead

Salmon and Steelhead
Image courtesy John Risinger

The salmon and steelhead are in Lake Michigan, not Grand Rapids, so this is good time to get a few friends together to book a charter boat. I did this this last summer. We booked a charter out of Grand Haven, which is less than an hour west of town, and our group caught a nice mess of these fish.

We hope we have given you a snapshot of some of the great fishing that can be experienced in our part of the world. We will plan on updating this blog with some content from our spring and early summer fishing experiences prior to the SSR Meeting—but bring your fishing gear and remember that the Grand River is just outside your hotel and flows right past the convention center.

If you have any questions about fishing in West Michigan, our experts, John (John.Risinger@hc.msu.edu) or Sue (Susan.Ferguson@hc.msu.edu), will be happy to provide you with advice or any number of fishing stories!!!

John Risinger, Ph.D. and Sue Ferguson
Michigan State University

Gary Smith and Mike Schultz: "Michigan Fly Fishing"

The following is an interview with Mike (Schultzy) Schultz, owner of Schultz Outfitters. For additional information, please feel free to contact Dr. Gary D. Smith (smithgd@umich.edu).

1. Gary: Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you choose SE Michigan for your headquarters? What is your favorite Summer water in SE Michigan, SW Michigan, and Central Michigan?

Schultzy: I've been in the fly fishing business since I was a teenager—working in shops, running shops, and guiding all over the state. While I was earning a business degree from Eastern Michigan University, I was guiding locally for smallmouth and carp on the Huron, but I also guided the Pere Marquette for steelhead and salmon. Two years ago, my business partner (and longtime fishing buddy), Brian Doelle, and I had the chance to open a shop. This was really my chance to "do it right." I've fished a lot of gear over the years, so I know the best options and how to put them to work. I'm proud to say we don't stock anything I haven't personally fished to make sure it performs. I think that means a lot and it gives our customers confidence.

We chose SE Michigan for a simple reason—we grew up here and we know what a great fishery we have access to. Also, I think we have some of the best clients you could ask for. They're knowledgeable, fun, and really support local businesses like ours. That's not always the case in other places.

At Schultz Outfitters, we fish the Huron, the Shiawassee, the Kalamazoo, the Raisin, and some others we don't talk about. We've also had a guide who fishes Lake St. Clair. So we really cover all of Southeast Michigan. But for me, I'd have to say my favorites during the summer are the Saginaw River tributaries; whether the Shiawassee or Flint in Southeast Michigan, or the Chippewa or Tittabawasse in Central Michigan.

2. Gary: If you could only fish one river in July/August; what would it be? What species would you target? With what rod/reel/line combo? And what fly?

Schultzy: It would definitely be one of the Saginaw River tributaries—Chippewa, Tittabawasse, Flint, Shiawassee. I've found that these rivers consistently produce excellent smallmouth fishing. All have good public access and great scenery. My favorite way to fish them is top water—a 9-foot, 7‐weight rod, with a floating line and a bass popper. I love the new Scott Radian & ORVIS Helios 2 rods, with a Hatch reel and a Scientific Anglers Titan Taper line. All made in America, including the line, made right here in Michigan.

Schultzy & Fly-Caught SE Michigan Smallmouth

Schultzy with a Nice Fly-Caught SE Michigan Smallmouth
Image courtesy Mike Schultz

3. Gary: With the Society for Study of Reproduction meeting taking place in Grand Rapids (GR), what three rivers or lakes in a 70-mile radius of GR would you wade fish that have public access?

Schultzy: Within a 70-mile radius of Grand Rapids, there's some great water. First, I would fish the Muskegon River. That would be the closest "up north" sort of experience you'll get in that part of the state. In the summer, you have a lot of choices on the Muskegon—you have excellent smallmouth bass, pike, carp, and even trout up by Croton Dam. A little further, you have the Pere Marquette River, which many consider the Pebble Beach of fly fishing. In July, you'll have excellent opportunities fishing hopper patterns or other terrestrials. In 1884, the Pere Marquette was the first river in America to be stocked with brown trout, so it's got some amazing history to go with the stunning scenery. Finally, much closer to Grand Rapids, you have the Grand River and its tributaries. The Grand has one of the biggest runs of steelhead in the state—unfortunately, in July that's not the case. But you will find a broad range of other species, including smallmouth bass, pike, lake trout, Chinook salmon, coho salmon, carp, catfish, walleye, and nearly any other fish that swims in the Great Lakes.

4. Gary: Are there steelhead and/or salmon opportunities in Michigan in late July? If so, can you describe the most successful method to target these species in the dog days of summer?

Schultzy: Yes, there are definitely steelhead and salmon opportunities at that time of year. I'd focus on two. The first being the Little Manistee River, just south of Wellston. It's the most predictable, accessible, reliable river in the state for these species, with salmon runs starting as early as the Fourth of July. If I were wading, this would be my first choice. At the same time, you can find Skamania-strain steelhead in the Big Manistee River below Tippy Dam. This run isn't as predictable, and requires a boat to really access, but it can provide some great shots at early-run fish.​

5. Gary: Tell us a bit about the many aspects of Schultz Outfitters. What are some of the community programs you have initiated? Where do you guide?

Schultzy: Schultz Outfitters was created to be a complete resource for fly fishing both in Michigan and wherever you might venture. In addition to a fully stocked fly shop (including one of the state's largest selections of tying materials), we offer guiding on the Huron, Shiawassee, Flint, Kalamazoo, and some other secret spots. We also offer destination trips that are all carefully selected by our team to be unique experiences that you won't easily find somewhere else. While we specialize in warmwater species like smallmouth, pike, carp, and muskie, our team has tremendous experience targeting other species and destinations—especially steelhead, trout, and saltwater. Our goal is to be able to offer everyone, from the novice to the master angler, the knowledge and products they'll need to have a great time on the water.

20+ inch Michigan Smallmouth

Another 20+ Inch Michigan Smallmouth
Image courtesy Mike Schultz

As the shop is located on the banks of the Huron, we're heavily involved in efforts to protect and improve this unique natural resource. Our Single Fly tournament in July supports the Huron River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council is doing excellent work in conservation, advocacy, and education to help not just fly fishers, but everyone in the region enjoy the Huron. We also support this group with a fundraiser after-party at the Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3T) event in Ann Arbor (we're also the presenting sponsor of this event). Beyond this, we work with numerous groups and clubs, including Trout Unlimited, Cub and Boy Scouts, schools, and more, to introduce people to the sport and share our love for it.

6. Gary: I hear carp are a target species in Michigan. Can you provide teasers for both Michigan River and Lake carp fishing?

Schultzy: Carp fishing on the fly has been going on in Michigan for several years and has really taken off just lately. I've been at the carp game from the early days. Our team has some of the area's best carp gurus and we love introducing new people to the challenge of chasing the "golden bonefish." In July, you're going to want to be over on the East Side of the state, fishing mulberries. Starting in late June, carp start to feed on the mulberries that drop from bushes overhanging the river. The carp will eat them right off the surface, and it's a blast. It's fairly easy fishing, so anyone can do it pretty quickly. If you're a decent caster, you'll hook 'em. If you a good angler, you'll land 'em!

Also at this time, the Great Lakes have some outstanding sight fishing on the flats. Lake Michigan is probably the top location—in places like Grand Traverse Bay, Beaver Island, or the Garden Peninsula in the U.P. Lake Huron also offers some excellent shots as well. Best of all, access is great. In Michigan, if you can access the lake, you are 100% legal once you're in the water, no matter where you roam. The most common way to catch them is on a small streamer using a floating line and a long leader. The fishing style is very similar to stalking bonefish on the flats in saltwater. I've found that the big lake fish are considerably more aggressive than the river fish, so you might hook a dozen fish on a really good day. And, even on a bad one, you'll get a couple.

7. Gary: Haunting stories of Michigan Monster Mayflies (3M) and summer night fishing are whispered across the country. What is your best memory of such an excursion? Pictures please.

Schultzy: In Michigan, we're fortunate to have the largest Mayfly species—the Hexagenia limbata. On Northern Michigan waters, the hex hatch usually happens from mid‐June through the Fourth of July weekend. This hatch brings the biggest trout of the year up to the surface to feed, so it's a pretty unique experience. The key is knowing where and when the bugs are going to come off, and being in the right spot at the right time. The Pere Marquette, Au Sable, Manistee, and a whole bunch of other unmentionables (sorry, guys, I have to keep a few secrets for me), get a hex hatch. In addition to the Hexagenia limbata, we also have the slightly smaller Hexagenia recurvata, which extends the opportunities into early August. It's a slightly smaller bug, but it still produces big fish.

While the hex hatch is most commonly thought of as a trout hunting program, our Southern Michigan rivers also offer some great hex fishing. The Huron River gets a hex hatch the last week of July through the first two weeks of August that brings some monster smallmouth to the surface for the promise of a big meal. And even Lake St. Clair gets a nice hex hatch. These hatches are so massive that they actually show up on radar!

My best memory of the hex is from my early days of trout fishing. Usually, after an adult beverage or three, you can often convince your buddy to eat one of these 4" bugs. I always loved talking guys into this. And yes, they do crunch when you bite them!​

Boggle-Eyed Michigan Smallmouth

Boggle-Eyed Michigan Smallmouth
Image courtesy Mike Schultz

8. Gary: In the fall, when weather turns cool and autumn colors emerge, what is your favorite trout water in Michigan?

Schultzy: Ideally, I'd like to be on the Pere Marquette River on a Wednesday. I'd spend my day doing two things. First, I'd be chasing bright chrome steelhead, fresh from the lake. This year we caught steelhead as early as the third week of September. Second, I'd fish egg patterns to brown and rainbow trout below the spawning salmon. Some big trout show up for the Egg Buffet and it's a great way to spend a day on one of Michigan's prettiest rivers.

9. Gary: If a family had a few days in July to vacation, eat, and sightsee, and dad (or mom) wanted to fish for an evening, where in Michigan would you suggest (considering the kids and spouse need entertainment also)?

Schultzy: This one's easy—the Traverse City area. You've got great food, microbreweries, wineries, nightlife, Lake Michigan, and so much stuff for the whole family. And for the angler, you've got some great trout rivers nearby, like the Boardman, Betsie, Manistee, and Platte. If your timing's right, you can fish carp on the flats in Grand Traverse Bay.

10. Gary: You are fortunate to fish all over the U.S. and internationally. What was your favorite trip in the last two years and why?

Schultzy: I've done some pretty incredible trips, but believe it or not, my favorite is right here in Michigan. In late June, we host a trip to the Upper Peninsula for smallmouth bass. This is arguably the greatest moving-water smallmouth bass fishery around. We stay at a giant log home right on the river with an in‐house cook and housekeeping staff. The combination of the fishing, the accommodations, and fishing with ten great people makes this an off‐the‐charts good time. The whole trip is float fishing using top water techniques. You're fishing poppers, frogs, and wounded baitfish patterns. The fish are big. The fish are mean. And the fish are plentiful. Last year, we boated five smallmouth of 20" or better, with plenty of 18‐19" smallmouth.

11. Gary: You just won the Michigan Powerball! You have packed your rod and reel. Where are you going?

Bell's Brewery, Inc.

Bell's Oberon (Summer in a Bottle) and Two Hearted Ale
(Lots of Hops) Are Michigan Must-Tries —Gary

Images courtesy Bell's Brewery, Inc.

Schultzy: This one's tough. My first choice would be to grab all my fishing buddies and head to South America to fish for Golden Dorado. It's the meanest fish you can catch in fresh water on the fly. But a close second would be the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia—that would be my "Northern Hemisphere" choice! You're fishing for some of the world's biggest rainbows on mice patterns.​

12. Gary: What is your favorite Michigan microbrew?

Schultzy: When I became of legal drinking age, Bell's Brewery was just getting going, so I've got to pick that one. I'm a big fan of their Oberon, Winter White, and Two Hearted Ale (it's got a trout on the label; how can you lose?).

Gary D. Smith, Ph.D.
University of Michigan

Kirstin Parkin: "A Wine and Food Tour of Northern Michigan"

(The text below is excerpted from the full wine-and-food article, available in PDF format.)

I have been traveling to the Grand Traverse area for more than 30 years for both summer and winter vacations, first with my parents, then with friends, and now with my own children. Years ago, people flocked to the area for the summer and winter outdoor recreation…but for the past several years, my close friends and I, along with thousands of others, have enjoyed another aspect of the area: the food and wine. In a way, the food and wine "scene" is like adding a dark chocolate ganache to an already mouth-watering chocolate cake. The area was great to start with, but now it's superb. There is a reason people find ways to relocate their lives to the Grand Traverse area. Thanks to the internet and the freedom it provides to small, independent business owners, the area is growing non-stop.

Now, you might be thinking I'm a little partial, since I am a Michigander, but I did leave the state for six years to go to graduate school in Chicago, and I spent quite a bit of my stipend on sampling the wonderful cuisine of the Windy City. Just read what famed chef Mario Batali has to say about Northern Michigan on his website. He could spend his summers anywhere in the world, yet he moves his family to the quaint town of Northport to live the "up north" life from June through August. Mario travels the area, sampling the local restaurants and farm stands, which was highlighted in Bon Appetit. One of the restaurants I mention below in my recommendations, The Cooks' House, has been quoted by Mario to be one of his top 10 favorite restaurants in the world. Like many others in the region, the owners pride themselves on serving foods grown on local farms, "farm to table," as you will hear it referred to throughout different media.

Hmmm…maybe now you're thinking there's more to the Grand Traverse area than crystal clear, Caribbean-colored lakes, huge sand dunes, breathtaking sunsets, starlit nights, and an occasional round of putt-putt golf. Yes, in my opinion, you can jump in your car, drive north from Grand Rapids for two and a half hours, and find yourself in the middle of paradise, Northern Michigan style.

I assume anyone traveling to Traverse City will have at least two days to wander about, which is what my friends and I do each year in the fall for our "up north wine tour." I want to preface the information below by saying that when it comes to wine, I enjoy dry reds, so keep that in mind when reading my recommendations (to give you an idea, I bought one bottle of white wine when I vacationed in Napa, and two cases of red wine). There are many fine white wines to be found in Northern Michigan, which is why I suggest sampling at all of the vineyards you visit. I will mention a few of my favorites, but I also recommend looking at the links I've provided to learn more. Most vineyards offer one free glass and then usually three more glasses for around $5.

I would suggest spending the first day in Traverse City, venturing up Old Mission Peninsula, and sampling the few vineyards located there. Then, the next day, you can take more time to explore beautiful Leelanau Peninsula and the much larger selection of vineyards found there.​

Day One: Exploring Traverse City and Old Mission Peninsula


I haven't had a chance to eat at either of these locations, but I've heard nothing but rave reviews and have convinced my group to try at least one this year.

  • Patisserie Ami—Obviously known for their pastries, the menu makes you wonder if you wandered into a little café in Paris.

  • Frenchies Famous—French press coffee, espressos, house-made breakfast all in a cozy setting. 619 Randolph St., (231) 944-1228.

Wine Tour on Old Mission Peninsula

Here is the map of the "wine trail"; the main website has information, photos, etc., about all the vineyards and restaurants. As you will see, there are only a handful of vineyards, so it's easy to visit them all. These are the three we always visit:

(See the full article for descriptions of ​Chateau Chantal, ​2 Lads Winery, and ​Brys Estate.)

As I said above, it is easy to visit all of the vineyards on Old Mission in a day, but I might suggest passing up Blackstar Farms only because its main tasting room north of Traverse City is worth waiting another day for….

Lunch on Old Mission Peninsula

For a casual dining experience, the Jolly Pumpkin offers delicious pizzas, sandwiches, soups, etc., and has an excellent selection of Michigan microbrewed beer. For a more fine-dining experience and a beautiful view of the bay (and honestly what I would recommend), The Boathouse is considered one of the top dining experiences in the area.

Dinner in Traverse City

Choose any of these and you can't go wrong.

(See the full article for descriptions of ​Mission Table, The Boathouse, Amical, State Street Movie Theater, and Trattoria Stella.)

Last but not least, is of course Mario Batali's favorite…The Cooks' House. Alas, I wish I could tell you about all the wonderful food I've had there, but due to its popularity, I have been unable to secure a reservation the nights we've been in town. Of course, that tells you how popular it is and why you should call now…

And just when you thought the night was over, one last hurrah. A martini at the top of the Park Place Hotel (downtown Traverse City) in the Beacon Lounge, listening to live piano music, is the perfect way to end a day in paradise.

Day Two: A Scenic Tour Across the Leelanau Peninsula


If you are staying in Traverse City, you could of course dine at one of the locations mentioned above. My friends and I like to start our wine tour with breakfast in Suttons Bay, a quaint little town north of Traverse City along historic M-22 (a road that is famous for its scenery and logo found on T-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., which you are sure to see while traveling in Michigan). Be careful; if you begin to wander around, you may easily get caught up in the unique shops and use all your spending money before you make it to one vineyard. Martha's Leelanau Table offers the perfect, fresh breakfast to start your day with.

Wine Tour on Leelanau Peninsula

Here is the map of the "wine trail"; the main website has information, photos, etc., about all the vineyards and restaurants. There are many more vineyards compared to Old Mission, so I will take you through the path we follow every year and touch on our favorites.

(See the full article for descriptions of Black Star Farms, Hearth & Vine Café,L. Mawby, Ciccone, Willow, Chateau de Leelanau, Shady Lane, Bel Lago, and​ Good Harbor.)

As you can see from the map, there are many more vineyards to choose from, and I highly recommend asking the locals and reading the reviews on the internet to see what others you would like to sample. Many of the vineyards have some version of a dessert wine, often a cherry wine (Traverse City is the cherry capital of the world, just in case you didn't know), which can make a unique gift.

Fishtown, Michigan

Marina in Leland, Michigan
Photograph by C-Worthy Blog

Dining in Quaint, Historic Leland

But as you can imagine, all of this drinking requires some nourishment as well, so here are a couple suggestions to continue your sampling of farm-to-table cooking:

(See the full article for descriptions of ​​The Cove, ​Shanties in Historic Fish Town [including Village Cheese Shanty and one of Mario Batali's favorite stops, Carlson's Fisheries], ​The Riverside Inn, and ​Bella Fortuna).

If you would like to read more, this Detroit Free Press article highlights many of the places I've listed above. Also, there are organized wine tours that stop at most of the vineyards I've mentioned in case you want to leave the driving to someone else. Here is just one example, but you can find more on the internet.

I hope you find the above suggestions helpful and I am more than happy to answer any questions you have. Make sure in the midst of all your traveling to find time to sit down somewhere along the waterfront and enjoy the paradise only Northern Michigan can offer….

Kirstin Parkin, Ph.D.
Michigan State University