Leelanau County: A 500-Word Guide to Experiencing the Splendor

My breath was completely taken away, I was in complete awe and I also wondered: Am I on the moon? Or is it the Sahara? But no, I was simply trekking Sleeping Bear Trail out of Glen Haven, Michigan. You need to pinch yourself — as is often necessary when in Leelanau County.

I’ve had a longtime love affair with the area. Leelanau — the wine trail, in particular — is the subject of the vast majority of my paintings. It’s a special kind of magic, with the rolling hills covered in vines that eventually become the wine that has become so well known and respected.

Have you been yet? It’s a place where the people are truly as extraordinary as the landscape, and if you’re lucky enough to meet a wine pro who’s ready to fill you in on the wine, the history and the story of the land — well, it would not be unusual in this area.

And oh, the hiking. Sigh. The hiking in this area is just spectacular, and a perfect activity to balance out the wine tasting and great food the area has to offer. Favorites of locals are the above-mentioned Sleeping Bear Trail, as well as Alligator Hill, Empire Bluff trail and Pyramid Point, but honestly there are so many, I feel I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Go explore and tell me what you find.

Village Cheese Shanty

One cannot live on wine alone. Can you? So where to eat now that you’re, er, well-hydrated and bursting with the beauty of the area but in need of fuel? Here are a few favorites, but it’s hard to go wrong up there. Every local I have ever met from the area has sent me to The Cheese Shanty in Fishtown for lunch. Now I’m sending you. The sandwiches are out of this world. I always ask for the sandwich maker’s choice and have them surprise me every time. The surprise is always pleasant. (By the way: If time allows while you’re in Fishtown and you love unique boutique experiences, stop in The Crib.) On the food topic, 9 Bean Rows in Suttons Bay is a must stop on every trip. It’s a place you will crave and return to, again and again. I also adore the Riverside Inn restaurant. But there are so many great foodie experiences, and many that are worth the drive to Traverse City proper. But you don’t have to leave Leelanau if you don’t want to, and often I don’t.

By no means is this any sort of complete list; it’s just what I’ve picked up on my many travels to the region. And it’s lacking in which wineries to visit because each one must be experienced; each has its own flavor. The most important thing is to go. Go experience this treasure that Michigan has to offer in wine, food and landscape. If you do not go, you must lie to me and say you did go — it’s that good!

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