Welcome to Summer!  When I first arrived in Michigan many many years ago people would tell me tales about the mythical “Up North” vacation destination.  I didn’t get it.  I just knew that everyone does it.   And, I didn’t really see the appeal.

Our Hometown: Northville, Michigan

I have always loved Michigan.  I’ve traveled over half the country and I have always said that this is my favorite spot.  Specifically, THIS SPOT in Michigan.  We are close to an airport, major sports teams, great small towns, and have an incredible state park within minutes of our house.  A few miles to the east is farmland.  A few miles to the west is Detroit.  It is a beautiful little slice of earth that seems to have everything I’m looking for.  Like somehow, in my soul, I was always looking for THIS PLACE to call home.  But, when I finally did take that trek “up north” it stole my heart for good.

I lost my heart in Glen Arbor

Glen Arbor is a small, vibrant coastal (on a lake, not a beach) town in Leelanau County, one of the furthest north counties in the Mitten – which is what we call the lower area of Michigan.  Abutting Lake Michigan, this tiny community of only a few blocks, has shops, restaurants, and adventures just waiting for you.  Seconds from the shore you will find delicious meals of fresh fish, trendy boutiques with everything from cute beach bags to custom jewelry, and unique stops like the lavender shop with amazing handmade soaps and fish flops.  You read that right. 🙂 You won’t find hotels here, but a number of rental properties will meet your needs for a week long unwinding from everyday life.  Just minutes from similar small towns, rivers, lakes, beaches, and a national park (technically it’s a national lakeshore, but whatever), this location is ideal for a family adventure.

Glen Haven Empire Road Sign

Food & Dining in Glen Arbor

My husband was surprised at the variety and quality of food in this tiny town.  While this could easily have been a junky beach town, it is actually a high-quality, classy coastal town.  You can get everything from hot dogs to fresh caught fish.  Kid fare is fabulous and plentiful too.  We love the mac n cheese bites at Boonedocks and enjoyed tater tots with our burgers at Art’s tavern.  Our latest favorite is Inn & Trail Gourmet which is worth a stop just for the smells.  Pick up fresh and delicious croissants or snag a variety of sandwiches for lunch.  They made us the absolutely most incredible charcuterie for a birthday celebration last fall.  I’ve already placed my order for our upcoming trip.  Check out this list of restaurants in the area here.

Shopping & Entertainment in Glen Arbor

There are some great places to shop in town.  I love the Cottonseed Apparel, but for everything except apparel!  They have stickers, pins, beautifully sourced baby toys, and hats.  We always find something to buy and enjoy looking at all their carefully selected items.  Momentum Glen Arbor has every type of touristy shirt imaginable as well as souvenir cups, artwork, bags, and blankets.  The prices are great and we add to our collection every year.

My girls, 6 and 8, enjoyed peeking in all the boutiques and even bought a few things, like this fab bag:

We love to visit the Farmer’s Market and if you’re in town on Tuesdays it’s worth a stop.  Fill up your bag with plenty of fresh food, but also peruse the stickers, artwork, and jewelry.

Visit Lavender Bay Company and ask to see the lavender garden.  My girls loved looking at the soap, bought natural sponges, and picked up a pair of fish flops too.

A quick trip to the Boonedocks Candy Shop to get a bag of candy will end your day of shopping, but the beach is still calling!

Visiting Lake Michigan

At the end of Lake or Manitou Street, you can find small beaches to hang out, look for rocks, or splash in the waves.  We loved reflecting on how different the beach felt before or after a storm and how still it could be on a hot, humid day.  Also, a great spot to take some photos.

Glen Arbor is the perfect blend of outdoor/nature and amenities for a non-outdoorsy family.  But, that didn’t stop me from getting my kids in a kayak for the first time!  We had an incredible time kayaking the Crystal River and it’s something we do now on every single trip.

I can’t describe what it feels like to be alone, looking for rocks, and just enjoying your family together.  You’ll just have to experience for yourself and let the power of “Up North” Michigan take over.

Just outside of Glen Arbor are a wealth of activities, including museums, beaches, and delicious ice cream, all within just a few minutes.  We enjoyed exploring, visiting the National Park, and just hanging out in town. You are mere minutes from the Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes, the Visitor’s Center, and the Scenic Drive.  There is so much to do in that one little corner of the world that there’s plenty to do and also plenty of ways to relax.  I feel like this was the trip of a lifetime as it ushers in a new era of traveling with our girls and experience vacations beyond Disney.

PS: Some of these photos were shot with an inexpensive waterproof camera I purchased from Amazon.  It’s great for kids, great for kayaks, and lightweight enough to carry up the dunes.  It’s a lot better than worrying about losing your phone in the river!

Sharon Hoeg is a Michigan family photographer from Northville, MI.  She loves traveling the state and experiencing everything that Michigan has to offer.  For your hometown adventures, contact her for booking your own family photography session!


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Sharon Hoeg Photography is licensed and insured in the state of the Michigan.

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