Vineyards, sand dunes, and cherry orchards await in this beautiful Lake Michigan inlet.

By Matthew Link
April 22, 2009

Between the ring finger and the pinkie of Michigan’s “mitten” lies Grand Traverse Bay, a 32-mile long inlet of Lake Michigan surrounded by a vineyard-laden countryside (known for its Rieslings and pinot grigios), towering sand dunes, and overflowing cherry orchards.

For would-be sailors, the area is the launching port of a number of cruises that explore the islands of Lake Michigan. One of the best is with the Traverse Tall Ship Co., with its impressive 114-foot schooner Manitou that has more than 3,000 square feet of sails. Only 24 passengers explore spots like an old fishing village on Beaver Island, and the remote and car-free North and South Manitou Islands, with their turn-of-the-century farmsteads, lighthouses dating back to the 1870s, and thousands of acres of wilderness.

A professional crew serves you al fresco fare of local produce and fish (including lake salmon and lake perch), all cooked from scratch over a wood-fired stove. Opt for the Manitou’s wine-tasting cruise with an experienced sommelier who pairs local and international wines with meals.

Eat Smart: The Trattoria Stella, housed in a brick mansion in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, is the brainchild of restaurateur Amanda Danielson, co-founder of the Grand Traverse Convivium of Slow Food USA. Dishes like chicken liver paté with black currant gelatini and blueberries feature local ingredients.

Be Fit: Beyond getting a workout lending a hand to hoist the Manitou’s sails, hikers will enjoy stops at Power Island, where an hour’s trek under towering beech trees takes you to the isle’s “eagle’s nest” summit with panoramic views of the lake. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore covers 35 miles of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline, and its popular Dune Climb takes hikers hundreds of feet up for views of Glen Lake.

Live Well: The City Opera House in Traverse City is the oldest Victorian opera house in Michigan, and its ornately decorated white arched ceilings now shine like never before after an $8.5 million renovation. You can catch everything here from jazz concerts to stand-up comics.

Michigan produces nearly three quarters of all tart cherries grown in the United States, and you can be part of the summer harvest action by picking your own fresh ones right off the tree at family-owned Gallagher’s Farm Market and Bakery complete with red barn, just outside of Traverse City.