On the road again: Up north to Leland

A semiaquatic view of Leland.

By Steve Ellis

When I was a kid back in the 1960’s, my mom and dad would pack us into our Chevy station wagon, hook up our Apache pop-up camper and head up north. Some of our favorite summer spots included Petoskey, Charlevoix and Traverse City. Back then, these summer resort towns had a very laid-back, “Up North” feel.
Unfortunately, times have changed and these quaint getaways are now bustling cities with all of the big chain stores and the congestion and traffic that goes along with them. They are still great places to visit but not the places we remember as kids. To find the type of places we remember in our younger days, you need to head a little further off the beaten path.

One such place is the small town of Leland; located on the west side of the Leelanau Peninsula, about an hour’s drive from Traverse City.

To get there, take M22 north out of Traverse City. You will have a great view of Lake Michigan and the Grand Traverse Bay on your right. After about 15 miles, take a left just north of Suttons Bay – a great little town with fun restaurants and art galleries. Head west on 204, passing through the small village of Lake Leelanau and then north to Leland.

The highlight of Leland is Fishtown, a 145-year-old fishing village in the center of town. It is composed of a dozen or so old wooden buildings that once housed the various aspects of the local fish trade. In between the buildings are old fishing nets, buoys and freshly caught fish being unloaded and packed in ice. The 100-plus-year-old buildings have not changed much over the years and now house clothing stores and art galleries as well as fish. Charter fishing and boat trips to the Manitou islands are still mainstays of the village so there is the constant hustle and bustle of boats coming in and out of the harbor, giving Leland the feel of a bygone era.

The main street of town houses a few dozen restaurants, gift stores, ice cream parlors, and several very good art galleries. The best way to see this town is to park your car and walk. Everything is within a block or two. Nothing in this town looks like it was built less than 50 years ago. Jackie and I rode our bikes through the downtown neighborhoods and along Lake Leelanau, stopping at the large public beach on Lake Michigan for a swim.

We stayed at the Jolli-Lodge, a resort just south of downtown. The main lodge is a large, wooden structure with a screened porch up on a bluff with a gorgeous view of Lake Michigan. It is surrounded by a half-dozen cottages and smaller buildings set amongst volleyball, horseshoe and shuffleboard courts. We stayed in the first room just off the main lobby area. We were later told that this was the room that the great writer Jim Harrison rented for a month and wrote “Legends of the Fall.”

The Jolli-Lodge has a very comfortable family atmosphere. We spent time on the porch as the sun set over the horizon, chatting with folks from around the state. At first, the area in front of the lodge seemed on the rocky side until we found the path that had been made between rocks out into the deeper water.

Leland holds a number of summer events including “Summer Twilight Art Walks” and a regular Friday-night music series. The highlight event of the year is the Leland Wine and Food Festival, held the second Saturday in June.

So if you are looking for a relaxing weekend up north, pack your bikes, walking shoes and bathing suits and head up to Leland.

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