On the road again: Marquette

By Steve Ellis

Marquette is located in the Upper Peninsula on the shores of Lake Superior and is the largest city in the U.P. The town is comprised of several city blocks bustling with restaurants, bakeries, breweries, many unique shops, beautiful old buildings – and it’s just 450 miles from Kalamazoo.

Marquette is a major port, known for shipping iron ore, and is home to Northern Michigan University. A few years ago, CBS Money Watch listed it as one of the 10 best places to retire in the U.S. With a population of 21,000, it’s one of the few cities in the peninsula that continues to grow.

French missionaries were in the area as early as the 1600’s and trappers in the early 1800’s. Development of the area began when iron ore was discovered in 1844 and the Jackson Mining Company was organized in 1845. The village began in 1849 and was originally named New Worcester. It changed to Marquette in 1850 to honor French Missionary Jaques Marquette, who explored the area.

Marquette was linked by rail to numerous mines and became the leading shipping center of the Upper Peninsula during the 1850’s.

During the height of iron mining, in the late 19th century, Marquette became nationally known as a summer haven. Visitors were brought in by Great Lakes passenger steamships and filled the city’s hotels and resorts.

My first visit to Marquette was in the late 1960’s, camping with my family. Over the past 30 years, I have either passed through the area or stayed in Marquette every few years, and love to see the changes on each visit. Last July’s visit was quite a surprise. All of the development, especially along the water was eye opening. Old buildings and warehouses are being replaced with large, multi-story condos.

The Blackrocks Brewery has quite the atmosphere and is well worth a visit. Blackrocks started out as a small neighborhood brewery in an old house but has now expanded to include a second house and a large outdoor seating area with music stage. This is probably my favorite brewery in the U.P. Other notable local breweries include the Ore Dock Brewing Co. (great beer and outdoor seating with a view of Lake Superior but no food), Drift Brewing Company and Barrel+Beam, which are on my radar for this summer’s trip.

It was great to see full storefronts in the downtown area, with a variety of wonderful shops with something for everyone to enjoy, including outdoor gear, art, antiques and books, along with coffee shops and busy restaurants. One of my favorite stores is Boomerang Retro and Relics, a colorful store packed with vintage treasures and retro goodies. My friends and I were surprised that we could no longer walk into a restaurant and be quickly seated, as in years past, which is great for Marquette, but not for three hungry guys after a day of golf!

We had our sights on the Vierling Restaurant & Marquette Harbor Brewery for dinner, but they were packed. A man riding by on a bike suggested Pat’s Bar about a half mile away. It wasn’t fancy but they had delicious burgers and hand-cut fries. I’m already mentally planning our next visit, which will definitely include lunch at Donckers, a 126-year-old restaurant and candy shop. Stepping into the two-story Donckers is like stepping back in time, with its huge glass candy cases full of handmade candy creations. Their soups, salads and sandwiches looked delicious. Check out donckersrestaurant.com for their menu and pictures.

Marquette is a baked goods haven, and I am a self-proclaimed baked-good aficionado. Tasty choices include: the Huron Mountain Bakery, Babycakes Muffin Co, SugarFix and the Marquette Baking Company, which had a line out the door, but was worth the wait to score a few of their delicious cinnamon rolls.

Black Rocks in Presque Isle Park, just north of town, is a must if you visit Marquette! The park is set on a rocky peninsula extending out into Lake Superior, surrounded by dark blue water on three sides. Walking along the top of the 30-foot cliffs is absolutely gorgeous, with a view of the beautiful sandy beach below. A perfect place to cool off after a strenuous hike!

You will find some of the best hiking and biking trails in the U.P. in the Marquette area. Don’t miss Sugarloaf Mountain. Dead River Falls, Hogback Mountain and Morgan Falls, which have trails for all fitness levels and abilities.

A trip to Marquette offers something for everyone to enjoy! If you plan to visit Marquette, I strongly advise planning ahead for lodging and for some of the more popular dining spots.

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