The Most Beautiful Place in America

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If you live in Michigan, you probably know that Sleeping Bear was voted “The Most Beautiful Place in America.” After all, we do the “state pride” thing right, so of course you knew that.

Normally I try not to be the “this thing is better than everything else” guy. I like to consider all options as objectively as I can. But in this case – yup. Northern Michigan is pretty much the best place ever.

I’ma rhapsodize all over this right now. So, if you wanna skip past the stuff you already know and peep some pretty footage, scroll on down there.

The girlfriend and I tend to gravitate northward when we get a long weekend in the summer. (Not unlike a boatload of other Metro Detroiters). While most folk tend to have a destination preference, we have 2. My family has a place on Lake Huron in the tip of “The Thumb”, between Caseville and Port Austin. For visual reference of why it’s my other favorite place, click HERE.

But without a doubt, the other best place in the world is the northwest coast of Michigan’s lower peninsula, stretching from Frankfurt to Mackinaw City. While Sleeping Bear is the most famous section, let’s also consider the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas, Traverse City, Charlevoix, Petoskey, Harbor Springs, and Cross Village – all within an easy drive of Empire and Glen Arbor (the 2 keynote cities in the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore).

Speaking of awesome things – here are a few you need to check out next time you’re in the area:

  • Empire Michigan Public beach – Not only is the view astounding and the grounds well-maintained, there are free-to-use bonfire pits big enough to fit a Volvo.
  • Old Mission General Store – This place is crazy. It’s totally unassuming from the outside – a little general store with old timey knickknacks and rocking chairs. Then you notice that there’s a wooden crank phone on the wall (like the kind from the 1800s) and it’s FUNCTIONAL! YOU CAN MAKE CALLS WITH IT! Then you start to realize something’s different about this place. Not only is the sitting room outfitted with a wood-burning stove, but the purchasables include anything from raccoon pelts and straight razors, to turn-of-the-century snow shoes and muzzle-loading pistols. Oh – they also have a ridiculously huge menu and absolutely everything, from the ice cream to the spinach pie is made from scratch. Go there – seriously.
  • The Grocer’s Daughter – I am not a fan of chocolate. Sweets don’t agree with me. This is basically the ONLY chocolate I’ll eat. When the lineup includes truffles with things like stout, rye whiskey, bergamot orange, or rosemary, you’ve pretty much got your hooks in me. (Bonus – you can get these at Busch’s and such around the metro area)
  • Empire Township Campground – This is where we stay every time. To be specific, we don’t just stay here, we camp in the exact same plot each time. It’s 10 minutes from the dunes, rural, quite, and cost-effective. Fun fact: when the owner isn’t managing a campsite in rural Northern Michigan, you can find her painting wall-sized murals in Greece. RIGHT?! That’s nuts. She’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Ask her about it sometime.
  • Leg’s Inn – This one probably doesn’t need to be on this list. If you’ve been to the tip of the mitten, you’ve probably been to Leg’s Inn. However for those that haven’t, the rest of us know how important it is for you to have this information. (Hey – we were all in that boat once). This place comes close to breaking your brain. You could be easily convinced that the entire building was carved by hand out of roots and tree burls. It also smells like my old-world Polish grandmother’s kitchen. I thought I knew good Polish food. Then I went there.
  • The Omelette Shoppe – Unless you’ve been here, you’d have no idea. It looks like a Denny’s or some equally bottom shelf diner. This is a misconception. When you go in there at 10:30am on a Tuesday and there’s a line out the door, you start getting an idea. The omelets are delicious, as you may expect, but for my money, there’s one better thing on the menu. Now, I pride myself on knowing the best places to get a few certain simple foods. They include buffalo chicken sandwiches, falafel, pizza, and chili Colorado. However, the one food for which I will scour the Earth to find perfection is corned beef hash. The Omlette Shoppe is in the top 3 restaurants with the best corned beef hash I’ve ever had. Ever.
  • Gabe’s Country Smoked Meats – Don’t be confused by Google Maps, it’s not the one in downtown Maple City, it’s just north of the intersection of 72 and 667. I’m not gonna say much, because words can’t describe it. If you’re a fan of jerky and smoked meats, this is your Mecca. It’s a small, unassuming store, but it’s like a gateway to a meaty Narnia.

To condense this down into one salient downloadpoint, consider bumper stickers. If you’ve spent any time whatsoever on Michigan, you’ve seen those “M-22” bumper stickers. M-22 is the road that runs along Michigan’s west coast, up through the Dunes and to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. With the sheer number of M-22 supporters, it should tell you all you need to about heading northward.

That’s enough of my jaw-wagging.  Chillax and check this video from my recent adventures in dune-country.

– Jon

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