Located at the tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron join, Mackinac Island, Michigan continues to wow those who visit. Enjoy the outdoors without a single car motor or blaring horn … yes, that’s right, at Mackinac there are no cars. In fact, there are no motorized vehicles allowed on the entire island. We are so accustomed to jumping in our cars that when presented with the following options — walk, bike or ride a horse — it’s pretty awesome! Turn down the stress and escape the brutal heat of summer at Mackinac Island, where nature’s beauty abounds.
Mackinac Island, with its astounding beauty, has the fun lovin’ vibe typical of an island with breathtaking trails located in the interior woods. Swimming and boating abound, add in a dose of history with Fort Mackinac, oodles of fudge shops and local watering holes, and you have nirvana wrapped up in 3.5 square miles.
Let’s get started with our 48 hour plan for visiting Mackinac:
Getting to Mackinac can be somewhat of a challenge, especially if you fly. In one day, you will take a plane, a shuttle and finally a ferry. If that doesn’t warrant a cocktail, I’m not sure what does. Ferries shuttle visitors to the island daily from Mackinac City and St. Ignace. The ride from St. Ignace allows you to drive over the stunning Mackinac Island Bridge to the Upper Peninsula, which is always a worthy experience.
Once you are on the Island, a dock porter (on a bike, of course) will grab your bags and meet you at your hotel. Dock porters work for tips and can be seen balancing 10 to 12 bags atop their bikes.
There are a number of locally owned hotels and B&Bs to select from, and most are located within five minutes of the boat docks. A taxi (of course, horse-drawn) can take you to your hotel if you prefer. A quaint hotel is the Hotel Iroquois, one of Mackinac’s finest hotels and voted Condé Nast Traveler’s “Best Small Hotel in the World” for three consecutive years. With only 45 suites, the Hotel Iroquois truly offers visitors an understated elegance with one of the best views on the island. Don’t expect to find anything other than locally owned hotels at Mackinac. A fun fact is that the only chain on Mackinac is Starbucks.
Once you are settled in, head out and roam around Main Street. You’ll find a dizzying array of activity, from horse carriages to bicycle riders, all jockeying for a piece of the road. Take a deep breath and point your GPS towards the famed Pink Pony. Always been a Mackinac favorite, especially during the yacht races, the Pink Pony is located in the Chippewa Hotel, usually has live music and serves up a good cocktail. Order a rum runner punch; it’s guaranteed to put hair on your chest. The outside bar overlooks Haldimand Bay with a panoramic view of the shoreline.
For dinner, head to the Jockey Club on Grand Hill. Once again, you can grab a taxi, but I suggest you walk as it’s only 10 minutes away. Once there, you can choose to sit outside or enjoy the cozy intimacy of the interior. The Jockey Club overlooks The Grand Hotel’s golf course and is consistently an incredible dining experience. Enjoy icy beer served with pretzels, or one of the Island’s best Bloody Marys. If you’ve never had lake trout or Lake Superior whitefish, it is a local delicacy.
Since you are up on the hill, take a moment to grab an after dinner drink at the Cupola Bar of the Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel is, in one word, stunning. It brags of the longest front porch of any summer resort and is celebrating its 130 year anniversary this year. You may remember the movie “Somewhere in Time,” with Christoper Reeve and Jane Seymour, was filmed there.
On the way down the hill, head to Horn’s Gaslight Bar on Main Street. Horn’s attracts only those with F-U-N on their radar screen and has live bands during the summer almost every night. It’s protocol for the management of Horn’s to kick out revelers who don’t want that last dance to end.
Inside scoop — get up early and rent a bike. There is nothing more glorious than a bike ride around the island before it gets crowded. Bike rentals are up and down Main Street and basically all the same price. It is an easy ride, approximately nine miles, with virtually no hills. If you go about 8 a.m., you’ll pretty much have the road to yourself. Head back in to town to for coffee Lucky Bean located on Market Street. You’ll find another lovely view of the Bay with some of the best baked goods on Mackinac. Expect to find homemade donuts, scones and a steaming mug of coffee.
A visit to Mackinac isn’t complete without a tour of Fort Mackinac. I can speak with some degree of authority on this choice because I was a tour guide at Fort Mackinac during college. The Fort offers visitors a real glimpse of what it felt like to be stationed in the Fort in the late 1700s. You’ll find cannon firings, musket demonstrations and interpreters in authentic dress. Not only does your ticket price include Fort Mackinac, there are a number of other buildings to tour as well. A favorite of mine that is included on the tour is the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. Located in what was originally the Indian dormitory, the museum sits at the foot of Marquette Park.
Wander down the hill and grab lunch at The Ice House Bar & Grill behind the Island House Hotel. The Ice House is an idyllic setting and slightly off the beaten track. With gorgeous flowers and a shaded patio, it allows you some respite from the hustle and bustle of the downtown tourist scene. Two favorites are the sweet potato fries and the BL&G, a hearty sandwich with bacon, lettuce and Gouda cheese.
You’re ready for a nap, right? Don’t be tempted because your visit to Mackinac must include a hike or bike ride in the woods atop the bluff. Head due east until you get to Mission Hill, and push or ride your bike up the hill. It’s a haul, but once you get there the view is spectacular. You’ll be on the East Bluff and then head across the bluff towards Arch Rock, which is one of several natural limestone formations on Mackinac. It allows you to see into the Prehistoric Age, when Mackinac was covered by water. Continue on Leslie Avenue, one of the most beautiful bike rides you’ll ever experience. Leslie Avenue takes you to British Landing Road and offers an easy, fun and fast ride down to the shoreline. Then, go right or left. Remember it’s an island.
Now, it’s time for a well deserved siesta.
For dinner, depending on your mood, there are many choices. The Carriage House at the Iroquois offers one of the most romantic bars on the Island, with impeccable service and consistently good offerings. Their basket of baked goods wow, and the menu always offers local lake trout, a delicacy in its own.
For a more casual dining experience, head to Sea Biscuit on Main Street. Sea Biscuit is a fun bar with a moderately priced menu of soups, appetizers and burgers. A favorite is the Mackinac whitefish chowder and hot fudge sundae.
One of the added extras of being so far north is that it stays light until about 10 p.m. When the clock strikes midnight, you’ll be heading to the bar.
Head east on your bike to Mission Point Resort, which was once home of Mackinac College and has been transformed into a lush hotel with an outside bar, gazebo and tennis courts. The brunch won’t disappoint, with made-to-order omelets, baked goods and ever tempting mimosas. Take a moment after brunch to sit on the lawn of Mission Point, where you’ll find a sea of Saratoga chairs for your enjoyment. If you’re lucky, you will see one of the majestic freighters go by, and even luckier if you get the nerve to take a plunge into the icy Straits of Mackinac.
Jump back on your bike for some quick shopping on Main Street. The street is filled with local fudge shops, most dating back to the 1800s. Mackinac was a destination for wealthy tourists from Chicago, and fudge was the perfect gift to take back home. Don’t be offended that tourists are endearingly called “fudgies.” Once you put a piece of Mackinac fudge to your lips, you’ll wear the name like a badge of honor!
Local shops that aren’t to be missed are Little Luxuries, Nephew’s and Benjamin’s. Inside, you’ll find local goods like jams and sauce and lot of handmade goods. Do not miss The Island Bookstore located on the ground floor of the Lilac Hotel. The caliber of this locally owned bookstore speaks to Mackinac’s art and literary community, offering many books from local authors, and it is one of the only places to find a New York Times.
As you head to the boat to depart, you’ll be overwhelmed with a sense of nostalgia as you leave one of the most beautiful places on earth!
If you’re ready to book your trip, you may want to start with the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.
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