This wasn’t my first trip to Leland, Mich. Truth be told, I have home movies to prove that I was there as a small child, hanging out in a rowboat with my older sister, walking down Main Street with my parents close beside me. Years later, the trip was different — but Leland, thankfully, was the same.
To ensure that comfortable familiarity, I reserved a room at the old Jolli Lodge, Leland’s quintessential 1950s lakeside resort. Perched on a hill overlooking Good Harbor Bay and the Manitou Islands, this family-owned, green-shuttered estate turned lodge is a homey, welcoming throwback just three miles outside of town. Its easygoing atmosphere offered a quiet and much-needed respite.
After checking in, I ventured to the beach to chat with the other guests. Adirondack chairs in the shade of massive oak and birch trees, picnic-table cookouts, bonfires on the beach, amazing sunsets: These are the makings of a vacation getaway up north.
Yet after so many years, I was more anxious to explore the town — and I was hungry. I left the lodge and drove into town via M-22, one of Michigan’s picturesque trunkline highways. As Leland is a walking town, parking is always easy.
My first stop was the Stone House Bread & Café on Main Street for a sandwich and a drink, which I ate on a nearby bench. Then I wound my way over to Fishtown, where small galleries and shops occupy
The Dam Candy Store
197 West River Road
Early Bird Restaurant
101 S. Main St.
29 N. Manitou Trail
Sleeping Bear Dunes
9922 Front St., Empire
Stone House Bread & Café
407 S. Main St.
In my newfound state of tranquility, I couldn’t resist poking my head into some of the shops to browse through gifts, books and clothing. I purchased a Leland sweatshirt and a bottle of wine from one of the local Leelanau Peninsula wineries, and before leaving town, I gave in to an ice cream cone at the Dam Candy Store.
Back at the Jolli Lodge, the guests were already settling into their evening routines. While I could’ve chosen any of the fine inns in town, here I experienced a mutual sense of camaraderie rarely found among strangers. Many guests return the same week each year, and once-strangers become like extended family. As soon as the last hues of orange and yellow escaped beyond the horizon and the lone kayaker had returned to shore, we retreated together to the lodge’s porch for more conversation.
The next morning I got up early, refreshed and ready to take in the beauty of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park (yet another great memory from childhood). Not one to hike on an empty stomach, however, I returned to town for pancakes at the Early Bird Restaurant, a favorite of both locals and tourists.
Then I made the drive to the Lake Michigan shore, enjoying the seven-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive along the way. It’s an amazing contrast of sandy bluffs and dense beech-maple forests.
I remembered enough from childhood to park at the Lake Michigan Overlook and hoof it to the observation deck. About 450 feet above lake level on an amazingly steep slope, this is one of the most stunning views in the country.
I didn’t need to be convinced by the sign cautioning visitors not to descend the bluff; I could guess the return climb is extremely challenging. Common sense told me my view from the lookout was not only safer, it couldn’t possibly be any better down below.
I’m not sure how long I sat there enjoying that magnificent view. I only know that I did eventually get up and, the sand in my shoes my favorite souvenir from this trip, walked to my car for the return home.