Summertime in Northern Michigan: The Ties That Bind

Summertime Sunset Over Lake in Northern Michigan

The Glen Lake Test

“Just say you're the NFG,” said my father in-law’s close friend. “NFG?” I replied. He clarified,  “New Fucking Guy.”

This was my first summer at The Lake or Glen Lake in Glen Arbor, MI. The Lake sits along Northern Michigan’s famed M22—a gorgeous stretch of clear blue waters, family farms, and classic Americana. M22 is technically a state highway but it represents much more. A culture. A state of mind. Memories and traditions, stretching across multiple generations, that build the ties that bind (wildly popular lifestyle brand M22 owes its success to capturing the spirit of this region; seeing the M22 on a stranger and instantly knowing you’re among “your people”). 

After business school, a job brought me to Chicago and I met an amazing woman there who became my wife. I wasn’t from the Midwest and had never set foot in Michigan. I thought “the beach” was exclusively a saltwater affair. I quickly learned The Lake in Glen Arbor held a special place in her heart. 

Though I’d met her immediate family, and stayed at her childhood home in the Chicago suburbs, it wasn’t until The Glen Lake Test that I truly became a part of her tribe. 

Over 100 years ago, people from the west Chicago suburb of Hinsdale saw miles of untouched awe-inspiring lakefront; quintessential Pure Michigan. One of those people was my wife’s great-grandfather. 

Her father grew up spending every summer at the lake, forming strong bonds with other families—drawn to the lake from places like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland—that lasted throughout his life. Those families had kids who became my wife’s “lake family.” When I came up that first summer, it was clear I was entering a tight-knit tribe. 

The Glen Lake Test was the long-standing rite of passage for any new boyfriend or girlfriend. If they could spend time at the lake, and earn the tribe’s stamp of approval, then they were alright. Fortunately I passed the test. And, after nearly a decade of M22 summers, I now consider those from The Lake family as well.  

I’ve broken this piece down into two parts to show you what makes summertime on the M22 so special…  


Part 1—Summertime in Northern Michigan: A Guide 

  • The Great Lakes: Glen Lake, Lake Michigan, and more  
  • What to Eat & Drink: From lakefront dining and local favorites to wineries and Northwoods dive bars   
  • What to Do: Beyond the main attraction (lakes), there’s plenty of outdoor adventures and the nation’s most underrated golf region 
  • When to Go: Summer! 

Part 2—The Ties That Bind

  • Summer State of Mind: When it’s cold 9 months of the year, people Up North live for summers at the lake. But, no matter where you live, it’s important to make summer special. 
  • Keep Traditions Alive:  Annual rites are essential to building, maintaining, and growing relationships—to people, places, and the things that really matter in life. 
  • Find Your Tribe: Expand your definition of kin and significantly improve your life by choosing to maintain ties with those who make you the best version of yourself 

 

Read on to discover the best places to eat, drink, & play in the Hamptons of the Heartland! 


Summertime in Northern Michigan: A Guide 

Glen Lake Waters

What is the M22, Where Should I Stay, and When Should I Go? 

  • What: M22 is a 116 mile scenic highway that wraps around the Leelanau Peninsula coastline. It’s the most iconic drive in the state, a symbol of Northern Michigan lake culture, and used to refer to the broader surrounding area.
  • Where to Stay: as you see epic lake views, dunes, rivers, and rolling orchards along the M-22…we’d recommend staying in these harbor towns—Glen Arbor, Leland, Suttons Bay, and Traverse City (region’s largest “city” and only airport). Renting a house on the water is the way to go but there are also hotel options such as The Homestead and Grand Traverse Resort.
  • When to Go: Summer is your only option. Go late June through Labor Day.
  • How to Get There: Traverse City Cherry Capital Airport (TVC) offers 20 direct flights including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, DC, Newark, Charlotte, and more. 

What to Do: Outdoor Adventures, Golf, and Lakes 


Get on the Water: Lakes 

    Glen Lake Michigan Viewpoint

    People come here for the lakes. The crystal clear turquoise waters evoke a freshwater Caribbean as boats blast “All Summer Long.” With 9 months of cold weather, nobody embraces summer like the Midwest. You can’t go wrong with any body of water Up North but here are the top picks:

    • Big Glen and Little Glen Lake: The crown jewel of Northern Michigan. Called one of the most beautiful lakes in the world by National Geographic. Rent boats at The Narrows which doubles as the de facto party spot. 
    • Torch Lake: Michigan celebs Kid Rock, Bob Seager, Eminem, Tim Allen, and Michael Moore own homes in this picturesque lake with 19+ miles of azure blue waters. Biggest party lake in the area.
    • Lake Michigan: Take in scenic views of this Great Lake throughout the M22 drive. Taking the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore trail is the best way to access (more on this later).  
    • Also See: Lime Lake, Lake Charlevoix 

    America’s Most Underrated Golf Destination 

      Crystal Downs Country Club - Frankfort, MI

      Michigan’s “Golf Coast” features 20+ stellar courses surrounding the Traverse City area. Includes several Top 100s and designs by legends like MacKenzie, Nicklaus, Palmer, and local Tom Doak. Here’s a well rounded list of where to play: 

      • Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club (Public - Arcadia, MI): Top 100 offers over 3,000 miles of shoreline and natural dunes. We had an unforgettable experience playing here. 
      • Crystal Downs (Private - Frankfort, MI): Ranked #1 in the state, and Top 20 in the US, this is the crown jewel of Michigan golf. Designed by the legendary Dr. Alister MacKenzie—architect of Augusta National and Cypress Point.     
      • Forest Dunes Golf Club (Public - Roscommon, MI): Among top public courses in US, Forest Dunes enjoys dramatic elevations and stunning natural surroundings. Designed by trailblazing architect Tom Doak (Pacific Dunes, Pinehurst No.10, Streamsong).  
      • Treetops Resort (Public - Gaylord, MI): Five award-winning courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Includes the “most spectacular Par 3 in America” and picturesque landscapes. 
      • Shanty Creeks Resorts’ Legend Course (Public - Bellaire, MI): Designed by Arnold Palmer, Shanty Creeks garnered a silver medal from Golf Digest and was listed among the world’s best golf resorts by Condé Nast Traveler. 
      • The Bear Golf Course at Grand Traverse Resort (Public - Acme, MI): This Jack Nicklaus design is considered one of the toughest courses in the country. With rolling hills, towering trees, lake views, and fruit orchards on one of the area’s best resorts
      • Mistwood Golf Course (Public - Lake Ann, MI): Though it won’t make any “best of” lists, Mistwood is fun, laid back, and friendly on your wallet. Ideal for a quick round before jumping in the lake. 
      • Read More: Golf Digest, Golftime Mag 

      Outdoor Adventure

      M22 - Surfing in Michigan
      • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: You haven’t done M22 unless you find a small pile of sand in your bed from a dune climb. My wife has fond memories of playing capture the flag here in her youth…but it’s a timeless rite of passage for everyone, at any age.   
      • Hiking: Empire Bluffs and Pyramid Point are two other favorites with spectacular views. Mild enough that the whole family can enjoy these hikes (regardless of fitness level). 
      • Cycling & Mountain Biking: The rolling hills, orchards, and lakes make “America’s most scenic highway” perfect for cycling. The woods, dunes, and dedication to nature conservation make the area a mountain biker paradise.
      • Paddle Crystal River: Kayak along the river. They just keep on flowin’, they don’t worry ‘bout where it’s goin.’ Paddling this serene river evokes Blue Sky and is a beloved Lake Family tradition which has included Peppermint Schnapps since the 1980s. Get your gear and book through Crystal River Outfitters.    
      • Fly Fishing: Though nobody would mistake the region’s angling for the iconic waters out West, Northern Michigan has solid fly fishing options and guides on the Manistee and Platte River 
      • Cherry Bowl Drive-In: Part of Glen Arbor’s charm is the apple-pie (well, cherry pie here) slice of classic Americana it dishes out. What’s a better place to honor this nostalgia than an authentic drive-in that opened on July 4, 1953?
      • Read More: Discover The Top 40 Adventures in Northern Michigan (from local brand M22)  

       

      Wineries

      Traverse City Vineyard Michigan

      The Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail has become a legit destination in recent years. Blending well with the scenic bucolic setting on a winding two-lane road, touring the wineries is best on bike. Here are the top spots: 

      • Black Star Farms (Suttons Bay): Straight vineyard-to-bottle on this 160-acre farm with walking trails, forests, orchards, and vineyards.  
      • Bel Largo Vineyards & Winery (Cedar): Cool scene with a pano view of South Lake Leelanau.  
      • Boathouse Vineyards (Lake Leelanau): Sip on the water’s edge. Wine made on their vineyard less than three miles from their tasting room.   
      • Amoritas Vineyards (Lake Leelanau): Colorful Tasting Room with Local Art and Michigan-Made Products 
      • Shady Lane Cellars (Suttons Bay): SIP certification; champion of sustainable practices.
      • Mawby (Suttons Bay): An experience for those who love the bubbly. Specializing in sparkling wine set in the rolling coastal hills.   
      • Brys Estate Vineyard (Traverse): The frosé is legendary and Brys was named one of the “10 Hottest Wine Brands in the US” by Wine Business Monthly.  

      Where to Eat 

      Northern Michigan Lakefront Dining

      Despite being the Hamptons of the Heartland, part of M22’s appeal is the lack of pretension and status seekers looking for a name-brand luxury vacation. It’s about the lake, the natural beauty, and the people who love it. The dining scene, dress, and vibe is much more casual than Hamps and ACK—and that’s a good thing which, to me, is a far better luxury. 

      Excellent culinary options for all tastes. We firmly stand behind these recommendations… 


      Breakfast and Lunch 


      Joe’s Friendly Tavern (Empire) 

      Burgers

      A community favorite with the area’s best burgers in a laid-back bar with video poker.    


      Village Cheese Shanty (Leland)  

      Gourmet Sandwiches

      Located on the docks of Fishtown, which is worth a visit in its own right, Cheese Shanty has the best sandwiches in the area.  


      Market 22 (Maple City) 

      Gourmet Sandwiches & Pizza

      Relatively new place quickly became popular for their outstanding sandwiches, breakfast, and the best pizza in the area. Reuben is exceptional. Also serves dinner.    


      Art’s Tavern (Glen Arbor) 

      Bar, Breakfast, Lunch, Late Night

      The most iconic bar in Glen Arbor serves familiar favorites for breakfast, lunch, and bar snacks (tots hit different). Ideal downtown location and lively scene in the summer.  


      Good Harbor Grill (Glen Arbor) 

      Breakfast

      My personal favorite for breakfast. Reminiscent of the classic mountain town rustic diners that do a hearty breakfast exactly how you want it. Also good for lunch and dinner. 


      The Pine Cone (Glen Arbor) 

      Ice Cream 

      It wouldn’t be a good coastal summer destination without a charming local ice cream shop that’s been a rite of passage for teenage employment for generations. 


      Cherry Republic (Glen Arbor)

      Lunch, Gifts, & Novelties 

      Michigan is the cherry capital of the world and, although it's crawling with tourists, everyone needs to go to Cherry Republic at least once.   


      Northern Michigan Cherry Capital

       

      Dinner 


      Cafe Santé (Boyne City) 

      French Restaurant

      European-style bistro serves up classics “with flair” like wood-fired pizza, steak au poivre, mussels and frites. Belgian beers and live music. 


      Harbor Haus Restaurant (Copper Harbor)

      Steaks & Seafood 

      Upscale lakeside dining with beautiful surroundings and a delicious menu of lobster tail, roasted duck, and filets. 


      Trattoria Funistrada (Maple City) 

      Italian 

      Best Italian food in Leelanau County. The building, once the Glen Lake Inn, has 100 years of rich history as a neighborhood gathering place.   


      The Glenwood (Onekama)

      Steak

      Great attention to detail and personalized service at this classic steakhouse overlooking the lake. 


      Blu (Glen Arbor)

      French, New American, Seafood

      Celebrated upscale Glen Arbor restaurant uses local ingredients. Unbeatable views of Sleeping Bear Bay and the Manitou Islands. 


      Boathouse Restaurant (Traverse City) 

      European, Oysters 

      French Fusion cuisine on beautiful Bowers Harbor. Best oysters in the area. 


      The Cove (Leland)  

      Seafood

      Fresh caught Lake Michigan whitefish and famous seafood chowder in the heart of historic Fishtown. The Chubby Mary has its own trademark. 


      Apache Trout Grill (Traverse City) 

      Steak, Seafood

      Inspired by the founder’s love for Northern Michigan Outdoors and the fresh fish he caught fly fishing. One of the best restaurants in Traverse. 


      The Manitou (Honor) 

      Seafood, American

      Located within Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, the classic sporting cabin vibe and delicious cuisine make this one of my personal favorites. 


      The Little Fleet (Traverse City) 

      Food Trucks

      A collection of food trucks in a vibrant atmosphere. Great range of choices make this appealing to everyone. Nice downtown Traverse location.   


      Art's Tavern - Glen Arbor, MI

      Where to Drink 


      Art’s Tavern (Glen Arbor)  

      The quintessential M22 bar has been a staple for generations. Your trip isn’t complete without a stop at Art’s. Cash only so carry bills! 


      The Cedar Tavern (Cedar) 

      Exactly what you want from a Northwoods dive bar. Friendly folks from all walks of life come together over beers and Taco Tuesday.  


      Dick’s Pour House (Lake Leelanau) 

      Another classic dive that celebrates the hunting, fishing, and outdoor lifestyle (see Big Buck Contest).


      Hop Lot Brewing Company (Suttons Bay) 

      Named the #2 Beer Garden in the US. Fire pits, live music in summer, and great beer among towering trees. 


      Northern Latitudes Distillery (Lake Leelanau)

      Small-batch spirits crafted from local ingredients like Michigan cherries. 


      Tandem Ciders (Suttons Bay)

      Artisan ciders from locally grown apples. Picturesque tastings in a rustic red barn. 


      The Mitten Brewing Co. (Northport) 

      Baseball themed brewery serves up classic beers and award-winning pizzas. 


      7 Monks Taproom (Traverse City) 

      Cozy, woodsy tavern with refined American pub grub, 46 beers on tap & kegs of wine.

       

      The Ties That Bind: Why Community Matters More Than Ever 

      In Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, he stresses the crucial need for human beings to belong to a community or tribe. He argues that people have become increasingly disconnected and isolated in modern society. Leading to a decline in our overall well-being and ability to contribute to society. Junger underscores the healing power of communal bonds and having a sense of belonging. 

      This book was written in 2016 and the issue is even more critical today. Depression, loneliness, and isolation continued rising as communal bonds declined. We’re desperate for connection. 


      Building Your Tribe 

      Glen Arbor, MI - 4th of July Flag Raising

       

      Sure, we love to golf, hit the lake, and enjoy our favorite pastimes—and the gorgeous natural settings where these activities tend to take place. But what matters most is bringing people together, year after year, to build lasting relationships. The intersection of a special time, place, and pastime—summertime in Northern Michigan, the Masters, the Iron Bowl—is what creates the ties that bind. 

      You need to show up and keep showing up. If you maintain these traditions long enough, the people you enjoy these pastimes with start to resemble family...while they keep DNA relatives together—or at least in touch (extremely important if your family is spread out). 

      This is why summers at The Lake matter so much. I love listening to stories of Glen Lake from the older generations; how it's created memories throughout their life. My wife can say the same. Now we have a baby boy of our own who will take his first M22 trip over Labor Day. The tradition continues—all connected by the clear turquoise waters of memory. 

      We attend each other’s weddings, baby showers; some are neighbors in Atlanta. Experiencing the highs and lows of life together, they’ve become an Adopted Family. We all have friends but having the time and opportunity to build relationships with this distinction is rare. So I prioritize my annual golf trip with childhood friends, Alabama games with the Birmingham family, and—of course—summers at The Lake. 

      The idiom “blood is thicker than water” is widely misunderstood to this day. The common interpretation of this phrase is something along the lines of “family ties are the strongest.” The actual meaning is quite different. The original proverb, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” refers to the intense bonds formed by soldiers who shed blood together on the battlefield. Suggesting that bonds formed through significant experiences and commitments (such as friendships, hardships, or oaths) are stronger than simple biological relationships.

      Understand that people grow up in different ways. Many experienced childhood trauma, grew up in a broken home, or suffered great loss at an early age. So don’t be quick to judge. People suffer hardships that are too painful to talk about. There’s plenty of darkness behind that perfectly manicured lawn. 

      If you’re fortunate to have a loving family that stayed together, then hold onto them at all costs. But for those who lost their tribe, due to no fault of their own, forming an adopted family is essential for healing. Connection is mental and physical health. Connection gives people courage and empowers people to contribute to something bigger than themselves. 

      So hold on. To the friends that are more like brothers. To those who make you the best version of yourself. To the special traditions that build a multi-generational community. People need to be reminded, if nothing else, you’re never alone. So return to the lake, links, church, or wherever you find your people.


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