We didn’t plan to stop in Traverse City. Dan and I were on our way home from visiting our daughter at school in Marquette, Michigan. We’d gotten an early start and eaten sandwiches en route; Traverse City simply seemed like a good place to gas up the car and stretch our legs before continuing on to our home in Grand Rapids. But what began as a brief stopover became nothing short of an adventure!
It started with a pleasant exchange at the gas station. We were chatting with the clerk, a cheerful woman with a quiet smile, when Dan mentioned that he’d heard good things about the hiking in the area. The clerk became animated. “Have you been to Mission Point Lighthouse?” she enthused. “It’s beautiful this time of year!” Dan and I both like hiking, and it was barely past 1pm. The sun was out.
“Let’s go check it out,” Dan suggested. He knows that I’m sometimes a little blue after we part from our daughter.
Smart man. The drive to Mission Point Lighthouse was beautiful. M-37 carried us through the vineyards and cherry orchards of the Old Mission Peninsula, which cuts directly up the center of Grand Traverse Bay. The orchards were in full frothy bloom: May is cherry blossom time in Traverse City, which lays claim to the title of Cherry Capital of the World. Admiring the trees’ pure white blossoms as we sped by, I rolled down my window. The air was sweet.
We were delighted to find Mission Point Lighthouse open. Dan’s a history buff, so he was excited to learn about the lighthouse, a picturesque frame structure that helped mariners navigate the rocky, dangerous waters of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay from 1870 through 1933. After signing the guestbook, we paid the modest fee to climb the tower. At the top, Dan and I took in the gorgeous beach view, then headed back down, eager to begin our hike.
The lighthouse is surrounded on three sides by thickly wooded trails, and the first thing we noticed was how well marked the trails are. A trailhead situated close to the lighthouse took us on an easy five-mile loop through Lighthouse Park and the adjoining Old Mission Point Park to the south. As we hiked, we kept our eyes open for “Indian Trees,” trees bent purposely by Native Americans long ago for use as trail markers. By mile three, we were rewarded with stunning views of both bays, and the end of the trail found us bursting out of the trees within sight of the lighthouse.
Some spring flowers aren’t so shy. Trillium, for instance, is the signature wildflower of these northern woodlands, and its blooms can be an impressive sight when they carpet the spring forest.
The leathery triangular leaves of this hardy plant suddenly bring forth bouquets of star-shaped flowers – sometimes blue or violet or intensely pure white, depending on the plant.
From the long mottled leaves of this plant (which really do resemble the patterns on a fish) sprout small, delicate “lilies” of bright yellow, sometimes striped with red.
Northern Michigan’s native orchids — the pink, yellow and showy lady’s slippers — are the superstars of the spring forest, rare standouts in any setting that easily draw attention to themselves.
We could have continued on home at this point, but something about the hike had excited in us both a sense of whimsy and adventure. When Dan suggested we explore more of the area, maybe even grab a bite to eat before heading home, I immediately concurred. We headed to downtown Traverse City and parked the car at the conveniently located Hardy Parking Garage.
We quickly found our way to Front Street on foot, where the State Theatre exudes retro charm. After we paused to take a picture of the classic marquee, Dan noticed a restaurant near the theater that piqued his interest: Amical. “What about an early dinner?” he suggested.
The dining room looked cozy and welcoming, with its fresh checked tablecloths and exposed brick decor. “Let’s check it out!” I agreed. Inside, a delightful waitress acquainted us with the restaurant’s signature dishes. We began with the olive twists—baked twirls of puff pastry stuffed with feta and olive tapenade—then indulged in fresh whitefish, which I ordered nut-crusted. Simply prepared, it was a treat after our afternoon in the fresh air. I couldn’t resist trying the gourmet caramel apples for dessert: tart Granny Smith apples dipped in rich caramel, then rolled in toasted pecans and drizzled with white and dark Belgian chocolate. Talk about heaven!
I confess we didn’t want our adventure to end, so we continued on to nearby Red Ginger for a nightcap. We settled in at the bar/lounge area, with its clean lines and lively vibe; the staff was attentive and I can testify that they serve what is possibly the best blood orange martini I’ve ever had. Dan was happy with his tonic water, though next time (and there will be a next time) he’s going to try the French 75, made with Hendrick’s gin and fresh lemon. Our server told us the drink dates to World War I; apparently it takes its name from the powerful French 75mm field gun. Like its namesake, we were assured, the drink delivers a kick!
“I didn’t expect such an adventure,” I told Dan as we returned to the car and a moonlit drive home. Traverse City? You have become one of our happy places!