48 Hour Guide to Leelanau and Benzie Counties Best Beach Towns

Spend two spectacular days branching out from Glen Arbor on M22, with a the Sleeping Bear Dunes as the starting point each day and a fabulous lighthouse in the mix in either direction.

The Leelanau Peninsula is dotted with some of the most beautiful lakeside towns. From trendy shopping centers to historic towns, Leelanau and Benzie Counties really do have it all! Use Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast as your home base for the weekend. With comfortable accommodations, a central location in town, and within an hour’s drive to all of the region’s best attractions, you’re getaway has never been easier. It doesn’t matter if you only have a weekend to explore Northern Michigan, just hop in the car and follow our two-day itinerary to see the best beach towns along the coast.

Day 1:

Wake up to a beautiful day in Glen Arbor. Enjoy a home-cooked breakfast in your room, on the front porch, or at a cozy table in the living room. Finish your coffee, slather on some sunscreen, and set out for your first incredible day. Head north on M22 to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. Your first stop along the M22 is the dreamy beach town of Leland. Visit historic Fishtown off the Leland River, stroll by the vintage shops on the main street, and pickup the makings for a picnic lunch further down the road. 

Next, pass through the town of Northport on your way to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse on the northern tip of the peninsula. This is the ideal place to enjoy that picnic lunch. The Lighthouse has an exceptional view in all directions, although this year you’ll have to take in that view from the beach, as the tower is closed due to the Covid-19 safeguards. Then wind back south along a charming, winding stretch of M22 back through Northport to visit Omena and Leelanau Cellars right on the water for some afternoon wine tasting.

A bit further down the road lies Suttons Bay. You’re going to want to spend some time here, as  the downtown is filled with art galleries, tasty spots for ice cream or refreshments, colorful boutiques, and is always buzzing with life. One of the most unique galleries is Bayside Gallery which stands out with its impressive collection of ceramic and glass garden decorations.

For dinner, your options are many! You could grab a bite to eat in any of these quaint towns or return back to Glen Arbor early to dine. Our favorite restaurants in Leland are The Cove, featuring fresh seafood in a laid back setting, or the tavern at the Bluebird,  an eatery with one of the best patios around. In Glen Arbor you will find a safely distanced table at Art’s Tavern or Cherry Republic, in nearby Burkickville at LaBecasse, or an amazing carry-out dinner from Blu, just a block away, to bring back to the inn (remember those individual tables, particularly on the porch, for your use?). After dinner, relax on the Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast porch with a bottle of wine and unwind.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Day 2:

Wake up to an entirely different, yet just as satisfying, breakfast from the Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast. Make sure to savor every bite and enjoy your peaceful morning as you have an exciting day ahead of you exploring the southern shores of the Leelanau Peninsula. The first place you want to visit is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore where you can now drive on the scenic Pierce Stocking Drive (currently accessible Saturdays and Sundays only, so make your plans accordingly). A winding road leads you through the forest, under a covered bridge, and to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook, perfect for that iconic view of Lake Michigan from high on the towering dune.

Continue on M22 through Empire to the Point Betsie Lighthouse, a stunning red roof lighthouse that has been preserved perfectly and offers a rare glimpse into the history of the area. Wander the grounds, venture out onto the pier, and take in the surroundings. (Know that the Lighthouse is closed in 2020 due to Covid-19 safeguards. But it sure does not diminish the beach and the spectacular water views.)

Next on the itinerary are the lakeside towns of Frankfort and Elberta. Tucked away between Lake Michigan and Betsie Lake, these towns are known for their incredible shops. Funky bookstores, vintage furniture shops, charming jewelry collections, and tasty ice cream shops are just a taste of what this little paradise has to offer.

Then on down scenic M22, you’ll end up in Manistee, a historic town that will take your breath away. Colorful Victorian buildings line the streets and give this place a feel unlike anywhere else. Take the time to enjoy a self-guided walking tour. You’ll find historic sites leftover from this 19th-century port city, plus picturesque shops and perfectly preserved mansions. While in town, stop for dinner at Bluefish, a delicious restaurant known for its mouthwatering seafood entrees and fantastic cocktails. From the southernmost tip of town, you’re only an hour’s drive away from Glen Arbor.

Not interested in Manistee? Alternatively, head east after leaving the Frankfort/Elberta area to Iron Fish Distillery. Tucked away in the heart of Benzie County just south of Crystal Mountain Resort, this incredible distillery is a hidden gem that most visitors don’t get a chance to enjoy. When you taste their small-batch spirits, you are tasting the farm in its entirety. Every step of the process, from growing the grain to cultivating the yeast to milling, distilling, and aging each bottle is done on-site. From start to finish every step is completed with great care just footsteps from their tasting room. The results? Award-winning spirits that have a depth of flavor and unique nature that you just can’t get enough of. Stop in to grab a signature cocktail and take a tour of their operation.

  

While Michigan is currently open – although an important masking requirement is in place for everyone –, some of these businesses may have temporarily reduced hours. All restaurants mentioned offer outdoor spaces for dine-in and carryout options if you want to socially distance or enjoy your meal as a picnic. Please check with any museums, restaurants, or attractions before visiting to ensure that they are open.

Ready to explore the best beach towns in Northern Michigan? Book a stay at Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast and Cottages in downtown Glen Arbor and experience the Leelanau Peninsula from our comfortable accommodations.