Mackinac Island (pronounced mak-en-aw) is a popular tourist destination in Northern Michigan, voted Best Island in the Continental United States by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Located in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island is only accessible by ferry or plane, and no cars are allowed. Main Street is dotted with dozens of fudge shops and horse-drawn carriages carrying guests to their hotels. A visit can feel like a step back in time.
Where to Stay
Staying on the island can be expensive so many people stay on the mainland (either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace) and visit for the day. If your budget allows, I recommend staying overnight on the island because the atmosphere changes when the final ferry of the day leaves the dock. If price is no object, stay at the iconic Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel has won many awards over the years and is home to the world’s longest porch. If you would like to experience the Grand without paying the high price of lodging, you can get a reservation at one of the resort’s restaurants or pay the $10 entrance fee for a self-guided tour of the hotel. Be aware that the Grand Hotel does have a dress code. If you’re looking for a more relaxed stay, Mission Point Resort is located on the “Sunrise Side” of the Island and is home to five restaurants and a sprawling waterfront green where you can relax in an Adirondack chair and look out over the water. My go-to hotel on the island is the Chippewa Hotel, located on Main Street steps from the ferry dock. The rooms at the Chippewa face either the action of Main Street or the tranquility of Lake Huron. Probably my favorite thing about the Chippewa is the Pink Pony Restaurant and its waterfront deck where can watch the ferries come and go while enjoying dinner or a drink. Whether you decided to splurge on a hotel on the island or a stay on the mainland, I recommend Star Line Mackinac Ferry Company to get you to and from the island with ease.
What to Do
I always recommend doing a guided tour on the first day of a trip to a new place. On Mackinac, I recommend Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. While riding in a horse-drawn carriage, your guide will explain the history of the island and give you a lay of the land. The tour stops at the iconic Arch Rock (above), the Butterfly Garden, and Fort Mackinac. After the tour, I recommend renting bikes from Ryba’s Bike Rentals and riding the 8.2 miles around the island. When you are done with your bike ride, spend some time shopping for souvenirs and fudge on Main Street. Once you have seen the most popular tourist attractions, don’t miss some of the hidden gems on Mackinac Island.
Be sure to save some time to explore Fort Mackinac (above). Built in 1781, Fort Mackinac was occupied by the British throughout the American Revolution. The first battle of the War of 1812 took place on Mackinac Island when the British stormed the north end of the island on what is now known as British Landing (this is a good place to stop if you choose to bike around the island). Americans did not regain control of the fort until the end of the war in 1815. With tensions between the Americans and British declining after the War of 1812, Fort Mackinac’s military significance declined and the fort and most of the island was made the second National Park in 1875. In 1895 the park was transferred to the state and became Michigan’s first State Park.
Where to Eat
As mentioned above, my favorite restaurant on the island is the Pink Pony with its waterfront patio. I also enjoy getting a bite to eat at the Yankee Rebel Tavern and The Chuckwagon. For a unique experience, head inland to the west side of the island for a meal at The Woods. If you are looking for a fine dining experience, look no further than Chianti at Mission Point Resort or the Grand Hotel Main Dining Room. While Starbucks is now the first and only chain business to operate on the island, I would recommend the Good Day Cafe or Watercolor Cafe for a more Mackinac coffee pick-me-up.
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