by Lisa Meyers McClintick
A sugar-sand beach, rhythmic surf and the Caribbean blues of Lake Michigan make The Homestead feel like an ocean getaway. That can be quite a surprise for first-time visitors to this northern corner of the Midwest. Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula and Traverse City area have all the appeal of America’s great coastal destinations — quaint villages, a rugged coastline, four seasons of outdoor recreation and a fascinating nautical history. As a bonus, visitors can feast on cherries from nearby orchards and enjoy a sophisticated but family-friendly dining scene that makes the most of local harvests.
The Homestead Resort offers an idyllic setting for enjoying a little bit of everything. Its 350-wooded-acres overlook a mile of Lake Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Bay. For some winter fun, follow the Crystal River inland and explore Bay Mountain Ski.
Drive a few minutes south and reach the popular 71,000-acre Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It ranks as a top attraction with a 110-foot dune that begs to be climbed or a scenic boardwalk that looks 400-feet down a steep sand cliff to the deep blue shore.
Area outfitters offer scenic river paddles, but you can also rent kayaks and bikes to explore the terrain around The Homestead property. With close to 120 homes and condos plus more than 100 rooms at its lodge and inns, the resort could be its own small town!
There’s also a marketplace by the resort’s epicenter known as The Village that includes a grocery market, health and fitness center, three restaurants, ski lodge, kids’ camp and child care and a golf course and pro shop. Another restaurant, a spa and tennis courts are located by the lakeside Beach Club, where you’ll find one of the best poolside views in Michigan!
When the setting sun gilds the surface of Lake Michigan just beyond the Beach Club pool, it’s as wide-open and golden as an ocean sunset. Think of it as a salt-free alternative — with a few cherries on top!
Our Editor Loves
- Beach Club Pool along Lake Michigan
- Childcare and Kids' Club
- Spectacular Sunsets Views and Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The Homestead Resort has a combined 117 rooms in its four main lodging establishments. There also are 120 rental homes and condos offering one to five-bedrooms. Little Belle, a romantic destination for couples, is not included in this roundup.
Stony Brook Lodge
Terraced into the hillside, these newer units feel a little like a tree house tucked into the forest. There is a view of the Crystal River Valley and Lake Michigan from most rooms. Rates range from $183-$525.
Units include one- or two-bedroom suites, kitchenettes, two-person steam showers, king bed and sofa sleeper, twin beds in two-room suites and exclusive access to Stony Brook Lodge pool.
Stony Brook Lodge Fiddler's Pond
Fiddler's Pond offers more economical rooms with cottage decor. Units don't have kitchenettes, but are close to dining and groceries at The Village. Rates range from $93-$391.
Amenities for family-sized rooms include single rooms with two queen beds, a two-room option with a king-sized bed in one and two queens in the other, and a refrigerator.
This lakeside inn sits closest to the Beach Club and looks onto the lake. The inn has one- and two-bedroom suites. The latter can accommodate families of four, but The Inn is mostly geared toward couples. Rates range from $130-$616. Rooms include a living area with fireplace and a dining and kitchen area.
Home and Condo Rentals
Rental homes and condos vary considerably in style and amenities, but there is something to fit most budgets and family makeups. Room layouts, decor and amenities are detailed on The Homestead website.
Shuttles run throughout the day to this family hotspot featuring five tennis courts, a shopping boutique, a lakeside restaurant and the centerpiece of it all -- a pool with a waterfall and attached whirlpool looking out over the lake. If you choose to drive rather than shuttle, it's just a few blocks drive to the Beach Club.
While many resorts have activities for kids ages 4 to10, The Homestead also has childcare for infants as young as two months old. Reservations are requested to ensure their four-to-one staff-to-child ratio. A minimum of three hours is required ($12/hour for infants; $8 for kids 4 and up; discounts for siblings). The camp includes 2,400 square feet of indoor play and 1,000 square feet of fenced outdoor play space.
Float, Pedal or Play
You'll find all kinds of fun outdoor activities at The Homestead. Kayaks can be rented at the Beach Club for a paddle along the Crystal River or Lake Michigan's shore ($20/two hours). You can also rent mountain bikes ($25/two hours, $40/day) or reserve a tennis court for $18/hour.
Learn to Fly-Fish
The Homestead is home to one of the top rated Orvis fly-fishing schools in the country. Participants can practice their casting on the Boardman River, and then try catching trout on Lake Michigan or the Platt, Crystal or Manistee Rivers (231-334-5100).
The resort includes Mountain Flowers Par 3, a nine-hole par-3 course with sweeping Lake Michigan views. Reservations recommended (231-334-5555).
Health and Recreaton
New Leaf Health and Fitness in the Village offers cardio equipment, free weights and personal trainers. There are several exercise classes offered as well including circuit training, slow flow yoga and zumba. ($15/person) (231-334-5160).
Rocky's apparel and gear in the Village and Flip Flops at the Beach Club have everything you might have forgotten such as hats, swimsuits, sunglasses and more plus fashionable clothing and Homestead souvenirs. Explore towns along the Peninsula for galleries, boutiques and family-friendly destinations such as The Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. Cherry Republic features at least a dozen flavors of cherry inspired ice cream and other fruity treats, and offers family games and activities every Tuesday.
Bay Mountain Skiing & Snowboarding
With two lifts, a terrain park and runs for beginner to advanced skiers, Bay Mountain is a nice size for teaching children to ski. The onsite ski school teaches basic skills or refines existing skills for downhill skiers, snowboarders and even cross-country skiers.
Beach Club Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore cross-country ski and snowshoe trails show off stunningly blue lake views even in winter. On most winter weekends and holidays, The Homestead offers guided snowshoe tours of the national lakeshore for kids 8 or older.
Snowshoes, skis and skates can be rented, and skating at Fiddler's Pond is free for Homestead guests. Afterwards, Warm up in front of a bonfire!
You can't beat the sunset-view deck seating at this Beach Club cafe. Besides looking across the lake and Manitou Islands, it also has a view of the pool and spa. The casual fare includes appetizers such as chicken quesadillas and peel-and-eat shrimp and entrees such as Caesar or crispy chicken salad and garden burgers with fries.
Dinner gets decidedly fancier with bistro steak or Lake Michigan whitefish with a Parmesan crust. Nightly specials may be prime rib or fresh walleye. There are plenty of beach worthy drinks, too. Sip a mango and pineapple infused harbor freeze while enjoying the sunset. Kids can join in too with an alcohol-free daiquiri!
The cafe opens daily at 11 a.m. for lunch. Dinner runs from 6 to 11 p.m.
Reservations are recommended for Nonna's, which serves elegant Italian dinners in The Village. Look for ricotta gnocchi with shrimp, baked fontina polenta, fresh fish of the day, wood-fired lamb loin and roasted organic chicken breast. Get there between 6 and 7 p.m. for $5 drinks and appetizers. Also attached to Nonna's is Beppi's,
Considered an Italian-themed sports bar, Beppi's offers a more casual alternative to Nonna's with a lodge-like atmosphere. At Beppi's you'll find salads, hand-tossed pizzas, craft beers and specials on Sundays such as bangers 'n mash.
CQ's serves a daily breakfast buffet with pancakes or waffles, eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, pastries and cereal. ($10-$12 for kids 9 and up and adults). Younger children pay their age.
Cavanaugh's Groceries & Provisions
For easy vacation meals, Cavanaugh's is the hub for groceries, produce, fish, meats, liquor, grab-and-go items and the morning newspaper. Look for rotisserie chicken, sandwiches, lasagna and ready-made salads at the deli. A 2011 renovation expanded Cavanaugh's selections and added more seating for the deli and coffee shop.
Planning & Tips
Getting There and Around
Many travelers drive to The Homestead, which is 320-miles from Chicago, 288-miles from Detroit, 517-miles from Cincinnati and 392-miles from Indianapolis. It's about 227-miles from Milwaukee if using a ferryboat, which offers a scenic break from the highway if coming from Lake Michigan's west shore.
Travelers have two ferry options: the 2.5-hour trip on the high-speed Lake Express between Milwaukee and Muskegon or the four-hour trip on the SS Badger ferryboat between Manitowoc, Wis., and Ludington, Mich.
You can fly to Traverse City's Cherry Capital Airport, 231-947-2250, which is served by American Eagle, Delta and United Express. There are several cabs and shuttles available as well as seven major car rental companies.
Once at the resort, the Homestead's white vans shuttle guests from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. weeknights or until midnight on weekends. The shuttle stops at main destinations, such as Amira Spa, Stony Brook Lodge, the Reception Center and the Beach Club.
For Mom and Dad
Childcare The resort offers parents a date night on Saturdays with Kids Night Out from 6 to 9 p.m. The staff plans games and activities, and serves pizza ($25 for the first child; $20 per additional child).
The Manitou Passage Golf Club
The Manitou Passage Golf Club which is the 2009 rebirth of Arnold Palmer's King's Challenge, offers a serious yet scenic challenge for golfers wanting to improve their short game. (231-228-6000)
Get a massage at Spa Amira overlooking Lake Michigan before enjoying the pool exclusive to spa guests. The spa's $20 Sip & Sunset special offered from 8-10 p.m. Saturdays includes two glasses of wine and chocolate truffles.
Nonna's Loft opened in 2011 for guests and members of the public who crave hands-on cooking classes from the resident chef. Topics range from homemade pasta to crustaceans, chocolate and tapas. (231-334-5150)