Family Road Trip Guide: Charlevoix, Michigan

Visit for beautiful beaches, waterfront dining, frolicking at farms and mushroom house hunting

If you’re seeking a “slow summer” with hours of lounging at the beach, collecting stones and licking ice cream cones, Charlevoix, Michigan, is a gorgeous place for that lake-life pace.

Enjoy waterfront accommodations and dining, an adorable downtown with quaint shops and tasty restaurants, as well as Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix beaches to dip your toes in the water and collect Petoskey and Charlevoix stones. There are also farms to feed animals and collect fresh produce and baked goods, a drawbridge that opens up for boat traffic and unique mushroom houses dotted around town. 

Getting to Charlevoix, Michigan

Charlevoix is located in Northern Michigan, not far from Petoskey, Traverse City, Boyne City and Mackinaw City. It’s a small waterfront town dubbed “Charlevoix the Beautiful” that swells with summer visitors. Driving from metro Detroit and Ann Arbor takes about four hours on I-75N most of the way. 

What Families Love About Charlevoix, Michigan

Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Charlevoix, Michigan, is probably best-loved for its beautiful blue waters. Expect beaches and boating galore on Lake Michigan, Lake Charlevoix, Round Lake and Pine River Channel. Families pass the time scouring Michigan Beach by the iconic lighthouse for Petoskey and Charlevoix stones. These keepsakes are fossilized prehistoric coral and are unique to the area. The beaches are classic summer fun with playgrounds, bathrooms, parking and pavilions. 

Fisherman’s Island State Park is also great for stone hunting. Depot Beach features the historic train depot and beautiful gardens. Ferry Beach is an exceptional setting to play volleyball, horseshoes or kayak. My family paddled in kayaks rented from Charlevoix Adventure Co. They offer Glow & Row tours at night with lit-up kayaks. Mt. McSauba is a more remote Lake Michigan dune beach. You can also hike, play disc golf or in the winter, ski there. 

 Stroll downtown Charlevoix, stopping in boutique shops for clothes, toys and books as well as restaurants for yummy eats and sweets. Kids enjoy watching the drawbridge go up and down every half hour, allowing boats to pass through the channel. There’s a splash pad near the marina, where you’ll find children happily dashing through the water plus a trout pond where my kids giggled while tossing food to the fish. East Park is a sunshiny green space with marina views to relax, let the kids run around and enjoy a summer concert. 

Charlevoix is known for its mushroom houses designed by architect Earl Young. Looking like they sprouted up organically on uneven ground, these whimsical homes and commercial properties can be recognized by their wavy roof lines and stonework featuring rocks and boulders collected in the local area. While I tend to get FOMO if I don’t experience most attractions popular in each destination I visit, I worried our kids wouldn’t be thrilled hunting for mushroom houses. However, we rode for 50 minutes in a GEM car (which is like a large golf cart) with Edith from Mushroom House Tours and her enthusiasm was so contagious that we thoroughly enjoyed listening and learning all about the architect and properties. 

Charlevoix is surrounded by farms — some with children’s activities, others with farm-fresh produce, and many that offer beautiful backdrops for family photos. Hungry Ducks Farm was our children’s favorite. You can wander the expansive grounds, feed goats, ducks and fish or jump in the corn pit. Kids can take a spin on the carousel or ride children’s trains and vehicles under the pavilion. Parents will be pleased to see toys from their childhoods in the indoor museum, which also features model trains. 

Castle Farms is a storied stone castle with expansive grounds that make for picturesque photos. A historic attraction and romantic wedding location, families visit to see Michigan’s largest outdoor model railroad, get lost in the hedge maze and feed ducks in the reflection pond.

Friske Farm Market is a family-run farm with a 15,000-square-foot playground for fresh air fun. Depending on when you visit, pick ripe strawberries, juicy cherries or crisp apples. Brick oven pizzas, strawberry and cherry doughnuts, pies and sundaes are sold at the bakery & cafe. Scoop up applesauce and dried cherries to take home. Royal Farms might be best to visit with the kids in the fall for the corn maze and hayrides, but stop by in summer for the cider tasting room and farm stand. 

Lavender Hill Farm is 20 minutes away in Boyne City. Mid-June to mid-July is prime season to see all the purple flowers in bloom. Kid activities, like Bingo in the Barn and craft classes, tend to be available mid-May through October. Live music and dining events are offered in the summer. You can buy lavender ice cream, soda, soap and essential oil in the beautiful store. 

While you’re out near Boyne City, visit Boyne Mountain Resort for adventurous summer mountain activities like ziplining, disc golf and paintball. Walk the world’s longest timber tower suspension bridge, SkyBridge Michigan. See if the glass section sends chills up your spine or if you’re simply too enamored with the views. The whole family will love Avalanche Bay, Michigan’s largest indoor water park. You can chill in the lazy river or kick your adrenaline into high gear on the Big Couloir, a water slide where a trap door releases you into a steep drop. I’d recommend it for the bravest riders (aka teens). 

Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Raven Hill Discovery Center is an indoor/outdoor hands-on educational facility a short drive away that marries science, art and history. Charlevoix Public Library is a nice place to stop by and check out free kids programming. There’s a music garden out back where children can play tunes with flip-flops or drumsticks. If you like roadside attractions, you can see the World’s Largest Cherry Pie Tin a short drive from downtown. Try to pose your pictures like you’re taking a bite!

Where to Stay in Charlevoix, Michigan

We stayed at the Edgewater Inn & Suites and couldn’t have been happier. The condos are right on the water, offering amazing marina views, kitchens and an indoor/outdoor pool. We walked across the bridge to dining, ice cream, shopping and more. Unit 344 is adorably decorated in nautical style and offers plenty of room for a family to spread out, with a lofted bedroom upstairs, a king bed downstairs and a pullout couch. 

Another option is to stay in one of the mushroom houses. Book your own hobbit house escape online and delight in the curvy, thatched roofs, stone walls and interesting designs. 

Where to Eat in Charlevoix, Michigan

There are many delicious dining options all within easy walking distance downtown. Our family’s favorite was The Happy Troll Deli and Pub, which was heavily influenced by the fresh baked goods, friendly service and joyful décor. We ordered salads, wraps and sandwiches for lunch, but had our eyes on cookies, cakes and pie for dessert. Their award-winning Northern Michigan carrot cake features plump cherries, of course. 

The Cantina Tacos & Tequila serves modern Mexican fare on a string-lit outdoor patio. The Salad Fork has a takeout window down a cobblestone alley where you can order farm-fresh salads. Bridge Street Tap Room serves craft beer on the waterfront, often with live music. My husband enjoyed the blackened salmon with sticky rice, I tucked into red curry shrimp and scallops, and our kids ate pizza and salad. We treated ourselves to dinner on the water at Earl Young-designed Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant on our last evening in Charlevoix. While a bit pricey, we enjoyed cornmeal-crusted walleye, salads, fish and chips, and mac and cheese. 

Photo credit: Cortney Fries

For breakfast, we enjoyed the Harbor View Café. 

The Landing Waterfront Restaurant is a short drive from downtown and features a gorgeous waterfront patio with bright, colorful umbrellas. The giant Bavarian pretzel with pimento cheese and Old Bay mustard aioli dipping sauces was an appetizer our son just had to have. They also serve Maine lobster rolls, salads and sandwiches. You can watch the Ironton Ferry carrying cars across the water as you dine. 

After you watch the sunset, you can sample the downtown sweet shops for creamy, chocolatey treats. Kilwins, Murdick’s Fudge and The Taffy Barrel are a few of the dessert destinations your kids will definitely want to try. Stop by Cherry Republic for crimson-colored candies, wine and gifts. After you taste the chocolate-covered cherries, you’ll want to bring home a bag to savor as a sweet reminder of your “slow summer” vacation. 

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Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.


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