People often ask me what was the best place I visited during my time on the boat. I could say St. Croix. People want me to say St. Croix. But honestly, my favorite places were: Clayton, New York, where the mayor drove me to the grocery store and made strawberry shortcake for the crew; Duluth, Minnesota, where we were invited to the local sailing club’s potluck; and Northport, Michigan, where we were given a heaping mound of whitefish that a local Native American guy had caught and smoked himself.
As we sailed north along Michigan’s coast from Chicago, it felt like each Michigan port was more idyllic than the last. Sure, I was partial. When Good Morning America named Sleeping Bear Dunes America’s Most Beautiful Place last year, it was no surprise to me. Between 1991-1998, I took many a trip up to the White Pine campground where, if you’re up for the two-mile hike back into the woods, you can pitch your tent on one of six campsites. You can walk out to the lakeshore in the morning and find… no one. When you make a fire on the beach at night, it will be the only light for miles.
Manistee. Ludington. Frankfort. Northport. Traverse City. Charlevoix. Petoskey. Harbor Springs. These are magical places because they play on my nostalgia. Because running down sand dunes and jumping into a clear, saltless sea makes me feel like I’m in college again. I would move to this area in a heartbeat if it were warmer. But as my friend Tami wisely said, “If it were warmer, you couldn’t afford it.”
Three perfect days
I could, however, afford three days of it. So on a sunny Sunday in September, Tami, her six-year-old daughter and I packed a rented Kia with our carry-on suitcases, and a 12-pack of sparkling water and headed north to Traverse City. We checked into the Holiday Inn, the same one I stayed at on the day I left the boat last year (the place I found my lucky dollar, which I still carry with me in my nécessaire). This time our room had a view.
We arrived in time for an early dinner, but none of the places on our short list were open on a Sunday night, so we headed to a place that sounded decent: Amical.
Summer seemed to have handed over the reins that night, so instead of sitting on Amical’s streetside patio, we opted to stay indoors. The hostess guided us to a table in front of a fireplace with a view of Grand Traverse Bay. It could hardly have been more picturesque. Our server brought us a dish of olives and a crusty baguette while we waited for our cocktails. We both ordered Elderflower Juleps: a well-balanced elderflower-bourbon combo. Since Tami is a vegetarian, I had checked the menu ahead of time for options. We split a beet and feta salad to start. For our main course, Tami ordered pumpkin ravioli with pesto; I ordered a wok-seared tuna and Amical’s signature tomato soup enclosed in a puffed pastry after watching other diners plunge their spoons through the inflated top and down into the soup. How fun is that?
We stayed through a second round of cocktails, enjoying the atmosphere and the kind of servers who bring you the small salad you opted to split on two different plates, and who gladly fetch your six-year-old another dinosaur to color.
We walked back to our hotel after dinner, passing the people fishing along the boardwalk and stopped to watch one couple pull in a giant salmon. Then we spent the evening enjoying the hot tub, sharing a bottle of wine and wondering what the hotel will look like after their multi-million dollar renovation. By all counts, a pretty perfect day.