Since I know you’re all looking for more reasons to get to Lake Michigan this summer, let me add a destination to your list: Frankfort. This cozy village less than an hour southwest of Traverse City gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘relaxation.’ Nestled in to Lake Michigan’s Betsie Bay, Frankfort is a one-stop-light village where elementary school art hangs from the windows of every shop on Main Street.
I arrived in early evening and traipsed right down to Frankfort Pier to watch the sun set from one of the benches that are scattered along the beach. Each one of the Frankfort Beach benches has been donated on behalf of a family or loved one – most have plaques that read things like: “In Memory of Nana: May she watch the sun set here forever.” The benches are in various states of wear and are seemingly stored away during the winter months, giving them an added sense of notoriety when they re-appear on the beach just in time for the Memorial Day influx.
The sugar sand beach was recently parted down the middle for an apt addition – a sidewalk that allows for folks of all abilities to enjoy the beach and a pier walk. It had been years since the last time I walked the pier towards the Frankfort Light, so I immediately removed my shoes and started down the path towards the fishermen all set up for their evening catch. Moving closer towards the defunct lighthouse, I couldn’t help but turn around to gaze at the Elberta Dunes to my right and the Betsie Dunes to my left. When the sun slowly dipped below the lake’s surface, I returned to Main Street.
There are only a handful of bars and restaurants in Frankfort proper, perfect for a long weekend. I popped in to Dinghy’s (a Frankfort tradition), grabbed a seat at the bar, and realized I was craving a combination of spicy and sweet.
My choice: Black Star Farms Arcturos Pinot Noir Rose paired with Dinghy’s Bacon-Wrapped House Smoked Sausage
Yup, you read that correctly… wine and sausage. Not a far cry from a charcuterie board, but just a little less classy and perfect for a quiet Frankfort evening. The wine was just sweet enough to take the edge off of the andouille sausage dipped in chili lime aioli, but it still finished crisp and dry.
While sitting unashamedly alone at the bar, I took in the atmosphere that has made Dinghy’s a Frankfort tradition for the past 20 years. It’s easy to walk in and feel at home, just like you should at every neighborhood bar. There’s no pretense or expectation at Dinghy’s – you can walk in, eat, and leave, or you can linger for hours over pitchers and burritos. Either way, the staff are always smiling and happy to take your lead.
Waking up in the Hotel Frankfort was slow and quiet. My room in the 84-year-old building was where old meets new, with all the quirks of a 1930s charmer coupled with the comforts of home. The entire hotel is clean, airy, and full of life – it’s elegant and full of ease at once, because comfort and luxury should walk hand-in-hand. I love the fact that the room doors still take real keys and the floors creak just enough to remind you of how old the building really is.
Crescent Bakery beckoned, so I obliged. The quaint shop was almost overflowing with customers on a Saturday morning, and rightfully so – who can deny a perfect baked good? I chose a chocolate-topped raspberry bismarck and a large cup of coffee and sat to enjoy my meal slowly and mindfully. Just like the rest of Frankfort, Crescent Bakery is community-minded, with walls covered in photos depicting customers who have been visiting for years.
Walking around that morning, I stumbled upon the Frankfort Farmers Market, an antiques shop called Eklektika, plenty of waterfront views, and very few people. Being a resort town, Frankfort can seem sleepy in the off-season. However, my favorite time to visit is before the tourists arrive – when the locals haven’t quite put their game faces on yet. They may seem surprised (bewildered, even) to see you, but it’s the best time to sit and have a chat about the real Frankfort. Living year-round in a resort town takes a special kind of person, and you find them in Frankfort – folks are hearty and content to move slowly and steadily on to their next task. It’s comforting, really, to visit a place that exists so well without having to boast about it.
Before heading off to lunch, I stopped in to Betsie Bay Furniture. This is where interior designers die and go to heaven – being an amateur one, I do believe I’ve found my new favorite place to swoon. Betsie Bay Furniture has been a staple of the Frankfort community for over thirty years and, as a consistent family-owned and operated business, has provided more for the surrounding northern Michigan region than any big-box furniture store ever could. Carrying a wide array of fresh pieces for every style, Betsie Bay is truly a phenomenal place to find big city trends in a resort town mentality.
With that, I did what any beach town vacationer in their right mind should do – I packed a Michigan-Made picnic to die for and headed off to Point Betsie Lighthouse.
My Picnic Basket
1 Crescent Bakery Baguette
1 jar of Brownwood Farms Pepper Jelly
1 sleeve of prosciutto
1 container of goat cheese (Idyll Farms, anyone?)
1 bag of Uncle Gene’s Backwoods Pretzels
1 jar of Sleeping Bear Farms Honey Mustard
1 six-pack of Starcut Ciders Pulsar
My Perfect Picnic – the Recipe
Take one perfect day. Ensure there is not a single cloud in the bright slue sky. The sun should be shining brightly and Lake Michigan should look like the Caribbean. Hike to a glorious vantage point near one of the most picturesque lighthouses in the Great Lakes State. Sit. Stay.
Slather baguette with cheese and jelly, topping with prosciutto. Inhale. Bite. Exhale and smile. Open a bottle of cider. Drink. Bask in the glow of your most prized creation. Break off another piece of baguette. Pop open the pretzels and honey mustard. Dip. Relax.
This isn’t rocket science, folks. When you’re near the lighthouse, take advantage of it! At the end of it all, I even went and enjoyed a nice nap. That is what a vacation in Frankfort does to you.
Without Stormcloud Brewing Company, Frankfort would be even sleepier. With Stormcloud Brewing Company, year-round residents and visitors alike have a hub. A meeting place. A community force. And the beer’s good, too! Whether you’re in for the ales (try their flagship, Rainmaker) or stouts (Nightswimmer, anyone?), Stormcloud has a Belgian for everyone. Beer lovers have begun making pilgrimages to Frankfort solely for a visit to Stormcloud – I’ll admit, I’m one of them. But I’m grateful to have been able to enjoy a leisurely flight on the patio without a thought of getting on to the next thing.
Except, of course, when there’s a movie on at the Garden Theater. The historic one-screen movie house was built in 1923 and renovated in the late 2000s; now, it’s traditional charms are only heightened by the slew of first-run films that the theater brings through Frankfort. Even though the concessions cash register is original to the building, the digital projector is not, and it’s the best kind of place to enjoy a film.
With another slow start to the day, I realized that I really didn’t want to leave what was starting to feel like the most relaxing place on earth. After an amazing brunch at the hotel’s bright and bustling restaurant, I slipped out for my own self-guided architectural tour. In my opinion, there’s no better way to get to know a town than to take a true look at the homes that may have withstood generations of inhabitants. Between the mansions overlooking Leelanau Avenue and the tree-lined Forest Avenue, it’s hard to stop imagining living just down the street from Frankfort Beach.
A few more minutes’ walk brought me to the Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts, another cultural destination nestled into the tiny town of Frankfort. The center is a showcase for local visual art that’s inspired by the natural beauty that we’re so lucky to be surrounded by. Whether filled with student art pieces from surrounding schools, concerts by local or regional musicians, or yogis practicing among the paintings (Sundays at 10:30am!), the Oliver Art Center is truly a hidden gem in and of itself.
Frankfort is the kind of place where some shops boast “Open Year Round!” on their front doors. If a shop isn’t open year round, a handwritten note exclaims: “Thanks for another great season, see you on Memorial Day Weekend!” This is where the real world comes to take a nap – and boy, did I ever. If nothing else, our first recommendation to you when visiting Frankfort is to ‘forget’ your computer, tablet, or work at home – instead, pack a good book or two, a beach towel, and some comfy duds to truly enjoy the best thing that the village has to offer: calm.