I never considered myself a stranger to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’ve taken in the falls at Taqhuamenon Falls, hiked along the rocks at Pictured Rocks, and made designated pasty runs across the Mighty Mac to St. Ignace. However, Marquette was the one city in particular that I never had the opportunity to explore. When Awesome Mitten came calling with a chance to #MittenTrip across the “Pleasant Peninsula” this summer, I had my heart set on the city on the bay, known for its scenic waterfronts, massive man-made structures, and booming brewery scene.
Considering a solo, seven to eight-hour drive from Detroit to Marquette seemed pretty daunting, so I enlisted the help of two college friends from Michigan State University, Kale Davidoff and Christopher Reed. After crossing over the Mackinac Bridge to the tunes of Michigan’s own Lord Huron, a pasty pit stop was in order. Lehto’s Pasties, just outside of St. Ignace on US-2 has been the preferred pasty eatery in my family for years. With stomachs full of sirloin, potatoes, onions and rutabaga, we continued the trek toward Marquette.
Following M-28 into the city, one of the first landmarks we spied was Northern Michigan University‘s Superior Dome, billed as the world’s largest wooden dome, glimmering in the afternoon sunlight. Driving into downtown Marquette via Front Street, we were pleased by the lack of big box stores and intrigued by the late-19th and early 20th-century architecture of the buildings that lined the city’s thoroughfare. We pulled into the Landmark Inn, the site of our historic accommodations for the weekend in the late afternoon. Originally built in 1930 and renovated in the mid-1990s, The Landmark was described as the social center of Marquette in its heyday. We soon discovered that its strategic location downtown also made it the premium location to discover the best restaurants, breweries, and landmarks by foot.
The equivalent of a work day spent in the car was draining, so we first headed to Dead River Cafe for an afternoon pick-me-up. We were thrown off by the construction on Baraga Street and ended up calling the shop for directions. It was the first of many fine examples of Yooper hospitality that we discovered over the course of the trip. The ice coffee was the perfect companion as we walked around the James Marquette statue and marveled in the magnitude and sheer size of the Lower Harbor ore docks.
It was a no-brainer to leave the ore docks behind to head directly toward Ore Dock Brewery to sample from one of the town’s best microbreweries. I’m still dreaming of the Belgian Wit I enjoyed on the outdoor patio there, and still kicking myself for not returning for another round before departing back to Detroit. Celebratory beers out of the way, we were told that Vierling is one of the best places to eat in Marquette. We were greeted with prompt service as well as a filling plate of freshly grilled whitefish.
With the sun quickly setting, we gathered our cameras and drove the 10-minute drive to Presque Isle Park. Walking out onto the pier, the fiery red sunset illuminated the treeline past the Presque Isle Dock. Continuing along the island as dusk settled in, we pulled off near Sunset Point to see an even more serene sunset over the bay. We were only 6 hours into our stay in Marquette, but we agreed as a group that we may have already witnessed the highlight of the weekend.
Anyone who has traveled with me knows that I have a tendency to pack as many activities as possible into a day (to everyone who’s had the pleasure of experiencing a John Kalmar-style vacation, you’re all welcome). In order to fuel our full Saturday itinerary, we made an early morning breakfast stop at Doncker’s. In addition to their impressive selection of homemade candies on the main level,
the upstairs restaurant has truly otherworldly breakfast. The Hera’s Hike was an omelet I’ll remember for a long, long time, and a fitting moniker as we departed breakfast for a hike up Sugarloaf Mountain. The peak offered beautiful 360-degree views of the ore docks, bay and the surrounding woods and beaches. I don’t consider myself a grizzled outdoorsman by any means, but having man-made stairs to aid in the last 100 or so feet of a climb just doesn’t feel right – especially when Sugarloaf Mountain isn’t technically a mountain. My hiking stairs gripe aside, Sugarloaf is an easy 15-minute hike that’s well worth it for the eagle-eye vantage point.
Just up the road from Sugarloaf Mountain is Wetmore Landing—a stretch of sandy beaches along Lake Superior capped by Little Presque Isle Point. We could’ve spent the entire afternoon taking dips in the water and climbing out onto the smooth outcroppings had it not been for the black flies. As Reed pointed out, this place would be a beach swarming with vacationers and locals alike if not for the swarming flies. It’s low-key vibe still made it an ideal spot for a quick dip in the lake.
The next, and probably climactic stop on our outdoor adventure day, was the Black Rocks on Presque Isle Park. The dark rock formations not only offer bountiful views of the shore, but they’re the perfect point to take an icy plunge into Lake Superior. We were told that the weekend’s temperatures, in the upper 70s and lower 80s, were unseasonably warm for this time of the year. Because of this, the cliffs were packed to the edge with young and old alike, waiting to take their turns to jump in. Not feeling like risking my life or breaking my neck, I opted for an average sized cliff to take the leap of faith. That Lake Superior water—it isn’t warm.
Following Friday’s trend of Ore Docks to Ore Docks Brewery, we logically headed to Blackrocks Brewery following our excursion at Black Rocks. While I sampled the Honey Lav and Grand Rappits (as a West Michigan native, I kind of had to), my friends chose the C3PA. One of them loves IPAs and the other Star Wars, so the beer satisfied both of their respective needs. Continuing our impromptu Marquette beer tour, Stucko’s Pub and Grill offered a plethora of Michigan-made beer. I settled into a New Holland Monkey King, Reed opted for a Short’s Nicie Spicie, while Davidoff went with a classic Bell’s Oberon.
With our beer glasses empty, it was time to refill on food. After meandering down Washington Street earlier in the day, Portside Inn caught our eye with its shaded outdoor patio and diverse menu. We all had burgers on our minds as we wandered down 3rd Street, and the Barge Burger did not disappoint. What really set the table were the Portside Nachos as well as the Lake Superior Whitefish cake for appetizers. The nachos alone could have fed a reasonably sized family of four, and they were almost just enough for three 20-something boys. Even better, our server was able to offer a number of suggestions for night caps after we had sufficiently eaten our fair share of food. Specifically, what is the best place in Marquette for karaoke? Answer: Flanigan’s Bar.
Karaoke dive bars are the preferred watering holes for my group of friends, and Flanigan’s was exactly what we needed. However, I’m not exactly sure if that feeling was mutual with the bar’s usual clientele. Some people just aren’t as into Hall and Oates as I had assumed.
We awoke bright and early in the George Shiras Suite at Landmark Inn, ready to embark on the eight hour drive back to the Motor City. First, we had to load up on bagels and coffee from Third Street Bagel. The local staple had a variety of bagel and breakfast options and was a surprisingly bustling place for a Sunday morning. As we meandered our way down a trafficless main street, it was bittersweet to leave this gorgeous city on the bay behind. It was a whirlwind 48 hours, but I had managed to fit in as many activities as possible (my calling card) without my travel companions complaining like hungry toddlers or angst-filled teenagers. If it wasn’t for the eight hour drive, we all agreed we’d make the trip make to Marquette ASAP. Next time we return, it’ll definitely be in the summer – I’m not willing to test my fate in a Marquette winter.