Harbor Springs from Hilltop-Featured Artist Edwin Cohen

Harbor Springs, MI – Hidden, Historic, Resort Town

My Town Destination: Harbor Springs, MI

Trip Type: Weekend Trip

Date of Visit: 8/14/19 – 8/16/19

Town Ambassador/Contact: Molly Veling- Phone: 231-526-7999 email:molly@harborspringschamber.com

To arrive at the beautiful small town of Harbor Springs, head North on Michigan’s I-75, and turn Westward toward the coast. Sounds easy, but this small resort town located on a secluded bay, manages to stay hidden from sight. Not hidden because you can’t find it on a map, but because during your road trip you will not see signs to get there, and that’s because Harbor Springs is not clamoring to be found. Why? Because this small town has residents who love the quiet pocket where they live, and know their beautiful town speaks for itself.

Historic Resort Roots

Harbor Point Lighthouse

What do you think of when you hear the word, resort? Towering buildings, private beaches with cabana boys, remote Caribbean locations? In Northwestern Michigan the word resort, is rooted in a the same customary principles of hospitality, but is in an atmosphere you can only get in small towns. Harbor Springs is one of these small towns, and delivers an experience you can only get from the state up north. 

The word resort means “a place that is a popular destination for vacations or recreation, or which is frequented for a particular purpose” (Oxford Dictionary). In Harbor Springs, you get all this and more. Logging history and early resorts are what created this resort town. Known for its crystal clear blue water and pollution free air, in the mid 1800’s several families from nearby cities created resort escapes here for families. They wanted to get out of the city smog and enjoy all the natural beauty the Michigan coast has to offer. Generations of theses families continued to visit through the last century, and continue even today, coming each summer to associations like Harbor Point, Wequetonsing, and Menonaqua.

Original Water Taxi to Harbor Point

Why is it called Harbor Springs?

Harbor Springs was originally settled by the Odawa Indians, and receives its name from the small bay formed by Harbor Point, and the springs that bubble up all over the area. The Bay is considered one of the finest in Michigan. It is also deep enough to have large ships set anchor here. It’s a unique and relaxing place all its own. Read more on resort and local history here.

Inspiration and Relaxation

Downtown Shops on Main Street

When you come to Harbor Springs, there is definitely a vibe. A feeling of leaving your world behind, and stepping into a new world free from stress, the world tucked into the Little Traverse Bay of Harbor Springs. This community has an estimated 1,500 residents year-round, but increases to a whopping 15,000 in season. That may sound like a lot, but the increase in number feeds the unique and interesting businesses waiting to greet you.

Walking along the bay, you get a sensation of peace and tranquility, the kind that would prompt you to leave your smart phone behind. Depending on when you visit, you will most likely run into other vacationers. But it’s the local laid back feel that really comes through and lifts your spirits, a local vibe accustomed to lake living, and residents that are very good at helping you relax.

You can see all over the streets of downtown that inspiration comes from the water. Boutique shops with sailing decor and patterns, and oil painting galleries with the beautiful Michigan shoreline as their canvas.

Inns and Institutions

It seems like every small town has unique old buildings that capture your attention and your imagination. It is wonderful when you’re able to visit a town that has invested resources in these institutions and brings them back to life. In Harbor Springs, you will find this investment at the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society. The HSAHS was founded in 1990, and is located in the original Harbor Springs Courthouse. This makes the visit to the building alone a unique experience. When you visit, you can see the history of the logging and resort industries, and learn about Harbor Spring’s most famous resident, Ephraim Shay.

Shay House from Back

Ephraim Shay was a famous inventor, known for his invention of the Shay Geared Locomotive that revolutionized the logging industry. Once he settled in Harbor Springs, he also became known as a loving, philanthropic man who was lovingly referred to as “Grandfather Shay.” Another part of Shay’s legacy is the Hexagon Shay House. Now over 125 years old, the unique Shay House has been recently gifted to the HSAHS, and is now another great exhibit for visitors to see in Harbor Springs.

The Colonial Inn

Similarly, the Colonial Inn has been lovingly preserving its history since 1894 for its guests and visitors.

Colonial Inn

Want to take a step back in time on your next small town adventure? Stay at the beautiful and Historic Colonial Inn. Founded in 1894 by Colonel Eaton (the Michigan Wolverines Calvary Division of the Civil War), this Harbor Springs landmark has all the charm of yesteryear, in a location off Little Traverse Bay. It’s also within walking distance of downtown.

The charming slow pace here is felt immediately after check-in. They have over-sized rooms with lots of windows and screen doors, allowing you to take in the beautiful Michigan summer weather. The old school resort feel of those who used to “summer” here is still alive and well. It’s an experience uniquely Harbor Springs. Come see the beauty of Fall here, or start your next summer plans!

Small Town History Alive and Well in Harbor Springs.

One of the interesting aspects of Harbor Springs, is its resort outer shell. When you first arrive, you see beautifully manicured buildings, with a streetscape that looks like it came off the Hollywood back lot; it’s that nice, and many buildings look brand new. But once you start to explore, you find that a good majority of these buildings are historic, well preserved, extremely interesting, and housing many beloved businesses.

Howse’s Fudge

Howse’s Fudge on Main Street is a family-owned business, that has been in operation since 1959, and operates in a vintage 1908 shop making over twenty delectable confections and seasonal favorites.

Dudley’s Deck at The Pier Restaurant

The Pier Restaurant

The Pier Restaurant has been a local and visitor favorite since 1935, before prohibition. This is what it’s all about in Harbor Springs; relaxing lakeside! A great place to do this is Dudley’s Deck at The Pier Restaurant. My Town recommends the fish tacos if they are on special that day. The Pier is now run by the highly regarded Stafford’s Hospitality (a family of local restaurants and historic inns). You can be rest assured the quality is outstanding, in addition to the awesome atmosphere at this small town historic hot spot! 

The Outfitter Outdoor Gear

You can see history inside almost any building you pick in downtown Harbor Springs. A couple more notables, are The Outfitter in the Old Lyric Theatre building, and Yohan’s Pastries– located in one of Harbor Springs original gas stations.

My Town’s Delicious and Delectable of Harbor Springs 

There are wonderful choices in Harbor Springs when it comes to great food. From fine dining to farmer’s markets, Here a few My Town Picks:

Turkey’s Cafe Pizzeria

Turkey’s Cafe Pizzeria– Another historic building, and a fun story! Check out photo gallery for menu info.

Tom’s Mom’s Cookies– Probably the best cookie’s My Town has ever had. Tom’s Mom’s has been featured on The Today Show, and for good reason- their cookies are like what your grandma makes, but twice the size. You will be craving these cookies long after you visit, but don’t worry they ship.

Tom’s Mom’s Cookies

More Yumminess….

Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop, Build your own Sandwich– My Town received a tip, that some of the best sandwiches in Harbor Springs were in the back portion of Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop. But were told, just Do Not order tomatoes! When we arrived there was a huge line- always a good sign of a small town staple! This may be build your own sandwich, but it’s still the Gurney’s way!  

Sign at Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop

The Unique, Interesting, Yours, of Harbor Springs

What is it about a town that makes its special? A local attraction, a family-owned business that has been there forever? A piece of history you can’t find anywhere else, or a bookstore with just the right vibe? Here are a few of the Unique, Interesting, Yours of Harbor Springs.

Pointer Boat Cruise

 Pointer Boat– A Harbor Springs tradition, The Pointer Boat! Originally was a Water Taxi between Harbor Point and the Village of Harbor Springs from 1930-1962. One of the three original Pointer Boats has now been completely restored by Stafford’s Hospitality. Now you can take this historic cruise from The Pier Restaurant, and view from the water, the communities of Harbor Point and the Wequetosing. You may also spot the horse drawn carriage on Harbor Point(because there are no cars) and the Harbor Point Lighthouse. Truly a great small town experience!

Tunnel of Trees -Located on M-119, the Tunnel of Trees is a narrow tree lined road with spectacular views of Lake Michigan for 27. 5 miles. Head from downtown toward Cross Village for more Michigan unique finds.

More along the Michigan Coast

Petoskey Stones – A Petoskey Stone is a pebble shaped rock, but also fossilized Rugose Coral called Hexagonaria. It was left from glaciers that used to inhabit Northwestern Michigan. The stones are identified by their unique hexagonal pattern. The name Petoskey comes from a native Odawa Chief, and the nearby small town of Petoskey also bears the name. Pictured is unpolished(what you would find). This is a super fun(and conveniently economical)way to enjoy Harbor Springs beautiful beaches.

Owner of Legs Inn-George Smolak with My Town Today CEO, Kristy Burns
Owner of Legs Inn-George Smolak with My Town Today CEO, Kristy Burns

Legs Inn– is actually right outside Harbor Springs, in Cross Village. To get there just follow the Tunnel of Trees along the lake. Legs Inn has an incredible location on Lake Michigan. They have a quirky and fun style all their own, serving great Polish cuisine, and they are a Michigan historical site. Check out full history here.

My Town Recommends:

Berry Szarlotka, made with Old World Polish Crumble Cake and a blend of apples and several types of berries (it’s like a warm berry shortbread) with all the trimmings! For dinner the Taste of Poland, with Golabki (cabbage roll) Polska Kielbasa (smoked sausage), homemade sauerkraut, and pierogi. Also, add Bigos (hunters stew) and Zurek (tradtional Polish sour soup). Cannot say enough about how exceptional the atmosphere, food, and uniqueness is at Legs Inn!

Harbor Springs Flowers– This is not a business, well there are several businesses that landscape the beautiful flowers all over town. But I would be remiss to not mention how beautiful the flowers are in Harbor Springs. No matter where you go, whether your in front of a business, having dinner, or walking through the historic Wequetonsing area, the beautiful flowers and landscaping will make you smile.

MTT Antique and Market Finds

Great Antique Shops and Farmers Markets are familiar sights in small towns. This includes Thrift Shops, Local Eats, and the like! Here are some great MTT Antique and Market Finds from Harbor Springs 

Pond Hill Farm

Pond Hill Farm Garden Cafe– Local produce, great market, cafe, wine tasting room, brewery, a farm and fun atmosphere you can’t miss while in Harbor Springs!

American Spoon– Local favorite, using only Michigan sourced ingredients for amazing jams, salsas, and spreads. They have a tasting buffet daily. You can’t miss out, it’s so much fun to try!

MTT Referral

My Town Travels has started a referral section of each article. It’s based on visiting a town, and finding out what town the majority of its citizens recommend My Town visits next.

The referral for this entry is: Petoskey, MI. Stay tuned for My Town to pop up there soon.

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