If you have a chance this summer, spend a while on this magic isle, surrounded by turquoise water and ripe with plenety of good things to eat al fresco.
My parents honeymooned on Mackinac Island in the early 1940s. Years later, they packed me and my six siblings into our station wagon and drove over the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge the first summer after it opened.
The view from above the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, was so spectacular, everybody screamed at once. We ate our lunch on the island that day in 1958 from a cooler my mom packed with ham and Swiss sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, and it was picnic nirvana.
Today, the 4.4-square-mile island is one of the top tourist destinations in the U.S. During the coronavirus pandemic, the island’s leaders and businesspeople have been highly committed to keeping visitors healthy and well-fed.
Last year, the eateries and other businesses on the island established a winning protocol for “diligent and vigilant” precautions, says Tim Hygh, executive director of the island’s Tourism Bureau. He says Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s rules are in force for the 2021 season, as well. They include mandatory mask-wearing, plexiglass in markets, plastic sheeting dividers to separate horse-and-carriage riders, 11 hand-sanitizing stations, lots of A-frame signage explaining safety rules, and adhering to maximum capacities. Twenty-four island restaurants offer outdoor seating.
Hygh’s favorite place for a picnic lunch can be found on the island’s southern bluff: Fort Holmes, which boasts Michigan’s oldest building (the Officer’s Stone Quarters, circa 1780).
“It’s the highest point on the island; you can hike it or bike it. There are picnic tables where you can eat and see the straits, the bridge, Boblo (Bois Blanc) Island, and all the freighter traffic. It’s wonderful,” he says.
At the harbor, you’ll find Marquette Park below the fort. Nearby is one of the top delis on the island, Doud’s Market on Main Street. Pick up a box lunch filled with cherry chicken salad, crackers, sliced cheese, and red grapes, and ask fourth-generation proprietor Andrew Doud about his favorite spots for enjoying your takeout — maybe Sunset Rock or Annie’s Table. Doud’s is America’s oldest family-operated grocery store, dating back more than 130 years.
At Windermere Point Park and the 1887 yellow-hued hotel of the same name, you can enjoy a snappy brat with sauerkraut at the octagonal-shaped Doghouse near Biddle Point as you sit under a yellow umbrella and watch the rippling waves.
Artist Kate Dupre’s Watercolor Cafe Art Space and Beanery, overlooking the harbor, features a breakfast and lunch menu that caters to everyone from carnivores to vegans: you’ll find avocado toast, peanut butter deluxe sandwiches, gluten-free baked goods, smoothies, and specialty lattes, all served fresh, fast, and to-go.
“This year I’m adding a vegan breakfast burrito and one with chorizo for meat eaters,” says Dupre, who also sells art supplies and holds fun, creative classes in her studio after the kitchen closes.
Mission Point Resort, with 18 acres of waterfront views on the sunrise side of the island, offers its Picnic Society on its Great Lawn, with baskets, blankets, wine glasses, specialty foods, and wine and cocktails to go from its retail shops and eateries.
The resort’s three full-service restaurants and three grab-and-go outlets feature fresh “farm-to-ferry” cuisine from local Michigan growers. A new fleet of custom-made, multispeed Detroit brand bikes was added in 2020, along with more outdoor seating and more takeout options available this season.
At the gracious Mackinac Grand Hotel, Norman Dillard, the food and beverage vice president, says they’ve built more outdoor patio space, and added more patio heating and lighting.
“At The Jockey Club, we’ve added a lot more usable space, partnered up with a local farmer to institute an Amish chicken program, and lightened up the menu,” Dillard says.
At the Grand’s Woods Restaurant, they’ve added 60 more seats and are offering a lighter menu, but diners will still find its fabled goulash. Breakfast also has been added at the Gate House eatery.
What about all that fudge Mackinac Island is famous for? Well, there’s plenty of that, with 13 fudge shops to choose from! You can pig out on it, walk around eating it, watch it being made, or take a class to learn how to make your own.
Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau