The road less traveled

Along Michigan’s Sunrise Coast, you’ll find anything but sleepy towns awaiting sundown.
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Punctuated by new breweries, farm-to-table restaurants and welcoming wineries, Heritage Route 23 many fringing Northern Michigan’s scenic, unspoiled eastern coastline is rapidly growing as an inviting new culinary destination. In between great tastes and drinks found in friendly, historic small towns along this picturesque, unhurried byway from Standish to Mackinac City, visitors can savor myriad adventures on the road the less travelled.

“There’s really a lot to do in this area of the state,” notes Denise Cline, who manages the Heritage Route 23 Program for the Northeast Council of Governments. Though the Michigan Department of Transportation first designated the byway as a “historic route” in 2003, Cline began passionately marketing the 200-mile stretch’s 1,500 storied, historic sites and attractions aided by the group in 2010. 

Those yet unfamiliar with this appealing region of the Great Lakes State will particularly find the Sunrise Side Wine and Hops Trail a great aid for uncovering unique wineries, breweries and restaurants along Heritage Route 23. Beginning in Standish and winding north to Alpena, this self-guided trail is tailored to for wine and beer enthusiasts to some of the route’s best offerings.

Standish Michigan

With a first stop at Modern Craft Winery in Au Gres, visitors can savor free samplings at an approachable bar, experience some of the fruit concoctions that are this winery’s principle focus, peruse the rest of Modern Craft’s ample selection and talk shop with the venue’s friendly staff. The warm, inspiring atmosphere is what makes Modern Craft one of Cline’s own favorite top stops, she says, noting visitors can indulge in unique beverages such as mead, created by fermenting honey: “Everybody just feels comfortable.”

For a palate cleanser, visitors can travel north to Wiltse’s Brew Pub and Family Restaurant in Oscoda Charter Township. The third licensed brew pub in the state of Michigan, Wiltse’s strives to combine new and interesting flavors in their small batches and prides itself on flagship beers such as Blue Ox Stout with a hint of chocolate. The friendly venue pairs its intriguing brews and other refreshing beverages up with a classic menu of slow-smoked barbecue, juicy burgers and fried Michigan whitefish.

Chicory Cafe in Rogers City
Chicory Cafe in Rogers City – Courtesy Denise Cline

Beyond the Sunrise Trail, travelers can wind along further north for a visit to farm-to-table restaurant Chicory Cafe in Rogers City. With a tagline of local food, unforgettable flavor, the cafe works with sustainable farmers to meet dietary restrictions and healthy eating goals. “By partnering with local artisans and working with sustainable farmers, we’re returning to an old-fashioned emphasis on quality,” note the owners online. “It’s tastier, it’s better for you, and it makes us feel good!”

US 23 Jason Romo Photography
Photography Courtesy Jason Romo

Up a bit more ahead, pull off 23 at Cheboygan Brewing. Opening in 2011, exactly 100 years after the first Cheboygan Brewing closed, the owners honor the history of the original founders’ recipes and techniques. With award-winning brews such as the Lighthouse Amber and the Oktoberfest, Cheboygan Brewing greets visitors and locals alike with memorable pairings of great craft beer tastes and big “small town” hospitality.

Augmented by serene natural views and local charm, Cline assures, you truly can “get away from it all” along this unforgettable byway. To learn more, visit us23heritageroute.org. — Lauren Fay Carlson

Photography by Denise Cline; Jason Romo/Great Getaways TV; NOAA/Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary 

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