15 Best Things to Do in Glen Arbor, MI
Glen Arbor is hands-down one of my favorite vacation spots in Michigan.
With wide, sandy beaches, shallow turquoise bays and stunningly clear blue inland lakes, chances are good that it will probably be yours, too.
If you’re looking for a spectacular setting to relax and enjoy a getaway, add Glen Arbor to the top of your list now. Set in a picturesque glen in the middle of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Glen Arbor is a cherry-land paradise at the top of the list of Michigan’s must-see destinations.
And with good reason.
What is Glen Arbor Known For?
One visit to this beautiful, friendly town and you’ll be hooked for life. From the charming downtown that swells with delighted visitors in the summer and fall to the cozy surroundings, you can’t help but just love Glen Arbor.
Surrounded by water, including Lake Michigan Big Glen Lake, and Little Glen Lake, it’s home to some of the prettiest beaches in the country. Whether you take a boat, paddleboard, kayak or simply swim and splash on the shores, you’ll love exploring the water here.
You’ll also find boutiques and art galleries to wander, restaurants, and comfortable inns.
Read on to discover what to do in Glen Arbor MI. You’ll find everything you need to know to plan your trip to this special spot in northern Michigan.
About Glen Arbor MI
It’s truly one of the best-kept secrets in the United States: a quietly hip, little vacation town on the shores of Lake Michigan, brimming with things to do all year long.
I like to think that Glen Arbor is the perfect mix between upscale and down-to-earth. You’ll find top-rated, fine dining restaurants like Blu, but you’ll also find the beloved Art’s Tavern (you’ll want to buy a shirt while you’re there), a longtime favorite.
It’s the setting, though, that will really make you fall in love.
Glen Arbor is surrounded by Lake Michigan, towering sand dunes, and rolling hills of pines and hardwoods that catch the sunlight. Lake Michigan is a Caribbean-like aqua here, with shallow bays perfect swimming and splashing.
The Crystal River is here, too, a small creek rushing through the town and adding to the charm. It’s a fun spot for kayaking and tubing, and it’s full of salmon and bass for fishing.
Glen Arbor Arts Colony
Naturally-scenic Glen Arbor attracts a large number of artists, drawn to the area by the raw, natural beauty of the landscape. It’s not out of the ordinary to find artists, complete with easels and tools, busy interpreting their surroundings through paint or pencil. You’ll find a mix of both local and nationally acclaimed artists, click here for a list of art galleries to expore.
About Glen Arbor MI
As the official base of the home-grown “Cherry Republic,” you’ll find it easy to relax here.
It’s a mix of locals who fell in love with the area years ago and made it their home base, and vacationers who want to do the same. Just about everyone is friendly and enthusiastic about the natural beauty of the area, too.
One of the top Michigan destinations, the folks here cherish the beauty of the area and take great care in keeping it clean and accessible while respecting the land. You can find details on the exploring the dunes in our guide to Sleeping Bear Dunes and at the Slpeeing Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau.
There’s a reason that Glen Arbor is a top pure Michigan travel destination. Whether you’re taking a day trip from Traverse City or vacationing in this Leelanau County paradise, you’ll find enough outdoor activities and fun to make a memorable getaway.
Here are some of my favorite things to do and see in Glen Arbor.
Best Things to Do in Glen Arbor MI
Hike Sleeping Bear Point Trail
Just south of Glen Arbor is where you’ll access this 2.8-mile trail loop. It’s an easy and very pleasant hike through rolling dunes, where you’ll pass dune grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers. The real treat, though, are the breathtaking Lake Michigan vistas with the Manitou Islands in the distance.
The Sleeping bear Dunes are one of the top Michigan destinations, the folks here cherish the beauty of the area and take great care in keeping it clean and accessible, while respecting the land. You can find details on the exploring the dunes in our Guide to Sleeping Bear Dunes and at the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau.
Visit the Cherry Republic
It’s the abiding slogan of “Life, Liberty, Beaches, and Pie,” that sets the tone for the sprawling restaurant/brewery/gift shops/ ice cream stand in downtown Glen Arbor.
You may have seen their cherry-flavored merchandise in stores, and it’s fun to visit this friendly little spot tucked down down a sidestreet.
From their delicious cherry salsas and chocolate-robed cherries to their cherry wine and of course, cherry jams, a stop at the Cherry Republic is a must on any trip to the area.
You can find more great places to eat in our Guide to Glen Arbor Restaurants.
Explore Historic Glen Haven
A historic port vilage on the shores of Sleeping Bear Bay, scenic Glen Haven Historic Village features several small buildings and a beautiful beach. Step back in time and explore this little logging village. The public beach here is gorgeous: I suggest packing a cooler and making a day of it.
You’ll want to grab some pictures of the bright, red cannery boathouse. Cherries were once canned in this large warehouse, and now it houses historic boats.
You can find public restarooms here as well.
Shop Downtown Glen Arbor MI
I’ll be honest: there’s not a shop in downtown Glen Arbor that I don’t love, starting with the tiny Anderson’s grocery store on the main drag (M-22). You’ll find everything from take-and-eat sandwiches and fancy cheeses to sunblock and plastic floats. There’s a special treat for everyone here, so don’t miss it.
Another highight is the Cottage Bookshop, a well-curated bookstore with everything from the latest best-sellers to unique prints from local artists. They have a great local section, too, if you want to learn more about this northwest Michigan community. (We’ve got a great guide to the best bookstores in Michigan, if you’re looking for more books shops).
You’ll also want to visit the M-22 Store, Petoskey Pete’s, and the Totem Shop for souvenirs. Cottonseed Apparel has some lovely women’s clothing, too; I bought a favorite summer hat here season ago and it still looks like new. For T-shirts and hoodies, I love Bay Wear on Ray Street.
Bike the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
The Sleeping Bear Heritage trail features 21 miles of non-motorized trail that runs through some of the prettiest landscapes in Michigan. It’s great for hiking and biking and allows you an chance to surround yourself with this magical landscape.
Please note that it is the only bike trail in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The trail connects must-see spots in Sleeping Bear Dunes like Glen Haven, DH Day Campground, the Dune Climb, and the Port Oneida Historic District. You can rent a bike at the Crystal RiverOutfitters or the Cyclery in downtown Glen Arbor.
Sleeping Point Maritime Museum Sleeping Bear
If you like maritime history (and even if you don’t), it’s fun to visit this museum near Glen Haven Historical Village to learn about the U.S. Life-Saving Service, U.S. Coast Guard, and Great Lakes shipping.
I love wandering over to the boathouse next door, you’ll see life-saving equipment used during the early 1900’s.
Grab a Burger at Art’s Tavern
Art’s is a longtime staple of Glen Arbor and it has some devoted fans (you can count me among them). Ther burgers are delicious, especially after a long day playing on the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s not just burgers, either, they have a full menu here.
It’s worth getting up early to beat the breakfast crowds for a fresh omelette and crunchy toast. You can thank me later!
See South Manitou Island Lighthouse Up Close
Want another fun trip idea? Thing about taking a ferry out to the Manitou Islands to get away from it all. Visible from the shore in Glen Arbor, both North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island are both accessible by ferry boat. Located about 16 miles off shore, the two Islands are definitely worth a visit if you can swing it.
You won’t find a Mackinac Island experience here: this is an excursion into the wilderness for camping and hiking. I like South Manitou best, for camping and exploring. It’s tun to hike up the 104- foot tower of the South Manitou Lighthouse and be rewarded with some of the best views anywhere.
In addition to the lighthouse, you’ll find a visitors center and a museum, too. If you plan to camp here, review the rules carefully: this is low-impact camping to preserve the fragile ecosystem. You can find more details to help you plan your trip (including ferry schedules), here.
Sample Local Wines at Wineries Near Glen Arbor MI
The Leelanau Peninsula wineries are worth a stop, even if just for a meal. Glen Arbor is located near the 45th parallel, the same as some of the top-rated wine producers in Europe. That’s why you’ll find some of the best wines in the country at these cozy spots.
Some of my favorites include M-22, Black Star Farms, Verterra and Bel Lago. Use our Complete Guide to Traverse City Wineries for more complete information.
Stretch Out On Sleeping Bear Dunes Beaches
It’s like a giant, sandy playground filled with hiking and biking trails, wide, sandy beaches and quiet, little beaches where you can just relax in the sand.
Even better is finding a cozy spot along the beach to watch a Lake Michigan sunset. There’s nothing quite like seeing the sun sink dramatically into the lake.
Kayak on the Crystal River
Take a 2-3 hour trip meandering down the crystal-clear Crystal River by kayak or canoe. You’ll see some beautiful wildlife incuding deer, Bald Eagles, Blue Herons and more in a wonderfully peaceful setting.
Explore Glen Lake by Boat
Both Big Glen and Little Glen Lakes are among the prettiest inland lakes in Michigan, and once you see the bright aqua color and sandy bottom, we’re sure you’ll agree.
One of my favorite things to do is rent a jet-ski or pontoon boat and spend the day on the lake. The water here is a clear, and so refreshing.
Surrounded by the sandy dunes and rolling, forested hills, it’s an unforgettable setting.
Where to Stay in Glen Arbor
You can find small inns and Bed and Breakfast’s here, along with private rentals, too.
My favorite spot to stay is The Homestead, a sprawling, 500-acre family resort. With a full mile of sandy beach on Sleeping Bear Bay, the Homestead offers a wide range of accommodations. You’ll find a beach club, golf course, pools, restuarnst and cafes, boat rentals and more.
In the winter you can ski here, too.
How to Get to Glen Arbor MI
The Cherry Capital Airport is located about 45 minutes away in Traverse City. From the airport, it’s an easy ride by car through back roads that offer amazing views.
No matter which direction you approach Glen Arbor, it’s a pretty journey that will have you snapping pictures from the car window. If you come from the north or south, follow the scenic M-22 right into town.
Day Trips from Glen Arbor
There are several popular Michigan travel destinations within a short drive of Glen Arbor. Head north along the iconic M-22 into the charming Leland, “aka Fishtown.” Leland is a quaint fishing village; be sure and pln some time to stroll among the shanty’s lining the docks. You’ll find gift stores. restaurants and more.
Other cities worth exploring nearby include Maple City, Elk Rapids, Suttons Bay, and the Leelanau Peninsula.
Frequently Asked Questions About Glen Arbor MI
The Lake Michigan beaches in Glen Arbor are part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and are open to the public. Use our guide to Sleeping Bear Dunes to find detailed information one more than 10 beaches in and around Glen Arbor.
Glen Arbor is known for it’s cute and friendly downtown shopping area, beautiful Glen Lake, and the stunning landscape of the surrounding Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
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