In July, we popped up north for a little romantic getaway to Mackinac Island! What makes it romantic, you ask? Well. For one, we weren’t making a trip home to visit my big loud Italian-Sicilian family. (No offense, Dad!) For another it’s our first trip just for fun–and just for us this year! But before you go feeling sympathetic, recall we did take an incredible trip together last year to Edinburgh and through the Scottish Highlands. Basically, any opportunity we get to create shared experience memories is a romantic opportunity in my book.
Isn’t that an incredible view?! I took that on our sunset cruise, which is a romantic getaway to Mackinac Island must-do!
Planning a trip to Mackinac Island, Romantic or Otherwise? Here are 7 Things to Do for a well-rounded visit.
1. Experience”America’s Summer Palace”,
The Grand Hotel
Where are my Somewhere In Time movie lovers at?? I absolutely ADORE this movie. No joke it’s a big part of why I wanted to stay at The Grand Hotel. Pack all the romantic dresses and three piece suits! You’ll feel like Jane Seymour meeting Christopher Reeve at every turn on the grounds and inside this iconic property. I was having a hard time keeping it together when the lobby pianist started playing the movie’s theme song.
Stroll the veranda, once referred to as “the flirtation walk”. Have tea in The Parlor of the Grand Hotel during your romantic getaway to Mackinac Island.
The WSJ did a fantastic piece on the hotel recently. I learned a few fun design facts that made a LOT of sense after seeing the “kaleidoscopic”interior design choices happening at The Grand Hotel. (Interior designer Dorthy Draper protégé Carleton Varney gave The Grand Hotel its current bold look in 1977).
With regal white-painted Queen Anne architecture and a 660-foot columned veranda, The Grand Hotel opened in 1887. It’s promise: a genteel summer escape for the upper classes of the Northeast US and Canada. Prices are still on the steep side to stay in one of the 388 rooms at The Grand. Book when they’re running a promotion or check out all the packages they offer to get the best value. Another option? Pay $10 and spend a few hours soaking up all that romantic getaway to Mackinac Island, bygone-era atmosphere.
3. Get lost in the woods and find Arch Rock
Like most of the state of Michigan, the state park trails on Mackinac Island are fantastic. I have no idea which trail we ended up on. We walked from the town up past the historic St Anne’s church and The Butterfly House. There’s a named path between woods and houses. Take that it leads through the most enchanting forest area. Tall pines creating dappled shade. Very few bugs or humans to bother us. It really was a lovely walk through nature, and quality together time.
Arch Rock is a 146-foot tall, naturally occurring limestone formation. It was a major motivator for the newly-created National Park designation three years after Yellowstone in 1875. Today it still fascinates visitors! The platform built next to it offers up some really incredible views of Lake Huron.
4. Learn about the local History
You can read all the historic signs marking sites and moments around town. Or plan your entire visit around the history of the island. There are plenty of learning opportunities on Mackinac!
Ok Ok, so reading the sign marker outside the American Fur Company Store detailing the scientific experiments done by Dr. Beaumont on some poor employee who was accidentally shot in the stomach and survived–with a permanent hole perfect for viewing food digestion–isn’t the most romantic thing on the list. But wow. Now we both know something totally random and fascinating. . .in a creepy way.
Try touring one of the two historic forts, buildings, or cemeteries on the island. See if it gives you more of a romantic getaway à la Outlander vibe. Essentially: pick up some local history while you’re on Mackinac Island!
5. Walk the quaint town & Watch a fudge-making demo
The town of Mackinac Island is very walkable and utterly picturesque. Let the chocolatey fragrance of fudge from the dozen or so shops wafting through the air lead you down the main road. Eventually you won’t be able to resist! Join the ranks of children with faces pressed up on the plate glass windows. Or walk in like a grown-up with a wallet. Get completely immersed in the sights, sounds, and SMELLS that is the making of Mackinac Island’s world-famous fudge.
Buy some to take home–or eat as you’re walking out of the shop. Or both. No judgement.
One of the “must-do” things on most Mackinac Island lists is to rent bikes. Bonus for tandem bikes!!
I remember doing this when I came to the island as a kid on family and Girl Scout trips. At peak summer season however, we felt it was just a little too crowded to really be a fun activity. With the sheer volume of other wobbly people cycling everywhere, it felt like too much of a collision risk. So we opted to stay on our own two feet. Which is much better if you’re planning to pop in and explore the shops, art galleries, or historic buildings. And restaurants! A gal (probably) can’t survive on fudge alone, ya know.
6. EAT and DRINK
I live for food, folks. If you don’t know, now you know.
This little town packs a culinary punch with options all up and down the quaint streets of town. And don’t forget dining up the hill at The Grand Hotel!
Since we had the dining package at The Grand, we did their extravagant breakfasts and multi-course dinners there. And yes–you should put both on your list! The Grand has a rule about jackets and no denim for gents and dresses/skirts/pantsuits for ladies in the public spaces after 6pm–kiddos included. We love this! When the kid at the table next to you starts having a meltdown, it’s way cuter if they’re in a sweet dress with layers of pinky tulle. Or with hair combed back, suspenders and a bow-tie.
Mackinac Island (and northern Michigan in general) is KNOWN for smoked whitefish dip and planked whitefish. The dip delivers all the flaky, smoked fresh lake whitefish flavor. Add in lemon and dill. Blend it up with just enough cream cheese and mayo to keep it together. Yummmmm. Serve with pita chips, crostini, rye toasts, Ritz or Club crackers. This stuff is addictive and delicious. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve Pinned this recipe version because it looks pretty spot-on. We had the smoked whitefish dip during lunch outside on the patio of The Carriage House at Hotel Iroquois. Between the views and the meal. . .it was Everything.
Planked whitefish is something we both grew up having on our summer vacations to northern Michigan! (My family went to Petoskey, his fam camped in the early version of glamping cabins near Charlevoix). Plenty of restaurants on Mackinac feature this local favorite. If you ‘re passing a restaurant that looks promising, and “planked whitefish” is on the menu–go and get it! You won’t be sorry.
The traditional planked whitefish plating is a filet, on the cedar plank it got cooked on, with a plate underneath. Then you have perfectly browned mashed or duchess potatoes piped all the way around the fish. Seasonal veggies on the side.
It’s the most incredible flavor and texture combo. You won’t believe how much you can put away when you first see that big ol’ plate coming at you. I haven’t actually written down how we do it at home. But this 1947 recipe snippet is a great start for anyone looking to re-create planked whitefish!
Some places are known for their cocktails! I read this great article on the best US small towns to visit. It highlighted the Seabiscuit Cafe and their famed Mackinac Island fudge martini. Good Lord. Vodka and fudge are a match made in chocolate lover’s heaven.
7. Take a Sunset Cruise
Get onto that water! It’s such a great perspective of the island and the famous Mackinac Bridge. We took the sunset Sip n’ Sail cruise. Is there anything more romantic than being on a boat at sunset? Only if you’re being serenaded by Chris Calleja. And he’s crooning Fleetwood Mac’s song Dreams. And there’s a gaggle of 20-something girls dancing around, belting out the words. Like they totally know Stevie Nick’s pain. Insert head shake and eye roll here. I couldn’t help laughing. I mean I get it–I thought I’d lived through it all by 26 too. Imagine how surprising one’s 30s are.
The quiet walk back to The Grand Hotel, holding hands and breathing in all that fresh Northern Michigan air was a completely perfect moment in our romantic getaway to Mackinac Island.
But wait. . .what about the HORSES?!
Listen. With no cars on the island, it’s pretty much a given that at some point you’re taking a horse-drawn carriage somewhere. This could be from the picturesque and itty bitty airport (our one taxi ride), to or from The Grand Hotel into town, or along the trails to points of interest like Arch Rock. There are fantastically informative horse-drawn carriage tours around the island. Another option is renting horses from one of the local stables (I wish we had done this!).
My horse-related picks if you’re planning a romantic getaway to Mackinac Island? Rent horses and spend some time away from town, taking your own route à deux. Or book a private carriage tour or ride. The couple who flew into the airport just after we did got ENGAGED at Arch Rock during their trip! He booked a private carriage from The Grand Hotel (where they were also staying) out to Arch Rock at sunset. This was some kind of workaround, as it’s not typically allowed. He completely surprised is now-fiancée with the gesture–and a ring!
We actually ended up taking the same shuttle from the mainland Mackinaw City to Pellston, and got all the sweet details along the way.
How’s that for a romantic getaway to Mackinac Island story?! Swoon.
In short, if you’ve never been to this delightfully “stuck in time” island, you need to start making plans! A romantic getaway or a family adventure. However you want to do it, Mackinac Island really is one of America’s best small towns to visit.
Have you been to Mackinac Island? What kind of trip did you take? What are your favorite things to do?
List ’em in the comments! Sharing is caring!