Walk the downtown streets, visit the shops and eat lots of ice cream.
If Ernest Hemingway returned to modern-day Petoskey, he'd probably say, "Yes -- just as I left it." Then he'd shoot a bear, wrestle you to the ground and pour himself a dram of rum. A fine rum fit for a man.
We'll never know, of course, but odds are good that old Hem would approve. This summer getaway, tucked in Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay, between Traverse City and the Upper Peninsula, remains frozen in Midwestern lake time.
That's Petoskey's point, and it is its pride. The small-town lakefront charm hasn't given way to edgy art fairs, farm-to-table dining and an army of iPad-wielding tourists. It's about having the same experience your grandparents once did.
Petoskey, which grew rapidly in the late 1800s as a summer getaway, knows its strengths. Chain restaurants have been kept to a blessed minimum in the downtown. Both commerce and homes are largely on the bluffs above the lakeshore, leaving the water to breathe with parks and greenery. American flags flap, families picnic on impossibly green grass and, in the golden late afternoon, young people with Frisbees and guitars emerge on the wide, grassy plaza dedicated to war veterans. Just a couple of miles east of town, Petoskey State Park offers 300 acres of woods, beach and sand dunes.
The year-round population is slightly fewer than 6,000 but swells well past that on summer weekends with visitors strolling the clean streets and browsing the tidy storefronts: jewelry (high-end and low), art (ditto), ice cream, fudge, beach clothes, women's boutique-type clothes and tchotchkes. Oh, so many tchotchkes.
It's an exaggeration to say that these are the same shops your grandparents patronized -- wait, no, that isn't an exaggeration.
"There's not a lot of changeover," said Tigger Calhoun, 37, whose Northern Sole shoe store sits on Lake Street, in the heart of Petoskey's shopping district. "This year had some of the most I'd seen in a while because a few folks retired. But mostly you don't see change."
That goes for the shopping (Grandpa Shorter's gift shop has been family owned since 1946), the sleeping (Stafford's Perry Hotel dates to 1899) and even the ice cream eating (Kilwins, a chain more than 75 stores strong, mostly in resort communities like Charleston, S.C., and Rehoboth Beach, Del., met the world in Petoskey in 1947).
"People here have been taught by their parents to go to Kilwins and get an ice cream for years and years because that's what you do here in the summer," Calhoun said.
On a warm summer day, that meant there was only one thing to do: Go to Kilwins, which is also in that downtown shopping district. Amid its low ceilings and blue floral wallpaper, it's not difficult to imagine 60 years' worth of children eyeing the overflowing sweetness: fudge, chocolates, ice cream and caramel corn among the offerings.
And there you have Petoskey: a living endorsement for predictability and charm.
Hemingway's favorite bar is still there, as anyone and everyone in Petoskey will tell you (along with the fact that he summered here for the first quarter of his life or so). In his day, that bar was called the Annex. Now it's called City Park Grill, and it hasn't inched far beyond Hemingway's time: long wood bar, dark green walls and a tin ceiling painted white. Hem's favorite bar seat -- second from the end, according to my waiter -- is right where he left it. The menu hasn't evolved much either: steak and whitefish rule the day at City Park Grill (432 E. Lake St.; 1-231-347-0101; cityparkgrill.com). Hemingway supposedly also hung out at Jesperson's (312 Howard St.; 1-231-347-3601), a no-frills spot dating to the early 1900s and best known for its pie. Both places offer solid fare and are worth a visit for the history factor.
For more modern and seasonal fare, check out Chandler's (215 1/2 Howard St.; 1-231-347-2981; lakeandhoward.com) for dinner, Twisted Olive Cafe (319 Bay St.; 1-231-487-1230; twistedolivecafe.com) for breakfast or lunch, and American Spoon (413 E. Lake St.; 1-231-347-7004; www.spoon.com/cafe) for any of the above.
Stafford's Perry (1-231-347-4000; www.staffords.com) is the classic hotel, and for historic charms and location in the center of town, it can't be beat. With rates from about $149 to $269, don't expect luxury, though. The Terrace Inn (1-800-530-9898; theterraceinn.com) in neighboring Bay View is also a classic -- 101 years and counting -- but a bit more secluded and cheaper, with rates peaking at about $189. More modern comfort can be had at the Inn at Bay Harbor (1-231-439-4000; innatbayharbor.com), which is a Marriott property just west of Petoskey and on the lake. Petoskey is also home to many of the standard chains.
Find more information at www.petoskeyarea.com