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Get Away to Elberta

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How to spend a day across the Betsie Bay

Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker

Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker

Frankfort is famous for its bustling summer season, quality shops, tasty restaurants, and tourist culture. However, the busy downtown center and crowded beach can sometimes feel overwhelming. Elberta — Frankfort’s neighbor across the bay — provides a quieter, more relaxing alternative to the energy of the bigger town, and it can be just as much fun for you and your family. Take a break from the tourist masses and spend a day in Elberta with these guidelines, advised by locals and tourists alike.

Breakfast: The Lighthouse Café
This tiny restaurant is an Elberta landmark, featuring fantastic breakfast food. Serving only breakfast and lunch, the prices are low, the portions are large, and the wait staff is friendly and fun.

Tip: the hashbrowns are a local favorite.

Morning Activity: Hike the Green Point Dunes
The Green Point Dunes Nature Preserve lies off Green Point Road, approximately seven minutes south of Elberta on M-22. Nearly two miles of trails wind through beautiful forests, meadows, and Lake Michigan beaches. The land is a spectacular representation of Northern Michigan nature. Because the trail is somewhat out of the way and not very well-known, hikers are unlikely to run into others on the trail.

Tip: Bring insect repellent.

Lunch: Elberto’s Taqueria
This colorful take-out restaurant sits in the heart of Elberta and offers a range of fantastic Mexican tacos and burritos that can be customized to your taste. The Taqueria is run by veteran restaurateur Jim Barnes, who has crafted a menu that makes Elberta proud.

Tip: In its second season, Elberto’s is now serving both lunch and dinner. Take your food across the street to the small farmers’ market park, and eat at picnic tables under the pavilion. A small train-shaped playground is fun for kids.

After-Lunch Pick-Me-Up: Trick Dog Café and Gallery
Visitors should also find time to visit the Trick Dog, an icon of local art and culture for the past 16 years, and an afternoon coffee is a great time to stop in. The Trick Dog is a café and art gallery that features the works of famed Benzie County artist Greg Jaris. With excellent coffee, smoothies, unique art, and a great view, it’s another fun destination that brings people to Elberta each year.
Tip: Look for a wooden fish near the steps to the porch. It’s actually a giant bell. Give it a ring.

Early Afternoon Activity: The Beach
Elberta’s beach on Lake Michigan is famous for its isolation and is the perfect destination for a peaceful afternoon in the sun. A long dirt road runs along the beach, allowing beachgoers to choose a perfect spot in the fine sand. This beach is great for swimming, exploring, or just lying on a towel.

Tip: When the water is calm, the breakwater pier at the end of the beach is accessible, and offers an amazing view of the Frankfort beach and the lighthouse.

Afternoon Snack: Conundrum Café
Located next door to Elberto’s, this fun little shop combines coffee, ice cream, and curios with a focus on the history of the Village of Elberta. Get a smoothie or a cappuccino, order a sandwich, grab a window seat, and watch the cars pass through town. Don’t forget to sort through the shelves of candies, toys, arts, and crafts. The café also rents out bicycles and kayaks, useful for the nearby bike trail and the Betsie River.

Tip: The s’more smoothie is definitely worth trying. Sneak around back to the bike shop to give your wheels a tune-up.

Late Afternoon Activity: Waterfront Park
Elberta’s Waterfront Park stretches along Betsie Bay from the old ferry docks to the fishing marinas. Formerly a Lake Michigan shipping hub, the park is filled with historical landmarks, the most noticeable of which is the old Life Saving Station. Visitors will also see the ruins of an old foundry. The park features a huge playground for the kids, and the historical markers will fascinate the adults. A walk along the bay offers beautiful views of downtown Frankfort and the marinas.

Tip: Try to read all of the historical markers, since each one offers a different view of Elberta or Frankfort during their heydays.

Dinner: The Mayfair
The Mayfair Tavern offers a great menu and friendly atmosphere. After being closed for a year, the restaurant was recently refurbished and reopened under new management. It’s been a huge success.
Tip: Order the Crescent Bakery Pretzel as an appetizer. You’ll thank me.

After Dinner: Sunset from the Lookout
Along the route to the beach is the lookout, a parking lot high on the bluff above Lake Michigan. Nowadays, it’s a great spot to watch the kiteboarders on a windy day, but Elberta has been known since the 1930s as one of the best areas of the country for “soaring,” the hobby of glider plane enthusiasts. The greatest sight that Northern Michigan has to offer is the sunset over the Great Lake. Anyone who has the patience can watch the red sun shrink to a sliver before disappearing below the waves.

Tip: Bring a camera.

If You Don’t Have Kids: Drinks at the Cabbage Shed
The Cabbage Shed began as a dockside vegetable warehouse, which was later converted into a restaurant and bar. Wooden and weather-beaten, “The Shed” looks like it would be full of salty sailors and fishermen, and it often is. The staff is friendly and the bar is good. From the inside, the building looks like it has been built from driftwood, and the old marina that it overlooks adds a nautical feel to the place.

Tip: Listen in at the bar, and you might hear some fun fish stories from the regulars. And check the music schedule, because there’s always a rotation of great bands coming through.

This list covers a lot of ground, but it still doesn’t come close to describing all the different things to do in Elberta. The village offers something for everyone, be it kayaking on the river, cycling on the trail, or enjoying one of several charter fishing services. Elberta also hosts a number of special events. For instance, the Elberta Farmers’ Market features some of the best local food and crafts every Thursday, and it is a popular attraction that brings visitors from far and wide.
The Village of Elberta provides the perfect get-away from the bustle of downtown Frankfort, without sacrificing any of the beautiful scenery, plentiful activities, or fantastic food. Many locals often overlook some of the attributes of the little town. Don’t make the same mistake. Schedule a day this summer to enjoy the charm and adventure of Elberta.

1 reply
  1. Mary Little Putney says:

    I lived in Elberta until I married and now live in Illinois and what a great article. It is so true you do not know the beauty and what is there until you leave it!! I like to call my hometown “Gods Country” it truly is!

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