• Kara Cushway

My Favorite U.P. Haunts

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

(Tips from a local who’s been to like, zero of the big-name destinations, but plenty of the small-name ones.)

Note: This post has a couple links you can use to check out the websites of restaurants and shops I mention, but please be aware that this post is not sponsored or partnered with any of these businesses. They are just places in the U.P. where I've had excellent experiences, enough that I feel very confident recommending them to you!

I was born in Marquette, Michigan, which, for those who don’t know, is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – the part technically attached to Wisconsin and frequently referred to as Canada. Since moving away and back again more than once in the last six years, I’ve begun to miss a lot of the things and places that I used to take for granted, though I always “knew” how lucky I was to live there, in a place that was like the condensed, essential-oil version of all Earth’s nature. Essential oil is to plant as Michigan is to Earth. Okay, maybe not the best analogy.

Nowadays, if I meet anyone who’s never been to Michigan, it’s like I turn into a fiery missionary on the hunt for souls to convert. I could take Tim Allen’s place in the Pure Michigan commercials, that’s how passionate I am about telling people they should drop everything and visit this state. It will always be the best state for me.

Now that you know my obsession with my home state, please note that this post is (mostly) about places in my hometown of Marquette, a lovely town in the U.P., although Garlyn Zoo is one destination on the list that’s several hours outside of Marquette. But it’s a fond memory and deserves to be in my post about the Upper Peninsula. Let's go!

Presque Isle.

The thing about Presque Isle is that, YES, once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. But there’s something about the place that makes you go back again and again. Despite the crowds in the summer, the gales in the fall, and the fact that I’ve already been there a hundred times, it calls you. Laugh all you want, but you’ll eat your laughter when you see that I’m right. So if you’re living in Marquette, or nearby for whatever reason (ahem, college – if you’re in MQT for school, hi! *waves*), make your way down to Presque Isle, preferably in an open vehicle, be it bike, motorcycle, or one of those Jeeps with no top. And when you leave, know this: you’ll be back.

Garlyn Zoo.

One summer I told Kyle that I wanted to go down to Lake Michigan to swim, because Lake Michigan has bigger waves than Superior in the summer, and there is actually nothing like swimming in big waves when you're used to docile waters. (All my friends living out on either the East or West Coasts are laughing right now. Okay, so “big waves” in Michigan are like four-foot swells, if you’re lucky. I know you guys have seen bigger waves. Let me relive my dreams, will you?)

Okay, so back to the "big waves" - they're super fun to swim in. On the day we went down to the Lake Michigan shoreline, though, it was maybe 65 degrees. Fahrenheit. So it was not ideal swimming weather. We walked along the beach and dipped our toes in the (calm) water, and, disappointed, I said we should probably head back. BUT! Lo and behold, our trip was not for naught! We saw the sign for Garlyn Zoo and, on a whim, decided to go on in. (I had been to this zoo before and had written it off as small and boring, but I wasn’t with the right people at the time, so I have since reevaluated my opinion.)

Kyle and I had a BLAST at this zoo. We were there on a slow day for the zoo, so we weren’t getting shunted away from exhibits by eager tourists with packs of whining kids, and due to this good fortune, we walked around the whole zoo twice. It’s not very big, but the advantage to walking around a zoo twice is that, the second time around, you may just get to see some of the creatures who were too shy to say hi the first time around. When there aren’t many visitors, you can linger by the exhibits and watch the animals. The goats were so happy to see us, and Kyle was more than happy to be friends with them. We also saw the resident peacocks several times: a mother peahen, tail trailing, and her six or eight little peacocklets were bopping and bipping and blooping around the zoo the entire time we were there, and it was magical.

See? I wasn't kidding. About the price or the fact that it's the best.

The BEST Cake.

Are you gonna be in Marquette for a birthday? A baby shower? A drive through on your way to somewhere that’s NOT Marquette? Well, git yerself on over to the Huron Mountain Bakery because they have the freaking best cake ever, called Raspberry Bomb Cake. It’s so, so good. I often think that if I had a chance to go on The Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network, I’d talk about this cake every time. It’s pure deliciousness. It’s a moist chocolate cake layered with fresh, bright raspberries in a beautiful chocolate buttercream, and the whole thing is coated in the shiniest, most luscious chocolate ganache. Oh, and if you don’t want to fork over (get it? FORK? *slaps knee*) $40 for a whole cake, you can buy individual slices, which I believe is the best way to make money off cake, since cupcakes have hit the food scene. If you try it, or if you’re reading this and you’ve already tried it, tell me in the comments how much you love it.

Vango's waffle fries and a thick, delicious ranch dip


I may get hate mail, but this is my favorite place to eat in Marquette because of one thing: the waffle fries. I also go because I love a good gyro once in a while, and eating one with buckets of waffle fries and ranch dip is just … it’s heaven. I also LOVE to get a warm piece of syrupy, cinnamon-y baklava with a sweet little clove stuck in the top for dessert. It’s truly the perfect meal. Check out their website here.

The Beach.

I go down to the water every time I visit home, no matter what the season is. I mean, yes, the water is usually frozen over when I’m in Marquette at Christmastime, but I have to go. It’s something that’s hard to explain to anyone unless they’ve grown up in a place with a body of water by it, where that body of water is like another part of the town – honestly, it’s to the point where the lake is pretty much personified. There is something meditative and humbling about living by a body of water, especially one as vast as Lake Superior. Maybe it’s silly, but I’m definitely not the first one to claim that the water calls to me. So that’s why it’s on my list. And you can see it from any of the multiple coves and beaches along Lakeshore Boulevard, or from a vantage point on Presque Isle, or from the top of Hogback (it looks so weird to type it like that, but apparently that’s the real name, not Hogsback, which is what I’ve always called it and what I will continue to call it) or Sugarloaf. Speaking of which, here are a couple bonus places…

From this view, you can see the Dome, the power plant, and Presque Isle. Note the tiny sliver of the rock that is the top of Hogsback, visible in the bottom left corner.

Hog(s)back Mountain (BONUS).

Not really a mountain. We don’t have anything tall enough around Marquette to earn the name of mountain, geographically. But it sounds more impressive than Hogsback Hill. Anyway. If you do hike Hogsback, know that it’s not just a jaunty little stroll. It’s intermediate level hiking, and you will sweat. The view from the top is grand, but if you’re not in the mood for an intense hike, the views are just as lovely (and dare I say, safer?) from the top of Sugarloaf.

Storm over Superior. Sugarloaf's lookout deck (bottom right corner)

Sugarloaf Mountain (BONUS).

Again. Even less of a mountain than Hogsback. But this trail is lovely and has lots of maintained stairs, so it’s more like climbing a bunch of steps to a lookout point rather than doing a true hike. I remember climbing Sugarloaf in the fall when we were kids, and my mom made up a little scavenger hunt for my siblings and me. I specifically remember the hunt checklist asking us to find a fuzzy leaf. There might have been a purple leaf on the checklist, too. Or maybe I’m confusing that with a Winnie the Pooh VHS episode where they did a scavenger hunt and someone (probably Tigger) painted his leaf purple. I don’t even know anymore if my memories are mine or Winnie the Pooh’s, and I’m not mad about it.

Econo Foods.

This is our local Marquette grocery store, which is another thing that may come off as completely ridiculous to have on my list of favorite places in Marquette, but I have to shop at Wal-Mart and other big-name stores nowadays (thanks, U.S. Army), so it’s always lovely for me to go in to my old grocery store and see what’s changed. I love the olive bar and deli, and the bakery is always fun to walk through. I also make sure I pick up a bag of Oke-Doke cheese popcorn, because Marquette is like, the only place that sells the stuff? And I’m addicted? So I always get a bag or three to take home.

Spice Merchants.

Let me start this one off by saying this is not a sponsored post. I just love walking into the Spice Merchants shop at any time of the year. Its creaky old floorboards and string lights and glass jars full of teas and spices make me feel so warm and cozy, and like I’m stepping into an old-time apothecary. I love getting a paper cup of whatever sample tea they’re offering that day, and walking around on the squeaky floors to peruse the teas or soup and spice mixes. I never leave empty-handed, and it’s always a must-visit whenever I go home. (I know that this is a chain store, and that I could technically shop online to find all this tea merch, but I’d rather visit my beloved location in Marquette because of the aforementioned warm coziness of the shop.)

And there you have it! Those are my absolute must-visits whenever I’m in Marquette. Some of them are a little weird, I will not dispute that. Next time I write about the U.P. I'll get into the more popular (dare I say, mainstream?) places like Black Rocks (not just the brewing company but the actual rocks that are black), and some of the newer restaurants and coffee shops. This is what I miss when I’m not in the U.P., and what I make sure to do/see when I do get a chance to go home.

The thing I probably miss the most about the U.P. is the weather. Especially in the summer and fall. And since Lake Superior is a big weathermonger Up North, that’s another thing that I absolutely pine for when I’m not there.

If you love lists of places you should go, check out my two posts about places to go in and around Clarksville, TN, here and here.

Are you a Yooper or have you visited the U.P.? Have you been to any of the places on this list? Let me know about it in the comments! I’d love to connect with you guys. Cheers!


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