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Vintage wooden boats in the water in front of large white home, Leland’s Riverside Inn
Vintage wooden boats tie up for dinner at Leland’s Riverside Inn
Brian Confer

16 Great Waterfront Restaurants in Northern Michigan

Where to dine and drink when being on the water matters most

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Vintage wooden boats tie up for dinner at Leland’s Riverside Inn
| Brian Confer

For a place that’s known as the Great Lakes State, good waterside restaurants can be harder to find in Michigan than one would think. And yet, there are some nights where only a waterside location will do. It’s Father’s Day, or your girlfriend’s birthday, or the final night before you have to pry yourself from that Airbnb and—even if you have to settle for one more basket of fried fish—the most important criteria is being so close to the water that you might accidentally fall in.

From white tablecloth fine dining and historic inns to a taco truck and a vintage drive-in, there’s more to these 16 gems than just the view alone, making them favorite waterside spots Up North. (But hey, if you’re “that guy” who actually slips off the dock dressed for dinner (it happens), you’ve been warned.)

Read next: 14 Essential Traverse City Restaurants

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Fitzgerald's Restaurant

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Pulling into the hamlet of Eagle River off of Highway 41 feels like stepping back in time. There’s little there but a collection of simple, historic summer homes, a vintage playground, a turn-of-the-century metal truss footbridge, and one of the U.P.’s best meals. “The Fitz,” as it’s known around the Keweenaw, is equal parts hotel and restaurant—the building itself an unassuming 1950s-era motel. But inside, owner Mike LaMotte and his team are pouring decades-aged whiskey into etched cocktail glasses and plating beef brisket from the on-site smoker. Bonus: Book a room in one of the recently remodeled one-bedroom king suites, and turn dinner into an overnight at this sunset-facing Lake Superior gem.

Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork on a plate on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork from the house smoker on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Mike LaMotte

Harbor Haus Restaurant

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This white tablecloth dining room on the tip of the Keweenaw is the place to go when the occasion warrants lobster tail, roasted duck with lingonberries, or a tableside martini. The restaurant holds onto its longstanding German roots, with smoked jägerwurst and schnitzel also making appearances on the menu. If dirndl-clad waitresses feels a bit dated, head straight for the bar and sip a German dunkle while watching the Isle Royale ferry return to Copper Harbor. 

A white porcelain dish with a duck-shaped top on a plate with long toast points and various accompaniments.
A dish at Harbor Haus.
Harbor Haus

Drífa Brewing Company

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Marquette got its start as a working harbor, and the stunning ore dock and related historic buildings still (rightly) dominate the city’s shoreline. As a result, most of the Queen City’s exciting restaurant scene is happening up the hill on Front, Washington, and Third streets. To dine on the water, head slightly south of town to Drífa Brewing, a cooperative brewery that brings in Marquette’s two best food trucks on a regular schedule. Eat carnitas, chorizo, and chicken tacos from Dia de los Tacos, flavors that pair well with Drifa’s Green Ladder American IPA; and on Sunday nights there’s wood-fired pizza from Smelted, which should be ordered with the Lower Harbor lager. The cooperative’s beer garden is some 100 yards from Lake Superior, where visitors can watch freighters and sailboats cruise by.

The Glenwood

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A vacation to Manistee County isn’t complete without dinner at the Glenwood. Eating at this Onekama classic feels like dining in someone’s historic lakeside home. Ask for a table on the screened porch overlooking Portage Lake, try the seven-ounce filet mignon with “steak butter,” and save room for something sweet. Co-owner Donna Ervin bakes the pies (think: pecan chocolate cream, triple berry, and — of course — cherry) herself.

A Caesar salad with croutons on a clear, glass plate alongside a burnt orange cocktail over ice and garnished with a slice of lemon.
Caesar salad and an Aperol spritz at The Glenwood in Onekama.
Stacey Brugeman for Eater

Rocks Landing

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The porch at Rocks Landing is so close to Crystal Lake that you can hear the waves lapping up against the shoreline while you eat. While this was a privilege that for decades was only enjoyed by guests of Chimney Corners Resort, for whom this building served as a beachside dining hall, it was only a few years ago that the space underwent a major remodel and became a restaurant that is open to the public. Look for dishes inspired by the salted coasts, such as gambas al ajillo or a tuna poke with wakame, edamame and coconut rice.

Owned by husband and wife team Randy and Mari Chamberlain, this award-winning restaurant is one of Leelanau County’s most longstanding gems. The elegant menu changes daily, but includes selections such as Idyll Farms chevre with orange marmalade and fennel taralli or rack of lamb with sauce Robert and garlic confit. Sit in the comfort of Blu’s dining room, which is like an oversized sun porch with glass walls and ceiling, or ask for a table outside. Both have unparalleled views of Lake Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Bay and the Manitou Islands.

The Riverside Inn

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This 120-year-old inn and restaurant in Leland has seen it all in recent years—a jaw dropping remodel, a kitchen fire, and—in 2021—an ownership change. Leelanau locals were rightly nervous when one of the region’s most beloved restaurants changed hands, but if our early summer 2022 meals there are any indication, the future of this longstanding jewel is bright. The new owners recently hired chef Krystal Cripe (Washington D.C.’s The Red Hen), who has relocated to Northern Michigan. A seasonal menu includes hits such as pan-seared whitefish with tahini yogurt and pickled fennel. For special occasions book a table on the porch, or ask to be seating on the more informal back patio—both of which overlook the Leland River.

Boathouse Restaurant

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Old Mission Peninsula is the spit of land that heads due north out of Traverse City, splitting Grand Traverse Bay into two: East Bay and West Bay. Nestled in a small cove known as Bowers Harbor, looking west over West Bay, is Boathouse restaurant — fittingly named for the sailboats that also call this calm harbor home. Treat yourself to a dozen oysters (the restaurant goes through some 10,000 of them every summer) and one of the 30 Michigan wines on offer, followed by any of the entrees that feature fruits or vegetables from owner’s Doug Kosch’s personal 10-acre farm.   

Cafe Santé

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Located just a stone’s throw from the far eastern end of Lake Charlevoix, Cafe Santé is a locals favorite. Inspired by the classic French brasserie, this Boyne City spot is open all day. The brunch menu includes a croque-madame and a nicoise salad, and a duck French onion soup and whitefish á la meuniére can be found at dinner. Dine inside for a real bistro feel, or outdoors on the patio to see the kids running off their ice cream in Sunset Park next to the lake.

Stafford's Pier Restaurant

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This longstanding anchor of the Harbor Springs dining scene underwent a major renovation in 2016 and is worth revisiting if it’s been awhile. A more casual version of its former self, the nautical redo is fitting for a restaurant just footsteps from some of the most exquisite yachts in all of Lake Michigan. Grab a mint julep to go and sip it in the city’s nearby “social drinking district” (thanks, COVID!) while you wait for a table to open up on Dudley’s Deck. Once seated; order the fish and chips or the pan roasted walleye with tomatoes, capers, and white wine butter; and watch the world (and the Lilly Pulitzer parade) go by.

Red umbrellas line a restaurant’s outdoor patio over looking a body of water with a boat.
Stafford’s Pier has a patio directly on the water.
Stafford’s Hospitality

Barrel Back Restaurant

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It used to be that the only thing to eat at “the foot,” as the Village of Walloon is known to residents of the lake, was a tale of two extremes — a bare bones turkey sandwich pre-wrapped in cellophane from the general store, or a fine-dining meal of whitefish and hummers at (then) David Beier’s Walloon Lake Inn. Enter Barrel Back Restaurant. Built in 2013 on the top floor of an old marine building, the restaurant boasts three walls of garage-door style windows for a true fresh air experience, as well as an open-air deck and a shaded bar on the dock itself. Barrel Back is one of the few restaurants where you can boat to breakfast, lunch, or dinner but it’s a sunset visit that’s especially magical. Grab the buffalo chicken dip, smoked barbecue wings, or some other snack from the appetizer section, a beer from their smart list of suds; and watch the sun sink over Ernest Hemingway’s childhood lake.

A pile of chicken wings with a side of white sauce and celery sticks on a white plate next to a tall glass of light beer. A wooden deck and body of water beside it.
Smoked wings at Barrel Back.
Jessica Miller

Douglas Lake Bar & Steakhouse

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Halfway between Petoskey and the Mighty Mac—and not far away from the Pellston airport—sits Douglas Lake and the aptly named Douglas Lake Bar and Steakhouse (aka “the DLB”). This rustic log restaurant features two fieldstone fireplaces and a lakeside patio, and is beloved for their wedge salad and steak au poivre. Be sure to hit this woodland gem on a Sunday evening in July or August—when there’s a rotating lineup of live music.

Carriage House

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Anyone celebrating a milestone on Mackinac Island knows about Grand Hotel, but don’t overlook Carriage House restaurant at the Hotel Iroquois, located within inches of Lake Huron and the island’s ferry harbor. Walk through the property’s meticulously manicured Victorian-style flower gardens, take in the nightly piano music, ask for a table on the patio, and dine on smoked whitefish cakes while overlooking the historic Round Island lighthouse. Don’t skip dessert. In a region where tourists are known as “fudgies,” it’s fitting that Carriage House restaurant’s ice cream puff pastry with hot fudge is a guest favorite.

Two plates on a white-tablecloth table with glasses of water. There’s a slight view of grass and the outdoors in the background
When at Carriage House, ask for a table on the patio.
It’s Wonderful Photography

Hack-Ma-Tack Inn

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Built in 1894 as a private hunting and fishing lodge, the Hack-Ma-Tack Inn is one of the most historic dining rooms in Northern Michigan. Named for the Native American word for the tamarack logs from which it was built, this historic cabin that is decorated with canoes, rowing sculls, and old fishing lures sits on the Cheboygan River near Mullett Lake. Anyone cruising Michigan’s Inland Waterway should tie up at “the Hack,” as it is known to regulars, find a chair near one of the enormous picture windows, order a bottle of the Ruinart Brut Rosé and the slow-roasted prime rib with house-made creamed horseradish, and watch the string of pontoons go by.

A white boat on a lake.
The exterior of Hack-Ma-Tack Inn.
Hack-Ma-Tack Inn

Les Cheneaux Culinary School

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Hessel, Michigan (home to the first Chris-Craft dealership in the world and an annual wooden boat show) is also home to the Les Chaneaux Islands Culinary School, which includes a lovely, student-run summer-only restaurant. The menu is never the same on any two nights, but dishes such as lamb with corn succotash help students — and guests — understand the relationship between the woods, water, and area farms. Phone a friend with a woody, nab one of the restaurant’s two boat slips at the historic E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works, and pop across the street for the best meal in “the Snows.” Don’t have access to a boat? No worries. While some destinations in this 36-island archipelago are only reachable by water, the culinary school is reachable by road.

Clyde's Drive-In

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Who says million-dollar views have to come with million-dollar meals? In Sault Sainte Marie, known simply as the “Soo,” get a ¾-pound (that is not a typo) hamburger and a chocolate shake from a vintage drive-in that just so happens to hug the St. Marys River. This working passageway connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron by way of the Soo Locks. Eating in a car never looked so good!

Fitzgerald's Restaurant

Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork on a plate on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork from the house smoker on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Mike LaMotte

Pulling into the hamlet of Eagle River off of Highway 41 feels like stepping back in time. There’s little there but a collection of simple, historic summer homes, a vintage playground, a turn-of-the-century metal truss footbridge, and one of the U.P.’s best meals. “The Fitz,” as it’s known around the Keweenaw, is equal parts hotel and restaurant—the building itself an unassuming 1950s-era motel. But inside, owner Mike LaMotte and his team are pouring decades-aged whiskey into etched cocktail glasses and plating beef brisket from the on-site smoker. Bonus: Book a room in one of the recently remodeled one-bedroom king suites, and turn dinner into an overnight at this sunset-facing Lake Superior gem.

Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork on a plate on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Whiskey, beef brisket, and pulled pork from the house smoker on the Fitzgerald’s deck overlooking Lake Superior.
Mike LaMotte

Harbor Haus Restaurant

A white porcelain dish with a duck-shaped top on a plate with long toast points and various accompaniments.
A dish at Harbor Haus.
Harbor Haus

This white tablecloth dining room on the tip of the Keweenaw is the place to go when the occasion warrants lobster tail, roasted duck with lingonberries, or a tableside martini. The restaurant holds onto its longstanding German roots, with smoked jägerwurst and schnitzel also making appearances on the menu. If dirndl-clad waitresses feels a bit dated, head straight for the bar and sip a German dunkle while watching the Isle Royale ferry return to Copper Harbor. 

A white porcelain dish with a duck-shaped top on a plate with long toast points and various accompaniments.
A dish at Harbor Haus.
Harbor Haus

Drífa Brewing Company

Marquette got its start as a working harbor, and the stunning ore dock and related historic buildings still (rightly) dominate the city’s shoreline. As a result, most of the Queen City’s exciting restaurant scene is happening up the hill on Front, Washington, and Third streets. To dine on the water, head slightly south of town to Drífa Brewing, a cooperative brewery that brings in Marquette’s two best food trucks on a regular schedule. Eat carnitas, chorizo, and chicken tacos from Dia de los Tacos, flavors that pair well with Drifa’s Green Ladder American IPA; and on Sunday nights there’s wood-fired pizza from Smelted, which should be ordered with the Lower Harbor lager. The cooperative’s beer garden is some 100 yards from Lake Superior, where visitors can watch freighters and sailboats cruise by.

The Glenwood

A Caesar salad with croutons on a clear, glass plate alongside a burnt orange cocktail over ice and garnished with a slice of lemon.
Caesar salad and an Aperol spritz at The Glenwood in Onekama.
Stacey Brugeman for Eater

A vacation to Manistee County isn’t complete without dinner at the Glenwood. Eating at this Onekama classic feels like dining in someone’s historic lakeside home. Ask for a table on the screened porch overlooking Portage Lake, try the seven-ounce filet mignon with “steak butter,” and save room for something sweet. Co-owner Donna Ervin bakes the pies (think: pecan chocolate cream, triple berry, and — of course — cherry) herself.

A Caesar salad with croutons on a clear, glass plate alongside a burnt orange cocktail over ice and garnished with a slice of lemon.
Caesar salad and an Aperol spritz at The Glenwood in Onekama.
Stacey Brugeman for Eater

Rocks Landing

The porch at Rocks Landing is so close to Crystal Lake that you can hear the waves lapping up against the shoreline while you eat. While this was a privilege that for decades was only enjoyed by guests of Chimney Corners Resort, for whom this building served as a beachside dining hall, it was only a few years ago that the space underwent a major remodel and became a restaurant that is open to the public. Look for dishes inspired by the salted coasts, such as gambas al ajillo or a tuna poke with wakame, edamame and coconut rice.

Blu

Owned by husband and wife team Randy and Mari Chamberlain, this award-winning restaurant is one of Leelanau County’s most longstanding gems. The elegant menu changes daily, but includes selections such as Idyll Farms chevre with orange marmalade and fennel taralli or rack of lamb with sauce Robert and garlic confit. Sit in the comfort of Blu’s dining room, which is like an oversized sun porch with glass walls and ceiling, or ask for a table outside. Both have unparalleled views of Lake Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Bay and the Manitou Islands.

The Riverside Inn

This 120-year-old inn and restaurant in Leland has seen it all in recent years—a jaw dropping remodel, a kitchen fire, and—in 2021—an ownership change. Leelanau locals were rightly nervous when one of the region’s most beloved restaurants changed hands, but if our early summer 2022 meals there are any indication, the future of this longstanding jewel is bright. The new owners recently hired chef Krystal Cripe (Washington D.C.’s The Red Hen), who has relocated to Northern Michigan. A seasonal menu includes hits such as pan-seared whitefish with tahini yogurt and pickled fennel. For special occasions book a table on the porch, or ask to be seating on the more informal back patio—both of which overlook the Leland River.

Boathouse Restaurant

Old Mission Peninsula is the spit of land that heads due north out of Traverse City, splitting Grand Traverse Bay into two: East Bay and West Bay. Nestled in a small cove known as Bowers Harbor, looking west over West Bay, is Boathouse restaurant — fittingly named for the sailboats that also call this calm harbor home. Treat yourself to a dozen oysters (the restaurant goes through some 10,000 of them every summer) and one of the 30 Michigan wines on offer, followed by any of the entrees that feature fruits or vegetables from owner’s Doug Kosch’s personal 10-acre farm.   

Cafe Santé

Located just a stone’s throw from the far eastern end of Lake Charlevoix, Cafe Santé is a locals favorite. Inspired by the classic French brasserie, this Boyne City spot is open all day. The brunch menu includes a croque-madame and a nicoise salad, and a duck French onion soup and whitefish á la meuniére can be found at dinner. Dine inside for a real bistro feel, or outdoors on the patio to see the kids running off their ice cream in Sunset Park next to the lake.

Stafford's Pier Restaurant

Red umbrellas line a restaurant’s outdoor patio over looking a body of water with a boat.
Stafford’s Pier has a patio directly on the water.
Stafford’s Hospitality

This longstanding anchor of the Harbor Springs dining scene underwent a major renovation in 2016 and is worth revisiting if it’s been awhile. A more casual version of its former self, the nautical redo is fitting for a restaurant just footsteps from some of the most exquisite yachts in all of Lake Michigan. Grab a mint julep to go and sip it in the city’s nearby “social drinking district” (thanks, COVID!) while you wait for a table to open up on Dudley’s Deck. Once seated; order the fish and chips or the pan roasted walleye with tomatoes, capers, and white wine butter; and watch the world (and the Lilly Pulitzer parade) go by.

Red umbrellas line a restaurant’s outdoor patio over looking a body of water with a boat.
Stafford’s Pier has a patio directly on the water.
Stafford’s Hospitality

Barrel Back Restaurant

A pile of chicken wings with a side of white sauce and celery sticks on a white plate next to a tall glass of light beer. A wooden deck and body of water beside it.
Smoked wings at Barrel Back.
Jessica Miller

It used to be that the only thing to eat at “the foot,” as the Village of Walloon is known to residents of the lake, was a tale of two extremes — a bare bones turkey sandwich pre-wrapped in cellophane from the general store, or a fine-dining meal of whitefish and hummers at (then) David Beier’s Walloon Lake Inn. Enter Barrel Back Restaurant. Built in 2013 on the top floor of an old marine building, the restaurant boasts three walls of garage-door style windows for a true fresh air experience, as well as an open-air deck and a shaded bar on the dock itself. Barrel Back is one of the few restaurants where you can boat to breakfast, lunch, or dinner but it’s a sunset visit that’s especially magical. Grab the buffalo chicken dip, smoked barbecue wings, or some other snack from the appetizer section, a beer from their smart list of suds; and watch the sun sink over Ernest Hemingway’s childhood lake.

A pile of chicken wings with a side of white sauce and celery sticks on a white plate next to a tall glass of light beer. A wooden deck and body of water beside it.
Smoked wings at Barrel Back.
Jessica Miller

Douglas Lake Bar & Steakhouse

Halfway between Petoskey and the Mighty Mac—and not far away from the Pellston airport—sits Douglas Lake and the aptly named Douglas Lake Bar and Steakhouse (aka “the DLB”). This rustic log restaurant features two fieldstone fireplaces and a lakeside patio, and is beloved for their wedge salad and steak au poivre. Be sure to hit this woodland gem on a Sunday evening in July or August—when there’s a rotating lineup of live music.

Carriage House

Two plates on a white-tablecloth table with glasses of water. There’s a slight view of grass and the outdoors in the background
When at Carriage House, ask for a table on the patio.
It’s Wonderful Photography

Anyone celebrating a milestone on Mackinac Island knows about Grand Hotel, but don’t overlook Carriage House restaurant at the Hotel Iroquois, located within inches of Lake Huron and the island’s ferry harbor. Walk through the property’s meticulously manicured Victorian-style flower gardens, take in the nightly piano music, ask for a table on the patio, and dine on smoked whitefish cakes while overlooking the historic Round Island lighthouse. Don’t skip dessert. In a region where tourists are known as “fudgies,” it’s fitting that Carriage House restaurant’s ice cream puff pastry with hot fudge is a guest favorite.

Two plates on a white-tablecloth table with glasses of water. There’s a slight view of grass and the outdoors in the background
When at Carriage House, ask for a table on the patio.
It’s Wonderful Photography

Hack-Ma-Tack Inn

A white boat on a lake.
The exterior of Hack-Ma-Tack Inn.
Hack-Ma-Tack Inn

Built in 1894 as a private hunting and fishing lodge, the Hack-Ma-Tack Inn is one of the most historic dining rooms in Northern Michigan. Named for the Native American word for the tamarack logs from which it was built, this historic cabin that is decorated with canoes, rowing sculls, and old fishing lures sits on the Cheboygan River near Mullett Lake. Anyone cruising Michigan’s Inland Waterway should tie up at “the Hack,” as it is known to regulars, find a chair near one of the enormous picture windows, order a bottle of the Ruinart Brut Rosé and the slow-roasted prime rib with house-made creamed horseradish, and watch the string of pontoons go by.

A white boat on a lake.
The exterior of Hack-Ma-Tack Inn.
Hack-Ma-Tack Inn

Les Cheneaux Culinary School

Hessel, Michigan (home to the first Chris-Craft dealership in the world and an annual wooden boat show) is also home to the Les Chaneaux Islands Culinary School, which includes a lovely, student-run summer-only restaurant. The menu is never the same on any two nights, but dishes such as lamb with corn succotash help students — and guests — understand the relationship between the woods, water, and area farms. Phone a friend with a woody, nab one of the restaurant’s two boat slips at the historic E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works, and pop across the street for the best meal in “the Snows.” Don’t have access to a boat? No worries. While some destinations in this 36-island archipelago are only reachable by water, the culinary school is reachable by road.

Related Maps

Clyde's Drive-In

Who says million-dollar views have to come with million-dollar meals? In Sault Sainte Marie, known simply as the “Soo,” get a ¾-pound (that is not a typo) hamburger and a chocolate shake from a vintage drive-in that just so happens to hug the St. Marys River. This working passageway connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron by way of the Soo Locks. Eating in a car never looked so good!

Related Maps