Postcard from Michigan’s best-kept secret

Lower Harbor in Marquette, Michigan.
Lower Harbor in Marquette, Michigan. | Dennis Lennox

The biggest city in Michigan’s vast Upper Peninsula has been on the map for the last few years.

Yet, Marquette — named after 17th-century Roman Catholic priest and explorer Jacques Marquette — still feels as if it is the best-kept secret in Michigan.

Arguably, you can thank geography. At nearly 500 miles from Detroit, it is far enough away to avoid the congestion of more popular summer destinations. In fact, there seems to be more visitors from Chicago or Milwaukee, which makes sense as both are closer than the Motor City.

July and August are the high season. That is especially true this summer. The relatively warm weather of late means Lake Superior is considerably more tolerable than normal. Plus, social distancing is hardly a concern in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula.

Despite its small population (21,491 at the last census), Marquette feels much bigger due in part to its unofficial status as capital of the Upper Peninsula. Then there is its past, when mining was the major industry.

Early morning on Lake Superior at McCarthy’s Cove, near downtown Marquette, Michigan.
Early morning on Lake Superior at McCarthy’s Cove, near downtown Marquette, Michigan. | Dennis Lennox

The past is apparent downtown. Among the notable edifices are the Roman Catholic cathedral and a Romanesque Revival old city hall.

Today, Marquette — if it’s even known — is known for natural beauty and fabulous outdoor recreational opportunities; Northern Michigan University, a second-tier public university; the regional hospital; and an overall hipster vibe reminiscent of Portland and Seattle.

Speaking of natural beauty and the outdoors, Lake Superior is without a doubt Marquette’s greatest asset. It is truly speculator.

The mightiest of the Great Lakes is also where you will find an unexpected surprise: McCarthy’s Cove, a remarkably fine stretch of public beach — particularly when the water is warm enough for swimming.

Where to stay

The best hotel is The Landmark Inn, which is supposed to be rebranded into Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio. It sits across from a stately Beaux Arts-style public library. A solid alternative is the Scandinavian-inspired Nestledown Bed and Breakfast.

Where to eat

Tried-and-true eateries include Elizabeth’s Chop House, The Vierling and Donckers (think breakfast or lunch).

How to get there

While you can arrive by plane Marquette is best reached by car.

Spires and Crosses is a weekly travel column. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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