Enjoy the fall colors of Michigan and grab a bite to eat at these 4 restaurants a day drive from Lansing

Michigandans know better than anyone how fleeting the high season of fall colors of the state can be.

Late last week, the red, orange, and yellow foliage of the upper peninsula was visible from space. A satellite image of Lake Superior shared on Facebook Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory showed the brilliant color of the UP that surrounds the water.

The good news? It’s not too late to take the day-long fall color rides you’ve been thinking about.

According to the Smokymountains.com website, fall leaves are partially to peak color in most of the northern counties of the Lower Peninsula this week, and behind the bridge these colors should peak.

Make it easy for yourself to choose a destination a day’s drive from Greater Lansing. Plan a route to a restaurant that offers an experience and environment that is well worth the trip.

Whether you want a lakefront meal or historic setting, Yooper kitchen, or coffee and books just minutes from a popular state landmark, here are four destinations to consider for a fall color ride .

Trattoria Stella, Traverse City

About a three-hour drive from the Michigan Capitol, the Italian restaurant Trattoria Stella is a unique experience in many ways.

Joann and Jim Anderson enjoy dinner at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City on May 22, 2020.

For starters, there’s its location in the basement of the former Traverse City State Hospital. The historic property is over a century old. Known today as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, it is home to restaurants, shops, and homes.

Trattoria Stella was one of the first tenants to rent the property after the renovation, said Abigail Steffens-Petrova, the restaurant’s general manager. It opened in 2004.

The building’s archways and brick walls add atmosphere, she said.

“It’s definitely an old world romantic feel,” said Steffens-Petrova. “There’s a lot of partying at Stella, but we’re definitely happy when someone comes in and has a draft beer and a pizza, just like someone with a bottle of Barolo and foie gras.”

Beef ribs at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City May 22, 2020.

The eatery’s kitchen staff use as many local produce, vegetables and herbs as possible, she said, to make the dishes “exponentially better.”

And foodies, this is a place to be adventurous when ordering.

“We really like it when people try out a huge range of what we do,” said Steffens-Petrova. If ravioli and other traditional pasta dishes are your favorite, have it, she said. “But if you sit down and ask a waiter, ‘What’s your favorite dish?’ Nine times out of ten, they’ll likely say the octopus. “

Reservations are recommended. Trattoria Stella is located at 830 Cottageview Dr. in Traverse City. You can find it online at www.stellatc.com and on Facebook under “Trattoria Stella”. You can reach the restaurant by phone at 231-929-8989.

Legs Inn, Cross Village

In the fall, the glowing foliage is the focus of every visit to the Legs Inn.

To get to the restaurant, known for its authentic Polish food and idyllic views of Lake Michigan, motorists drive down the Tunnel of Trees, also known as the M-119. The scenic 20 miles long road stretches from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. The trip features many fall colors and views of the water.

The Legs Inn in Cross Village is a popular destination for visitors to the M-119 Tunnel of Trees.

It ends with Cross Village, a town in northwest Emmet County of fewer than 300 residents, and Legs Inn, a state landmark.

The place, with its stone exterior and handcrafted wood interior, has been in the family of Mark Smolak for a century. Stanley Smolak, his great-uncle, who immigrated to the USA from Poland in 1912, founded it.

“He basically spent his life building this complex,” said Mark Smolak.

The restaurant offers an environment like you’ve never seen before. The property sits on a cliff overlooking Lake Michigan. The eatery was built from local wood and stone, and Stanley Smolak used tree roots, driftwood, and branches to carve unique sculptures and tables that fill the interior.

Inside Legs Inn in Cross Village, a popular destination for visitors to the M-119 Tunnel of Trees.

“You have the incredible natural surroundings and beauty of the area that attracts people,” said Mark Smolak.

Then there is the menu, which highlights Polish recipes like Kielbasa, Pierogi and Golabki or cabbage rolls along with traditional desserts like Szarlotka, a berry crumble.

“You know, it’s really a word of mouth target,” said Mark Smolak.

The Legs Inn is located at 6425 N. Lake Shore Dr. in Cross Village. The staff does not take reservations. Customers are placed on the principle of “first come, first served”. The season should end at the end of October. Visit the restaurant online at www.legsinn.com and on Facebook in the “Legs Inn”. Contact them by phone at 231-526-2281.


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Lehtos Pasties, St. Ignace

If you’re looking to cross Mackinac Bridge in search of real Yooper cuisine, Lehto’s Pasties on US-2 in St. Ignace is the place to be.

Lehto's Pasties is a longstanding family business located on US-2 near St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula, Michigan

The small eatery has been serving the popular hand-held meat pies since the late 1940s, which became popular on the upper peninsula after Cornish immigrants settled there to work in the copper mines in the mid-19th century.

The light and flaky crusts of the dough are filled with meat, potatoes, onions, grated turnips, salt and pepper. They are popular with tourists, yoopers and hunters alike.

Fresh pies at Lehto's Pasties on US-2 just outside St. Ignace in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Owners Bill and Laurie Walker run the takeaway-only restaurant. Do not worry. There are several roadside parks and parking along US-2, which runs along the shoreline of Lake Michigan just past the bridge. And yes, Lehto’s ship pies too.

Lehto’s Pasties is located in 1983 W. US 2 in St. Ignace. Find it online at www.lehtospasties.com or on Facebook at “Lehto’s Pasties”. You can reach them by phone at 906-643-8542.

Falling Rock Café & Bookstore, Munising

The two-story, 8,000-square-foot former bar in downtown Munising stood empty for several years when Nancy and Jeffrey Dwyer bought it in 2003.

They turned the first floor into Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore, a sprawling 4,000-square-foot store that has become a place where residents and visitors meet for coffee, food, and conversation.

Nancy and Jeffrey Dwyer bought the 4,000-square-foot restaurant and bookstore Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore in Munising in 2003.

“Some people call it Munising’s living room,” said Nancy Dwyer. “We definitely wanted that sense of community. You know, a lot of things happen here, book clubs and wedding receptions.”

The store hosts live music every summer and fall, candidate forums, and hundreds of tourists who travel to Munising to take in the natural beauty of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and its sandstone formations.

The natural attraction is minutes from the cafe and bookstore and has grown in popularity since the Dwyers opened it.

Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore in Munising offers books, many about Michigan, coffee, breakfast and lunch.

“When we opened in 2003 it was very slow and over the years we’ve seen one increase after another,” she said. “I have the feeling that when people travel, I want to give them a place where they can feel at home and have an oasis away from home.”

The cafe offers coffee drinks, soups, sandwiches, bagels, smoothies, and ice cream, as well as books on Michigan and Michigan art.

The Dwyers are in the process of selling the business, but Nancy Dwyer said the new owners plan to keep the cafe and bookstore as they are.

Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore is located at 104 E. Munising Ave. in Munising. It will be closed for the season at the end of this month. You can find it online at www.fallingrockcafe.com and on Facebook in the Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore. You can reach them by phone at 906-387-3008.

Contact Rachel Greco at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.

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