Book review of the Month: Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Traveling Michigan’s sunset coast: Exploring Michigan’s West Coast Beach Towns – from New Buffalo to Mackinaw City

by Julie Albrecht Royce


2007, Holt, MI: Thunder Bay Press


This is an incredible resource for west Michigan residents and visitors – a complete description of places to eat, stay, and visit while traveling the sunset coast. I looked up many of my favorite restaurants, and indeed, they were listed and recommended – as well as many that I had never heard of before! The first part of the book is a resource guide, while the second half provides a history of Michigan, including ghost sightings, ship wrecks, lighthouses, sand dunes, and legends. This is a fantastic travel guide to a lovely part of the United States. Julie also has a guidebook to Michigan's thumb region, which we'll review next month. I was able to sit down with Julie and interview her...


What led you to do these guidebooks?

I took an early out retirement from the State of Michigan where I
had worked as a First Assistant Attorney General in the Workers'
Compensation Division. Jennifer Granholm had been my boss for a while back
when she was Attorney General. After retirement my husband and I moved to
Lexington, Michigan and bought a condo just three blocks from where I was
born. During our first summer here Ms. Granholm (then governor) gave a
speech at a local restaurant and I went to hear her and to have the chance
to see my prior boss. Part of her pitch that day was that we really need to
promote our state and she talked about all the Thumb area had to offer.
After she left that evening I was thinking about what she said and decided she was right. It is beautiful here in Lexington. I decided to write Traveling Michigan's Thumb. It became kind of a joke among my friends as I was writing it: "After the first two pages what are you going to say?" In truth, I found plenty to write about. We have several cute little towns, lots of beautiful water, a slow pace of living and great people.


Additionally, I wanted to write the second half of the book (A Bit of History and a Bit of Fun) as sort of a travelers' companion of background. I found some of the major events that happened in the Thumb fascinating. I was raised in the Thumb but did not know much about the two catastrophic fires that came through nor the Storm of 1913.


Anyway, when I finished the project I wasn't sure how to get the book published and since travel books (especially in Michigan where the economy is suffering) are so time sensitive, I published it as a Print on Demand (sort of a cross between the old vanity press and a mainstream publisher). I had great response and sold about 500 copies just in Lexington alone. I had such fun writing the book (it gave my husband and me an excuse to visit lots of places) that I decided to do the Sunset Coast. We had as much, if not more, fun on that side of the state because it gave us the chance to visit many new places.

What were some of your favorite towns?


Leland and Elk Rapids. I think they are my favorites because they
came as more of a surprise than some of the others. Everyone has been to
Traverse City and Petoskey and knows what they have to offer but Leland and
Elk Rapids are a bit more laid back and easy-going. You don't feel swallowed
up by tourism and gimmicks. Elk Rapids actually has a beach that is
uncrowded!! It also has a wonderful restaurant (Pearl's) and perhaps my
favorite gallery, the Twisted Fish. Leland has a lot of history and
Fishtown. The Bluebird of Leland Restaurant has been around forever. I also
met friendly people in each of those towns and that always endears a place
to you. Of course, the caution is that my experience may not be the same as
the next person's; who knows, they may meet a real grump.

Food is a joy to me - what were some of your favorite restaurant(s)?

I had lots of great meals while researching the book. I loved
Pearl's for it's interesting entrees and menu. I loved Fischer's Happy Hour
Tavern (kind of a dive) because there I enjoyed some of the best pan fried
whitefish I've ever eaten. Trattoria Stella and Windows in Traverse City are
both great places to make an occasion special. In fact, I think Traverse
City was the epicurean center of our trips. There were many great
restaurants along the way. For more casual dining I enjoyed the Rosebud in
Grand Haven and I also love sitting on the outdoor deck at the Bil-Mar in
Grand Haven. You can walk to it barefoot from the beach and enjoy a cool
drink on a hot, sunny summer day while watching the sun sink over the
horizon. How could that not be special?

Tell us about some of the characters you met, while doing this research...

One of the true pleasures of writing the book was the people I met
along the way. Certainly the west side of the state had its characters,
that's why I included a chapter on the famous, infamous and notorious with
Lake Michigan ties. Unfortunately I did not get to meet Earnest Hemingway,
Carl Sandburg, or Al Capone. I really would have loved to meet Magdelaine
LaFramboise. The people I did meet were generally just friendly people
willing to tell me about their towns. I did have an interesting experience
in Petoskey. I went into a gift store and a customer walked up to the
register where I was talking to the owner about her shop. I moved aside so a
"paying customer" could take care of business. The customer said, "I
couldn't help but overhear your conversation, are you writing a book?" I
told her I was and I explained I had done one earlier called Traveling
Michigan's Thumb and this was my second book. She surprised me by telling me
she bought Traveling Michigan's Thumb at the Victorian Emporium in
Lexington, a few blocks from where I live. Small world!
One of the great things about traveling was having my husband with
me. My husband was happy to sit in the car and read his Financial Times and
if a town had an ice cream shop he was even happier. You'll notice most of
the towns have an ice-cream shop included. You can be guaranteed he tasted
ice cream at them all.

Do you have any recommendations for travelers with children - special places for them to see?
The Edison Museum in Port Huron is a great experience. One of the best museums I have seen in Michigan is the Stones and Bones Museum, in Sarnia. The man who owns it does fantastic tours- such a great natural science museum.
There are many good festivals all through Michigan - kids enjoy those. Also, most towns have free concerts in the summer, which is always fun.

What's next?

Now I am working on a biography of a Native American woman from
Michigan. I've got about 125,000 words written so far and am about 2/3 of
the way through the project. I'm not sure if there will be a market or not
but I've enjoyed the research. I also have written an article about a local
WWII soldier who was a Prison of War in Germany. It has been purchased by
the Lakeshore Guardian and will run in installments (7000+ words) starting
in May or June. I have a couple of additional stories I want to write.
Eventually I would like to take the last portion of each of the
first two books (Thumb and Sunset Coast) and write additional stories for
Lake Superior and do sort of a traveler's companion of stories from the




Thank you, Julie, for this fantastic interview! We are happy you worked so hard on these books - such incredible guides.  Julie is our Michigan Editor, here at Look for her bi-weekly column!