Unspoiled dunes and crystal-clear water draw more than 1.3 million visitors a year to Leelanau Peninsula. (Courtesy of the Leelanau Herald)
There's something strange about the beach here.
It's not the fact that it stretches for miles, white sand as far as you can see.
It's not the fact that the water is fresh, so the mist tossed into the air by the crashing waves doesn't carry a briney aroma. It's the fact that you're the only one here. Oh, glory.
The Leelanau Peninsula (pronounced LEE-lah- naw), located at the tip of the pinky finger of Michigan's mitten, was never on my shortlist of places to visit. Until, that is, I spent a week there. Now, I'm eager to return.
It's in the sweet spot for domestic tourism: Plenty of infrastructure for visitors, but not a crowd to be found.
Deep evergreen woods, reminiscent of the Maine coast, line

Temperate weather makes Leelanau a great place to grow cherries, wine grapes and apples. (Courtesy of the Leelanau Herald)
the Lake Michigan coastline. It gives you the feeling of remoteness and privacy, even when you're just a mile or two out of town (that town being, depending on your travel planning, Leland, Northport, Suttons Bay or Glen Haven). If you wanted to, you could go full-bore hermit here, and rarely see another soul.
But a quarter-mile in from the big lake, you'll find a lovely, civilized, urbane community, fairly buzzing with activity. Much of the land has been cleared to make way for orchards (cherries and apples abound) and vineyards (there may be more wineries per square mile here than any place I've ever been).
It adds up to a picturesque slice of Americana that, while rooted in tradition, is anything but old-fashioned.
The foodie scene in Leelanau is intense (Is that Mario Batali at the farmers market in Northport? Yes, it is!). This is particularly true in the summer months, when the rich Midwest soil throws forth fruits and vegetables with enthusiasm. Produce here rivals the best anywhere, and every tiny town has a farmers market — honest-to-goodness farmers markets, staffed by local farmers, not farmers from other parts of the state or faux-farmers hawking produce they picked up off a truck.

Historic Fishtown on the northwest shore of Lake Michigan in Leland. (Courtesy of the Leelanau Herald)
And if you happen to miss market day, you'll find tomatoes, corn and lettuces at the end of nearly every driveway in the county. Just drop a couple of bucks in the jar, bag your goods and head back to your rented house to cook 'em up.
Renting a house is the best way to handle lodging in Leelanau (there are dozens listed on vrbo.com). Here's why: The restaurant scene, while passable, is limited, so having your own kitchen is a big plus. Pick up some smoked fish and wine in Leland, some steaks in Cedar, a pie down in Traverse City, and some fruit and vegetables along the way, and you're good.
If your budget is generous, you'll want a house on the big lake, Lake Michigan, where the sunsets sprawl across cocktail hour and where after dinner you can build a fire on the beach (hello, s'mores).
When you do choose to go out, your best breakfast is a cinnamon twist from Barb's Bakery in Northport. Midwesterners do know their way around baked goods, and this soft, homey, not-overly-sweet breakfast pastry is no exception.
Lunch calls for a sandwich and a "Chubby Mary" (a Bloody Mary garnished with a small smoked whitefish, whole) at The Cove, located on Leland's charming dockside strip. You'll find sandwiches and salads and an excellent whitefish spread. If you're picnicking, visit the Village Cheese Shanty. They stock plenty of local wine, too.
For a special dinner, visit the upscale Riverside Inn, also in Leland,

If your budget is generous, you'll want a house on Lake Michigan, with its sprawling sunsets. (Andy Fishering )
for their resplendent Porchetta plate, a slow-roasted spiral of local pork belly rich with herbs and fat and a barely sharp red wine sauce. (You won't finish it, so take the rest home for lunch tomorrow.)
For a more casual dinner and a chance to hang with the locals, head to Fischers Happy Hour, halfway between Leland and Northport. You'll grab a burger and a beer, or perhaps a bowl of navy-bean soup. Another option, the Bluebird Bar in Leland, for a basket of fried smelt and a glass of Michigan wine.
This being Michigan, there's water everywhere, including many smaller "inland" lakes in driving distance — the most notable being Lake Leelanau, which stretches for much of the length of the peninsula and offers swimming, fishing and generalized hanging out. (Don't skip a swim here: The water's much warmer than in the big lake.)
Summer is not the only season on the Leelanau Peninsula — far from it. This region rivals New England for fall foliage. Bring a sweater: The average October temperatures top out at about 59 degrees.
Tucker Shaw: tshaw@denverpost.com twitter.com/tucker_shaw

Leelanau Insider's Guide

Get here:Your best bet is to fly to Traverse City. United/SkyWest operates one daily direct flight starting at $547 round-trip.
In Northport
Fischer's Happy Hour Tavern, 7144 N Manitou Trail, 231-386-9923
Barb's Bakery, 112 N. Mill St., 231-386-5851
In Leland
Bluebird Bar, 102 River St., 231-256-9081, leelanau.com/bluebird
The Cove, 111 River St., 231-256-9834, thecoveleland.com
Riverside Inn, 302 River St., 231-256-9971, theriverside-inn.com
Pleva's Meats, 8974 South Kasson St., Cedar, 231-228-5000, plevasmeats.com
Grand Traverse Pie Co., 101 N. Park Street, Traverse City, 231-933-3972, gtpie.com