Perusing Leelanau’s best picnic stores


By Chris Loud

Sun contributor

Here on the Leelanau peninsula, the water is is warm and the sun is shining. It’s that time of year where we stake our sandy claims, take off our shoes, and stay awhile. Some back up vans and unload temporary dining rooms, while some hike through forests and over bluffs to find a spot they share only with the cool breeze and lapping waves. Sand in your sandwich is not a nuisance, but welcomed nostalgia. If you’re ready to pack your beach bags with too much food and drink, and slap down your territorial towel flags, here’s a breakdown of some of the best places to get stocked up for your next beach picnic in “the County.”

Take Out 

One thing we have figured out here in northern Michigan is the art of the sandwich. Traverse City is full of amazing sandwich places, and Leelanau is no different. Not every sandwich is a beach sandwich. You want fresh ingredients of course, likely a cold sandwich if you throw it in a cooler, and you need it wrapped well to eat without spilling on your trunks. Plus, you want those refreshing summer ingredients that you don’t always get in a hearty, comfort food winter sandwich, like cucumbers, soft cheeses, fresh tomatoes, avocado, etc.  

For locals who know the sandwich world of Leelanau, skip to the next section, because you already know this place, and start craving it every spring. The Village Cheese Shanty in Leland makes some of the best beach sandwiches in the area. There are a few key points to remember: it’s cash only, and always get the pretzel bread.

Just down M-22 in Glen Arbor, Sue’s Deli at Riverfront Pizza makes delicious sandwiches, salads and wraps to go. You can also get dessert, tea, and a great story from one of the locals.

Further south in Empire is a relatively new sandwich joint that has all the elements of a true beach sandwich staple. In June 2017 the Shipwreck Cafe opened and quickly became a local favorite, and a preferred stop for those hitting the Empire beach, or heading out for a sandy hike at Sleeping Bear Dunes. This family-run operation serves delicious sandwiches with fresh ingredients, all with shipwreck-themed names.

Another great dunes-adjacent takeout spot is Market 22 near Little Traverse Lake on M-22 between Leland and Glen Arbor. They specialize in Detroit-style pizzas, but also have a wide selection of hot and cold, deli and diner style sandwiches, and burgers. This would be a great place to stock up for a trip to Good Harbor Beach, just five minutes away on Lake Michigan, so your pizza or burger should stay warm. 

If you’re a young family looking for an easy beach picnic scenario, Paul Penning in Northport has an awesome wood-fired pizza trailer set up at the Mitten Brewery. Get a pizza to go and head down to Haserot Park by the marina. There’s a sandy beach with protected water, and a big playground for the kids. 

Small Markets 

There are a couple small markets that work nicely for a trip to the beach, especially if you’re looking more for a variety of snacks. The Omena Bay Country Store is a throwback general store just a stone’s throw from the beach, and perfect for grabbing quick snacks. 

The Leland Mercantile is more of a small grocery store, but has the feel of a neighborhood market. They have sandwiches, locally made cheese and dips, local beer, and tons of snack options, plus they’re just a short walk from Van’s Beach on the other side of the canal. 

Grocery Stores

When the whole family is in town and you’re setting up your own tented food court on the beach, you might want to consider a more substantial grocery store. In Suttons Bay, Hanson’s has a lot of options for pre-made food and snacks, and a good wine selection. If you want you can walk the TART trail back to the beach.

In Northport, the Tom’s grocery store in town is smaller and more accessible for the picnic vibe. They also have pre-made sandwiches, snacks, and adult beverages. 

On the west side, there are a ton of beaches near Glen Arbor, and Anderson’s Market is a great spot to stock up for a long day at the beach in Glen Haven, on the Glen Lakes, or further into Sleeping Bear.

Foodie Shops 

Weekend beach dates might call for some more gourmet options. Leelanau Cheese near Suttons Bay has award winning local options, just a few miles down the road from the village beach. You can also pop into Black Star Farms nearby for a wine tasting before your picnic. 

Also in Suttons Bay is the MI Market, with a ton of high quality snack options, all locally made.  Plus, they’re now also serving grab-and-go sandwiches, making it a one-stop-shop for beach picnic noshing.

Uniquely Local

For something outside the normal beach picnic fare, Carlson’s Fishery in Leland has smoked fish, fish pate, and fish sausage options that would go really well with local cheese and crackers. 

Also, Pleva’s in Cedar produces an array of burgers, hot dogs, sausages, and jerky made with local cherries. They’re delicious, unique, and often times leaner than the average options. If you’re heading towards a beach grill, this would be the place to go first. 

Chris Loud co-publishes The Boardman Review together with his brother Nick. Follow Chris on Instagram at @cfloud.