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The History and Charm of Leland

Wedged on a small sliver of land between Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau is the beautiful Leelanau Peninsula and the picturesque little village of Leland. Its shops, restaurants, galleries, and museums are located within a short walking distance of each other. Along the Leland River that connects the two lakes is Leland’s Historic Fishtown – one of the last working fishing districts on the Great Lakes.

With beautiful views, easy access to public beaches, and a charming fishing district, Leland is a must-stop for anyone visiting Northern Michigan and the Traverse City region. 

History of Leland

Leland is located at the site of a former Ottawa Native American settlement. The settlement was known as Mishi-me-go-bing, meaning “the place where canoes run up into the river to land, because they have no harbor,” and included a natural fish ladder at the site of the current fishing district. European settlement began when the Antoine Manseau family came from North Manitou Island and built a dam and sawmill on the river in 1854. Soon, docks were constructed to allow for steamers and schooners, and a strong fishing community emerged in the area. 

By 1867, Leland had around 200 settlers. Many families in Leland today can today trace their ancestry back to these early maritime communities. At the turn of the 20th century, wealthy individuals from Midwestern industrial centers like Chicago began to visit Leland and build summer cottages. This led to the construction of resorts and hotels in the area, and Leland grew to become a summer resort town.

Things to do in Leland

Explore the Historic Fishtown

Leland’s Historic Fishtown is located at the end of the Leland River as it feeds into Lake Michigan. It still operates as one of the only working commercial fishing villages in the state of Michigan. 

Many of the original weathered fishing shanties have now been transformed into small shops and restaurants. You can find everything from small bars to full-service restaurants offering the day’s fresh catch along the dock in Fishtown. The charming downtown shops surrounding Fishtown range from bookstores, upscale boutiques, and gift shops to art galleries, offering visitors a fun, charming shopping experience. 

Charter a Fishing Boat

You can’t visit Fishtown and not go fishing. Leland is one of the best sport fishing ports in Michigan, with Lake Michigan providing the perfect backdrop. Visitors can book a trip with experienced charter captains and revel in the excitement of catching a Lake, Brown, Rainbow Trout, or a big King Salmon. 

Visit the Leelanau Historical Society Museum

Operated by the Leelanau Historical Society, the museum aims to preserve and share the history of the area through a variety of exhibits about the history of Leelanau County and its people. Some of the ongoing exhibits include Shipwrecks of the Manitou Passage: Loss and Legacy, which bring the stories of several major shipwrecks to life, and Anishnaabek Basket and Quillwork Room that features a collection of black ash baskets and quillwork on birchbark from Odawa artists.

Visit the Nearby Manitou Islands

Located in Lake Michigan and part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the beautiful North and South Manitou Islands are a must-visit. Almost all of the area on both islands is available for hiking, camping, and exploring. Manitou Island Transit provides regular ferry service to both islands for campers as well as day trips to South Manitou.

Visitors to North Manitou Island can enjoy hiking on the dunes, marveling at the beautiful turquoise waters, and exploring the island’s village and ghost towns, as well as it’s inland lakes. South Manitou Island is home to beautiful freshwater beaches, as well as the South Manitou Island Lighthouse. Visitors can also learn more about the island’s history at the visitor center and museum located in the village. 

Enjoy the Best Leland at Delamar Traverse City

Located a quick drive away from Leland is Delamar Traverse City. As the newest addition to the Delamar family, Delamar Traverse City offers exquisite views of Grand Traverse Bay, and an elegant waterfront restaurant, Artisan, and is the perfect home base from which to explore the greater Traverse City area and even go fishing!

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