Our theme for the month of March is “cities.”

I’ve always loved traveling to big cities. From Chicago to Denver to New York City, I’m grateful to say I’ve visited some exciting places. There’s something so invigorating to me about the looming buildings and the bustling traffic—probably because I don’t have to experience it day in and day out, but also because I like to imagine what my life would be like if I did.

One of my favorite cities, however, happens to be nothing like those lively urban destinations. Up in the northern end of Michigan’s lower peninsula, about a three-hour drive from Grand Rapids, is a tourist town I’ve come to adore. While Boyne City may have the word “city” in its name, it’s quite the antithesis of an urban setting.

Boyne City is a small shoreline town of about 4,000 people. For me, the primary draw is Young State Park, a 500-plus-acre campground along Lake Charlevoix. My paternal relatives started a camping tradition in northern Michigan long before I was born, and now YSP has been the go-to spot for my dad’s side of the family (and several friends) for many years.

This long-standing tradition has cemented into a familiar routine for our annual trip up north in July. Each year, our group reserves a dozen campsites as close together as we can in the same area of the park, booking our trip six months in advance. We spend the bulk of our vacation lounging by the beach, arranging all our vibrant-colored beach chairs in a sprawling half circle across the sand. The blue-green water serves as the backdrop of our idle days up until dinner time, when we disperse to our own campsites before gathering again for a nightly campfire.

On rainy days, or I’m-sunburned-and-need-a-break-from-the-beach days, families scatter separately into nearby towns. Downtown Boyne City itself has several stores and restaurants worth spending an afternoon. We’ve also spent a lot of time in Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, Petoskey, and Gaylord, and some have ventured up to Mackinac Island or the Upper Peninsula for a day or two.

Like many Michiganders with a habitual up-north vacation spot, I’ve been to Boyne City almost every summer for the entirety of my life. I witnessed the supermarket in town switch from Glen’s Market to a Family Fare. I ordered my first margarita at Red Mesa Grill a month after my twenty-first birthday. I’ve consumed countless ice cream treats at the local Kilwin’s shop and spent countless hours perusing the shelves at Local Flavor Bookstore. For me, Boyne City has always been a pleasant escape—an escape from midsummer assignments and boredom when I was younger, an escape from my restaurant job during college and some post-grad years, and now an escape from the mundane routine of adult life.

It’s been said before, but the thing about visiting a city away from home is that you can’t help but wonder what life would be like if it was home. In the same way I marvel at the skyscrapers and taxis in the big cities, I ponder the condos along the lake and the boats on the water that are visible from downtown Boyne City. Each year, when it’s like a dull heartache as we pack up and leave, I start to entertain the idea of living there. The winters would be brutal, but summer always seems like such a sweet reward.

At the same time, I’m aware of another fact: whether I lived in Boyne City or one of the big cities, it wouldn’t be as special as it is for me now. The allure—the whole point of traveling—is being somewhere different, somewhere away from home. The fond memories and the nostalgia add to the appeal, but my perception wouldn’t be that way if that’s all I had known and lived. If I was born and raised in Boyne City, I’d probably write an appreciation post for Muskegon or Grand Rapids.

I know I could find a way to make the most of life in any number of cities. Ultimately, though, I’m content with where I am and grateful for those opportunities to explore other places. I’ll always be especially grateful for Boyne City. Despite the changes of growing up, that’s been one constant—a reminder of why I love summer, Michigan, and family. And despite my annual end-of-vacation fantasy of moving to Boyne City, I guess keeping my distance is what makes it somewhere special.

1 Comment

  1. Laura Sheppard Song

    My annual summer camp was on Thumb Lake near Boyne City. There’s something magical about those Up North getaways. Thanks for sharing about yours!


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