Leave the lounge chairs at home and reinvent your beach day with three sun-soaked adventures. Survey the city from five stories high, fly across the water on wind power, master the waves from the deck of a massive ship - whatever your pleasure, we guarantee you'll never look at Grand Traverse Bay the same way again.
A good way to start? Spend a wild weekend on the water with Broneah Kiteboarding's "Northern Exposure" kiteboarding camp. Brothers and co-owners Matt and Keegan Myers keep class sizes to a minimum - no more than six students per weekend - allowing for one-on-one training time. Kiteboarding is a fast-growing sport, popular in places like Hawaii and Western Europe; it involves a rider strapping his or her feet to a board and holding onto a bar connected to a large kite. By maneuvering the bar, the rider is dragged across the water on the board and can lift into the air to pull stunts - a seasoned kiter can jump as high as 30 feet in the air. Not sure if you're cut out for kiting? The Myers claim anyone at any age can learn; it's just a matter of determination and a willingness to respect nature's elements. By the end of the weekend you'll walk away with a new hobby, new friends and a deeper appreciation for two of Michigan's best natural resources - wind and water. (231-392-2212, broneah.com)
Looking for even bigger air? Get high with a sky-scraping ride courtesy of Traverse Bay Parasail. For 15 minutes - a very long 15 minutes at that - brave souls can dangle from a parasail up to 500 feet in the air. Several hundred feet of line is fed out from a boat, allowing those in the parasail to experience a rare bird's-eye view that stretches from both bays all the way to the city's limits. If the thought of going it alone gives you the willies, consider sharing the experience with a friend for a tandem flight. Holding hands is optional. Reservations are recommended; no penalties if the weather does not cooperate. Expect to spend about a half hour on the total excursion, from dock to water to dock again. (231-929-7272, traversebayparasail.com)
Balance out all that airtime by planting your feet on the deck of the Tall Ship Manitou, a sturdy and stately replica of a 19th-century cargo schooner. Call ahead to reserve a two-hour midday, afternoon or evening cruise; prices include boxed meals on some excursions. The midday and afternoon cruises are perfect for families - kids can look up at the giant billowing sails and pretend to be a pirate cruising the high seas. If your family is strictly a party of two, sign up for the more subdued evening cruise. Stand with your sweetie at the helm and let the breeze tangle your hair, give the crew a hand, or simply lean into the wind and consider the feeling of freedom that comes with cruising open water. (231-941-2000, tallshipsailing.com)
Finally, rest those sea legs at Boathouse Restaurant (14039 Peninsula Dr., 231-223-4030, boathouseonwestbay.com) for fantastic food and a decidedly delicious view of the bay. Grab a table on the patio out back in the evening, and you're guaranteed a sweet sunset over West Bay. Your time on the water might be done for now, but with dishes like fried tempura asparagus and crab-topped whitefish on the menu, you'll be glad you returned to the dry land.
Emily Bingham is assistant editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in April 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.