A trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes offers more than turquoise waters and stunning sand dunes.

Yes, the natural beauty wows vacationers and inspires the locals. But after a day of hiking or biking, the fun continues with live music on outdoor decks and cultural gatherings in coastal communities.

Creating community  

Oliver Art CenterThe creative culture of the region brings together local artists, business owners, and residents to create community. You feel it in the homespun holiday parades and celebrations which are a highlight of the summer.

Glen Arbor hosts a variety of Fourth of July events. Frankfort also has a full day of Independence Day festivities, which include fireworks over Lake Michigan.  

And that sense of community extends to the visitors who come from across the country to experience the natural beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Galleries filled with authentic Leelanau art and community art centers will keep you busy if you want a chill day or want to fill your creative cup. 

Old Art Building 

In Leland, the Old Art Building hosts a variety of family-friendly programming. Music in the Air is a free concert series on the front lawn.

  • i.am.james, 7 p.m. June 27

  • Jeff Haas & Big Fun, 4 p.m. June 30

  • Mulebone, 7 p.m. July 11

  • The XtraCrisp, 7 p.m. July 18

  • Josh Rose, 4 p.m. July 28

  • On the Lash, 7 p.m. August 1

  • Elizabeth Landry Trio, 7 p.m. August 8

  • Barefoot, 7 p.m. August 15

  • Charlie Millard, 7 p.m. August 22

  • Jazz North, 7 p.m. August 29

  • K. Jones & The Benzie Playboys, 4 p.m. September 1

4th of July Bike Decorating PartyArt classes, summer enrichment programs for children, a Fourth of July Bike Decorating Party, and monthly Grateful Gatherings are other programs. Adult art classes include Blooms & Brushes, Beginning Watercolor Landscapes, Beginning Oil Painting, Urban Sketch Workshop & Walk, and more.

Art PicnicBring a blanket, the kids, and your creativity to Family Art Picnics on the back lawn. Art Picnics are similar to a regular picnic, but instead of food, dive into an art activity. Dates are 6-7:30 p.m. July 7, July 14, and July 21.

The Old Art Building's 26th annual Artists’ Market runs from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. July 13. This art fair offers over 70 booths of original work from artists and makers around the Midwest.

And OAB’s 32nd annual Art Leelanau Benefit and Exhibit is set for July 26-Aug. 4. The opening night benefit 5-8:30 p.m. Friday, July 26 includes an evening of art, music, food and community. Proceeds from this event support programming at the Old Art Building for adults and youth all year long.

Visit oldartbuilding.com for the full schedule.

Glen Arbor Arts Center

A hub of art and culture, Glen Arbor Arts Center hosts art classes, exhibits, and live music throughout the summer.

Pottery Sampler“During the summer, when the area's population swells, we extend a warm welcome to even more guests, inviting them to our vibrant array of events, workshops, and exhibits,” says Kristie McCaw, GAAC’s Program Manager.

This summer, visitors and locals alike can register for classes that include:

  • Brush Strokes and Edges, 9 a.m. June 29

  • Pottery on the Wheel, 6 p.m. July 8 and August 5; 2 p.m. September 5

  • No Fear Plein Air, 9 a.m. July 10

  • Raku Firing, 1 p.m. July 13 & 20, August 17 & 24

  • Tiny Houses, 1 p.m. July 15

  • Creating Paintings You Love from Landscape Photos, 9 a.m. July 17

  • Plein Air Poetry, 10 a.m. July 25

  • Coil Building and Surface Design, 9 a.m. July 27

  • Kurinuki: Japanese Carved Pottery 2, 1 p.m. July 29; Part 3, 1 p.m. September 9

  • Plein Air Bootcamp, 9 a.m. August 1

  • Glazes: Problems and Solutions, 1 p.m. August 12

  • Art of Nature Journaling, 10 a.m. August 16

  • Soft-Slab Built Pitcher and Tumblers, 1 p.m. August 19

  • Night Photography, August 29

B-side GrowlersSome classes are taught on-site at the center, tucked away in a wooded location. Others meet in pastoral settings around the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. 

“The Glen Arbor Arts Center provides year-round access to high-quality art classes, where people can explore their creativity and connect with their inner artists,” McCaw says.

The popular 2024 Plein Air Weekend takes place August 2-3. After a day of painting outdoors, the artists’ works of art are on sale Saturday evening at the Glen Arbor Town Hall.

Members Create, an exhibition showcasing GAAC members’ talent, runs through Aug. 8 in the GAAC Main Gallery. The exhibit features the work of 41 current members working in every medium.

The GAAC also presents Late Night Fridays 5-8 p.m. with open galleries and Manitou Music Series concerts on the Front Porch stage.

  • The Mighty Tundra Tones, June 28

  • Ron Getz, July 12

  • B-side Growlers, August 17

  • The Lofteez, August 23


Check out glenarborart.org for more detailed information about classes, events, and concerts. 

Oliver Art Center

Oliver Art CenterFrankfort’s Oliver Art Center also has exhibits, programs, and classes for all ages, interests, and skill levels. The center hosts a weekly Summer Art Camp for youth ages 7-12 through August 23.

“We certainly ramp it up in the summer,” says Tamara Hoffbauer, Executive Director. “We have a full ceramics studio, so this year we’re offering a ceramics camp for kids. We have brand new classes for adults and kids, including cooking classes, and we have cooking for kids as well.”

The ceramics studio is open to visitors and community members who want to learn to make or throw pottery, including a Ceramics Exploration Series and Intro to Wheel Throwing. One-day workshops cover special glazing techniques, firing workshops, and more. 

Oliver Art Center Kids Cooking ClassWhatever type of art you are interested in, you can probably find a class at Oliver Art Center. Check out the class schedule for cooking, drawing, painting, writing, woodworking, printmaking, and fiber arts.

“We have over 100 classes for both adults and kids,” Hoffbauer says. “We do have a variety of classes focused on traditional craft – basket weaving, woodworking, and knitting.”

Other events include:

  • Summer Celebration BBQ, 4-8 p.m. June 28th. This community celebration includes BBQ pork dinner, artist demos, and music by The Dune Brothers. Adult tickets $20 and kids $10.

  •  Summer Member Show is on display through July 26 and features a wide variety of styles, media, and techniques. This Oliver Art Center tradition highlights member artists in one of the largest exhibits of local and regional artists in the area. A featured Artist’s Talk will be held 4-6 p.m. July 25.

  • Finding the Light: Photography and Glass on display July 1-Aug. 2. This invitational exhibit of Michigan artists combines fine art photography with luminous art glass.

  • Coastal Caravan Art Fair, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. July 20. This outside fair with free admission includes juried artist booths, unique shopping, food truck and live music by The Nephews.

  • HOOKED: The Art of Fishing, Aug. 30-Oct 4. This exhibit does a deep dive into the region’s love of fishing with original artwork, vintage fishing lures, and community photos.

Oliver Art Center also presents a chamber music series featuring touring musicians.

Kodak Quartet, 7 p.m. July 12. Tickets: $25 (OAC Members $22.50)

Bourbon & Brass, 6 p.m. July 26. This energetic brass quintet hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, will perform outside on the grounds of the art center. Iron Fish Distillery will mix bourbon cocktails. Tickets: $30 (OAC Members $27.00)

QuinTango – Art of the Tango, 5-8 p.m. Aug. 9. Tango like you’ve never imagined it. This event includes culture and dance lesson, live Argentinian tango, and Milonga after-party. Tickets: $70-75.

Viridian Strings: Masterworks Unveiled, 7 p.m. Aug. 30. Musical virtuosos Viridian Strings returns in August to close out the summer celebration. Tickets: $40-45.

Visit oliverartcenterfrankfort.org for hours, exhibits, and general information. 

Stay, play in Sleeping Bear

Philip Hart Visitor CenterIf that’s not enough to keep you busy, make sure to visit the local libraries for summer reading and enrichment programs. Most of them allow you to sign up for a visitors’ card and check out books and other materials. They host free programs too.  

The Sleeping Bear Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire and the region’s historical museums are other worthy stops. There are so many ways to experience history and culture on your trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes.

To make the most of your vacation, stay in the heart of the action and experience it all. Explore lodging options at Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor. The lakeside resort makes a great home base to soak up the vibes and activities in gateway communities.  

Marla R. Miller is a freelance travel writer, content writer, and journalist. Visit her website at marlarmiller.com.