Get to Know Harbor Country: Carl Sandburg’s Harbert Michigan

Harbert, Michigan, is Harbor Country’s mini slice of Scandinavia. 

This series by guest contributor Blagica Bottiglierio covers the gorgeous area of Southwest Michigan known as Harbor Country. Eight towns along Red Arrow Highway come together to create a magical world of food, nature, serenity and history.

Harbert, Michigan, is Harbor Country’s mini slice of Scandinavia. It’s been a secret to many, and if you close your eyes, you might miss the Harbert sign.

This is the surprise of the Red Arrow Highway – little whispers that remind you that what may look like a small sign represents a treasure waiting to be discovered.

Vineyard in Harbor Country, Michigan; photo by Megan Zink, Moderately Excited Travel Blog
Vineyard in Harbor Country, Michigan; photo by Megan Zink, Moderately Excited Travel Blog

Harbert is located towards the top end of Harbor Country, 76 miles away from Chicago. Starting out as a railroad town, then booming with orchards and vineyards, Harbert was also home to a pickle factory. Yes, pickles.  But there are two other pieces of Harbert that may surprise many. The first is its most famous resident – Carl Sandburg.

Sandburg began to visit Harbert with his family, but he ended up staying for two decades. It’s in his Harbert home that Sandburg completed his Pulitzer Prize winning four-volume series on Lincoln, The War Years. Sandburg’s family had Scandinavian roots and Harbert continues to celebrate this heritage as it did years ago.

Swedish Coffee Pot, where Carl Sandburg hung out in Harbert, Michigan
Photo credit: Don Harrison

In 1912, The Ericksons opened the Harbert Swedish Bakery.  I could write a novel on the amazing goodies available at the Bakery. The breads. The cookies. All made fresh onsite.  Just next to The Bakery is Luisa’s Cafe. Ambitious scrambles, fresh produce and even a gluten free menu. All in one place.

Harbert is a small, but mighty place to explore. First, let’s start with antiques and treasures.

The Harbert Antique Mall has everything from dishes, decor and furniture. Up the road, you have another place to find treasures, Millie’s Antiques. Let’s not stop there. You have Dunes Antiques Center and Alchemy Antiques near the same stretch of the Red Arrow Highway. Your antiquing and collecting heart can be fulfilled in one afternoon. But this imposes a dilemma. Recharging with food. Have no fear, Harbert has you covered.

We already introduced the lovely and delicious world of Luisa’s Cafe and Harbert Swedish Bakery. Who knew that in a small town in a corner of SW Michigan, you can not only get Swedish goodies, but also Italian and Turkish? Well, you can.

Enter the world of homemade sauces, care of Capozio’s. An Italian restaurant on Red Arrow, it’s been in the area for generations. Feeling like Turkish? Hop to the other side of Red Arrow and enter the world of Cafe Gulistan. Cafe Gulistan has a warm vibe on the inside, but is a setting where your kids can walk around, check out the ponds (and fish) while waiting for your meal.

Photo credit: Cafe Gulistan in Harbert, Michigan
Photo credit: Cafe Gulistan in Harbert, Michigan

Ready to get to shopping again? Head up to SO (Stockholm Objects). Tapping into the area’s Swedish roots, Stockholm Objects is inspired by European style and lines. It mixes Scandinavian Design with current trends, creating a fun and inspiring shopping experience.

Searching for some custom wood pieces? Well then you need to visit Center of the World Woodshop. Pottery, leaded glass lamps and contemporary art complement the custom wood furnishings in the shop. This jaunt may have your art collection bug hopping. This is why you should head over to a gallery.

The Judith Racht Gallery displays various works of art from local artists and beyond. Take a lovely stroll in the gallery in between shops. Exhibits change often, check the website to be sure.

So much shopping and eating. You must be EXHAUSTED:). Harbert has you covered, too. A bevy of cottages and home rentals are waiting for you. In addition to places you may find on AirBnB and VRBO, here are some additional selections:

After some beauty sleep, you may realize that a Spa Day is exactly what the travel doctor ordered. Harbert has you covered with that, too. Say hello to MAK Salon and Spa. They offer hair, nail and massage services. If you have a wedding or special group fest coming up, they can handle this, too. My advice: book early. MAK Salon and Spa also has a location in Three Oaks.

Sometimes, we drive up and down a road, see a small sign and wonder what lies beyond the trees and the gravel roads. Something about Harbert, Michigan, made Carl Sandburg remain for two decades. The magic has only grown since he walked the woods and enjoyed authentic pastries from Harbert Swedish Bakery.

I don’t think the word ‘magic’ is used enough. I promise that after a day of finding fun treasures, enjoying international food and getting pampered at the spa, you’ll find your own magic in Harbert, Michigan. Enjoy!

Blagica Bottigliero

About Blagica Bottigliero

Blagica (blah-gee-tsa) Bottigliero

After 20 years in Chicago, I moved back to my home state of Michigan, specifically Harbor Country. We love sharing the finds and treasures from this little corner of the Midwest. 

Harbor Country is a collection of eight beach towns in Southwest Michigan. The area is known for cute boutiques, delicious wineries, and creative craft beer. It's a resort community just about an hour or so from downtown Chicago. #Michigan #Midwest #USA

Featured photo: Boats and grasses on Lake Michigan, Harbert, Michigan, John Menard