Finding the right destination for a traveling family can be difficult. Each family member probably has his or her own unique interests, and it can be tricky to find a place that keeps everyone happy. When we traveled to Traverse City, Mich., in September I knew we would find a good mix of natural beauty, shopping, water sports, food and wine to keep our family of three happy. Unsure if the northern shores of the lower peninsula of Michigan is the right spot for your family? These seven reasons to visit Traverse City might help make the decision.
Traverse City bills itself as the cherry capital of the world. The region has for years been a major producer of cherries, and there are cherry products to be found everywhere. But the food scene is so much more than cherries.
In fact, Traverse City is one of the better food destinations I’ve traveled to in some time, especially considering the abundance of good dining options in such a small location. We didn’t venture into Traverse City much beyond downtown, where there are several restaurants along Front Street. We did drive out into Leelanau and Mission peninsulas where we discovered some great restaurants, including the Jolly Pumpkin, one of our favorites. The lunch menu had lots of great sandwiches and pizzas, but our favorite item by far was the bison sloppy joe. I can’t recall having such a good sloppy joe sandwich. Jolly Pumpkin is also known for its great selection of regional beers, including their own.
The food selection in Traverse City goes well beyond cherries, pizza and gourmet sloppy joe sandwiches. We had locally caught perch, the wonderful fusion of Asian and Latin at Georgina’s, a filling breakfast and awesome freshly baked cinnamon rolls at The Omelette Shoppe and multiple great burgers at a couple of spots. But the best meal of the trip, not to mention possibly the best of my year? That came at Poppycocks, where the meal started with a memorable pita appetizer and just kept getting better from there with items like the lamb ragu.
The Traverse City region is a hotbed for wine. The tip of the nearby Mission Peninsula sits at the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole. The gently rolling hills of the Mission Peninsula sit in the middle of the West and East Grand Traverse Bays. Just to the west is the larger Leelanau Peninsula that is a beautiful buffer between the West Grand Traverse Bay and the larger Lake Michigan. Between the two peninsulas, there are some 40 wineries that offer up great wines in beautiful settings.
Even traveling with a child, like we did, visiting a few wineries is easy to do. On one day, with lunch at Jolly Pumpkin breaking up the two, we visited two wineries on the Mission Peninsula. Honestly, we could have stayed all day at Brys Estate. After sampling wines inside, we enjoyed a meat and cheese plate and glasses of wine on the expansive patio that overlooks the vineyards and East Grand Traverse Bay in the distance.
The next day, after a morning hiking Sleeping Bear Dunes we stopped at three wineries as we wound our way back to Traverse City. Three wineries was enough with a kid in tow, but there are enough in close proximity that we could have stopped in at several more on the way back to the city.
I’ve known Michigan has a reputation for great craft breweries, with Founders and Bells being two of my favorite producers. In Traverse City, there are several breweries and a handful of brewpubs in and around downtown. We could have just as easily spent a day walking to different breweries to sample beer. So if wine tasting isn’t your thing, maybe beer tasting is.
We had a nice and affordable dinner our last night at North Peak Brewing Co. where we could also sample their beers. During the day, while Stacey shopped, Colby and I sat at Mackinaw Brewing where I sampled a couple of pints and he read his new Minecraft books we had just bought at a nearby bookstore.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was a shocking revelation for us. I’ve visited the shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie and have experienced Lake Michigan in and around Chicago and Milwaukee. But on those previous Great Lakes visits, I didn’t experience anything like the beauty that can be found at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The blue waters at Sleeping Bear Dunes reminds me of what can be found in the Caribbean Sea. We didn’t have time to enjoy one of the beaches on Lake Michigan or the nearby interior lakes. But we were there long enough to hike up part of the steep Dune Walk.
It was a bigger challenge than I had imagined, but it was rewarding to make part of the climb and enjoy the views.
And if hiking isn’t your thing, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive through the park provides beautiful overlooks and vantage points.
We stayed at the West Bay Beach Resort Holiday Inn, which put us within walking distance of downtown. The Traverse Area Recreational Trail that goes by our hotel and for 12.5 miles along the lakefront is connected to Front Street via a walkway that goes along the Boardman River. We enjoyed walks along the peaceful Boardman, which in September was full of salmon making their way up river to spawn.
Downtown Traverse City’s Front Street is filled with boutiques, restaurants, breweries, bookstores and coffee shops. It’s great for morning strolls with a cup of coffee, an afternoon of shopping or an evening of drinks and dinner. We did all of that, and happily would go back for more.
And all around the tree-shaded downtown are beautiful neighborhoods with historic homes of all sizes.
I’m not sure Traverse City would be on the map if not for the waterfront. The city sits where the Boardman River empties into the West Grand Traverse Bay. There are miles and miles of beautiful shoreline in the city on both bays, and just a 30-minute drive west are the shores of Lake Michigan.
I mentioned the TART trail already. One morning I went for a run along this trail. I wish I would have had more time to ride a bike its whole length. But just a few miles gave me the opportunity to look down onto the West Grand Traverse Bay through clearings from the wooded path.
We enjoyed sitting on the patio of our hotel overlooking the lake, not to mention enjoying a bottle of wine on our small beach after returning from an afternoon of wine tasting. I’m sure there are several hotel options in and around Traverse City that provide similar spots to enjoy the peacefulness of the waterfront.
And of course driving up Mission Peninsula provided views of the West and East Grand Traverse Bays. We could have gotten out on the water on kayaks or sailboats. The water was frigid, but we did take a quick dip. I’m sure summertime is a better time to take a swim.
Speaking of swimming, Colby and I took advantage of the heated outdoor pool and indoor pool at the West Bay Beach Resort while Stacey took advantage of the yoga class. Whether it was enjoying the amenities of our property, sitting at a winery overlooking beautiful vineyards or strolling through the tree-lined streets of downtown Traverse City, we found our time in the region to be very relaxing.
Travelers seeking a destination with relaxing beaches and spas will find it in Traverse City. Travelers who find relaxation while strolling through beautiful streets and parks, sitting on a patio with a drink in hand or driving through a rolling countryside with vineyards and cherry trees will find it in Traverse City as well.