There are many things that make Traverse City, Mich., unique, but the main one is possibly geography. Its location near the 45th Parallel makes it a great spot for produce, particularly of the grape variety. Just north of the city at the tip of the Mission Peninsula is the 45th Parallel, halfway between the North Pole and the Equator and a perfect spot for wine. Yes, Traverse City wine and beer are some of the highlights of a visit.
There are some 40 wineries in the Traverse City area, and countless more breweries. Traverse City has 13 breweries and brewpubs, and just down the road in Grand Rapids are many more breweries. Anyone looking for good wine and beer will have plenty of options in Traverse City.
Traverse City has been named one of America’s three newest emerging beer towns by Draft magazine. This list will help you decide what breweries might be the best stops for you. And this list of wineries will help in planning the ideal wine trail for your visit to Traverse City.
But for some thoughts on how we experience Traverse City wine and beer, read on.
Mission Peninsula Wine
You know the old saying to save the best things for last? Well, that’s not the case here. Our favorite winery of the trip happened to be our first visit. Brys Estate Vineyard is just a few miles up the Mission Peninsula from Traverse City.
What did we like so much about Brys? The wine was really good, and we enjoyed our tasting inside the comfortable tasting room. But the hit at Brys is out on the second-level patio where we pulled up a seat, ordered a couple glasses of wine and enjoyed a charcuterie board while we looked out to the East Grand Traverse Bay beyond the vineyards. We enjoyed a gentle breeze as we sipped our wine, munched on meats and cheeses and took in the view. We spent probably an hour at Brys.
We also traveled up the peninsula to Chateau Chantal. I had heard good things about this winery. When we arrived we were impressed by the beautiful grounds. We didn’t have time to enjoy it, though. We had about 10 minutes before we needed to hit the road to get back to the hotel for a yoga appointment (don’t ask). So we hurried through a tasting that cost a whopping $3.
That’s actually one of the things I like about the wineries in the Traverse City area. The tasting fees are so affordable. It reminds me more of Sonoma County instead of Napa County in California. Sonoma wineries have $5 and $10 fees that are often waived, while in Napa, the cost is $10 and even $20. I loved the $3 and $5 tasting fees in Traverse City, and it also included the glass in many cases.
Leelanau Peninsula Wine
If you want to aimlessly drive looking for random wineries, or even if you want to be like us and follow a wine trail map, the Leelanau Peninsula is the place. We started our day exploring the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. After lunch in Glen Arbor we followed a map I had printed and wound our way back toward Traverse City, stopping off at random wineries.
What I enjoy about the Traverse City wine scene is being able to drive through the region and happen upon a winery. As we were making our winding way from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore back to Traverse City, we happened upon a handful of unique wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula.
Good Harbor Vineyards sat quietly in a non-descript building on a little hill overlooking the highway. We decided to go in and split a tasting for $5. We aren’t fans of sweet wines, but we did enjoy their cherry wine enough to leave with a bottle of it.
I was told by friends to visit Blustone Vineyards. What we liked here was the open and modern feel of the tasting room where we were able to sample wines while looking out at the vineyards through the massive windows.
Our last stop was Black Star Farms, which is one of the big boys of the local wine scene. When we went on a late Friday afternoon the large tasting room was filled with people sampling wines. We found a spot at the central circular bar and enjoyed two tastings at $5 each.
Traverse City Beer
Downtown Traverse City has several options for beer lovers, from the solid selections at the neighborhood’s restaurants to brewpubs that feature good dining and plenty of beers to sample.
North Peak Brewing is a brewpub in a large old brick warehouse building. It has more of a restaurant feel than brewery, but it’s obvious beer is brewed here. I also bought one of their IPAs to keep in the fridge back in the hotel room.
Another brewpub we discovered was Mackinaw Brewing Co. This is also more restaurant than pure brewery, but we actually didn’t eat. We took a break from shopping Downtown Traverse City’s Front Street and lingered over a couple of pints. We visited in September, meaning it was prime Oktoberfest time. That was a good thing because it turned out to be the best Oktoberfest I had this season. Another thing I like about Mackinaw is that they will serve beer in half-pint sizes. That’s always a plus for us since Stacey never wants more than half a beer.
Based on numerous reviews and stories I had read before our trip, not to mention our own experience, one of the best spots in the Traverse City area for beer is Jolly Pumpkin on Mission Peninsula. We enjoyed a mid-afternoon lunch and sampler of some of their own beers. This was also a great spot for a meal, where the highlight was a fantastic bison sloppy joe sandwich.
Visiting With Children
Visiting a wine destination with children can be a challenge. If my memory is correct, we’ve taken our son to one or two wineries but only when he was a baby and could be held. We’ve never done a real wine trail with him. Traverse City was our first wine tasting with our son, who was just weeks before turning 8 on this trip.
Every parent has to make his or her decision. What might work for me won’t work for you. In our experience, on this visit to Traverse City, it worked but reluctantly. We would have loved to spend the day visiting as many wineries as we could. But with Colby in tow, three per day worked fine. He whined when we pulled up to the next winery, but once we were inside he always found a spot in a corner or on a chair to quietly play Minecraft on my iPhone.
If you are looking for a place where your kids can run and be wild while you sample wines, visiting wineries isn’t for you. But if you have a child who can have something else to do and sit to the side while you taste wine, then go for it.
Another way to visit wineries with children is to switch off with your partner. We didn’t have to do this, but my wife could have walked around the grounds with our son while I sampled wine and then we could have traded. It’s not ideal, but it works if you want to just visit one or two wineries.
And of course all of the brewpubs in Traverse City are kid-friendly. They are basically fun restaurants that also serve great beer.