Things to Do in Traverse City

Best known as a weekend beach getaway for families, Traverse City offers much more to do than just dipping your toes in the Lake Michigan, taking to the lake on a sailboat, or climbing to the top of the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes (though each is certainly a worthwhile activity). If you’re planning a trip up north to the Cherry Capital, here are a few things to see and do in the area.

Hiking, running and biking

The 10-mile Traverse Area Recreational Trail and the 15-mile Leelanau Trail run from Acme to Suttons Bay, offering picture-perfect scenery to accompany your run, hike, or bike. If you’re up for more of a challenge, you can do the hike up the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear, or sign up for the Bayshore Marathon, held every year over Memorial Day weekend.


Traverse City is quickly becoming one of the best cities in the US for foodies to visit. There’s an emphasis on local, organic and sustainable foods that use the bounty of great food available in northern Michigan. At Aerie at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa,the chef puts an international twist on local favorites, served in a light-filled dining room 16 floors above the ground and offering sweeping views of the grounds and Bay.

For old school Italian created using local ingredients and served in a cozy, brick-walled space in the Grand Traverse Commons, tryTrattoria Stella, or go for tapas and cocktails at the eclectic Firefly. Don’t skip desserts either. Morsels, a shop in the heart of downtown, offers one-bite cakes in a variety of tempting flavors, and the Grand Traverse Pie Company serves up nearly 30 different types of pie (though of course, this being Traverse City, you can’t go wrong with cherry.)

Pick up some edible souvenirs at Cherry Republic, where you can find everything from cherry mustard to cherry fudge, or at Fustini’s, which specializes in dozens of flavored oils and vinegars- and has a shop where you can taste them all! And don’t forget some Leelanau Cheese from Black Star Farms.

Wine and beer tasting

The Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas offer 29 wineries welcoming guests for tours and tastings. Pick one peninsula for a day trip, or compare each one over two days. You can even stay overnight at two of the wineries – Chateau Chantal or Black Star Farms – or swing by the offsite tasting rooms. There are also five great breweries operating in the area, including a few in downtown Traverse City. Stop by one for dinner or plan a pub crawl to sample several. Cider lovers should also plan to visit Left Foot Charley in the Traverse City Commons for their regular and ginger hard ciders.

If vodka is your spirit of choice, you can visit the Grand Traverse Distillery and sample its True North Vodka, a hand-crafted vodka with local rye and clear glacial Michigan water.

>> Learn more about wine tasting in Traverse City or about the various breweries in Traverse City

Explore the area’s history and future

The history of Traverse City is tied to the lake and the boating traditions practiced here. To learn more, visit one of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. This lighthouse is over 150 year old and is now a museum that chronicles the lives of the lighthouse keepers and the sailors who plied the waters of Lake Michigan.

Then head to the newest development in Traverse City, the Grand Traverse Commons.  The historic buildings were created in 1885 as the Northern Michigan Asylum, a hospital for the mentally ill, built on several acres of forested grounds. Now, the buildings are being renovated and turned into shops and restaurants and the grounds are used for walking, running, skiing and birdwatching.

Winter sports and summer fun

While the most popular time to visit is in the summer to take advantage of the beautiful beaches and gorgeous bay, Traverse City is also a great destination in winter. Shanty Creek resorts offers 4500 acres of skiing, snowboarding and tubing, while snowmobilers can ride hundreds of miles of trails in the Pere Marquette State Forest or near the town of Bellaire.

Photo by Bernt Rostad, cletch