What to Do?
Discover Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Traverse City is home to Lake Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Congress designated it as a coastal area with natural and recreational importance that requires preservation, making it one of four national lakeshores in the United States. Standing on Lake Michigan’s shore, you’ll see nothing but the clear lake. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan’s other national shoreline is 118 miles away.
Explore Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
To take in the best views of Lake Michigan, don’t miss the 7.5-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Circle through a maple-beech forest behind the dunes. Explore the dunes along the one-lane road with stunning views overlooking Lake Michigan. One stop, Overlook Number 9, reaches 450 feet above the lake and gives you an overall sense of the dunes. The dunes are mountains of sand to climb, hike, and enjoy a day outdoors on the beach.
Spend Time on the Water
Boating on Lake Michigan and in Grand Traverse Bay using powerboats, sailboats, kayaks, or canoes make for a fun-fill day outdoors. Tall Ship cruising is another option. Go for an afternoon ice cream or a sunset dinner cruise. Experience an overnight cruise where the Tall Ship becomes a Bed and Breakfast.
Ice cream cruise on the Tall Ship Manitou, a mid-1800s-style windjammer with 3,000 square feet of sails, is one of the Great Lakes’ largest traditional vessels. A simple picnic dinner accompanies the two-hour sunset sail around West Grand Traverse Bay.
Explore a bit of Michigan’s nautical history at the museum inside the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. The lighthouse still functions today for demonstration purposes. If you’re a true lighthouse fanatic, you can spend a week here as the lighthouse keeper.
Attend the National Cherry Festival
The annual National Cherry Festival celebrates Traverse City’s abundant cherry crop. This celebration is one of the United States’ largest festivals attracting over 500,000 visitors during the eight-day event.
Taste some Wine
Located on the 45th parallel, Traverse City lines up with France’s Bordeaux wine region, so Traverse City is well-known for its wine, with about 40 wineries in the area. The Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail and Old Mission Peninsula’s wineries are open year-round. Some of the wineries also have lodging and cafes.
Visit a Museum
As a rainy-day activity, explore one of the area’s museums. The Dennos Museum Center contains one of the most extensive Inuit Art collections in the United States. The museum inspires visitors through the visual and performing arts and sciences. The Music House Museum is a collection of instruments from the late 18th century to 1950. A guided tour is available so that guests can hear the rare instruments on display. Finally, the Great Lakes Children’s Museum is hands-on fun for children.
Where to Stay?
Cherry Tree Inn & Suites
We loved our time at the Cherry Tree Inn & Suites. Our Lake Michigan Studio, with a balcony overlooking Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, was the perfect place to enjoy our breakfast, slowing waking up and planning our day. This 54-room inn is right on the beach, so it allows you to take advantage of the beach during those early mornings before you go out for the day. Evenings are the perfect time to relax after returning to the hotel and enjoy some time around the fire pit. Be sure to take along the makings for s’mores.
Another helpful thing from the Cherry Tree Inn & Suites was their text help. Soon after checking in, I received a text from Ivy, my personal text help. She encouraged me to text her anytime for towels, information, or things to do. She also requested feedback on my check-in experience. I stay in a lot of hotels, and I’d never received this type of support before, and I found it helpful. It was easier than calling, and it worked well.
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa
If you love golf, the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is an excellent place to stay, as you’ll be able to sneak in nine holes before the others are up and ready for the day.
The Manitou Floating Bed and Breakfast
Boating enthusiasts will love the Tall Ship Sailing with its floating bed and breakfast. After the evening sail, passengers go ashore, bed and breakfast guests stay behind for a night of fresh air, secured to the pier. You can use your sleeping bag to relax on deck under the stars or sleep in your private cabin. Each of the ship’s ten cabins sleeps two sailors in single-bunk beds.
Enjoy your morning coffee as the sun comes up over the horizon. Before departing, they serve a complete scratch-made breakfast cooked over a wood-burning stove.
The Manitou Floating Bed and Breakfast hosts guests June through August. Check their website for wine tasting and entertainment sail pricing.
Where to Eat?
Traverse City is also a foodie destination. Since Michigan is second only to California in United States crop production, the area’s restaurants start with the freshest ingredients, going from farm to table, resulting in new, flavorful plates. Traverse City is famous for cherries, so you’ll find dishes featuring these — the Michigan cherry salad, cherry brochette, and a chipotle cherry chili.
Flying Noodle Italian Pasta House
Flying Noodle Italian Pasta House makes all their pasta inhouse, so everything is fresh, and you can taste the difference. Their Campanella, a flower-shaped pasta, still haunts me with the garden-fresh flavor of peas accented with pea tendrils, preserved lemons, and ricotta. You don’t see this dish on other restaurant menus, and I’d make the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Traverse City to have this dish again.
The restaurant is small and doesn’t take reservations, so you’ll want to have a plan. Arrive early, get your name on the list, and then explore the downtown shops until your table is ready.
Aerie Restaurant in the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa
Located on the 16th floor of the Tower inside the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, Aerie’s floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping around the entire restaurant provides stunning views. You can see for miles! The evening we were there, a hot air balloon floated by, adding to the magic.
The atmosphere makes it feel like a special occasion restaurant. They feature local Michigan ingredients and local beer and wine selections. For example, my Aerie salad featured Traverse City tart cherries in a tart cherry vinaigrette served over organic field greens, pickled red onion, cucumber, and Gorgonzola with some candied pecans for crunch.
Don’s Drive In
Don’s Drive In is the perfect place to grab dinner after a long day at the beach. Everyone’s still damp and sandy, and the kiddos are probably still in the swimsuits. None of that matters at Don’s Drive In, where you can eat in the car or grab an outdoor picnic table, where you can take in a last look at the beach from across the street during dinner.
Don’s has been around since 1958, and its atmosphere is an authentic 1950’s-style drive in with carhops and neon signs. You’ll find award-winning burgers and milkshakes that will take you back in time.
Whether you’re a self-proclaimed foodie, a wine connoisseur, or an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll enjoy Traverse City, Michigan.
If You Go
Traverse City, Michigan is in the Eastern time zone and is in Grand Traverse County, although a small portion extends into Leelanau County. Traverse City is the county seat.
Most major US airlines serve Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport (TVC). You’ll find flights on Allegiant, American, Delta, and United.
How far is Traverse City from?
|Grand Rapids||142 miles|
|Sleeping Bear Dunes||25 miles|
The best way to get around Traverse City is by car. If you fly in, you’ll probably want to rent a car. Some hotels have shuttles to the airport, casino, and within a certain radius of the hotel; however, that will limit where you can explore.
For wine tastings, Traverse City has a variety of shuttle tours that make for a safe experience.
If you prefer public transportation, the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) is an option. Their Park-n-Ride choice is also suitable for avoiding the busy downtown area in your car.
Download the Traverse Traveler app, which is free for iPhones, iPads, and Android Smartphones. It’ll give you all the information you’ll need to feel like a local.
Want more information on Midwest road trips including my four favorite Michigan road trips? Be sure to pre-order Midwest Road Trip Adventures: Highways and Byways to learn more about road trips in each of the 12 Midwest states, including Michigan. Choose Michigan from the pull-down selection menu.
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Find some vacation planning tips for planning your next adventure, in my post 7 Ways to Pack More Relaxing Travel in Your Over-Scheduled Life.
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I have read so many great things about Sleeping Beear dunes. I really want to go there.
I haven’t been here for years but it sounds like I’ll have to check it out again!
Great guide! I hope I will have the chance ti visit Michigan.
wonderful, a place in the US where there is public transportation! Apart from very few cities, travelling without a car was always a challenge in the us.
Traverse city looks like a very interesting place. I’ve been to Michigan, but only to Ludington.
Seems like michigan is a good little trip to take in the United states. The bed and breakfast on the ship seemed to interest me. Thanks for the tips.
A scenic drive, wine tasting and cherry festival all are indicators of a merry time for us. The idea of staying at a floating hotel sounds cool!
There is so much to do!! Thanks for sharing such a detailed list 🙂 you comPletely won me over with flying noodle lol
I haven’t as yet got TO SEE ANYTHING IN THE lAKE Michigan AREA BUT REALLY WANT TO. iN PARTICULAR THE Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore SOUNDS LOVELY. tHAT VIEW YOU HAD FROM YOUR HOTEL OVERLOOKING THE BEACH WAS FABULOUS. aLSO i nEVER KNEW WINE IS MADE THERE.
The wine tasting tours are awesome. Splurge on a chauffeured tour. Try to do wine tours of both Leelanau & Mission Peninsulas on separate days. Be sure to include a stop on Château Chantel’s deck. The views are absolutely amazing!
I live here. I know this is about Traverse City, but 1 little restaurant I have to mention is in Sutton’s Bay, 15 miles north of Traverse City and it’s called Martha’s Table. I’ve eaten there and the food is awesome.
I have had that on my list to visit. Hopefully, I will get there in the summer of 2023. Thank you for affirming it is a good place to visit.
I cannot believe I get to live here in Grand Traverse County. It is everything and more that this article is hinting at. Miss Piper didnt even mention Torch Lake, Voted the third most beautiful lake in our Nation is only 20 minutes form Traverse city ….