Best Things To Do in Traverse City
Traverse City's greatest assets are all compliments of Mother Nature. While here, soak up Lake Michigan in every way you can, whether that's on the... READ MORE
Traverse City's greatest assets are all compliments of Mother Nature. While here, soak up Lake Michigan in every way you can, whether that's on the shores of Clinch Park, on a boat tour or atop the sky-high dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, or, preferably, all three. Explore the truly diverse offerings in Downtown Traverse City and don't forget to pencil in time to indulge and explore the city's ever-growing beer and wine scene, the latter of which is composed of two American Viticultural Areas.
Updated September 3, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Traverse CityNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the few places in the world that visitors can see perched dunes. The lakeshore's towering dunes, which stretch 35 miles long Michigan's eastern coast, were formed by glaciers. The slopes left behind by the glaciers turned into dunes as a result of Lake Michigan's tide pushing sand up onto the shore overtime. It's this unique phenomenon that garnered the park National Lakeshore status in 1970.
Today, Sleeping Bear Dunes is enjoyed by more than a million visitors per year, who flock to the park to experience the dunes and enjoy an eyeful of the lakeshore's vibrantly colored waters, forested hiking trails, beaches and bevy of outdoors activities. First-time visitors won't go wrong starting their journey with the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7 1/2-mile drive that takes travelers through forested landscapes and along sand dunes to various overlook points. For hiking, you're spoiled with more than 100 miles of trails. For an easy trek, check out the Empire Bluff trail, a 1 1/2-mile round-trip hike that takes visitors directly to the edge of the dunes. The Pyramid Point trail is a more moderate, hilly option, while the 9-mile Alligator Hill trail takes hikers away from the dunes and higher up to provide sweeping views of the lake and the forests that flank it. If you're looking to do more than just hike, know that you can also bike, kayak, canoe and even scuba dive here. During the winter, the park is open to visitors for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and more.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Traverse CityTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Wine lovers rejoice because Traverse City sits right next to two American Viticultural Areas: Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula. Together, these areas boast more than 40 wineries where visitors can enjoy a taste of local Michigan vino. Considering Michigan's location, it may surprise some that the state has its own wine country. The reason wine production is successful here has to do with its close proximity to the lake. The climate of Lake Michigan protects the vines from harshly cool temperatures on land (all of Michigan's vineyards are within 25 miles of the lake). That, in combination with the region's glacial soil and extra hours of sun it receives during growing season, results in productive wine growing regions.
Michigan is known for producing a handful of varietals, including pinot blanc, pinot grigio and riesling. While here, make sure to sample something made with Niagara grapes (the state produces the most in the country) as well as ice wine. Michigan is one of the few places in the world where you can enjoy ice wine. The process of making ice wine is incredibly precise: Producers have to pick grapes when temperatures are between 17 and 19 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that production often happens in the middle of the night in the dead of winter. The frozen grapes are then used to create a unique wine that resembles a honey-like nectar.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Traverse CityRecreation, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRecreation, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
There's no better way to experience Lake Michigan than directly on the water, and Traverse City has several options for travelers to be able to do just that. Highly-rated boat tour operators in the area include Nauti-Cat and Traverse Tall Ship Company.
The main difference between these two companies is that Nauti-Cat is a catamaran and the Traverse Tall Ship Company is an old-fashioned schooner. Nauti-Cat offers a handful of cruises, ranging from sunset sails to afternoon outings. Meanwhile, Traverse Tall Ship Company offers sailing excursions to nearby Manitou Island. Both companies also offer private charters.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Traverse CityMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
One of Traverse City's premier cultural institutions is the Dennos Museum Center. An extension of Northwestern Michigan College, it houses more than 3,000 works of art from the 19th to 21st centuries. What makes the Dennos Museum Center standout is its extensive collection of Inuit art. Inuit are indigenous people from northern Alaska and arctic areas of Canada and Greenland. The Dennos Museum Center houses the largest and most historically complete collection in the country, with more than 1,600 works. The museum's Inuit collection is primarily made of up of sculptures and prints and features works from 21st-century Inuit artists. Other permanent collections include works from Canadian Woodland artists and Jozsef Domjan, a renowned American artist who is known for his intricate woodcut art. The museum also hosts concerts and performances and screens films from regional to international filmmakers and organizations.
Recent visitors were impressed with the museum's collections, especially considering its location in the small town of Traverse City. Many found the exhibits, both the permanent and temporary, to be excellent and loved viewing the art on display as well as learning about the cultures presented. Others enjoyed the natural light that floods the museum and appreciated other offerings, including a space for kids, a gift shop and the performance space.
- #5View all PhotosfreeClinch Park#5 in Traverse CityBeaches, Free, Parks and Gardens, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Parks and Gardens, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
You can't visit any of the Great Lakes without heading to the beach. Traverse City's location right along the waters of Lake Michigan gives visitors that opportunity. If you don't feel like making the trek to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, consider an afternoon at Clinch Park. Clinch Park is Traverse City's most popular beach. And for good reason. Not only is the beach park located smack dab in the middle of the city, but it also offers a lengthy stretch of shore with beautiful views of the nearby peninsulas. The park is also equipped with convenient amenities, such as restrooms, a snack bar, bike racks, picnic tables, a grassy park and during the summer, lifeguards. It's the perfect place to take a dip or simply gaze upon the beauty of Lake Michigan.
Recent visitors enjoyed their time at Clinch Park, complimenting the beautiful lake views, the available amenities and close proximity to downtown Traverse City. Travelers were also pleased with the park's clean beaches and publicly shared spaces. Families noted that this park is perfect for the kiddos thanks to the calm waters and abundant amenities.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Traverse CityFree, Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Recreation, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Recreation, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The beating heart of Traverse City is its downtown and Front Street is where it all happens. You can find just about everything along Front Street or adjacent, including plenty of hotels and local shops, restaurants and entertainment options. A handful of the city's hottest beer spots can be found along this thoroughfare too. Plus, you are just blocks away from the lake as well as city beaches, including Clinch Park and Volleyball Beach.
The area is home to a variety of boutiques selling everything from fudge and cheese to custom jewelry and dog treats. Dining options are just as diverse with everything independent coffee shops to seafood spots, burger joints and international cuisine. Don't skip the Grand Traverse Pie Company, where you can sample pie made from locally grown cherries. For entertainment, there are two movie theaters, an opera house and the Old Town Playhouse, which features shows by local performers. If fun and games are more your speed, hit up The Coin Slot arcade bar and end your night at the 123 Speakeasy.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Traverse CityTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDTours, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
In addition to its wineries, Traverse City is also known for its many breweries. The city's collection of microbreweries, brewpubs and tap rooms have garnered the city a reputation for producing some top-notch beer. While visiting, you'll have your choice between more than 20 beer spots. If you are unsure of where to start, you can also hop on one of the city's many beer tours or follow the TC Ale Trail.
Some of the city's top-rated beer spots include Rare Bird Brewpub, Right Brain Brewery, Brewery Terra Firma and North Peak Brewing Company, to name a few. If you'd prefer to sample some brews with the help of a local beer enthusiast, consider a tour with Kayak, Bike & Brew or River Outfitters, both of which offer a hybrid tour that combines outdoor recreation with beer tastings. There's also the TC Cycle Pub, which takes visitors on a beer crawl via a six- or fourteen-passenger bikes. For a tour without a workout, you can book a private bus charter with the TC Brew Bus or Grand Traverse Tours. And if you happen to be visiting in November, you can attend the city's annual event dedicated to beer, Traverse City Beer Week.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Traverse CityFree, Hiking, Recreation, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Hiking, Recreation, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
One of the best ways to see Traverse City is via the Traverse Area Recreation Trail, otherwise known as TART. TART is a network of connected, multiuse trails that cover ground in both Grand Traverse County, the nearby Leelanau Peninsula and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore. These trails, which are primarily used for biking, pass through the center of town (Tart in Town trail), along the water and to natural attractions, including Clinch Park and Traverse City State Park (TART). You could also use the TART system to ride through the beautiful wooded areas that can be found along the Boardman Lake Trail, the Boardman River Trail and the Leelanau Trail, the latter of which ends at Suttons Bay, another small, charming lakefront town. Plus, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore also has its own TART trail that covers 20 miles of terrain.
Recent visitors who utilized the TART system had great things to say about this Traverse City asset. People were pleased with how well-maintained and well-marked the trails were. Others remarked that it's important to study up on your chosen trail before you take it on – some travelers were surprised that some trails had very steep inclines while others were disappointed that certain trails weren't scenic enough. Some visitors also noted that trails can get crowded, so be sure to time your ride or hike outside of peak hours. TART doesn't have any set hours and there is no admission fee required to ride along its pathways. For more information on Traverse Area Recreation Trail, visit the official website.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Traverse CityMuseums, Beaches, Parks and Gardens, Historic Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Beaches, Parks and Gardens, Historic Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Visit this 19th-century lighthouse for a taste of history and a little bit of rest and relaxation. The Mission Point Lighthouse enjoys a scenic location on the tip of Old Mission Peninsula, sitting at the water's edge and backed by rows of lush trees. The lighthouse was originally built in the late 1800s after a ship crashed into a coral reef and sank before it could reach the shore. Its good looks and scenic location have been a draw for years, even when keepers still lived there, and the site has been outfitted to accommodate visitor foot traffic with a fence separating the beach from the lighthouse and a pathway to access the water. Today, the site is listed on the National and State Historic Register and visitors can enjoy a self-guided tour and climb to the top for spectacular views of Grand Traverse Bay. Steps away, visitors can also access a small beach with calm waters, as well as hiking trails that lead to woodlands and additional views of the lake.
Recent visitors described the Mission Point Lighthouse as "cute" and the surrounding scenery – including the beach and corresponding views of the lake – as "absolutely beautiful." Others remarked that the drive to get there is pretty spectacular too; on your way up, you'll pass by wineries, estates and more. Travelers did note that the small area can get pretty crowded and that if the tide is high, there isn't much room on the beach for anything other than dipping your toes in the water. Those who ventured inside the lighthouse were fascinated with the information about its history and did note that if you want to climb to the top, you'll have to pay a modest fee.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Traverse CityCafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDCafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Traverse City knows how to repurpose history. The Village at Grand Traverse Commons – originally built in the late 1800s to serve as an asylum – is now a complex that houses local boutiques, restaurants, exercise studios, beauty salons and offices for local businesses. What's more, the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area is easily accessible from The Village and offers visitors 140 acres of trails to traverse.
What visitors will notice pretty quickly about The Village is its striking architecture. The Victorian-Italianate complex served as a resource for healing for its patients. The founding medical superintendent strongly believed that a beautiful environment would help his patients mentally and physically. In addition to beautiful interiors, patients were served meals on china, fresh flowers were placed in common areas and artwork, some featuring inspirational quotes, were hung throughout the former asylum. Plus, each patient's room had a window that allowed plenty of natural light as well as views of the lush grounds.
- View all PhotosBeaches, Free, Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Hiking, Recreation, Shopping, Sightseeing, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Hiking, Recreation, Shopping, Sightseeing, Wineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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