Life’s a bowl of cherries in Traverse City (the cherry capital of the world) , where the sandy soil creates ideal growing conditions for the region’s signature crop. Acres of gorgeous orchards populate the rolling terrain to complement bay waters crystal-blue enough to rival the Caribbean. Add in a charming collection of shops and restaurants, year-round outdoor recreation, wineries and fun community festivals, and you’ve got all the makings of a perfect Up North getaway. Here are 10 things visitors should put on their Traverse City to-do lists.
Stuff Yourself With Cherries
Sweet and tart cherries make appearances on local menus in all sorts of recipes including salads, cocktails, ice cream, sauces, entrees and desserts in Traverse City. The annual Blessing of the Blossoms kicks off each growing season in May, culminating in the week-long National Cherry Festival in July (attracting some 500,000 attendees annually!). However, visitors can savor jams, salsas, sodas, candies and other fruit-based products all year at Cherry Republic, a gourmet gift store with three Michigan locations. And don’t even think about leaving town without popping in Grand Traverse Pie Company for a slice.
Get Your Feet Wet
At 19 miles long, Old Mission Peninsula splits Grand Traverse into East Bay and West Bay, with both bays perfect for sailing, fishing, surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling and parasailing in startlingly clear waters. Catch some rays while the kids build sandcastles and splash around at Clinch Park Beach. Or, commandeer a kayak for a leisurely paddle on the Boardman River. At the northernmost tip of the peninsula, Old Mission Lighthouse offers intriguing insight into Traverse City’s maritime history, and some great photo ops.
Sip a Little Vino at a Michigan Vineyard
The same 45th Parallel terroir that feeds the region’s cherry production also lends itself well to grape growing that results in a thriving wine industry. According to the Michigan Craft Beverage Council, Michigan wineries bottle more than 2.7 million gallons of product each year; the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula represent two of five federally approved American Viticultural Areas, producing 55% of the state’s wine grapes. Visitors can sign up for guided wine tours, or pop in and out of several dozen wineries to sample the wares at will. Just remember, tasting room hours may be limited during the off season.
Marvel at Mother Nature
Required “Up North” viewing, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sits 25 miles west of Traverse City on the shores of Lake Michigan. Plan on spending the better part of a day there to drink in breathtaking views from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive outlooks, tackle the Dune Climb challenge, journey along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, and explore the charming Glen Haven Historic Village and the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.
Belly Up to the Bar
Traverse City Whiskey Co. makes its hometown proud with unique interpretations of the area’s signature product — namely, American cherry whiskey and its own line of gourmet cocktail cherries. (The distillery team also produces bourbon, rye and gin.) Owner Chris Fredrickson hails from a cherry farming family that goes back several generations; the discovery of his great-grandfather’s old distilling patents inspired him to launch the award-winning operation in 2012. Guests can order flights and cocktails at the Stillhouse bar or stop by the production building for a behind-the-scenes tour. The company breaks ground this summer on an expansive new experiential facility including warehouse space, a visitor center and on-site lodging to open next year.
Feast on Food Truck Cuisine
Hungry? Make your way to the Little Fleet at the corner of Front Street and Wellington, a stationary collection of a half dozen or so food trucks with indoor/outdoor seating, a full-service bar and live music. Vendors may vary on any given night, but it’s a safe bet to expect they’ll be plating up tasty eats like street tacos, chicken sandwiches, sushi, frozen custard, curry and barbecue to consider.
Catch a Movie at a Historic Theater
Traverse City resident and filmmaker Michael Moore was the driving force behind renovations of the historic State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay, both ideal spots to take in an art-house flick, classic film screening or modern-day blockbuster. Moore also founded the Traverse City Film Festival in 2005, attracting scores of movie buffs from around the globe each summer.
Explore One-Stop Shopping and Dining
A former psychiatric asylum may not sound like somewhere you’d voluntarily choose to go, but the Village at Grand Traverse Commons has completely reimagined a handsome set of Victorian-Italianate buildings constructed in the 1880s as a contemporary mixed-use development for shopping, dining and residential living. After ambitious adaptive reuse endeavors, the preserved historic grounds now offer hiking trails, a botanical garden, restaurants and cafes, art galleries, craft beer, boutique shops and local wine. Narrated walking tours are a good way to get the lay of the land; more adventurous guests should make sure to check out the eerie network of tunnels that runs beneath the property.
Appreciate Inuit Art and Culture
The Dennos Museum Center on the Northwestern Michigan College campus curates one of the largest permanent collections of Inuit art in the country, along with other world-class exhibits, galleries and programming. Created by an indigenous Inuit tribe from the Canadian Arctic region, the pieces on display include fascinating prints, sculptures, stone carvings and more.
Hit the Trail
The Tart Trail network maintains eight multi-use paths for biking, jogging and walking, connecting to more than 100 miles of regional trails through some of the most scenic territory in the state. The nearly 10-mile paved leg that skirts East Bay and West Bay provides convenient access to Clinch Park, West End Beach and Traverse City State Park, with bikes and in-line skates available to rent along the way.