Did you know that Traverse City Michigan is considered the cherry capital of the world? So while planning our summer in Michigan, I knew that Traverse City and the National Cherry Festival was something I really wanted to do. The festival is 8 days of all things cherry: from festival activities, fireworks, concerts, the Blue Angels air show and so much more. Traverse City, located in the north west part of the lower peninsula was the first stop on our “Michigan Summer Experience” and not having been up to Michigan before we were excited to visit the “mitten” state.
And happily to say Traverse City ended up being even better than we thought it would. From The National Cherry Festival, cherry picking on the Old Mission Peninsula, shopping on Front Street and the beautiful blue water of Torch Lake, Traverse City exceeded our expectations. So I put together this great list of the 25+ best things to do in Traverse City, Michigan! I hope you visit and love it as much as we do!
1. Stop by the Traverse City Visitor’s Center
The visitor center is always a great place to start the trip and plan out your activities. It helps you become familiar with the city layout and how to best plan your time to make the most of your vacation. The Traverse City visitor center even has a walk up window and 30 minute parking, so its very easy to get the information you need and its located downtown at 101 West Grandview Parkway just across the street from Clinch Park.
Best Things to Do In Traverse City – Downtown
2. Take a Walk Down Front Street
Front street in downtown Traverse City is a bustling areas with lots of unique merchants, including boutique shops, candy, fudge, galleries, restaurants, historical buildings, tourist attractions and Cherry Republic where all things are cherry. Front Street is a beautiful tree lined street full of activity and worth spending some time walking around, as it is the heart of downtown. You can also take a short walk along the Boardman River as it parallels Front Street in part of the downtown shopping area.
3. Visit the Warehouse District
Explore the area in downtown Traverse City that was all warehouses at one point. The city has grown a lot, and this area has been transformed into apartments, shops, restaurants and breweries. A must stop in this area is the Hotel Indigo. Take the Hotel Indigo elevator up to H & L Social on the 5th floor for some great rooftop views of the West Grand Traverse Bay. You can enjoy a cocktail, grab a bite to eat and see a beautiful water view and sunset.
4. See a movie at State Theatre
If there is a movie playing at State Theatre that you would like to see, then you should definitely go! The State Theater has comfortable seats, affordable ticket and concession prices and superior sound. And with the old theatre feel, there’s no question why it was listed as the #1 movie theatre in the world by the Motion Picture Association of America. The theatre is conveniently located on Front Street and even if you don’t see a movie, you should still peek inside. The interior is stunning and was impressive. If you do see a movie there, then check out the balcony seating located upstairs. You can find movie times here: https://stateandbijou.org/
5. Stop by the Historic City Opera House
Also located on Front Street is one of only seven remaining historic opera houses built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And of those remaining, this is the only playhouse featuring professional national touring artists. The City Opera House was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1972. And to date, it remains a destination of quality arts and cultural entertainment.
After you walk around Front Street and enjoy some of the best things to downtown Traverse City, you can head over to the water and take in the beauty of Grand Traverse Bay.
Traverse City Beaches and Parks to visit
6. Enjoy the Views at Clinch Park and Beach
Clinch Park and Beach is the closet park to Front Street and the Visitor Center. It has a large open space park with a great water views and picnic areas. It is also the location of the National Cherry Festival. The park is a 2 mile stretch of land on West Traverse Bay. It has a large beach, concession and splash pad. It is also part of the city’s municipal marina where you can see some beautiful boats and yachts. The park is also part of the TART trail connecting you to the surrounding area with miles of biking trails.
7. Play Volleyball at West End Beach
West End Beach is located just west of Clinch Park on West Traverse Bay. It is a large bay front park and beach with parking and restrooms. It’s a social beach with multiple sand volley ball courts ad grassy areas for throwing the frisbee. Leashed dogs are allowed at the far west area of the park but not on the beach.
8. Going Swimming at Bryant Park Beach
Bryant Park Beach is also located on West Traverse Bay but closer to Old Mission Peninsula. It is a large sandy beach with shallow water, making it great for swimming. It is a beach destination for locals and visitors. The park has a shaded grassy area and a play structure, therefore making it a great park for the whole family.
9. Traverse City State Park
Traverse City State Park is a large popular beach located on East Traverse Bay with a quarter mile of sandy beach. It offers parking and restrooms. And is Located across the street form the Traverse City State Park Campground. The pedestrian bridge makes it easy to access from the campground and this beach is great for both locals and visitors.
Best Outdoor Activities in Traverse City
10. Bike around Traverse City on the TART Trail
The TART Trail (Traverse Area Recreation Trail) is a 10.5 mile long paved bike trail that runs from Bates Road in Acme, to Carter Rd in Traverse City. The trail lets you easily connect to downtown Traverse City from surrounding areas including resorts, shops, restaurants, marina and the Traverse City State Park Campground. It also connects to numerous trails including Boardman Lake Trail, Three Mile Trail, and the Leelanau Trail, making biking around the city very easy and accessible. You will find the trail is mostly used by bikers but walkers are also welcome. And you can easily rent a bicycle at a local bike shop if you didn’t bring one.
11. Take a tour of the Grand Traverse Commons
You can spend a few hours exploring Grand Traverse Commons. This historic city landmark is the largest preservation and adaptive reuse development underway in the country. The property was at one time home to the Northern Michigan Asylum and then later the Traverse City State Hospital. It grew to be a 1000 plus acre self sustained facility. You can tour the historic property and the underground brick steam tunnel. At Grand Traverse Commons you can spend time shopping, dinning, and exploring. The area has become a live, work and stay community, with condos, office space and also vacation rentals. https://www.thevillagetc.com/
12. Sail around on Tall Ship Manitou
If you want to get out on the water without being the captain of your ship, then the Tall Ship Manitou is a perfect option. You can book all kinds of sailing tours from brunch to ice cream, evening, dinner, and entertainment sails and cruises on this replica of an 1800’s “coasting” cargo schooner. The ship has a 58 passenger capacity so there is plenty of room to move around and relax. So go enjoy some time on the water on this unique ship sailing the Grand Traverse Bay.
13. Sample Wine on a Wine Tasting Tour
A wine tasting tour with the beautiful weather in the summer can definitely be an outside activity. You can visit the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail or the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula to sample some great wines of the Traverse Wine Coast. Your visit can be a self guided tour or let one of Traverse City’s Wine tour operators show you around. Either way you will have a wonderful day sipping wines with a beautiful view.
14. Enjoy the Turquoise Blue Water of Torch Lake
You have to see if to believe it. Famous for its sandbars and turquoise blue water. Torch Lake was recognized as the 3rd most beautiful lake in the world by National Geographic. The lake stretches 19 miles and is the longest inland lake in Michigan. You can spend a day on the water by renting a pontoon boat. We used Torch River Shack and had a wonderful experience. The pontoon was brand new and the staff was great. You can pack your own lunch or park at the sandbar and grab some food at the floating concession and snack bar. It makes for a wonderful day on the Caribbean blue water on Torch Lake.
A Day on Old Mission Peninsula
While in Traverse City area, don’t overlook spending some time on Old Mission Peninsula. Located between east and west grand traverse bay. This 19 mile long peninsula is filled with scenic hilltop and picturesque water views, wineries, farm stands, restaurants and the Mission Point Lighthouse. So plan to spend at least a few hours on the peninsula if not most of the day. While there are many things to see and do, these are some of the highlights of Old Mission Peninsula:
15. Walk up to the top of Mission Point Lighthouse
At the northern tip of the Old Mission Peninsula you will find the Mission Point Lighthouse. Located on the 45th parallel, this lighthouse sits halfway between the equator and the north pole. So take some time and enjoy a stroll on the beach, enjoy the park or pay a small fee to see the lighthouse museum and walk up to the 2nd floor to see the lighthouse views. And if you are interested they even have a lighthouse keepers program where you can work stay at the lighthouse. https://www.missionpointlighthouse.com/
16. Sip some wine with a view
There are over 10 wineries located on Old Mission Peninsula where you can visit their tasting room. Most offering stunning views while sipping on some delightful wine. The wineries range in views and structure from restored buildings to modern architecture with garden and hilltop water views. Some of the most popular wineries include Brys Estate Vineyard, Chateau Chantal, Mari Vineyards bur there are many more to experience. Some wineries offer tasting flights, by the glass pours, lite bites to full wine pairing dinners.
17. Simple Fun at a U-Pick Farm
From cherry orchards to lavender botanic gardens to lush flowers gardens – take your pick! No literally, you have the option to pick your cherries from the tree (as this is the cherry capital of the world) or cut lavender fresh from the field or get creative and select your flowers from the garden and make a beautiful arrangement. These u pick experiences are something so simple, yet so much fun. so I would highly suggest at least picking some cherries.
Blog Post Coming Soon: Best Things to See On Old Mission Peninsula!
Other Great Traverse City Activities and Things To Do
18. Dennos Museum Center
The Dennos Museum Center is an art gallery and museum located on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College. Its’ a premier cultural facility featuring rotating exhibitions of Modern and Contemporary Art. You can also see events and concerts at the Milliken Auditorium and the museum store offers great gifts for the art collector.
19. Peak your curiosity at Great Lakes Children’s Museum
If you are traveling with children, then the Great Lakes Children’s Museum should be on your travel list. This interactive, hands on educational experience will peak the curiosity of all! Even though the museum was designed for children from ages 1 to 10, it is enjoyable for all ages. There is even a special area for toddlers and their caregivers. Just make sure you plan to stay a minimum of 1.5 hours to enjoy the museum.
20. Test your luck at Turtle Creek Casino
Turtle Creek Casino is only 15 minutes from downtown Traverse City and is a top destination for Midwest gaming. So if you are feeling lucky and a little gambling is on your mind, then you should head over to the 56,000 square foot gaming playground. You will find video poker, craps, blackjack, roulette, the latest slots and more! With the big Turtle Creek Casino sign, it’s very easy to find.
21. It’s tee time in Traverse City
And if golfing rather than gambling is your thing, then you are in luck! There are so many beautiful and some award winning courses to play in the Traverse City area. From Crystal Mountain to the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa up to Antrim Dells Golf Resort and everything in between, you will be sure to get some time on the course, so practice that swing.
22. Explore the beauty of Leelanau Peninsula
The Leelanau Peninsula is home to Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes and was voted many years ago as one of the most beautiful places in America. The peninsula is referred to as the “little finger” of the mitten state. You could spend a few hours up to a few days exploring the peninsula. From Sleeping Bear Dunes, Leelanau Wine Trail, The Grand Traverse Lighthouse and Leelanau State Park, your day will be filled with beautiful views of Lake Michigan. Along with hiking trails, drinking wine, a strolling through small towns, a delicious meal and a beautiful sunset, the Leelanau Peninusala has much to offer.
Day Trips From Traverse City
If you like tea, then you can stop at Light of Day Organic Farm on the way to Sleeping Bear Dunes. It is Michigan’s only organic and biodynamic tea farm. They offer a pop up retail shop Wednesday to Sunday. Unfortunately the property tours are no longer available so you are not able to walk around. They do however have special events and tea consultation and classes for the tea enthusiast.
23. Enjoy a day at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear is located only 40 minutes from downtown TraverseCity. This beautiful place is a must see when you visit the area. You could spend a few hours or the entire day exploring the park. But the things you don’t want to miss are:
- The Empire Bluff Trail – a 1.5 mile trail which leads you to a beautiful overlook of the sand dunes. The trail is not long, but would consider its difficulty moderate to hard due to the elevation changes. There is a bench just past the half way point offering a nice view before the trail gets difficult if you want to give it a try.
- Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive – A 7 mile loop drive. Just don’t miss the Lake Michigan Overlook stop. It is the best part. There you can see how steep the dunes really are and climb down and back up if you dare.
- The Dune Climb – For the adventurous at heart. But you can just watch too. Take plenty of water if you decide to climb it, because it may take you 3 to 4 hours to complete.
- Glen Haven Historic Village – At the village you can see the maritime museum that has numerous boats on display and also see other historic buildings.
- Town of Glen Arbor – This cute town is a great place to grab a late lunch or some ice cream and walk around the shops. And don’t miss the Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, it is all things cherry!
24. Visit the Iconic Mackinac Island
Yes, it would be a long day, but if you make it up this far north then you need to see Mackinac Island. It was just voted in 2022 as the Best Island in the Continental United States by Travel & Leisure Magazine. Mackinac is located in Lake Huron between the upper and lower peninsula. It can only be accessed ferry or plane and there are no motorized vehicles on the island, just bicycles and horse and buggy. It is considered to be the “all natural” theme park of America.
Festivals in Traverse City
25. National Cherry Festival
The National Cherry Festival is an annual event full of cherries and family fun! The event was originally created to celebrate the areas abundant cherry crops. From that day it has become a long standing festival where you can enjoy live music, air shows, farmers markets, pie eating contests, races, pageants, orchard tours and so much more. The festival brings thousands of people to the area during this time. But the charm of the Traverse City is what keeps you coming back. https://www.cherryfestival.org/
26. Traverse City Film Festival
The Traverse City Film Festival is an annual film festival held in late July or early August. The festival was created in 2005 by founder Michael Moore. It brings filmmakers from around the world to Northern Michigan playing films around the city at many theatre locations. https://www.traversecityfilmfest.org/
27. Northwestern Michigan Fair
The Northwestern Michigan Fair is held in mid-August. This fair has been running since 1908 with the purpose to promote Michigan agriculture, horticulture, fruit and grain products, dairy products and more throughout the Grand Traverse Region.
28. Spring Beer Festival in Traverse City
Only in its 3rd year, the annual Spring Beer Festival is a way to support Michigan beer. The event features hundreds of beers from local Michigan breweries. With food also available for purchase.
So, Is Traverse City Worth Visiting?
This was our first time visiting Michigan and we absolutely loved it! The National Cherry Festival was our initial draw to Traverse City and reason for visiting but the town offers so much more! From festivals, Front Street, the TART trail, Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, Torch Lake, State Theatre and the list goes on. Traverse City is loaded with so many great activities. I hope this 25+ best things to do In Traverse City Michigan travel guide will help you plan a fantastic vacation.
So, to answer the question: Is Traverse City worth visiting? Yes, we definitely think so!
Please comment and share if you know someone who would like to visit!