25+ Best Things To Do In Traverse City Michigan

For 8 days in the summer Traverse City transforms into all things cherry and is known as the cherry capital of the world. So, when planning our summer journey through Michigan, I knew that Traverse City and the National Cherry Festival was something we really wanted to do. The festival is 8 days of festival fun and is most definitely one of the best things to do in Traverse City, Michigan in the summer!

Welcome to Traverse City mural located on Front Street

And even if the Cherry Festival isn’t on your itinerary, don’t worry, there are loads of summer activities in the area. In this blog post, you’ll find a list of the 25+ best things to do in Traverse City, Michigan! From cherry festival fun, apple picking, wine tasting, and so much more! Traverse City is a gem of a place, so I hope you love it as much as we do!

Where is Traverse City Michigan

Traverse City is located in the northwest part of the lower peninsula in Michigan near the “ring finger” of the mitten state. It sits on the coast of Lake Michigan and was our first stop during our summer vacation in Michigan.

Best things to do in Traverse City: Downtown

1. Stop by the Traverse City Visitor’s Center

The visitor center is always a great place to start your trip and plan 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 it is very easy to get the information you need. The office is located downtown at 101 West Grandview Parkway just across the street from Clinch Park.

2. Take a Walk Down Front Street

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan
View of Front Street in downtown Traverse City

Front street is the main street in downtown Traverse City. It is a bustling area with lots of unique merchants, including boutique shops, candy, fudge, galleries, restaurants, historical buildings, tourist attractions and the notorious Cherry Republic where all things are cherry.

Front Street is the heart of downtown. It is a beautiful tree lined street full of activity and worth spending some time walking around. You can also walk along the Boardman River as it parallels Front Street in the downtown shopping area. 

3. Visit the Warehouse District

Map of the Warehouse District in Traverse City, Michigan

Another area to explore in downtown Traverse City is the Warehouse District. Historically, this area of town was all warehouses. To date , it has been transformed into apartments, shops, restaurants and breweries.

One of our favorite stops in this area is Hotel Indigo. At Hotel Indigo you can take the elevator up to H & L Social on the 5th floor for some great rooftop views of the West Grand Traverse Bay. There, you can also enjoy a cocktail, grab a bite to eat and see a beautiful water view sunset.

4. See a movie at State Theatre

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan
Inside the historic State Theatre in Traverse City

Historic movie theaters are so cool, and this one really stands out. So if you like movies and unique places then you should really try to see a movie here!

The State Theater has comfortable seats, affordable ticket and concession prices and superior sound. All this 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. So even if you don’t see a movie, you should still peek inside. The interior is stunning!

We saw a movie here and the entire experience was impressive. So if you do go, make sure to 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.

Overall, exploring Front Street is among top things to do in Traverse City. It’s filled with historic treasures, plenty of restaurants, lots of shopping and is conveniently located near the beautiful Grand Traverse Bay.

Best things to do in Traverse City: Beaches & Parks

6. walk around 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 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 is great for families with 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 and 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 Things to Do in Traverse City: Outdoor Activities

10. Bike around Traverse City on the TART Trail

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan
The TART trail that connects to many trails in the Traverse City area

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. Therefore making biking around the city very easy and accessible. You will find the trail is mostly used by bikers although walkers are also welcome.

If you didn’t bring your bike, you can easily rent a bicycle at a local bike shop. We stayed at the campground and enjoyed a few mile bike ride into town most days.

11. Take a tour of the Grand Traverse Commons

The Grand Traverse Commons that once was the Traverse City State Hospital

Grand Traverse Commons, a historic city landmark is the largest preservation and adaptive reuse development underway in the country. The property at one time was home to the Northern Michigan Asylum and then later the Traverse City State Hospital. Where it grew to be a 1000 plus acre self sustained facility.

Today, 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.

12. Sail the bay on Tall Ship Manitou

If you want to get on the water without being the captain of your ship, then the Tall Ship Manitou is a perfect option. They offer 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. Sailing the Grand Traverse Bay aboard this unique ship sailing, is an enjoyable way to spend time on the water.

13. Sample delicious wine on a Wine Tasting Tour

To my surprise, this part of Michigan has many wineries. 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. 

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan
Enjoying our pontoon rental on Torch Lake

Torch Lake is full of activities form boating, kayaking, swimming and hanging out at the sandbar.

We rented a pontoon boat from Torch River Shack and had a wonderful experience. Our pontoon boat 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. Spending the day on Torch Lake was one of our favorite things to do.

Things to do in Traverse City: Old Mission Peninsula

Overlooking the bay at Mission Lighthouse Point in Traverse City

While in Traverse City area, don’t overlook spending 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.

In my opinion, you should at least plan to spend half a day on the peninsula if not the whole day. And while there are many things to see and do, these are some of the highlights of Old Mission Peninsula:

15. Walk to the top of Mission Point Lighthouse

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan
Mission Point Lighthouse stairs down to the beach

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.

Here you can enjoy a stroll on the beach, walk the surrounding park or pay a small fee to see the lighthouse museum. There you can walk up to the 2nd floor to enjoy the lighthouse views. And if you are interested they even have a lighthouse keepers program where you can work and stay at the lighthouse.

16. Sip on wine with a view

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan
Enjoying a glass of wine at Bonobo Winery with a view

Old Mission Peninsula is home to over 10 wineries. All where you can sample, purchase and learn about their production. And most offering stunning views while sipping on some delightful wine.

The wineries range in both structure and landscape from restored buildings to modern architecture with garden, hilltop or lake views.

Some of the most popular wineries include Brys Estate Vineyard, Chateau Chantal and Mari Vineyards. However there are many more to experience. And every winery offers a different experience including tasting flights, glass pours, lite bites, and some offering full wine pairing dinners.

Things to do in Traverse City Michigan
Hanging out at the Bonobo Winery

One of our stops included Bonobo Winery where we enjoyed a lovely rose. And it was served in souvenir wine glasses that we still use to this day.

Another stop was at Bryns Estate. Here we didn’t have wine , we just walked through their lavender fields. It was a beautiful experience, and if the lavender is in bloom, you should stop here too.

17. Simple Fun at a U-Pick Farm

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan
Picking cherries at a U Pick farm on Old Mission Peninsula

From cherry orchards to lavender botanic gardens to lush flowers gardens – take your pick! There are U-Pick options throughout the peninsula.

You can pick cherries from the trees (as this is the cherry capital of the world). Or you can cut fresh lavender from the field. And you can also get creative and cut flowers from the garden and make a beautiful arrangement.

These u pick experiences are something so simple, yet so much fun. We did them all and I would highly suggest you try a few too. You at least must pick some cherries if in season.

Other Great Traverse City Activities and Things To Do

18. Dennos Museum Center

The Dennos Museum Center is a cultural experience with an art gallery and museum located on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College.

It’s a premier cultural facility featuring rotating exhibitions of Modern and Contemporary Art. There, you can 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’re 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 us all! Even though the museum was designed for children from ages 1 to 10, it is enjoyable for all ages. There is also 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

For all the gamblers out there, Turtle Creek Casino is only 15 minutes from downtown Traverse City and is a top destination for Midwest gaming. So, if you’re 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 also 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. So make your reservations in advance to get some time on the course. And get ready to practice that swing.

22. Explore the beauty of Leelanau Peninsula

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan

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.

This area has so much to see and do, you could spend 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 activities involving beautiful views of Lake Michigan all along the way.

On the Leelanau Peninsula you can expect to find hiking trails, vineyards, small towns, a delicious restaurants and a beautiful sunset. So try to include a stop on the Leelanau Peninusala during your visit.

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. Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore view from Empire Bluff Trail

Sleeping Bear is located only 40 minutes from downtown Traverse City. This beautiful place is a must see when you visit the area. You will be blown away by the color of the water and all the fun things to do. Some of the activities 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, however I would consider its difficulty moderately 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. Although 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!
best things to do in Traverse City Michigan
Sitting down on the steep Dune Trail

24. Visit the Iconic Mackinac Island

Yes, it would be a long day, however, 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.

Enjoying the views from the porch of The Grand Hotel

Mackinac Island is located on 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, horse and buggy. It is considered to be the “all natural” theme park of America. And there is no other place like it on earth!

Festivals in Traverse City

25. National Cherry Festival

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan

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. And 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. However, the charm of the Traverse City is what keeps you coming back. https://www.cherryfestival.org/

26. Traverse City Film Festival

best things to do in Traverse City Michigan

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.

Conclusion about Traverse City

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, however the town offers so much more!

After spending 10 days in Traverse City, I am happy 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 beyond exceeded our expectations.

There is so much to see and do 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. So, I hope this list of 25+ best things to do in Traverse City Michigan will help you plan a fantastic vacation.

To answer the question: Is Traverse City worth visiting? Yes, we definitely think so!

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