Highlights of Michigan's Traverse Area | Midwest Living

Highlights of Michigan's Traverse Area

Beautiful beaches and other recreation opportunities draw vacationers to Grand Traverse and Little Traverse bays.

Traverse area attractions

For more than 100 years, the landscape along the northern shore of Lake Michigan has drawn vacationers with its glittering inland lakes, band of golden sand dunes and Caribbean-like expanse of Lake Michigan.

Today, Traverse City (population: 14,532) is the hub, but the considerably smaller towns of Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs all provide great vacation stops, too. Click ahead to find out about some of our favorite attractions in the Traverse area, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (pictured).

Click here to see our 60-Second Photo Tour of Traverse City

Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau

Charlevoix Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce

Winery tours

Vineyards flourish on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas, just outside Traverse City. Find trail maps online, and stop in for tastings or tours at 20-plus wineries (lpwines.com and wineriesofoldmission.com). One of our favorites is Two Lads Winery on Old Mission Peninsula (231/223-7722; 2lwinery.com). Pictured: Willow Vineyards in Suttons Bay (231/271-4810l traversebiz.com/willow).

Leelanau Peninsula Wineries and Wine Trail

Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula

National Cherry Festival

Cherries rule in Traverse City, where this summertime festival has celebrated the local bounty since 1926. Lake Michigan makes a sweeping backdrop for storybook small-town moments: a cherry-pit-spitting contest, pie make-and-bake, 15K race, live music, parades, fireworks, the National Cherry Queen coronation and more. In early July (800/968-3380; cherryfestival.org).

National Cherry Festival

Traverse City's food scene

If Disney World had a Foodland, it might look a little like Traverse City. Too-cute-to-be-true storefronts line downtown's Front Street. Kids lick American Spoon Foods gelato (888/735-6700; spoon.com), and tourists graze on cherry-flavor everything at Cherry Republic (800/206-6949; cherryrepublic.com).

The small farmers market is a tableau of gorgeous produce. Farm-fresh food headlines most menus—a sampler at Trattoria Stella (pictured; 231-929-8989; stellatc.com) or raclette cheese at Martha's Leelanau Table (231/271-2344; marthasleelanautable.com). Lake Michigan glitters, orchards blanket the hills, and everyone talks--no, gushes--about the food.

60-Second Video: Traverse City

Take a peek at what makes Traverse City a top foodie getaway—great wineries, eateries and attractions.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

As if the name wasn't enticing enough, these 400-foot-tall sand dunes are also truly gorgeous. The 35-mile lakeshore includes North and South Manitou islands, accessible by ferry from Leland (26 miles northwest of Traverse City). Visitors can climb the dunes, enjoy the overlooks or explore a restored logging village (231/326-5134; nps.gov/slbe).

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Bike trails

Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trail This system encompasses 11 paved miles for walking and biking along Grand Traverse Bay and connects to other nearby trail systems (231/941-4300; traversetrails.org).

Little Traverse Wheelway A 26-mile paved bicycle and jogging trail traces the shore of Little Traverse Bay (231/348-8280; trailscouncil.org).

Didn't bring wheels? Brick Wheels in Traverse City rents bicycles; you can also shop for new gear, get repairs, or ask for info on local recreational areas and sporting events (231/947-4274; brickwheels.com).

Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trail

Little Traverse Wheelway

Brick Wheels

Clinch Park Beach

You'll find public beaches all along the shore, but this 1,500-foot beach and marina is particularly convenient, just a couple blocks from downtown Traverse City. Tall ships bob on Grand Traverse Bay, a train chugs past the parking lot and carefully tended flowerbeds border the soft sand (800/872-8377; traversecity.com).

Clinch Park Beach/Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau

Dennos Museum Center

On the Northwestern Michigan College campus in Traverse City, exhibits include an extensive collection of Inuit art as well as contemporary works by Michigan artists (231/995-1055; dennosmuseum.org).

Dennos Museum Center

Tall ship Manitou

Visitors sail aboard a two-masted schooner, a replica of an 1800s ship, on West Grand Traverse Bay. Two-hour theme cruises include ice cream, microbrew tastings, wine-tasting and evening picnics (800/678-0383; tallshipsailing.com).

Traverse Tall Ship Company


Some of Michigan's most impressive golf courses attract players to the Traverse area. These include Bay Harbor Golf Club, known as the Pebble Beach of the Midwest (231/439-4085; bayharborgolf.com), and The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (pictured; 800/236-1577; grandtraverseresort.com). The aptly named Jack Nicklaus layout started the golf boom here more than two decades ago.

Bay Harbor Golf Club

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

Cherry Bowl Drive-In

For a time-warp trip and an affordable double feature of current-run movies, take a 35-minute drive out of Traverse City to the Cherry Bowl Drive-In. Open seasonally, it promises good clean fun for all ages. (The owner even trolls the parking lot to keep an eye on frisky teens.) The diner sells popcorn made in the original 1953 popper and topped with real butter (231/325-3413; cherrybowldrivein.com).

Cherry Bowl Drive-In

Little Traverse Bay towns

Sixty miles north of Traverse City, travelers will find a mellow atmosphere in Little Traverse Bay. Charlevoix, Petoskey (pictured) and Harbor Springs all have beaches, but their biggest draws are charming downtowns lined with upscale shops, galleries and restaurants.

When the lift bridge rises and blocks passage through Charlevoix, drivers park and browse along Bridge Street. Petoskey's six-block Gaslight Shopping District catered to 1890s steamship passenger; today, its stores stock resort wear, home accessories and works by local artists. Harbor Springs retains a gracious air; guests at Stafford's Pier restaurant can gaze at the classic wooden boat The Pointer, which once ferried wealthy summer residents to their mansions.

Charlevoix Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau


Beaver Island

A two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Charlevoix carries visitors northwest across the lake to an island as relaxed as any in the Caribbean. Bicycles and in-line skaters cruise Main Street in St. James, the only town and home to about a dozen shops. This remote island has a proud Irish heritage, nearly empty beaches and great biking (888/446-4095; bibco.com).

Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce

Read about Midwest Living's trip to Beaver Island

Winter adventures

Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and walking along the shore of frozen Lake Michigan are some of the activities that draw adventuresome tourists to the Traverse area in winter.

Among popular options: Crystal Mountain, 30 miles southwest of Traverse City. Founded in 1956 as a community ski area, the mountain now is home to Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa. Ski out the back door of Alpine village-style lodging (800/968-7686; crystalmountain.com).

Sprawling Boyne Mountain resort, 60 miles northeast of Traverse City, also offers a host of lodging and recreation options, including skiing, dog sledding and snowshoeing (800/462-6963; boyne.com).

Crystal Mountain

Boyne Mountain

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