Top Things to Do in the Traverse City, Michigan, Area | Midwest Living

Top Things to Do in the Traverse City, Michigan, Area

Paddleboarding, biking, sailing and dune-climbing are just some of the things to do in the Traverse City area. Wineries, high-end restaurants and activity-filled resorts keep days busy, too. Check out our guide to what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Traverse City area.

When you pack your bags for this region, include your sense of adventure. Lively experiences—wine-country tours by bike, pub crawls by water and summer camp for grown-ups—color escapes. No matter what direction you head, a visit to the Lake Michigan harbor town of Traverse City and its neighbors broadens your horizons. 

Traverse City

Paddleboarding on Traverse City's Boardman River


Art and Soul Gallery Dog prints, pottery, oil landscapes, handblown glass and more local art fill the gallery on downtown’s Front Street.

Beaches Spend a day in the sun at one of the city’s six public sandy spots. Popular Clinch Park, with picnic tables and a snack bar, sits downtown.

Brick Wheels In addition to rental bicycles, snowshoes and skis, you can shop for new gear, get repairs, or ask for info on recreational areas and sporting events. In Traverse City.

Crystal River Outfitters Rent a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard and explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore via the meandering Crystal River.

Dennos Museum Center On the Northwestern Michigan College campus, the center’s collection includes 1,000 pieces of Inuit art. 

Dennos Museum Center

Dennos Museum Center

Fishtown The working waterfront—one of the few unmodernized fishing villages on the Great Lakes—also houses galleries, cafes and boutiques in Leland, about 25 miles northwest of Traverse City.

Grand Traverse Bike Tours Join bike tours through the vineyards of the Leelanau Peninsula or over trails leading to breweries.

Interlochen Center for the Arts Sign up for classes at the College for Creative Arts (think summer camp for grown-ups). Workshops cover topics such as painting, mystery writing and fingerstyle guitar playing.

Little Traverse Wheelway Life eases to a slow pedal along the family-friendly, 23-mile trail linking Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs. The paved path hugs the Lake Michigan shore for panoramas of sparkling blue water and for opportunities to stop and explore the shore.

The River The outfitter rents gear (bicycles, stand-up paddleboards, tubes, and kayaks) and arranges tours. One option: KaBrew, which combines biking, kayaking and pub-visiting for a fun afternoon along the Boardman River.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Lake Michigan sparkles below sand dunes and bluffs in this 35-mile-long park (26 miles northwest of Traverse City). Explore by driving, hiking, biking or paddling. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak Rent boards, kayaks or bikes in Empire. Aspiring surfers can take 11/2-hour lessons at Empire’s beach.

State Theatre Filmmaker and founder of the Traverse City Film Festival (July 30–August 4, 2019) Michael Moore was one of the contributors who helped reopen the 1916 theater. Look for 25-cent kids’ matinees.

Traverse Tall Ship Company Crew members invite passengers to try hoisting the sails on the Manitou, a 114-foot replica schooner. But there’s plenty of time to relax over snacks and drinks during the two-hour cruise.

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons Restaurants, an art gallery, boutique shops and wine tasting rooms fill what was originally built as a state hospital in 1885.

Warehouse MRKT Boutiques share the renovated warehouse space with a coffee shop, restaurant and fitness studio. At Darling Botanical, shop for innovative container plants, or build your own terrarium.

Wineries Wine trails on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas connect nearly 40 wineries. We especially love Chateau Chantal and 2 Lads Winery, both with great bay views., 


Aerie Restaurant and Lounge On the 16th floor, a wall of windows overlooks Grand Traverse Bay. The food (such as salmon with poached apples) matches the quality of the Grand Traverse Resort.

Amical The menu at this Traverse City bistro changes seasonally, but savory tomato soup served under a puff pastry shell is always available.

Chandler’s Restaurant This cozy little Up North restaurant is good for exquisite grilled four-cheese sandwiches, sushi and everything in between.

The Cooks’ House Chefs work with Michigan farmers and producers to procure ingredients for meals in a simple wood-frame house. The Cooks' House on Facebook

The Cove When you’re in Leland, try the Cove’s secret-recipe seafood chowder (made with shrimp and clams) and a surprisingly delicious Chubby Mary—a bloody mary garnished with a smoked chub.

The Franklin Ask for a rooftop table to see the bay in the distance at this upscale East Front Street restaurant; its big sister is Trattoria Stella. The Franklin on Facebook

Georgina’s Asian- and Latin-influenced dishes bring a world of flavors to diners at a casual spot downtown.

Grand Traverse Pie Company Michigan Montmorency cherries fill the top-selling cherry crumb pie.

Grand Traverse Pie Company

Grand Traverse Pie Company

Higher Grounds Coffee Bar and Roastery Sip on organic, fair-trade coffee (bonus points if you bring your own mug). Reserve a spot for free tours and comparative tastings on Fridays.

The Little Fleet Food trucks surround an open-air beer garden and bar along East Front Street.

Mama Lu’s Modern takes on tacos cost just $4; try a couple with a mango margarita or beer cocktail.

Martha’s Leelanau Table Everything on the menu at this Suttons Bay (15 miles north of Traverse City) cafe is made from scratch. Try the Leelanau raclette, which you can order as a fondue.

Moomers Homemade Ice Cream Next to a dairy farm, Moomers makes more than 100 varieties of premium ice cream every season.

Morsels Espresso and Edibles Smooth coffee (Intelligentsia), $1 bite-size tastes (cakes, cookies, brownies and scones) and river views start the day.

Slabtown Burgers Picnic on a lunch in a paper sack, or stay inside for burgers and wraps.

Spanglish Even the basics—chips, salsa, guacamole—win raves at this colorful cafe. On nice days, eat at one of the picnic tables outside.

Trattoria Stella Stone arches shelter diners enjoying traditional Italian cuisine in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Trattoria Stella on Facebook

Trattoria Stella

Trattoria Stella

Underground Cheesecake Company The most fun item on the menu is cheesecake on a stick, but purists will enjoy the traditional offerings as well. In Traverse City.

Where to stay

Boyne Mountain This sprawling resort in Boyne Falls offers a variety of lodging and recreation options, including ziplines and an indoor water park.

Chateau Chantal Eleven rooms and suites look out on East and West Grand Traverse bays or vineyards producing the wines served in the tasting room on the Old Mission Peninsula.

Crystal Mountain Active families come to the Thompsonville resort to ski, hike and golf—then recover at the spa. 

The Homestead This laid-back retreat in Glen Arbor makes an ideal base for exploring neighboring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Hotel Indigo Unwind on a rooftop patio overlooking the bay, then retire to a room where accents such as sawtooth-shape mirrors reflect local logging heritage.

Tamarack Lodge Guests staying in these 29 luxury condos along East Grand Traverse Bay participate in beach bonfires, movie nights and wine tastings.

For information: Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau
Charlevoix Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce
Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

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