Discovering Lake Michigan Beauty in Traverse City
Nestled along the shores of Grand Traverse Bay in the northern reaches of the southern peninsula of Michigan is Traverse City, a hamlet situated amongst rolling hills, vineyards, and the beautiful blue waters of Lake Michigan. Traverse City has long been known as a four-seasons destination for Midwesterners, but it holds special surprises for visitors from outside the region who are only now discovering the beauty of the cherry capital of the world.
Traverse City has made a number of “best of” lists in recent years, from top foodie spots in the United States to lists for craft beer and beautiful beaches. The region’s location—near the 45th parallel, halfway between the North Pole and the equator—and temperate conditions thanks to nearby Lake Michigan make it a prime location for produce and growing grapes. That’s why Traverse City has an abundance of farm-to-table restaurants, inventive cuisine, and more than 40 wineries within an hour’s drive of downtown.
Still not sold on visiting Traverse City? Maybe the Caribbean-esque beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, miles and miles of biking and running trails, or a downtown full of shopping will have you reconsidering a visit to Michigan.
It all starts at the shore. Without the beautiful Grand Traverse Bay, where the Boardman River gently empties after winding through the city, there might not be a Traverse City. The river was once used to float logs cut upstream out to the bay to be shipped around the world. Today, the Boardman gently floats through a downtown that is full of boutiques, exquisite restaurants and bars, breweries, coffee shops, and people strolling the tree-lined streets to enjoy it all.
Downtown Traverse City is a big attraction in itself, but just a small part of the overall package that is Traverse City. If Traverse City was on an island, I’d be happy with the dining, relaxing, exercise trails, lake views, shopping, and wine- and beer-tasting it provides. But when visiting Traverse City, the region that includes the Leelanau and Mission peninsulas, surrounding lakes and the beautiful coastline along Lake Michigan make this a beautiful destination that travelers will find an abundance of fun.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore might be one of the most beautiful spots in Middle America. The blue water that gently laps against the tall sand dunes seems more like something seen in the Caribbean. There are beaches to dip your toes into the cool blue water, but Sleeping Bear Dunes also provides plenty of hiking opportunities and vantage points to enjoy the beautiful views over Lake Michigan.
It’s just a 30-minute drive from Traverse City to Sleeping Bear Dunes, but as you wind your way back toward the city, there is an abundance of wineries to stop in and enjoy a taste. Leelanau and Mission peninsulas have some 40 wineries between them.
As we drove back across Leelanau, we stopped at a couple of wineries on our way to Suttons Bay, a community worth spending some time in just north of Traverse City that has its own unique shops and personality.
Once back in Traverse City, downtown has a number of boutiques, bars, breweries, and restaurants to spend plenty of time enjoying. The city has been recognized as a top foodie destination, thanks to the chefs who have moved into the city to open exceptional eateries, all of which provide great price points.
Downtown Traverse City’s Front Street is packed with plenty of options to keep visitors happy, whether it’s a morning stroll with coffee in hand, an afternoon shopping the multiple boutiques, or an evening happy hour drink before dinner at one of the several restaurants lining both sides of the street.
If time is on your side, head north of the city into the Mission Peninsula where there are a number of great wineries that sit atop the rolling hills above the West and East Grand Traverse Bays. Some of the region’s most beautiful wineries are on Mission, a narrow strip of land that sits between the two bays.
If the season is right, you’re likely to find your way to the water. Back in the heart of the city, the Traverse Area Recreational Trail is a 12.5-mile paved trail that runs across the city next to the water. It features bay views while also traveling through forests and former rail lines. If you’re in the mood for a long run or bike ride, the line connects to the Leelanau Trail, which winds its way north to Suttons Bay.
If you feel like strolling along the downtown streets, there are plenty of options to enjoy a walk. Near the business district in and around Front Street are a number of historic residential neighborhoods with beautiful stately homes, tree-lined streets, and a picture of Americana.
Traverse City has plenty to offer visitors looking for relaxation, a wine and beer destination, great food, beaches, outdoors fun, or a day of shopping. The natural beauty of the Traverse City region—whether it’s during fall colors, winter snow, or the summer majesty of the powerful Lake Michigan—makes for a diverse destination with plenty to offer.