10 Traverse City Sights to Explore

Thousands of visitors will flock to Traverse City from June 29 to July 6 for the National Cherry Festival. There’s no end of things to do at the festival – but you should still take a little time to get out and see the rest of this beautiful town. Mike Norton of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau shares a few suggestions.

Hey, I LOVE the Cherry Festival! From the first window-rattling roar of the jets at the air show to the last float in the Cherry Royale Parade, I’m a big fan. But there are lots of must-see and must-do things in the Traverse City area, and you shouldn’t leave without checking out at least a few of these:

1. The Sleeping Bear Dunes
I never get tired of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a breathtaking 64-mile curve of beaches, coves, islands and dunes – some perched as high as 400 feet above the water. Its grandeur can be viewed from overlooks along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. But it’s even better to walk its beaches, hike its trails or even take a ferryboat ride to the unspoiled Manitou Islands.

2. The Grand Traverse Commons
Traverse City’s most distinctive architectural treasure is the sprawling Grand Traverse Commons, our former mental asylum, whose castle-like buildings are slowly being converted into a complex of apartments, shops, galleries, offices and restaurants. Great shopping, and the 480-acre wooded campus is a beautiful place for people to walk, run and bicycle.

3. Wine Country Touring
Traverse City may be the “Cherry Capital of the World,” but the same water-cradled slopes that make this a perfect place for fruit orchards are now producing some of the best wines in the country. The Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas are dotted with vineyards and wineries — many in awe-inspiring hilltop settings that make them attractions in their own right.

4. The Interlochen Center for the Arts
In a secluded forest setting (about 20 minutes from downtown Traverse City) Interlochen is a magnet for lovers of music, drama and dance. Over 200,000 people visit each year. Come for a show, or simply for a stroll around the campus.

5. Beaches
You can’t go to TC without spending some time at the beach! On West Grand Traverse Bay, try Clinch Park, West End, and Bryant Park (a particularly good spot to catch the 4th of July fireworks). The entire southern shore of East Bay is one long beach of fine sugar sand, and it’s shallow enough for little ones. Check out the Traverse City State Park near Three Mile Road.

6. Slabtown
In the 19th century, Bohemian immigrants came to work in Traverse City’s waterfront sawmills. They built their homes with slabs of scrap lumber from the mills, so their neighborhood came to be known as Slabtown. Many of their cottages are still standing – and so are two great bars: Sleder’s Family Tavern, and the Little Bohemia Pub & Grill. Both places still preserve the feel of an earlier, more authentic Traverse City.

7. Tall Ship Sailing
Traverse City’s has more of these stately sailing vessels than any other port on the Great Lakes. Taste the exhilaration of the Days of Sail is to take a two-hour cruise aboard the 114-foot Tall Ship Manitou, a replica of a 19th-century schooner, or on the Nauti-Cat, the largest commercial sailing catamaran on the Great Lakes.

8. Lighthouses
At the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum near Northport, visitors can see how lighthouse keepers and their families lived in the early 1920s. One of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, it has been in service for over 150 years. The smaller Mission Point Lighthouse at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, is another scenic treasure.

9. Shopping
Traverse City is a shopper’s paradise. I love our shady, pedestrian-friendly downtown, with its scores of fascinating boutiques, restaurants and galleries, and lots of places to sit and relax. Nearby are picturesque lakeport towns like Leland, Glen Arbor, Elk Rapids and Northport — filled with hidden byways, cozy cottages, quaint shops and stunning galleries.

10. Fresh Food
This time of year, fresh fruits and vegetables – including cherries! – can be found almost everywhere around Traverse City. The community has lots of farmers markets, roadside stands, and U-pick orchards where you can enjoy picking your own fruit. It tastes so much better that way!

What would you add to the list? Visit michigan.org to learn about more things to do and see in the Traverse City area.

Mike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations director at the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. He lives in the village of Old Mission.

Four Reasons to Love Springtime at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, Michigan is a wonderful place to visit year-round. Today, photographer Neil Weaver tells us what makes Good Morning America’s choice of “The Most Beautiful Place in America” special in the springtime.

Now that the cold days of winter have surrendered to the warmth of spring, the landscape around us is brand new again. The blooms and blossoms give us vibrant colors that we’ve been missing since last autumn. As a nature and landscape photographer one of my favorite places to photograph this time of year is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The Setting

Spring is an excellent season to visit. The wildflowers are out, the climate is comfortable and the park is peaceful. Upon arrival the first thing you will notice is that this park is not simply sand dunes but a diverse group of forests, streams, inland lakes, beaches, historic buildings, and hiking trails. 

The Beaches

The beaches within the park make for excellent photography subjects.  Whether you visit Platte River Point with its river winding out into Lake Michigan, Esch Beach with the towering Empire Bluffs in view, or Good Harbor Bay with its deep aqua-blue water, it is worth your while to take the time to see each one.  These are just a few of the beautiful beaches you can explore as each one along this 35 mile stretch of lakeshore is pleasantly unique.

The Views

For panoramic views of the area’s unique landscape, I like to stop at the park’s scenic overlooks as I take a ride around Pierce Stocking Drive. This seven-mile driving loop is full of stunning views of the dunes, Lake Michigan, and nearby Glen Lake.  The park also has some short hikes that lead to breathtaking lookouts at Alligator Hill, Empire Bluff, and Pyramid Point. I guarantee that after getting a glimpse of the scenery from these spots you won’t want to leave!

The Trails

When I want the full experience of the Sleeping Bear Dunes I take a walk along one of the park’s many hiking trails, which vary in length and difficulty.  To photograph the large expanse of wind-sculpted dunes I enjoy walking the Dunes Trail.  This path winds up and down through sandy terrain past dune grasses, juniper, thistles and bearberries.  The highlight of the hike is passing through the Ghost Forest, an old grove of sun-bleached trees that have been overtaken by the shifting sand.  When standing among them you’ll feel like you’re in another world.

The park’s features mentioned above only scratch the surface of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – a lifetime could be spent exploring and enjoying every corner of the park, realistically. The best part is knowing that at the end of your stay you will leave with some great photos and a lot of good memories. 

To see more photos of the Sleeping Bear Dunes visit Neil’s website and Facebook fan page.

Neil Weaver is a landscape photographer and proud Michigander.  He travels throughout Michigan photographing the state’s beaches, lighthouses and parks.

Will you be making a visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore this season? Share with us below!

Out On the Water in Traverse City

Maybe it was his landlubberly upbringing, but it took writer Mike Norton quite a while to stop thinking of the water as “forbidden territory” and start thinking of it as a big blue playground. Now, after 35 years as a resident of Traverse City, he loves to get out on Grand Traverse Bay in almost any way he can.

I first came to Traverse City to be near the water. That’s not surprising, I guess; so do thousands of other people.

Water, after all, is what defines this place. It’s the beautiful backdrop for our family photos, the sparkling blue boundary to our beaches, the ever-changing spectacle that mesmerizes us at sunrise and sunset and all the hours in between.

Pretty? Of course it is. But beauty is really only half the story — because I’ve learned that once you venture out on its shimmering surface, the water becomes more than part of the scenery. It becomes a highway to adventure.

With more than 150 inland lakes and hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Traverse City has always attracted active vacationers who enjoy interacting with water – whether that means sailing, boating, kayaking, fishing, or high-speed sports from waterskiing to kiteboarding. The reason?  Grand Traverse Bay, a two-pronged “freshwater fjord” that’s sheltered on three sides from the wind and waves that can make the open waters of Lake Michigan too intimidating for many novices.

Kayaking Lake Michigan near the Sleeping Bear Dunes

Probably the quickest way to get out on the water is in a canoe or kayak. Long a favorite canoe destination, the area has become hugely popular with kayakers in recent years. Today almost every coastal community in the Traverse City area has at least one canoe/kayak rental outlet, and there are several full-service outfitters who offer instruction and guiding services. (And take it from me, it doesn’t take long to learn!)

I love paddling effortlessly down a tree-shaded river without a care in the world, or heading out along the beach in a sturdy kayak. Most of our rivers are tame enough for novice paddlers, with just enough current to keep things interesting, and today’s kayaks are made for people of every age and aptitude. Just pack some sunscreen and a shore lunch — and don’t forget your camera!

Jet-skiing on Grand Traverse Bay

For those who are looking for something a bit different, stand-up paddleboarding is one of the recent crazes on our lakes and harbors. Instead of sitting on a board, you stand up – getting great views of your surroundings, including the watery depths beneath your feet! SUP’ing is great fun, wonderful exercise, and easy to learn, and there are plenty of places to rent a board if you don’t already own one.

As long as we’re on the subject of boards, Traverse City has long been a major destination for kiteboarding, where you harness the wind to pull you across the water on a small surfboard. This takes some instruction– which can fortunately be acquired in a few hours – but using a special kite and a control harness, you can really move, skimming across the lake and launching 30-foot jumps over the waves!

There are easier ways to speed across the water of course. Jet skis and other personal watercraft can be rented at several location around Traverse City – and although they’re faster than ever, they’re a far cry from the noisy, smelly, uncomfortable machines of the past. Today’s personal watercraft are actually more like small speedboats, a useful way to get from one place to another. (And yes, to have a lot of fun buzzing up and down the shore.)

Sailboats on Grand Traverse Bay

Of course, the proliferation of all these boards and machines doesn’t mean there aren’t still lots of regular boats on the water in Traverse City. Flocks of sailboats are always winging up and down the Bay in breezy weather, and there are plenty of powerboats, too – usually towing water-skiers or heading out to do a little fishing. If fishing is your private passion, this is the perfect place – whether it’s battling a high-powered salmon from the deck of a charter boat or outwitting the wily walleye and smallmouth bass of our inland lakes.

And for those who prefer their excitement a little more organized, how about a sunset cruise in a 19th-century “tall ship” or an exhilarating ride over the waves aboard a giant catamaran?

Undoubtedly, the most easily recognized vessel in the Traverse City fleet is the Tall Ship Manitou, a 114-foot, 62-passenger schooner that offers three two-hour cruises across the bay each day of the week, as well as a number of specialty cruises (a Microbrew & Pizza Cruise, a Wine Tasting Cruise, musical cruises and “ice cream sails”). And now the Manitou has a little brother, the cutter Scout, that’s available for small-group cruises of up to six people.

An even livelier sailing experience can be had aboard the Nauti-Cat, a 47-foot catamaran based near the mouth of the Boardman River. Measuring 29 feet from side to side, it offers up to four cruises per day during the summer months, often cruising as fast as 14 knots on a breezy day.

Can you tell how eager I am to get back out on the water?

Mike Norton, a native of Grand Rapids, spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations director at the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. An avid kayaker and an enthusiastic (if somewhat clumsy) small-boat sailor, he lives in the village of Old Mission.