10 Traverse City Sights to Explore
Each year, thousands of visitors flock to Traverse City 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.