Traverse City: Not What I Expected

College senior Ashley Prescott gets her first real taste of shopping “Traverse City-style”– and decides she may have been missing something all these years.

Photo Credit - Traverse City CVBI’ll be honest. When I was younger, I thought Traverse City was the kind of place where old people go to gamble, play golf, and retire; or maybe where families could go for a week or two in the summer in order to unwind from their busy schedules. I never saw it as a place for somebody like me.

But after just one visit, I’ve fallen in love — and I’ve only just gotten here. I’ve already learned to call Traverse City “TC,” just like the locals do!

My first day in Traverse City began on Front Street, in the city’s downtown district, full of shops whose merchandise overflows onto the sidewalk, and restaurants that tempt you with mouth-watering smells as you walk past. I walked up from the beach nearby and meandered through streets that cascaded with blooming trees, admiring the downtown architecture. (These buildings are beautiful, yet with a friendly feeling that makes the city feel cozy.)

You don’t see many national chain stores in downtown Traverse City — although I did pass a Subway in my travels. I stopped at a local cafe for lunch, and I was not disappointed. The service was friendly and inviting, and the workers seemed to quickly recognize the regular customers.

My favorite part of the downtown visit was walking back to my car with the beautiful Grand Traverse Bay spread out in front of me. The waves were crashing on the breakwall, and the water was such an intense blue that it hardly looked real, and even the cold wind off the water wasn’t enough to discourage me.

Photo Credit - Traverse City CVBThe next day, I left the city and took a drive north to the town of Suttons Bay. It wasn’t one of those rides where you have to invent games to pass the time. I had that beautiful water to my right, and that’s all I needed to keep myself entertained. Restaurants with outdoor patios lined the shore, and sailing ships were visible far out into the distance. It’s a wonder people don’t come here more often — it’s the perfect therapy.

Suttons Bay is a small town, and it made me smile. If you were ever a fan of “Gilmore Girls,” I’m sure you remember Star’s Hollow, the whimsical town where Rory and Lorelai made their home — where everyone knows your name, and the stores are full of hidden treasures. Suttons Bay is like that.

Before I go any farther, you need to know that I hate shopping. I only shop when I can’t possibly avoid it – and even then I try to put it off. With Christmas shopping my philosophy is, “Get in, get out, get it over with.” I fly through the mall, pushing old ladies in motorized carts out of my way, and my record to date is 12 gifts found, bought, and carried away in an hour and a half. With Suttons Bay, I plan to make an exception. I’m coming back when I’m not working — and when I do, the old ladies in their carts will be safe.

The buildings there are painted in different colors — yellow, red, purple and blue — and each has its own Star’s Hollow-ish charm. I was only able to take a quick peek through most of them, but I’m convinced that we’ll meet up again. Many of the homemade crafts I saw will be finding new homes on various end tables and shelves in my apartment. Oh Suttons Bay! I may even have to introduce you to my mother.

Ashley PrescottAshley Prescott, a native of Ortonville, is studying Integrated Public Relations at Central Michigan University and is spending the summer in Traverse City. Her favorite pastime is fishing on Green Lake and the Betsie River.


42 thoughts on “Traverse City: Not What I Expected

  1. Its a strange community honestly, I was born in the area and moved when I went to college, go WMU!, but if you are really looking at moving to the community not visiting, let me give you some advice other then it suck’s or its the most amazing place in the world. Number one Traverse City politically speaking is about half Republican half Democratic the rest of the county is vary conservative. Number two, Michigan is ethnically diverse, Traverse City and he surrounding county’s ( with the exception of Leelanau County because of the Native american community ) is probably about 98% Caucasian.To be honest there is an undertone of racism in the community and it comes in varying degrees, mostly its just simple white privilege BUT there are full out clan members in the community. Number three If you do not have a college degree or a trade it will be vary hard for you to find a good paying job anywhere, this is because the local economy is driven by summer tourism. So basically if you only have a high school diploma or GED there are a lot of full time minimum wage jobs in the summer where you will be hired as a seasonal worker, but there will be almost nothing after October. number four its a fairly safe to live in TC the crime rate is vary low its the sort of place you can have a family. Number five its a beautiful area and because its a tourist town there is a lot of stuff you can do year round. So basically its a fine community but it has its problems, honestly just do your research about the area.

  2. I have always loved Traverse City, growing up we would come up twice a year or so… my fiance’ just accepted a job there for a better life for our family… So we thought but we can not find anywhere to live… if you find anything you have to be out to cater to tourist being able to rent… we have five kids and no where to go… now what do we do? That’s what I want to know… suddenly not feeling so happy because our family will have to split up and our kids and myself will be three hours away from him… they should just name it Tourist city because that is All that matters there so it seems… :(

  3. I live here in Traverse city. I have been here since 1997. I love it here. I was born in south bend Indianad bend my brother was robbed for 14 cents and my sister was rapped delivering newspapers. They even make fun of you if you go hunting and fishing. I was also made fun of picking tomatoes in my garden the next day at school. So in 1993 my family moved from south bend to irons/Baldwin area. Wow at first I was nervous but what a change. Very nice people I was never made fun of in school and everyone hunts and fish. I also can pick tomatoes without getting made fun of. I moved to Traverse city in 1997 because it is bigger than Baldwin/irons and yeah I like to be near a store that’s 24 hours. I love people here how they treat me. They hold the door for you plus you can walk down an alley without getting robbed. Thank you to everyone who lives in Traverse city since 1997 And welcomed me to a beautiful city with the water that’s blue not brown/black like in south bend. And you can breathe so much better. Anyway thank you Traverse city and yes please if you come to visit and you are living in a city like I came from I bet you would be greatful and want to live here in good old tragic city. I love TRAVERSE CITY!!!

  4. chill out man, you sound like a lunatic.. literally. what a negative human being you are. it’s a frickin blog.. leave the poor girl alone.

  5. An evil place to live. No jobs either. The community does not care. Employers and the community are evil and corrupt. Doesn’t matter if you have Masters degree in business. Pure Michigan. Pure Hell.

  6. I lived in Traverse City from 1962 to 1976 as a kid and have wonderful and fond memories. Although I no longer have any family or friends that reside there, I still like to visit once in awhile. My personal feeling about what has happened to Traverse City is that visitors from the big cities came and built their big homes and garages on the beaches. Then once they got there thought TC should offer more shopping options (malls, WalMart, Target, etc.). So they took over and now the town is hardly recognizable. This is what happens when people lose site of what made this town so unique to begin with. The traffic problem is horrendous although I’m really not sure what could be done without doing more harm to this once beautiful little town. My last visit was a few days ago and I left very sad. It’s too bad.

  7. To Sijjvra:
    I don’t know how much of the income of Traverse city depends on tourism, but I am sure it is a good chunk. Unless you are a millionaire willing to dish all the money needed in taxes to overcome the money contributed by tourism, I think you are blowing smoke. You are angry due to the summer congestion and maybe because you have experienced the worsening employment situation. However, you know what the problems are, Run for Mayor! Change the situation!
    To the Residents of Traverse City:
    I have to agree that the city has done little to manage the congestion and the loss of the picturesque landscape. However that is the fault of the residents of this city. I don’t think that the city has been well managed in that sense, like you there are many people who feel that they have lost their city to private interests and tourism.
    Personally I had the worst experience of my 30 years of Coming to visit Traverse City this year. Especially when we talk about the Cherry Festival 2013, which it was the worst ever. It has become a fast food, beer, dust and ugly carnival rather than the great experience it used to be. The noise level, the dirt, garbage, and the difficulty to find parking has been the worst. Landing a the Traverse airport you think you have arrived at a unique city with advanced services and a unique cultural Mecca of Northern Michigan. However, the streets and the rest of the area not part of Downtown, paint a different picture. The city government is obviously more concerned to issue Parking tickets than caring for the business of the area. We didnt get any tickets but certainly did see that many people did. We’ve seen a lot of businesses that were doing great 10 years ago and now are for sale or have closed their doors. That certainly has something to do with our economy but I think more is due to the way the finances of the town have been managed. This town has more financial potential than any other city in Michigan. The comments of many people we spoke to were discontent with the way the city government takes care of the needs of its citizens. In the future we will limit our visits to Charlevoix, Petoskey or other charming towns. We will spend our money elsewhere and maybe someday Traverse City will become the city it should be. In the mean time good luck to all who live in Traverse.

  8. * dumping and beaches.

    My disgust for this blog post made me typo in my haste to spit on the stupidity here.

  9. Tourists.

    I’m going to be truthful and blunt.

    I hate tourists like yourself. You and your trendy “I LEARNED TO CALL IT TC LIKE THE LOCALS”. Idiot. Besides the very small percentage of rich moron tourist shop owners that cater to tourists, everyone here calls it Tragic City or Traffic City. Jobs are scarce. The majority of people living here are in poverty or close to because the business owners have either outsourced everything OR are catering to tourist shops that only want to pay minimum wage. Not everyone can work at Munson – there is a limited number of openings even there. Furthermore, thanks to tourists…the once gorgeous view of the bay? Blocked by fat waddling tourists, hotels, condos and garbage and traffic, ruining it for the people that actually live there. So yeah, a lot of us really don’t want you coming here, drumping your garbage along the road, clogging up the highways, pushing yet more minimum wage tourist shop jobs by buying overpriced crappy tourist items, more condos on the lake that ruin the skyline, pollute the water and are just as ugly as the hotels and “sugar sand” beeches that have displaced the natural habitat. Stay home. If I see you, I won’t smile and welcome you, I’ll be glad to tell you to your face exactly what I think of tourists and tourism.

  10. You make Ortonville proud to have nurtured such a sweet young writer. Thanks and keep it up. Come to the Old Mill Musuem sometime when you are back in town. We have lots of interesting stuff and great people to talk to.

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  25. Hi,
    My family is making a move to Traverse City from Los Angeles. My husband spent his summers in Glen Arbor as a kid and we go back to visit once a year, but neither one of us know anything about Traverse City. We are just starting to do the research. We also have young kids so I was hoping to get some help on the best elementary schools and great family neighborhoods. Anyone have some suggestions on where to start?
    Greatly appreciated!

  26. My parents are both from Traverse City, so it has always been my home away from home. My grandfather had built a home on East Bay. What a beautiful area….it was inevitable that it would become as touristy as it is. My son made the bike ride out to Suttons Bay from Traverse City last year…what a lovely and quaint area! But, if you have not been there yet, by all means take the drive out in the opposite direction of T.C., to Elk Rapids. It’s a *gorgeous* drive out, and they have the most beautiful downtown, and amazing and entirely unique views of the bay! It has become my ‘must see’ stop whenever I visit T.C. now!

  27. An IPR major from CMU – I also graduated from the program. If you get a change, drive north and discover Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs. You will not be disappointed!

  28. Traverse City is amazing and one of my favorite places in Michigan. The kayaking was what drew me to it and I can’t wait to get back there this summer and take in its beauty and cavort with its friendly people.

  29. Linda, although it’s hard for us to predict the weather on any given day, you’ll be pleased to know that summers in Traverse City are usually cooler and less humid than in most of the Upper Midwest — and thanks to the nearby lakes there’s almost always a cooling breeze. Again, it’s difficult to predict the exact onset of fall color, but it usually starts in mid- to late September and reaches its peak in the middle of October. Can you do Traverse City and Mackinac Island together in one week? Many people do, but it really depends on what you want to do and how much time you want to spend ding it. Are you the kind of person who likes being on the run, seeing as much as possible in a limited time, or do you prefer to lie back and relax during vacation?

  30. Ashley, your article is beautifully written and you are certainly beautiful too! I have a very good friend who lives in T.C. and loves it. It is so rare to find a lovely place where friends, nature, shops and wonderful scenery are intertwined. My friend thinks we might not encourage people to visit too much or it may become “overcrowded.” Enjoy your visit and your senior year at CMU. By the way, I am (literally) a very old friend of your Grandmother’s. I hate shopping also, but I love HERSHEY kisses. Do you remember? All the Best, Shirley

  31. I agree with Cindy – as Manistee dates back to my childhood, I visited there two years ago after MANY years and saw what a fine town it has remained all this time. Also, we traveled up and down the other areas Cindy mentioned and I enjoyed them all THOROUGHLY! So pretty!

  32. The comments are very interesting about TC, make me go for a visit.
    Is the place humid in the summer? When do the fall colors start showing ?
    Will a week suffice visiting TC and Mackinac Island, the same week?
    Since I already plan my summer vac, plan to come in the fall for the colors.
    Or perhaps visit the area next summer.
    Please respond. Thanks

  33. I spend the summer in TC every year and love coming here. I live in Nevada so the bay with its gorgeous turqouise/blue water, the green grass and trees that turn a fabulous array of colors in the fall, the rain, yes RAIN, and the”small- town-with-everything-to-offer” ambience make Traverse City a very welcome change for me. It is truly the most beautiful place Michigan. Drive up Old Mission Peninsula and take in not only the breathtaking view but the quaint little places to stop for lunch. Come for a weekend and you won’t want to leave.

  34. I have been going to TC for over 40 years now. I remember it when it was a sleepy little tourist town. It has sure grown since than but it has kept it’s charm. I never get tired of spending the summer in TC. TC offers so many things to see and do and the people are always friendly. I will be there by the end of the month and will be looking forward to the cherry festival again this year. Hope to see you there too.

  35. I have lived in TC for 25 years now and never once regretted the move. Thanks Ashley for seeing what we see everyday, which is the beauty of our fair city. We have so much to offer and welcome all with open arms. I must say a few of our high points are the restaurants, wineries and brewers. I think we offer the best of the best!

  36. Thanks so much for sharing our beautiful Traverse City area with your audience, Ashley! You and your readers are welcome to relax, dine, shop and wander our shorelines, gorgeous natural landscapes and charming downtown districts. Please visit soon!

  37. I can not wait until I get to visit TC! You have done such a wonderful job of describing it. You painted a beautiful picture of what a city should look like!! I love the Gilmore Girls part…one of my favorite shows :)

  38. I spend 3-4 weekends per year in TC now. Guy’s weekend (third weekend in July) and more! We stay at the family cabin on Crystal Lake and commute over to visit the rest of the family.

    Highlights – Fav food spots – Underground Cheesecake Factory, The bread place right nearby too; Fogarellis has GOOD wine and cheese, Pangea’s Pizza is so good, just to name a few of them… When you get a chance… spend a couple of weekends up here and you will love it.

    -Todd M. Beedy ( Swartz Creek, MI )

  39. I am so proud of Ashley, my granddaughter. I live in Florida but am planning to visit Ashley in July so she can introduce me to beautiful Traverse City and

  40. TC is the most gorgeous city in this beautiful state. Three friends and I have been coming up here the week before Memorial Day for twenty years. When we started we only stayed 3-4days and motel-hopped along the
    Grand Traverse Bay. Then we moved up to a cabin on Spider Lake for a few years. That’s when our Girl’s Week went to a full week. Yes we go to the casinos but there is so much more. The downtown shopping, the different mall shopping and OHHHH the Wine tasting. That is amazing. We found a new Winery you must try, Ciccone Winery. It is beautiful, the wine is great and the view from the parking lot is awesome. I could go on and on but I know I will be back up in TC next Spring with the girls.

  41. Do try and take the entire M-22 trip starting in Manistee and go up and down both sides of the Leelanau Peninsula when you get the chance. This route features many small communities and some outstanding scenery, not to mention many fine wineries. This area is not dependent upon big industry as will be noted right away. It is especially stunning in the Fall.

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