What do you know about Traverse City, Michigan? Chances are, unless you live in Michigan, you know very little. For example, did you know that the town is known as the Cherry Capital of the World since it grows the majority of the cherries in the United States? Or that the nearby Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore was voted the most beautiful place in America a couple years ago? Or how about the fact that the area is consistently named one of the best in the U.S. to see vibrant fall foliage?
I knew nothing about Traverse City before I visited, but now I can tell you that it's a must-see if you find yourself in northern lower Michigan.
Three days is just about the perfect amount of time to spend in Traverse City, and here are some suggestions for what to see and do.
Downtown Traverse City - Spend some time getting to know Traverse City by wandering around the downtown area on foot. Stroll down Front Street for some light shopping, check out the State Theater and its glittering marquee, take a walk along the river or lakefront, and plot out where you're going to eat (my favorites include: food trucks at The Little Fleet for lunch; burgers at Bubba's for dinner; and a maple bacon cupcake from Simply Cupcakes for dessert).
The Village at Grand Traverse Commons - Traverse City used to be home to a state-run mental institution (from 1885 until 1989). Instead of tearing the sprawling expanse of buildings down after the hospital closed, the whole site is now being converted into a hub full of shops, restaurants, offices, apartments, and even condos. A wander through the shops is highly recommended, and there's also a 2-hour historical tour you can take for $25 to learn all about what the buildings used to be and what they will become (and you also get to go down into some underground tunnels).
The Mission Point Lighthouse - Traverse City sits close to two peninsulas that jut out into Lake Michigan. One of these is the Old Mission Peninsula, which is full of vineyards and cherry orchards and envy-inducing homes. If you drive all the way to the end of this peninsula, you'll find the historic Mission Point Lighthouse. First lit in 1870 and decommissioned in 1933, today you can rent out the lighthouse and serve as lighthouse keeper to visitors.
Winery-hopping - The Mission Peninsula is dotted with vineyards and wineries, so after your visit to the lighthouse, be sure to stop at a couple on your way back to Traverse City. If you want good wine AND a great view, make Chateau Chantal one of your stops. It gives you great views out over the peninsula. The Jolly Pumpkin is another worthy stop. They offer tastings of both wine and spirits, and have a restaurant that serves up delicious food.
Sleeping Bear Dunes - Lastly, you can't visit Traverse City without making the 25-mile trip out to Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore and its impressive sand dunes. Allow at least half a day for this trip so you can enjoy the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (a 7.4-mile loop track that takes you through some beautiful lakeside forests and offers quite a few picture-perfect lookout points) and the Dune Climb (a 450-foot sand dune). Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the lookout points.
Have you ever visited Traverse City? If so, what else would you recommend?