The deep waters of Grand Traverse Bay’s two majestic arms have a way of luring travelers into that hypnotic, laid-back northern Michigan getaway state of mind.
The 32-mile-long basin, split by Old Mission Peninsula and flanked on the west by the Leelanau Peninsula, plays a major role in attracting fun-seekers to this four-season Lake Michigan water wonderland, which includes scenic, wide-open spaces with stunning panoramic vistas. It seems everyone wants to vacation around the charms of Traverse City. Don’t you?
The region stands out as a prime example of how natural resources, effective marketing campaigns, and decades’ worth of word-of-mouth recommendations have transformed it into a tourism success story. And even with all that booming activity, visitors don’t seem to mind, as they keep coming back for more.
“Traverse City is defined by its natural resources. Lake Michigan, the Grand Traverse Bays, and our many lakes and rivers beckon visitors,” says Trevor Tkach, president/CEO of Traverse City Tourism.
“We have all the amenities that guests seek: championship golf designed by the greats of the game; more than 40 wineries with world-class wines for sipping; diverse and unique restaurants; spas for pampering; one-of-a-kind shopping; water parks for kids; sand dunes to climb; trails for hiking and biking; and plenty of beaches where you can get away from the crowds,” he adds.
Downtown Traverse City’s tree-lined streets showcase more than 150 shops including retail stores and a wonderful mix of coffee shops, bookstores, yummy restaurants, and other fun attractions.
“Diversity is the key to the dining scene,” Tkach says. “This is a foodie town. Area restaurants have a strong reputation for fine dining, brew pubs have great food combined with craft beer, and folks looking for just a great, juicy burger have many places from which to choose. The choices have expanded from American cuisine to include Vietnamese, Mexican, Indian, and so many others.”
A Favorite: Drive north on M-37 through the middle of Old Mission Peninsula. At the tip, explore Mission Point Lighthouse and its nautical history, take a swim at the beach, or walk along a trail. Venture off M-37 on the way back and stop at a few of wineries for tastings or tours.
“Traverse City has truly become a four-season destination, and the experience changes based on the season. Wintertime brings an interest in downhill and cross-country skiing. People also flock to the snowmobile trails. Fall has great interest in the changing leaf colors and visits to the wineries and farmers markets. The springtime is all about viewing the cherry and fruit blossoms,” Tkach explains.
The following stories share more examples of why this magnetism helps the Cherry Capital consistently rank among the top travel destinations in the Midwest and beyond. I’m ready to head north again!
Traverse City Tourism
Take Your Pick of 41 Wineries
The Traverse Wine Coast serves up award-winning tastes, spirited flavors, and amazing landscapes
Traverse City continues to flourish as one of America’s premier wine-growing regions, and friends often tell me it’s difficult to decide on which winery to visit, which vintages to sample, and which new distilled spirits to try. They’re all tough choices, but that’s part of what makes a Cherry Capital getaway so appealing.
“The Traverse Wine Coast no longer is a fledgling wine region with up-and-coming aspirations. It has arrived,” says Gabe Marzonie, marketing director for Leelanau Cellars, which sends 350,000 cases of wine annually to locations in 26 states.
“With major media outlets proclaiming the region as a top-five wine destination, and our internationally acclaimed wines bringing home prestigious awards for quality and creation, our wine coast is not only known for the high-quality wines we grow and produce, but also for everything else that goes with it — a beautiful region, one of the top foodie towns, and our outdoor recreation,” he says.
Visitors to the Traverse Wine Coast can sample goodies at 41 wineries dotting both the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas. Together, these establishments produce more than 60 percent of all Michigan-made wines.
The wine coast has become a distinguishable brand and major economic driver over the past 40 years, Marzonie explains. Local wineries produce “exceptionally well-balanced white and red wines that are fruit-forward, crisp, and clean, with bright finishes that pair perfectly with foods of all styles.”
Adding to their appeal, many wineries now offer brandies and spirits, as well, says Sherri Campbell Fenton, managing owner of Black Star Farms and president of the Traverse Wine Coast association.
“We’re enjoying an increase in boutique distilleries. Our northern climate, which grapes thrive in, is also well-suited for wheat, corn, and barley — the basic ingredients for whiskey and vodka. Add in the cherries and other fruits grown up here, and now you have a variety of spirits available,” she says.
Many wineries offer spectacular water and rural landscape views from outdoor patios, and some even have hiking trails, equestrian options, special gardens, inns, and outdoor fun.
“The wine and spirits scene adds another dimension to the entire Up North experience. From the gorgeous, sweeping vineyards dominating the landscape to the fruit orchards that have been here for generations, they all add a taste of the region,” Fenton explains. “They complement the farm-to-table restaurant theme, and really complete the experience for visitors.”
Black Star Updates: Fenton says Black Star is having fun in both its tasting rooms on Sundays by featuring mimosas, bellinis, and bloody Marys made from wines and spirits.
“Our fruit-based brandies are generally known as eau de vie-style spirits, a staple in some European countries. We’ve produced brandies from the best local cherries, pears, plums, raspberries, and grapes since 1999. Our barrel-aged brandies spend three to 10 years in French and American oak barrels.”
The Inn at Black Star Farms offers guests an outdoor adventure that includes biking the Leelanau Peninsula, a Grand Traverse Bay waterfront picnic, and an option to paddleboard or kayak, all before returning to the inn for a nightly hospitality hour with wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Fenton’s Area Favorites: “I love to go to places that offer something unique, whether it’s the surroundings or views, and it has to have good wine. My favorite wineries that check those boxes are Mari, Chateau Chantal, 2 Lads, Brys, Bowers Harbor, Shady Lane, Rove, and, of course, Black Star Farms,” she says.
“Wineries have a special way of making even the novice wine drinker an enthusiast. Several local wineries (Brys Estate, Black Star Farms, Chateau Chantal) offer estate tours accompanied by a dedicated tasting experience. This provides an opportunity for guests with all levels of knowledge to learn more about the region’s uniqueness, as well as the individual wineries’ stories.”
Fenton believes comments from recent participants in her winery’s tastings best sum up a Traverse Wine Coast getaway: “We’ve done tours in Napa, Calif. — this was way better!”
New at Leelanau Cellars: Its retail online store now ships to 25 states. This fall, guests will enjoy the facility’s new 48-foot bar, overlooking a Lake Michigan marina. Leelanau Cellars launches its Wine Club in September, and will provide customers direct-to-their-door quarterly shipments of wines. “Sweet or dry, fruity or bubbly, bottle or can, we have a little something for everyone,” says Marzonie, who’s also a Traverse Wine Coast board member.
Traverse Wine Coast
Visual treasures welcome back visitors
Traverse City’s art scene blossomed again last summer, and residents anticipate a fun fall after a long COVID-induced hibernation.
“We’re looking forward to the return of movies at the State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay late this summer or early fall. It’s been hard to see this landmark in our downtown shuttered over the past year and a half,” says Katy McCain, director of community development for the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority.
“We brought back our Art Fair series this summer, which was a great way to celebrate local artisans,” she adds. The Holiday Light Parade and Tree Lighting Celebration should return in November.
McCain’s excited about two major projects the Traverse City Arts Commission will complete this year. “The ‘Union’ Mural Project will have two sets of murals painted on Union Street businesses. This project is the first step in what we hope will be a yearly event, with multiple murals being added,” she says. The Art on the TART Tenth Street Trailhead project should be completed by early fall.
“Traverse City has theater, an extensive public art collection, wonderful galleries, and great exhibits at the Crooked Tree Arts Center and the Dennos Museum Center,” she boasts. “Visitors are often surprised by the numerous galleries and arts locations around town.
“The Old Town Playhouse produces some amazing theater and has numerous performances showcasing many genres each season. The City Opera House attracts popular national and international acts. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of the most historically beautiful venues in the state,” McCain says.
Traverse City Arts Commission
An Arts Oasis
Interlochen celebrates with concerts, classes, and more
The Interlochen Center for the Arts always rated as a special place when I’ve visited Traverse City. While many friends considered it just a music camp south of town, I’d counter with stories about how it’s so much more!
“A much-anticipated northern Michigan tradition, the summer Interlochen Arts Festival has brought top-tier performers to Interlochen’s wooded campus since 1964,” says Katharine Laidlaw, vice president for strategic communications and engagement.
The festival’s 2021 marquee of major artists included Harry Connick Jr., country star Jake Owen, and Chicago. Lots of other talented performances, concerts, plays, and musicals featuring Interlochen’s top student ensembles also are part of the Arts Festival, and open to the public.
“In recent years the festival has attracted audiences of more than 130,000 patrons annually, making it one of the largest arts festivals in northern Michigan. Festival events in the summer are primarily hosted at Kresge Auditorium, a 4,000-seat outdoor venue on the shores of scenic Green Lake,” Laidlaw adds.
The center also includes the Interlochen Arts Academy, one of the nation’s premier arts boarding schools; Interlochen Online, a leader in virtual arts education; and Interlochen Public Radio, which operates classical music and news stations.
Each summer, Arts Camp draws thousands of young artists ages 8 to 18 from around the world who are seeking to expand their skills in music, theater, dance, creative writing, visual arts, and film.
Something for You: The Interlochen College of Creative Arts offers year-round lifelong learning programs for adults, including lectures, workshops, and seminars in music, visual art, fiber arts, creative writing, theater, media, and more. Accomplished professional artists lead intensive, hands-on courses that range in length from an hour to a month.
This fall, Laidlaw says Interlochen “will celebrate a momentous milestone” with the opening of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow House, a lakeside convertible residence hall with guest artist suites.
It’s part of an ambitious campus master plan developed more than 30 years ago by Sasaki Associates. That plan has helped to guide 16 other major campus improvement projects since 1990, including dedicated state-of-the-art “homes” for each arts discipline, such as a newly opened Music Center and lakeside Dance Center.
“Northern Michigan offers a rich cultural scene amid a stunning setting that draws some of the most celebrated and exciting artists to our region,” Laidlaw says. “It’s not surprising that for the second year in a row, the Arts Vibrancy Index released by Southern Methodist University named Traverse City among the country’s most vibrant arts communities.”
Live From TC
Inspiring National Writers Series goes global and expands its reach with readers
After a long run of hosting events virtually because of pandemic restrictions, the National Writers Series (NWS) anticipates returning to the City Opera House with in-person programs for the fall season.
The fascinating series brings world-class book authors and readers together to discuss their works and more during individual sessions. On tap this fall are a mix of authors covering topics ranging from thriller to young adult to memoir.
“We’re thrilled to be returning to live events,” says Jillian Manning, executive director of the series. “Perhaps the most exciting news is that we’ll be livestreaming our in-person fall events, so no matter where people are, they can tune in and experience an incredible conversation.
“The pandemic actually helped us not just embrace the ‘national’ part of our name, but it also added international viewers to our audience. We’ve had people tune in from 40 different states, and countries such as England and Switzerland.”
Since its launch in 2010, NWS has hosted more than 200 authors and a live audience exceeding 68,000 book lovers.
“We’re a one-of-a-kind organization that connects readers across our community. We bring world-renowned authors to our corner of Michigan — a place they may never have appeared for a book event, unless they really loved cherries! Those authors get up on the stage and share stories about their books, their writing process, and their lives in ways you don’t see at other venues. It’s engaging and intimate and inspiring all at once,” Manning says.
“The biggest — and best — change we’ve made in the past five years is to make a concerted effort to showcase diverse voices. Northern Michigan is a rather homogenous region in terms of race and religion, and NWS has worked hard to introduce folks to different voices and perspectives,” she adds.
“I can’t tell you how many people tell me ‘I would never have known about this author’ or ‘I learned something new from this book’ after an event. Part of our mission is to create a deeper understanding of issues and ways of life that exist within and outside of our rural boundaries.”
Any Recent Highlights? “Our summer program had such a wide range of books featured — environmental essays, a romantic beach read, an antiracism memoir, an Agatha Christie-worthy mystery, a powerful coming-of-age novel, and an inspiring leadership book. We were virtual for all but our event with John U. Bacon, author of ‘Let Them Lead,’ which was our first event back at the Opera House. That was certainly a highlight for all of us.”
Any Fun Partnerships? “Another shining moment was our conversation with Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of ‘Braiding Sweetgrass.’ We partnered with so many amazing organizations to bring that event to life: Michigan Humanities (a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities), FLOW (For Love of Water), the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, and The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park. That’s an amazing group of people who came together around a book, and we had nearly 700 people sign up to attend the virtual talk.”
Upcoming Favorites? “It’s hard to say.There are so many amazing authors in our lineup! One that stands out is Anthony Doerr, who is perhaps one of the best-selling authors of our lifetime and is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book ‘All the Light We Cannot See.’ He has a new book out in September called ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land,’ and he’s visiting our series on Oct. 14.”
Favorite No. 2? “We have Pam Houston, whose memoir ‘Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country’ is about how the natural world can heal us after trauma, and Mary Roach, author of ‘Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law,’ a lighthearted look at the sometimes-fraught relationships between humans and wildlife.”
Any Tips? “The most magic happens when you’re in the room at the beautiful Opera House. Nothing can replace the laughter or gasps of the crowd, the energy you can feel radiating from the stage. With technology we now can bring the conversation to you wherever you are,” Manning says. That means you can be anywhere — on your couch, enjoying dinner, savoring a glass of wine, or lounging poolside — as you watch the livestream. — RG
Grand Traverse Resort leads the list of comfy getaways
With 550 guest rooms and three famed golf courses, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa ranks high on my list of getaway destinations because it has so much to offer in such an amazing patch of Michigan.
The good news is that since mid-April, business and leisure travel occupancy levels have continued to rebound, and the resort doesn’t expect that pace to slow down.
Through the later part of COVID-19 restrictions, “we continued to grow in both offerings and with business levels. While our business model shifted from corporate events and meetings to leisure travel in 2020, we’re back to hosting and booking large conferences and events, while also staying busy with leisure guests who have recently discovered the area and the resort,” reports Caroline Rizzo, the facility’s PR manager.
“Golf continues to be a huge area for us,” she says. “We saw historic golf numbers in 2020 and are, shockingly, breaking some of those records in the 2021 season. The pandemic brought a lot of new golfers and people to the area.
“Something new for us this year is the completion of our nearly $3-million meeting space renovation,” she continues. “The Michigan Ballroom, our 10,000-square-foot lobby ballroom, was the final area to be renovated with state-of-the-art amenities for events such as weddings, conventions, conferences, and group meetings.”
Rizzo says The Den, which opened in early 2020, is flourishing as an entertainment hub for the city with an escape room, boutique mini-bowling, arcade games, a full bar and restaurant, plus Traverse City’s first two axe-throwing lanes. It’s open to the public and is a great place for families, group events, or special parties.
“We truly have something for everyone. You won’t find a more inclusive property in Traverse City,” Rizzo says.
Exploring on Foot or by Bike
A growing trail network spokes out in various tangents for fun and adventure
From this outdoor lover’s perspective, a wonderful way to explore Traverse City’s lake country bounty is by venturing out on a bike or by foot on the area’s trail network.
“The trails and in-town cycling and pedestrian infrastructure connect people to all the places they want to go — downtown restaurants and shopping, beaches, parks, breweries, wineries, and nature,” says Kate Lewis, community engagement manager for the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails.
“Looking to go farther than your legs want to peddle? Take your bike on the local Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) bus to explore nearby villages such as Glen Arbor, Suttons Bay, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Visiting in winter? The Vasa Pathway, Leelanau Trail, and Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail are groomed for cold-weather activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing,” she adds.
“TART Trails hosts nine different trails and one cross-town route within the TART Trails Network. Over the past 20 years, we’ve been able to build nearly 100 miles of community trails; our goal is to double that over the next 20 years. There are so many impactful projects on the horizon,” Lewis reports.
All of the routes within the TART Trails Network are non-motorized, and many are paved, multiuse trails. Most are suitable for families and individuals of all ages and experience levels.
“On the east side, we’re proud to contribute to the management of the Vasa Pathway, a collection of dirt trails primarily used for mountain biking, running and hiking in the summer, and cross-country skiing in the winter,” Lewis says.
“The new Vasa Bike Park (aka Vasa Skillz) is a must-ride,” she continues. “Two one-mile, single-track loops have been completed and feature elements such as jumps, table tops, berms, and rock gardens designed to help people advance their mountain biking skills. A BMX jump line was recently added to the mix. In the winter, connect to the Vasa Pathway for world-class cross-country skiing or the Winter Sports Singletrack for fat biking.”
A natural surface trail located south of downtown is the Boardman River Trail, ideal for backpacking, bike camping, trail running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and birding.
When the last section of the Boardman Lake Loop is completed next year, the trail will showcase the region’s natural, cultural, and recreational resources, and will feature public art installations.
What’s Next? “The Nakwema Trailway will connect the TART Trail network in Traverse City to the Top of Michigan Trails network in Charlevoix, creating a 325-plus-mile, non-motorized network in northern Michigan. The first segment of the trail, the Acme Connector, is slated to break ground this fall,” Lewis says.
Looking into the future, TART Trails envision a network that takes outdoor enthusiasts to destinations such as Kalkaska, Fife Lake, Kingsley, Interlochen, Lake Ann, and beyond.
Favorite Route No. 1: Lewis recommends experiencing the local goods, food, and beverages along the Leelanau Trail. “It’s 17 miles of relatively flat, paved trail that was once a rail line between Traverse City and Suttons Bay. It hosts a quiet landscape through meadows, woods, and orchards, with a few fun stops along the way — such as the historic potato barn (great photo opp) and Leelanau Peninsula wineries. Groomed in the winter for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking, it truly is a four-season trail destination,” she says. “Some of our favorite stops along the trail include Hop Lot in Suttons Bay, which has plentiful outdoor seating, great food, and awesome local brews. Shady Lane Cellars, Mawby, and Black Star Farms are just a few of the beautiful wineries located right off the trail.”
Adventure No. 2: The 20-mile Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has something for all ages. It connects Empire and Glen Arbor, and meanders through the Dune Climb, Glen Haven (don’t miss the Maritime Museum), the D.H. Day Campground, and the Port Oneida Rural Historic District. It passes lots of great beaches, plus it’s groomed for cross-country skiing, Lewis says.
Suggestions to round out your visit
Fun Tips: “Try a zipline, kayak the Boardman River rapids, mountain bike the Pere Marquette State Forest, or take a hot air balloon ride. Groups can take sailing or boat cruises in Grand Traverse Bay, or they can fish the deep waters of Lake Michigan. If you love baseball, there’s nothing like a Pit Spitters game at the Turtle Creek Stadium. Traverse City was named one of best top 10 small towns in the country for its craft beer scene by USA Today readers.”
— Trevor Tkach, TC Tourism
Art Beat: “When you’re downtown, you’ll come across dozens of murals and sculptures that add vibrancy and delight to the experience. If it’s raining, visit The Dennos Museum Center. Check out the interactive map on the website of the Northwest Michigan Arts and Culture Network. It connects you to the creative communities all across northern Michigan.”
— Katy McCain, TC Downtown Development Authority
Tour Time: “One of my favorites is a tour at the Grand Traverse Commons, formerly known as the Traverse City State Hospital. The tour guides are out of this world, and you get to explore the beautiful grounds, old buildings, and shops throughout the property. Our two amazing downtown bookstores — Horizon Books and Brilliant Books — have incredible selections and staff.”
— Jillian Manning, National Writers Series
Must-Dos: “See the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (voted by viewers of ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ as the Most Beautiful Place in America) and travel along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, or hike up the dunes climb. Spend time at the beach and put your toes into Lake Michigan. Watch a sunset at the Frankfort Beach.”
— Trevor Tkach, TC Tourism
Get Tough: “Check out the Nov. 6 Iceman Cometh race, the biggest single-day mountain bike race in the nation. Follow the Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association for info on even more mountain bike events.”
— Kate Lewis, TART Trails
Lay Back: “You need two days here to do it any justice. I definitely recommend some serious exploration outside of downtown TC. Drive up Old Mission Peninsula to enjoy incredible vistas and wineries with styles ranging from a former farm market to an ultra-modern tasting room and an Italian villa. Dine on the water’s edge. I also recommend exploring the Leelanau Peninsula — its rural, relaxing vibe is intoxicating during all seasons.”
— Sherri Campbell Fenton, Black Star Farms
Road Trip: “An M-22 driving tour is what northern Michigan is all about. The tree-lined road hugs West Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. Along the route stop in Suttons Bay, Northport, Glen Lake, Leland, and Frankfort. Each town has its own charm. For example, Suttons Bay has a vibrant art scene and Leland reflects its deep history, which gives it the moniker of Fishtown.”
— Trevor Tkach, TC Tourism