25 Best Things to Do in Traverse City (MI)

Source: Wikimedia / papadakp | CC BY-SA 3.0

Traverse City is popularly called the “Cherry Capital of the World” and it grows more tart cherries than any other city in the US. Located in Northern Michigan, the city is also known for its local wine since the Traverse City Wine Coast is home to around 40 different wineries. 

The economy of the small town of Traverse City depends mainly on tourism which is due not only to its wine and cherry culture but also its natural attractions. Spread over its 40 parks, the city offers freshwater beaches, a National Lakeshore, downhill skiing areas, and numerous forests. And interestingly, besides being one of the best small town destinations, the city is also known as one of the top cities to retire in the country.

Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Traverse City (MI)

Source: Map data @2022 Google

1. Traverse City State Park

Traverse City State Park
Source: Notorious4life | Public Domain

The bustling and urban Traverse City State Park is open for camping year-round offering heated restrooms, biking trails, and a beach. The campground itself has nice sized sites that include a power area, picnic tables, and a fire pit. There is access to bike/walking trails that leads to multiple different places such as McDonald’s and a bike shop.

The trail around Perch Lake is a particularly great area to ride a bike, as there are great hill climbs and sandy open areas. A walkway leads visitors to the beach through an easy and safe path. Also, the park is located near many of the area’s attractions including the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the Leelanau Peninsula, and downtown Traverse City.

2. Mission Point Lighthouse

Mission Point Lighthouse
Source: Flickr / Scott Dexter | CC BY-SA 2.0

The restored 19th-century Mission Point Lighthouse features lake views from its tower, plus a log cabin, trails, and a beach. The area surrounding the lighthouse is also a sight to see with its fresh air, crystal clear water, and beautiful scenery. Not to mention, plenty of factoids and history are described in all the informational signs.

You can also go down the front steps from the lighthouse and walk onto the beach to enjoy the water and the swing set to admire the view. And an interesting fact about the lighthouse is that at this spot you are halfway between the north pole and the equator, at 45° latitude.

3. Great Wolf Lodge Water Park | Traverse City

Great Wolf Lodge Water Park Traverse City
Source: Flickr / flickrized | CC BY 2.0

Located 10 minutes from downtown Traverse City, the Great Wolf Lodge is a hotel with an amazing indoor water park. However, this is more than just a resort as it offers many other attractions. For example, you can enjoy your time at the arcade, the bowling alley, the mini-golf course, and the spa.

With cabin themed rooms, this is the perfect resort if you are traveling with kids. Besides the 4 casual restaurants which include a grill and a take-out pizzeria, the resort features the best jellybean shop ever and a Build-A-Bear Workshop.

4. The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons-1
Source: Flickr / Warren LeMay | Warren LeMay

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is a former 1884 hospital complex that now houses a sprawling shopping and dining spot with arboretum and hiking. All around, it is a neat place to check out whether you are just looking around, want to grab something to eat, or want to find something unique to buy. On weekends, The Village hosts an indoor Farmers Market.

The entire complex is made up of dozens of historic buildings that used to compose the Traverse City State Hospital. Also, the history behind The Village is fascinating, and they offer guided tours through this large redevelopment center.

5. Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn

Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn
Source: Flickr / Lola Audu | CC BY 2.0

On a 65-acre estate, Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn is a rural B&B overlooking Traverse Bay. Surrounded by vineyards with a view of the Grand Traverse Bay, the European-style winery doubles as a bed and breakfast. The inn itself features country-chic rooms with cottage-style décor.

Besides its delicious wine selection and breathtaking views of both the East Bay and West Bay, the winery counts with a tasting room and cooking classes. In the summer, they have jazz at sunset on Thursday evenings. And they also offer great wine flight options and an indoor shop that included sealed food to go with your wine.

6. Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel

Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel-1
Source: Pixabay / stokpik

The modern Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel is a casino resort situated 11 miles east of Traverse City. The casino itself is open, airy, and smoke-free with several casino games including slot machines, sports betting, lightning link games, video keno, and video poker room. And to add more to its entertainment, the casino offers regular live music on an outdoor patio.

The hotel offers tours of local vineyards and diving experiences in Lake Michigan, for example. Besides the casino, 4 eateries, and 3 bar lounges, Turtle Creek also features a gift shop and a market.

7. Clinch Park

Clinch Park
Source: Flickr / marada | CC BY-ND 2.0

Clinch Park is actually a beach on West Grand Traverse Bay featuring picnic tables, restrooms, and seasonal lifeguards. The water itself is a little chilly but nothing that cannot be dealt with and the sand stretches for 1500 feet in length. There is a splash pad as well that is great for younger children to play in and have fun in the water.

The surrounding park area counts with a big green grassy field, colloquially known as the Open Space, which is a great place to relax or have a picnic. Also, kayaks and paddleboards are available on-site. And the pedestrian tunnel to cross the busy road is a very nice feature.

8. Front Street

Front Street-1
Source: Flickr / Warren LeMay | Public Domain

Front Street in downtown Traverse City is most certainly worth spending a lot of time strolling around as there is no shortage of places to shop, browse, eat, and drink. In fact, Front Street is more like a large pedestrian mall giving downtown Traverse City the title of one of the most walkable and charming places in the US.

Front street is a nice area of about 3 blocks. There are a number of shops selling everything from touristy t-shirts to clothing stores, bags, jewelry, the M-22 store, and more. You also have your choice of a few sit-down restaurants, brew-pub, bakery/fresh pretzels, and a couple of bars.

9. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Park

Pirates Cove Adventure Park
Source: Robin Webster | CC BY-SA 2.0

Pirate’s Cove Adventure Park features two 18-hole mini-golf courses featuring pirate-themed challenges, plus a zipline, go-karts, and water rides. The grounds are very well maintained and clean, and the staff is very welcoming.

There are two amazing mini-golf courses along with interesting pirate facts and stories to go along with it. Two of the holes are in a cave under a waterfall. Other holes have you jumping streams and putting in trick shots. The entire courses are well signaled to make it easy to figure out where to go next. 

10. The State Theatre

The State Theatre-1
Source: Flickr / Paul Wilkinson | CC BY 2.0

The State Theatre is a nonprofit cinema showing indie films and classics in a restored space with comfy seats and retro touches. There, you can watch the best movies in a beautiful historical theatre along with state of the art projection and a great sound system. From its plush seats to its star-dotted ceiling, this is the perfect venue to catch a flick. The interior is very cool and makes you feel like you are watching a movie in the way it was intended to be watched.

They also offer gourmet popcorn; the most comfortable seats imaginable and the friendly volunteer staff make The State Theatre an unforgettable experience. And if you get a chance, check out the history of this place.

11. Mari Vineyards

Mari Vineyards
Source: Unsplash / Maksym Kaharlytskyi

Offering tours of its winemaking facilities, including underground aging caves, Mari Vineyards also features tastings with bay views. This outstanding venue has spectacular views of the lake, the vineyards, and a beautiful vibrant crowd.

With an old-world architecture style, the building itself has an old Italian feel to it. In fact, the wines in the area are more on the dryer side as the region mimicked the old area, soil type, and temperatures of old world Italy and their winemaking techniques. Sitting on the chairs in the grass overlooking the surrounding landscape is perhaps the highlight at Mari Vineyards.

12. Torch Lake Sandbar

Torch Lake Sandbar
Source: Flickr / marada | CC BY-ND 2.0

About 45 minutes of scenic driving from Traverse City will take you to Torch Lake Sandbar, which is a top-notch place for swimming, fishing, and relaxing by the water. This little hidden gem will blow your mind as it was formed by thousands of years of glaciers advancing and receding leaving this high ridge of the sandbank. Located on the southern shore of Lake Skegemog, this sandbank also composes of boulders and clay.

Surrounded by crystal-clear and turquoise water, the water depth varies from 1 ft to 4ft making this attraction perfect for those traveling with kids during summer. While there, make sure to check out Burger Barge located right on the sandbar.

13. Mt. Holiday

Mt Holiday
Source: Unsplash / Harrison Moore

Mt. Holiday is a recreational resort area featuring wintertime skiing and tubing, plus summertime ziplining and hiking. So, during winter, it is a perfect place to learn how to ski with a great bunny slope. It is set in somewhat of a ravine so you can do a loop from one side to the other and just keep going all day.

On the other hand, during summer, there is minimal walking from zipline to zipline and you get 7 runs in about 90 minutes. The area also counts with a well-marked mile-long foot and bike path.

14. West End Beach

West End Beach
Source: Flickr / christine.gleason | CC BY 2.0

West End Beach is a quaint local beach popular among swimmers and kayakers, featuring a narrow shoreline and bayfront park. Even though in the previous years some erosion resulting from the high lake level has narrowed the beach, it is always a great place to relax and enjoy the view of the West Bay of Lake Michigan.

Though it rests at the end of one of the busiest intersections in Traverse City and it has no playgrounds, the beach is nice, and the view of the peninsula is incredible. Overall, it is a great beach away from the crowd in town with restrooms next to the beach.

15. Bonobo Winery

Bonobo Winery
Source: Unsplash / Moritz Knöringer

Besides amazing views, Bonobo Winery offers a wide selection of wine consisting of a seven grape variety. The winery offers food and wine painting, a winery tour, and a private tasting. During the tour, you get to visit the whole place and explore the machines used in the vineyard as well as everything “behind the curtains”.

So, take your pick of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Franc. But make sure to try the Pinot Grigio with its creme brûlée twist while relaxing at their outside patio.

16. Grand Traverse Mall

Grand Traverse Mall
Source: Flickr / marada | CC BY-ND 2.0

This might not be the largest mall, but Grand Traverse Mall is a very cozy, warm, and clean shopping center. There is a wide assortment of stores to choose from and something for everyone. So, take your pick between Bath&BodyWorks, Carters, H&M, JCPenney, Macy’s, and many more. Also, the food court has a decent size and in-mall eateries are thriving.

Overall, it is a great time killer and all-around diverse place to spend your hard-earned money. There is even a playground for the young children to have some fun at!

17. Good Harbor Bay Beach

Good Harbor Bay Beach
Source: Flickr / Jim Sorbie | CC BY 2.0

With shallow waters, Good Harbor Bay Beach is a beautiful sandy beach on the shores of Lake Michigan. Although the beach is narrow, it is very long so you can always find a secluded spot to relax. The shoreline is less rocky than some of the other beaches in the area, so it is a bit more comfortable on the feet.

The beach is at end of this nicely paved “seasonal road.” If you are unfamiliar with the area, you would not think a beautiful beach would be at the end of it. A well-kept bathroom for your convenience is there as well. In order to get to the water, you have to walk a short way through some beach grass before you arrive at the beautiful Good Harbor Bay.

18. Jacob’s Farm TC

Jacobs Farm TC
Source: Pixabay / alanbatt

Featuring a disc golf course, corn maze, volleyball court, Jacob’s Farm TC is an event venue that also sells food and drinks. Not to mention, you can explore the grounds and pick berries yourself. So, you can take your pick between raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and apples.

This is definitely geared more towards families with children. The corn maze is massive, and you will definitely walk in circles sometimes before getting out. They have a beer garden and the mulled cider with whiskey is pretty tasty and warm for chilled hands. Their restaurant is mostly known for donuts, pizzas, and apple cider.

19. Chateau Grand Traverse Winery

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery
Source: Unsplash / Tim Mossholder

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery is a wine estate offering cellar tastings and charcuterie plates on a patio overlooking the vineyard. Located on Old Mission Peninsula, Grand Chateau is considered a world-class winery. Just outside of the property is a great lookout spot so get your cameras ready. Also, when it is not freezing outside, you can walk around the property with a great view.

Not only the tasting is affordable, but the wines themselves are delicious. This family-owned business also counts with very friendly, knowledgeable, and fun staff.

20. Music House Museum

Music House Museum
Source: Flickr / H. Michael Miley | CC BY-SA 2.0

Music House Museum features restored musical instruments from the late 18th century in a converted granary and barn. Interestingly, the bar in the museum is from an old Traverse City bar, the Hurry Back, and it dates back to the 1860s. With quite a variety of mechanical music devices, the museum is incredibly organized and well put together.

Every piece of instrument is kept in beautiful conditions. The art of each instrument is amazing, as well as its history. There, you can take a good look into the past of jukeboxes, radios, silent film, player pianos, and other odds and ends. The highlight is a huge dance hall organ. 

21. Old Town Playhouse

Old Town Playhouse
Source: Unsplash / Erik Mclean

The historic volunteer-run theater of Old Town Playhouse showcases an array of classic and original performances, from fall to spring. They offer the premier plays in town along with some smaller off-shoots such as their “Aged to perfection” senior acting club. Their stories are witty and always well cast.

This is more than just some plays on a small-town stage; their productions are labors of love for theatre and community. The actors, sets, lighting, costumes, music, are all so well done.

22. GT Butterfly House & Bug Zoo

GT Butterfly House and Bug Zoo
Source: Unsplash / Justin DoCanto

GT Butterfly House & Bug Zoo is an excellent little nature museum focused on insects and all there is to know about them. You can explore all the different types of butterflies and watch the beehive with a glass wall so you can see inside it. The staff are all very knowledgeable and obviously care about the insects and “critters”.

Overall, it is a good experience, you can stay as long as you want and go back to whichever exhibit you want as many times as you wish. So, take your time to enjoy the butterflies fluttering and watch all the bugs, it is worth the price and time.

23. City Opera House

City Opera House
Source: Flickr / Warren LeMay | Public Domain

City Opera House is a Victorian theater that is now a 700-seat venue for plays, concerts, and films, plus private events. They offer about 280 events a year with great seats no matter where your tickets are.

This historic landmark has been rebuilt to its original splendor. It is a nicely restored 1890s small-town Opera House and they offer a free walking tour that is open to the public. Walk-in, get the history pamphlet and explore the space at your leisure.

24. Great Lakes Children’s Museum

Great Lakes Childrens Museum
Source: Pixabay / RosieKliskey

At the Great Lakes Children’s Museum, little ones learn about the Great Lakes with hands-on activities, including a water table. The museum is geared towards very little kids. Do not worry about them running around out of control, that is what this place is for. It is not a huge space but just the right size that allows the kids to be kids.

The children can learn all about the lifecycle of cherries, building bridges, fluids and gravity, and the water cycle. Overall, it is a great opportunity to explain and teach your kids about science and nature.

25. Apache Trout Grill

Apache Trout Grill
Source: Pixabay / cattalin

Known for seafood and ribs, Apache Trout Grill is a cozy spot offering a chic hunting lodge feel and bayside patio making this the most popular waterfront dining destination in Traverse City. The food is fabulous, the management is amazing, and the staff is spectacular. The salads are over the top, and the portions are huge. There are no reservations so plan accordingly and enjoy a drink outside while you wait.

They specialize in serving food prepared with the freshest local ingredients available. The most popular dishes include hand-cut steaks accompanied by delicious French fries. The complimentary bread and oil before the meal is a nice additional touch.