Situated in Northern Michigan, Traverse City is the perfect town to live in or visit any time of year. It has a rich history and a plethora of family-friendly activities, places to shop, and delicious food. While we could go on and on about great things to do in Traverse City, here’s a list of our top picks.
Best Traverse City Outdoor Activities
Hiking TART and Boardman Lake Trail
Hiking, biking, and walking are some of the most popular activities in Traverse City, Michigan. The Traverse Area Recreational Trail is one of the longest trails in the area, stretching 10.5 miles from Leelanau Trail to the intersection of M-72 and Bates Road in Acme Township. As a result, it passes several recreation areas, local neighborhoods, and businesses in downtown Traverse City.
Part of TART passes through Boardman Lake Trail, and our link shows the outline of the trail around the lake. From Medalie Park, it extends for about 4 miles through the woods and along the eastern shoreline of Boardman Lake. Then, it passes through Hull Park before crossing over the northern opening of the lake. Along the way, it offers access to the library, many places to rest, and other businesses.
You might enjoy: 6 Great Hikes For The Whole Family In The Traverse City Region
Play at the Beaches and Parks
West End Beach
To the west of downtown Traverse City, West End Beach is a quaint beach that you can access via an eastern parking area or TART. It has a bay-front park with restrooms and volleyball courts. The beach is popular with kayakers and swimmers, and the west side allows leashed dogs.
Clinch Park and Beach
As the most popular beach, Clinch Park features more than 1,500 feet of sand in the downtown area. It has TART access, bike racks, picnic tables, restrooms, and a snack bar. Lifeguards are on standby during the summer.
Traverse City State Park and Beach
Established in 1920, Traverse City State Park consists of 47 acres, part of which is a beach on Grand Traverse Bay. It connects to TART and offers opportunities for fishing, picnicking, bicycling, and camping all year with heated restrooms.
Check out: More Traverse City Beach Tips
Compete in Golf or Mini Golf
If you’re looking for family-oriented things to do in Traverse City, you can’t go wrong with Pirate’s Cove. It has two mini-golf courses, each with 18 holes. The courses are riddled with sunken ships, pirate dungeons, waterfalls, and buccaneers. The adventure park also has a ropes challenge course, go-carts for all ages, bumper boats, and a game room.
Offering more family fun, Bay Meadows Family Golf Course has two courses with nine holes each. The green course is more challenging than the blue course. There are many other amenities as well, including practice bunkers and greens, a large driving range, and a fitness room.
Cruise Around Grand Traverse Bay
Traverse Tall Ship Company
For a tour of Grand Traverse Bay, consider a summer day sail with Traverse Tall Ship Company. It operates two ships: the Manitou and the Scout. You can book windjammer cruises, private charters, dockside overnight stays, and many other packages.
Since 1998, Nauti-Cat Cruises has been offering boat tours and catamaran cruises on Grand Traverse Bay. You can book daily cruises that range from 1.5 to 2.5 hours long. With a capacity of 49 people, the Nauti-Cat can host specialty cruises, private charters, and live music shows, too.
TC Water Sports
If you want to cruise the water on your own, TC Water Sports can provide the equipment or water vehicle. It has boats, Jet Skis, kayaks, paddleboards, and more. Parasailing experiences are even available. The concierge-level of service makes this company stand out among the rest.
Best Museums and Historical Things to Do in Traverse City
Mission Point Lighthouse and Park
Mission Point Lighthouse is a wonderful historical site at the northern point of Old Mission Peninsula. It was built in 1870 and guided mariners through West Grand Traverse Bay until 1933. Via self-guided tours, visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like for lighthouse keepers and locals during that period. The nearby 5-acre park is always open and features hiking trails.
The Dennos Museum Center
With a mission to enlighten and entertain audiences, The Dennos Museum Center was established in 1991 and is the premier cultural facility in the region. It has an array of programs and exhibitions from elegant sculptures to hands-on galleries.
Great Lakes Children’s Museum
Providing play-based learning, the Great Lakes Children’s Museum is an excellent venue for kids ages 1 to 8 years old. It features informal, interactive, and hands-on educational environments for early childhood development. Some of its weekday programs include interactive storytime and facilitated crafts.
Best Traverse City Festivals and Holiday Activities
Traverse City Chocolate Festival
In the spring, people from all over Northern Michigan and elsewhere can’t wait to attend the Traverse City Chocolate Festival. For this event, chocolatiers from across the region offer tastings of their products. It’s a celebration of the state’s chocolate history and features shopping, demonstrations, and live music.
National Cherry Festival
Since 1926, the National Cherry Festival has celebrated Michigan agriculture for a full week every summer. It has more than 150 activities and events, and most of them are free for all ages to enjoy. Turtle races, pie-eating and pit-spitting contests, three parades, and an air show are just a few. The festival is steeped in tradition as well, including an art competition and National Cherry Queen.
Downtown Traverse City Halloween Walk
Every October, downtown Traverse City hosts costumed parents and children as they go trick-or-treating at participating stores. The city closes the month with a parade of ghosts and goblins too.
Traverse City Restaurant Week
Whether you like eating traditional dishes or trying new cuisines, Traverse City Restaurant Week is a fantastic event. Held toward the end of February, it offers three-course meals for less than $40 a person. For the optimal experience, enjoy a local beer or wine with your meal.
Exploring The Village at Grand Traverse Commons
The one place that you must visit while you’re in Traverse City, Michigan, is The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Formerly called the Traverse City State Hospital, it’s one of the largest historic preservation developments in the United States. It offers a variety of campus tours, including history tours and asylum experiences after dark. On top of that, it has a 480-acre Commons Natural Area, which features a piazza and miles of hiking and biking trails.
Throughout the year, The Village hosts numerous festivals, concerts, farm markets, and other celebrations. There are several one-of-a-kind shops and boutiques to explore, such as Christmastide and Silver Fox Jewelry. While you’re there, you can keep your energy up by enjoying a snack or meal at one of the many restaurants, including the unique coffeehouse Cuppa Joe and casual Italian eatery Trattoria Stella.
Best Shopping Spots in Traverse City
Shopping is one of the best things to do in Traverse City. The historical buildings on Front Street and State Street in the downtown area are home to tons of exceptional boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. You’ll also find two historic movie houses, a symphony orchestra, an opera guild, and an old theater. For major department stores, check out Grand Traverse Mall. Alongside several big national stores, it has a 650-seat food court and a wide mix of other national retailers.
Best Traverse City Restaurants
The Towne Plaza
In downtown Traverse City, The Towne Plaza has been serving pork-inspired dishes since 2012. Serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch, it uses only the best ingredients from local farms. The restaurant’s mission is to give patrons something original.
Offering an unparalleled dining experience since 1989, the executive chef at Poppycocks creates artfully inspired dishes with fresh local ingredients. The eclectic menu of appetizers, seafood, steak, pasta, and more includes vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.
Located next to Bowers Harbor on Old Mission Peninsula, Boathouse Restaurant pays attention to the smallest details. From the charming decor to the plate presentation, you’ll be pleased with your meal and experience. Best of all, you get to enjoy amazing waterfront views while you eat.
For additional places to eat in Traverse City, be sure to check out our list of must-visit restaurants in Traverse City!
Best Winery & Brewery in Traverse City
The same land that makes Traverse City, Michigan, perfect for growing cherries is ideal for vineyards too. Among the many vineyards and wineries, though, Bowers Harbor Vineyards stands out. Established in 1991 on Old Mission Peninsula, it boasts 20 acres of vinifera vines and makes more than 30 hard ciders and wines. You’re welcome to visit for a wine tasting or go on a tour in the summer or fall.
If beer is more your stride, Right Brain Brewery can accommodate your taste buds. Opened in 2007, the brewery makes dozens of beers, seltzers, cold brew coffees, kombucha, and sodas. The pub is located in a more than 50-year-old warehouse, which gives it a special charm and inviting atmosphere. There are 15 to 25 craft beers on tap all the time.
Don’t miss the Michigan Beer Tour: Traverse City
Best Day Trip: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
When you want to take a day trip away from Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is the best destination. It’s only about 40 minutes west, and the 64 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline offers sunny beaches, coves, and dunes. Some of the dunes reach 400 feet above the water. Overlooks from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive offer grand views of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Additionally, stop by the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center for maps of the hiking trails and information about the area’s history.
For more Sleeping Bear tips, check out our guide to a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore fall color tour!
Discover More Things to Do in Traverse City, Michigan
Traverse City is so full of things to do that it’s impossible to list them all. There are dozens more delicious restaurants and vineyards and wineries to visit. You’ll even find a lot of free and cheap things to do with kids.