It’s no secret that Michigan has fun-filled, exciting festivals throughout the year. But for nearly a century, the Traverse City Cherry Festival has been one of the best and one of the biggest.
Northern Michigan is breathtakingly beautiful in the summer with so much to see and do. Attending the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City Michigan is the cherry on top of a summer adventure.
Getting to Know the National Cherry Festival
This annual summer celebration of all things cherry brings upward of half a million people to Northwest Michigan. The festival has something for everyone, whether you’re a foodie, a live music aficionado or you’re just looking to have a good time.
Humble Origins & Blessing Cherry Blossoms
The foundations of the National Cherry Festival started in the early 1900s when local cherry growers held a “blessing of the blossoms” every May.
By 1925, the annual blessing included the crowning of the first cherry queen, Gertrude Brown. In 1931, state legislatures gave the celebration its National Cherry Festival name, and it was moved from May to July.
The festival has been held every year since then, except for 1942-1947 because of World War II. Over the years, the festival has seen more than its fair share of memorable moments, including:
- 1930 — President Herbert Hoover attended the festival, which became a three-day celebration for the first time.
- 1968 — The festival officially became a week-long celebration, after becoming a five-day celebration in 1964.
- 1975 — The festival was attended by more than 300,000 people, and President Gerald Ford served as the parade Grand Marshal.
- 1987 — The festival was put into the Guinness Book of World Records by baking the world’s biggest cherry pie, which weighed more than 28,000 pounds.
A Festival Filled With Tradition
Any festival that has gone on as long as the Traverse City Cherry Festival is bound to establish traditions, and this annual extravaganza has many beloved traditions.
The Junior Royalty Program
Each year, more than 25 schools participate in the festival’s Junior Royalty Program, which crowns a prince and princess from each participating school.
These princes and princesses get to not only be festival royalty but also build floats to proudly represent their schools and communities during the Cherry Royale Parade.
National Cherry Queen Program
Festival royalty is also crowned through the National Cherry Queen Program, which crowns a National Cherry Queen. The queen serves as an ambassador for not only the festival but also the Traverse City area and the cherry industry as a whole.
Past queens have delivered tasty cherry pies to U.S. presidents and traveled the country to talk about cherries.
Every great festival needs a mascot, and Super Cherry has kept watch over the National Cherry Festival, promoting the benefits of cherries and making sure that people know about this AWESOME fruit. If you see Super Cherry out and about during the festival, snap a picture and share it on social media.
Other Annual Cherry Festival Programs
One of the best things about an annual festival is the keepsakes that collectors love to buy every year.
At the National Cherry Festival, the keepsake is a commemorative pin, which is available for just $5. Visitors will get a pin envelope that contains either a silver or gold pin. A gold pin will get you entry into the festival beer tent.
Another festival favorite is the annual Cherry Art Competition, which encourages local and out-of-town students alike to create magnificent works of art centered around the cherry.
Additionally, local grocers participate in festival giveaways, and buying festival-sponsored products just might win you a pair of airline tickets.
Keeping the Community Clean
During the festival, a dedicated team of volunteers, known as the Green Team, works to keep the festival grounds clean. They roll up their sleeves to sort through the trash and make sure all recyclables are appropriately sorted too.
Having Fun at Traverse City’s National Cherry Festival
Want to have fun at the National Cherry Festival? All you have to do is look around you!
If you’re looking for fantastic, free, family fun, you don’t have to look very far if you attend the Traverse City Cherry Festival. For a whole week, the festival is jam-packed with events that attendees of all ages can enjoy. Here are some of the events that you’ll want to keep an eye out for.
Take Part in the Pit Spitting Contest
The National Cherry Festival is all about traditions, and this is arguably one of the most fun. It’s so fun that it’s the inspiration for Traverse City’s baseball team — The Traverse City Pit Spitters.
The premise is simple — Pop a cherry pit in your mouth and see how far you can spit it.
The world record is an astounding 95 feet, 6 inches. Take a shot to see if you can beat the record. Adults 18 and older can participate, and prizes are awarded for first, second, and third places.
Listen to Excellent Live Music
No festival is complete without live music, and the Traverse City Cherry Festival has entertaining performers all week long. All of these shows require buying tickets, but it’s pretty cool to see nationally renowned acts coming to play in Northern Michigan.
The festival lineup may include national touring acts like Jordan Davis, Theory of a Deadman, Skillet, and Chicago.
Look to the Skies for Awesome Airshows
Another excellent free event is the annual air show. Visitors love watching the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform magnificent aerial feats. If you want something more exclusive, the Indigo View Airshow at the Hotel Indigo offers a rooftop view and a specialty menu during the event.
This six-person U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform spectacular routines and formations that delight visitors of all ages.
Compete in the Cherry Pie-Eating Contest
One of the tastiest treats at the festival is a delectable slice of cherry pie. It’s so tasty, in fact, that pie-eating contests are held every year for both kids and adults. Anyone can enter, and the first one to finish wins a great prize.
If you love cherry pie, sign up to see just how much pie you can eat. The kids’ groups range from preschool to 12 years old, so anyone can enter and have some fun.
Run in the Meijer Festival of Races & Cherry Mile
There’s plenty to see, do, and eat at the Traverse City Cherry Festival, and there’s a chance to get some exercise too.
Sign up for one of several races during the week of the festival, including the Priority Health 5K, the Michigan Planners Half Marathon, and the Michigan Planners 10K.
In doing so, you will join thousands of runners, but you’ll also get wonderful views of Grand Traverse Bay and be cheered on by thousands of supportive fans.
The Cherry Mile is a fast-paced race for elite runners of all ages, and there’s also an Open Mile for all runners in the community.
Watch the Annual Cherry Festival Parades
One of the best parts of any festival, and especially the National Cherry Festival, is the excellent Cherry Parades.
The Consumers Energy Community Royale Parade is one of two held during Festival Week. It combines the Junior Royale Parade with the Heritage Parade to celebrate the history of the Grand Traverse Region.
A week full of fun festivities wraps up with the Cherry Royale Parade. Here, excited festivalgoers can enjoy talented marching bands, check out immaculate floats, and celebrate cherries, of course.
Other Great Cherry Festival Events
The events listed above are but a few of the activities going on during the Traverse City Cherry Festival. Keep your eyes peeled for these other great events:
- Classic Car Cruise
- Balance Bike Race
- Zumba By The Bay
- Two-Person Beach Volleyball
- Arnold’s Amusements Midway
- Kids Cherry Teddy Bear Tea
- Family Sand Sculpture Competition
- Orchard Tours
- Cherry Golf Scramble
Eating & Drinking at the National Cherry Festival
With so much to do at the Traverse City Cherry Festival, you’re going to get hungry eventually. When you do, the festival has you covered with tents, events, and vendors serving scrumptious goodies.
Cool Off in the Cherry Festival Beer Tent
Northern Michigan can get pretty warm in July, and the festival beer tent is the perfect place to cool off. Stop by the tent all week long to treat yourself to a beer, glass of wine, or specialty cocktail.
Let Loose at Blues, Brews & BBQ
If you’re looking for an event that combines the best in food and entertainment, this is one you won’t want to miss!
Kick off the festival with some delicious savory barbecue, refreshing cold brews, and live entertainment, courtesy of the Air Force Thunderbirds. This is a ticketed event, so make sure that you get your tickets and parking spot early.
Attend The Great American Picnic
This family-friendly event requires a ticket for admission, but it’s definitely worth the price. While watching the Thunderbirds perform aerial acrobatics, attendees can enjoy cherry-inspired foods.
When you’re done eating, stick around for the outdoor games. This event offers a little bit of everything and has all the ingredients for an afternoon of festival fun.
Visit Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market
Festivalgoers in search of fresh, delicious produce, baked goods, plants, and flowers should absolutely make sure to stop here.
The market’s mission is to provide a community gathering spot where farmers can sell their goods to customers, who support the local economy in turn. It’s a win-win for everyone, and customers get to choose from a wide selection of homegrown and homemade foods.
Indulge at the Cherry Farmer’s Market
If you love cherry-flavored foods (and if you’re at the Traverse City Cherry Festival, of course you do!), then make sure that you stop here for all of your cherry goodies.
The market features vendors selling everything from cherry-flavored dinner and dessert dips to sauces to candy and just about everything in between.
FAQs About the Traverse City Cherry Festival
When is the Traverse City Cherry Festival?
The Traverse City Cherry Festival is usually held in late June or early July.
Where is the National Cherry Festival held?
The festival takes place in Traverse City Michigan, and events take place in multiple locations around the city. The festival’s event calendar pinpoints specific locations for certain events.
Is there an admission fee for the Traverse City Cherry Festival?
Believe it or not, more than 80 percent of the Traverse City Cherry Festival events are completely free.
Is festival parking available for the Traverse City Cherry Festival?
Yes, lots of it. The main parking lot is at the Main Festival Grounds and Bayside Music Stage, but parking is located all over the city.
The Traverse City Cherry Festival also offers a free shuttle service thanks to the Bay Area Transportation Authority.
What kinds of festival food are available at the Traverse City Cherry Festival?
Festivalgoers will find farm-fresh sweet cherries throughout the Traverse City Cherry Festival grounds, but many local food vendors around town serve burgers, barbecue, and sweet treats as well.
Can I pick cherries at the Traverse City Cherry Festival?
Of course! You can actually visit many farms during the Traverse City Cherry Festival to pick fresh cherries from the orchard.
Make Plans to Attend the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City
If you only attend one Michigan festival this summer, the Traverse City Cherry Festival is a good one to choose.
Are you looking for excellent food? You can find it at the festival. Looking for great live entertainment? The festival has that too. Looking for classic festival excitement, like parades, family activities, and sweet treats? The festival has those in spades.
Make plans with family and friends to attend the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City Michigan. It’s so big and so fun that you may end up making it an annual part of your Michigan summer.
Thanks to Jennifer Symons for her contributions to this article.