Where to Stay
Whether you’re looking for historic and quaint, or modern and convenient, Traverse City offers accommodations for every type
Park Place Hotel
The green roof atop its 10-story tower is an iconic symbol in downtown Traverse City. This historic hotel, first built in 1873 and purchased by town founders Perry Hannah and Tracy Lay, established a reputation for opulence and world-class service. Located on the corner of Park and State streets. Enjoy a drink at the Beacon Lounge with panoramic views of the city.
Antiquities’ Wellington Inn
This fully restored 1905 neo-classic mansion is located just blocks from downtown on historic Sixth Street and Wellington. Operated as a bed and breakfast by Barb and Hank Rishel, it’s a treasure to behold. Stay in one of the well-appointed chambers for a trip back in time, or rent one of the two-bedroom carriage houses complete with kitchen and sitting room.
The newest arrival on Munson Avenue is Cambria Suites. Selected as Hotel of the Year for 2012 and 2011 by the Cambria Suites Brand, this all-suites hotel offers modern facilities, spacious rooms, a large, comfortable lobby, and one of the best happy hours in town. Try the cherry bread pudding at the Reflect Bistro for a mouthwatering treat.
Chateau Chantal Bed & Breakfast
Located 12 miles outside of the Old Mission Peninsula is the winery and inn at Chateau Chantal. In rooms named after Van Gogh and Monet, imagine waking to views of vineyards and the smell of maple syrup and fresh scones. Walk through the inn to the winery for a tasting and tour.
A trip to Traverse City wouldn’t be complete without a wine tasting tour. Here are a couple stops you won’t want to miss.
Black Star Farms
With wineries on Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsula, as well as a full tasting room located in The Village in Traverse City, Black Star should be on everyone’s must-visit list. The Inn at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay includes a luxurious bed and breakfast, equestrian facility, creamery and on-site winery. From the sweetest of ice wines to classic varietals to fruit brandies, the offerings are as diverse as Black Star Farms’ three locations. For a unique gift bring home a pear wine, with a pear grown right in the bottle.
Bel Lago Vineyard & Winery
Bel Lago means “beautiful lake.” Looking across their vineyards over the crystal blues and greens of Lake Leelanau it’s no wonder they chose that moniker. But the agricultural diversity at Bel Lago is one of the reasons to put them on your list. They grow more than 100 varieties, including Auxerrois, Siegerrebe and Cayuga White, as well as test varieties for grape breeding programs at Michigan State University, University of Minnesota and Cornell University. The Leelanau Primavera is the perfect summer sipper for an afternoon on the boat.
Pull into port at Fishtown in Leland and you can walk to one of the newest gems on the Leelanau wine trail. Verterra Winery has made a name for itself in a short time bringing home international medals in competitions from San Francisco to New York. The small tasting room in a former pool hall offers a quaint atmosphere for exploring the flavors of Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and even a hard cider called Chaos.
Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery
Transforming an 80-acre cherry orchard into a retirement dream come true is the love story that is Brys Estate. Walter and Eileen Brys bought property on central Old Mission Peninsula with the hope of creating a boutique winery and building a new family legacy. Along with South African winemaker Coenraad Stassen they produce 100 percent estate grown wines from eight varietals. Looking for a perfect backyard BBQ pairing? Try the Pinot Noir Riesling — Pretty in Pink.
Uncommon Adventures Water-to-Wine Day Trip
For an adventurous tour you won’t soon forget try a Water-to-Wine day trip from Uncommon Adventures. Enjoy a kayak paddle to Power Island off the coast of Bowers Harbor, where your guide will provide a gourmet beach lunch. Spend time hiking and exploring the island before returning to Old Mission Peninsula for a visit to nearby wineries for tours and tasting. Offered
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through September, weather permitting.
A Taste of Traverse City
Nestled at the base of twin bays lies the heart of a vibrant northern Michigan community called Traverse City. Michiganders know it best as the Cherry Capital of the World, thanks to the renowned National Cherry Festival held each July. But the famed wonder fruit is not the only star in this show. With the natural beauty of the waterways, the growth of the wine and food industry, a thriving downtown district and expanding list of festivals, Traverse City has become a year-round destination for visitors from across the nation. Having landed on countless Top 10 lists in National Geographic, Midwest Living, Travel & Leisure and more, it’s clear Traverse City is staking it’s claim as the place to visit in Northern Michigan.
A City Between the Bays
A trip to Traverse City by water means traveling along the Mitten State’s pinky finger and exploring the two peninsulas that protect the central harbor town. To the west is Leelanau peninsula, home to many small coastal villages and the area’s most famous landmark, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. After being named America’s Most Beautiful Place by “Good Morning America” in late summer 2011, this region has exploded in popularity. Port towns like Empire, Leland, Northport and Suttons Bay are great places to dock and explore when skirting the peninsula. Each village is dotted with beautiful beaches, unique shops and restaurants to enjoy within walking distance of the marinas. The Leelanau peninsula is home to numerous wineries, with more than 25 tasting rooms scattered across it. Drivers can follow scenic highway M-22 for the best tour of the Third Coast, which leads into the hub of Traverse City.
Jutting 18 miles between West and East Grand Traverse Bay is Old Mission Peninsula. This crooked finger of land is host to 150-year-old cherry orchards, the pride of the agricultural community. An August drive along M-37 up the spine of Old Mission will lead you past farm stands lush with local cherries, apricots, peaches and flowers. Restaurants and wineries are tucked in among the weathered barns and churches, fields and orchards that cover the landscape.
Stop by the Old Mission General Store for a trip back in time, where penny candy is still sold by the barrel. Reach the northernmost point of the Bay to find the Old Mission Lighthouse guarding the shore. Built in 1870, the lighthouse is no longer active; however, a beacon guides vessels safely around the point from 2¼-miles offshore. One of four lighthouses in the area, the Old Mission Lighthouse and grounds are open to the public daily from April through October.
From Orchard to Vine and Beyond
The history of the cherry industry dates back to the Presbyterian missionary Rev. Peter Dougherty, who planted the first cherry trees in 1852 on Old Mission Peninsula. The sandy soil and temperate weather proved successful for the fruit trees; they not only survived, but thrived in the region. By the early 1900s, the tart cherry industry in Traverse City was well established. Today, Michigan grows between 70 to 75 percent of the U.S. tart cherry crop, as well as a large supply of sweet cherries.
What began as a Blessing of the Blossoms ceremony in 1910 evolved into the well-known National Cherry Festival, held annually in July as a way to celebrate the region’s agricultural heritage. This weeklong festival filled with parades and family fun contests — from pit-spitting and pie-eating to turtle races and princess teas — draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.
In a typical year you can find cherries at fruit stands and farm markets throughout the region. Unfortunately, 2012 isn’t a typical year. With temperatures that climbed into the 80s in March and fell below freezing when the delicate buds opened in April, the vast majority of the local cherry crop for 2012 was lost. But cherry stores like The Cherry Stop in downtown Traverse City are still open and providing a taste of the best this area has to offer. From dried cherries and preserves, to salsas, candies and BBQ sauce, cherries are still a must-have souvenir from a trip to Traverse City.
In the early 1990s fruit market prices plummeted, and pressure from developers seeking properties with breathtaking views soared. The agricultural community struggled to protect the land and preserve their farming traditions. Diversification into the grape and wine industry proved a successful alternative.
In 1974, the first grapes were planted by Edward O’Keefe Jr. of Chateau Grand Traverse. Today, Old Mission Peninsula is home to seven distinct wineries with award-winning vintages. The microclimate created by the bays is perfect for growing cool climate varietals like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Perhaps it comes as no surprise their location along the 45th parallel — shared by neighboring Leelanau Peninsula — also bisects the most renowned wine regions of the world, including France, Croatia and Italy.
With more than 36 wineries in the area, “enotourism” is drawing a growing number of visitors each year. Wineries are scattered throughout both peninsulas, including a few tasting rooms in the heart of the city. A tour in either direction will lead to an adventure in wine tasting that rivals a trip to Napa — for a fraction of the cost.
Local winemakers will tell you, “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine.” Perhaps that’s the reason the craft beer industry has quietly, but steadily strengthened. In 1996 Mackinaw Brewing Company opened the first brewpub in downtown Traverse City. It wasn’t long before the Schelde organization decided to join the fray, with North Peak Brewing Company a mile down the street. Then came Russell Springsteen with a most unusual concept. Right Brain Brewery opened in 2004 along with the Salon Saloon, where guests can get a haircut while enjoying a beer from next door. Soon the warehouse district on Traverse City’s west end was the place where creativity flourished in the form of beer. Imagine ale made from asparagus, roasted sweet corn or coffee, and stouts aged in bourbon barrels. Right Brain Brewery and Short’s Brewing in Bellaire put this region on the map. So much so that Draft Magazine listed Traverse City as one of Americas’ three newest Emerging Beer Towns.
If beer and wine don’t put you in the spirit, perhaps a visit to Grand Traverse Distillery will. Their production facility is located off 3 Mile Road, just south of Cherry Capital Airport. Utilizing beautiful copper stills and working with locally grown grains, Grand Traverse Distillery produces the internationally acclaimed True North Vodka and True North Cherry Vodka. They’ve recently expanded their product line and locations with tasting rooms in Leland and The Village.
A Feast for the Foodie
While managing to keep a small town community feel, Traverse City is drawing big time attention as one of America’s top destinations for culinary tourists. Ranked on Top 5 lists by Livability.com, Midwest Living and Bon Appétit, Traverse City has earned a reputation as the Midwest’s best “Foodie Town.”
So, how does a quiet city on northern Lake Michigan earn the attention of national magazines… and become a second home to Iron Chef Mario Batali?
It takes passionate artisans, well-trained chefs, and an abundance of homegrown ingredients to support such a reputation. Farm markets are scattered throughout every northern Michigan village and town, as the motto “Buy Local and Sustainable” has become a battle cry for area residents. Stop by the 100-vendor Sara Hardy Farmers Market across from Clinch Park Marina every Wednesday and Saturday through October to pick up artisan bread, plants, fruits, vegetables, honey, eggs and organic products. Shop Old Mission Multigrain for a loaf of honey oat bread, or grab some smooth raclette from Leelanau Cheese Company. Try artisan chocolates from Mimi Wheeler at Grocer’s Daughter Chocolates. The community abounds with so many mouthwatering choices.
On a walk along Front Street in downtown Traverse City you’ll discover Fustini’s Oils & Vinegars featuring healthy flavor-infused balsamics and olive oils. Guests can create and taste their own unique combinations from more than 50 varieties bottled and sold locally. American Spoon Foods is celebrating 30 years of preserving the regions sweetest flavors in spoon fruit, fruit butters and tasty gelato. Follow your nose to the entrance at Kilwin’s Chocolates as they secretly waft the luxurious, sweet aromas out onto the street. Murdick’s Fudge keeps their family tradition alive by mixing signature flavors in front of guests on a giant marble slab near the front window. From popcorn to potato chips, and of course the local wonder fruit, gourmet foods are big business in Traverse City.
But a culinary reputation cannot be earned from ingredients alone. Traverse City is also home to some highly trained creative chefs. In fact, some didn’t have far to travel. Graduates from the Great Lakes Culinary Institute are lucky enough to study overlooking beautiful Grand Traverse Bay in one of the regions top culinary schools. Students enrolled in the Northwestern Michigan College program “learn by doing” in the 90-seat Lobdell’s restaurant on site. Graduates include chef Eric Nittolo of the Boathouse in Bowers Harbor on Old Mission Peninsula. Traverse City is also home to the 2011 James Beard Award Nominee for Best Chef Great Lakes, Miles Anton of Trattoria Stella.
Perhaps the brightest feather in the local foodie cap is worn in the form of orange Crocs. Chef Mario Batali spends most of the summer enjoying his Northport haven on West Grand Traverse Bay. His favorite haunts include The Cooks House, a tiny farm-to-table restaurant in Traverse City where everything is made to order and seasonal, and the wood-fired pizzas of Chef Paul Carlson, who has found a new home this summer in Lake Leelanau at the brand new Florentine restaurant Bella Fortuna North.
Traverse City and the surrounding communities are full of unique chef-owned restaurants where dress codes are unnecessary, and they don’t take reservations. On a busy summer evening be prepared to enjoy a glass of local wine while you wait for a table. This foodie town loves to eat dinner out.
A Community at Heart
At the center of this thriving city is a downtown that has seen its share of ups and downs. But through determination and innovation, downtown Traverse City has reestablished itself as the beating heart of the city.
It was the lumber barons who put Traverse City on the map as a summertime destination for visitors flocking to town on steamships and by train to enjoy the scenic beauty of northern Michigan. The City Opera House opened in 1892 for ballroom dancing and dinner. It was the social gathering place for everything from political campaigns to bawdy theatrical productions to high school graduations. When motion pictures came on the scene, owner Julius Steinberg opened the Lyric Theatre just down the street in 1916. A fire destroyed the Lyric, which was rebuilt in 1923. The Fitzpatrick-McElroy chain took over management and closed the Opera House to prevent competition with the newly popular “talkies,” forcing the Grand Dame to lie dormant and disintegrating. A second Lyric Theatre fire in 1948 lead to the construction of the State Theatre the following year.
During the late ’80s and early ’90s, downtown Traverse City saw a dwindling retail market. Shoppers were drawn to the new mall further inland. The slow departure of flagship department stores left many holes to fill. But the idea of shopping at small gift stores and dining in family-owned restaurants kept the city center alive. A Downtown Development Authority was established and set to work revitalizing the corridor. They added a river walk along the Boardman River, created festivals and preserved the area as a Historical District. In 1985 the City Opera House began a massive $8.5 million renovation. And in 2007, the shining lights of the State Theatre marquee once again drew crowds when it reopened for the annual Traverse City Film Festival, after nearly 30 years of darkness.
Today, downtown Traverse City sparkles year-round as a vibrant destination for visitors and locals. Boaters can pull into the Clinch Park Marina where Union Street ends at West Grand Traverse Bay. Transient slips can be rented up to 14 days for as low as $29 per day. The new harbor building offers bathrooms, showers, a lounge and an upstairs pavilion with grills for enjoying the view of the 119-slip marina. Following the tunnel under Grandview Parkway onto the streets of downtown you’ll find shopping, dining, entertainment, coffee, brew pubs and bookstores all within a few block radius. Grab lunch at the Grand Traverse Pie Company, known not just for their fabulous fruit pies, but chicken pot pies, sandwiches and salads, too.
Feeling thirsty? Check out two of Traverse City’s newest hotspots: 7 Monks Taproom, with 46 beers on draught; or slip into Brew, where a barista can make a mean mocha, super smoothie or pull a draft beer from the tap. If you can’t make it to the area wineries, you don’t have to miss out on all the wine-tasting fun. At Uncorked Wine Bar order a flight of tastes and compare selections from several local wineries without leaving your bar stool.
Family entertainment is not hard to find in Traverse City. Friday Night Live runs July 20 through the month of August. Front Street is closed for an old-fashioned block party complete with street vendors, live entertainment and fun for the whole family. During the Traverse City Film Festival a giant inflatable screen is erected on the grassy area at Clinch Park for a free movie showing at dusk every evening. Bring your blankets and snacks, or even watch from your boat.
On the west side of the bay along highway M-22 in Greilickville, the Great Lakes Children’s Museum offers hands-on exhibits for kids of all ages. And when the weather turns inclement, or you’ve had enough of the sun, head over to Lucky Jack’s, where the kids will love the bowling, laser tag, laser maze and giant arcade, and mom and dad can enjoy a relaxing dinner and game of billiards.
Exploration by Air, Land and Sea
To truly appreciate the natural beauty of the Traverse City region, the hidden crystal blue lakes, crooked peninsulas and rolling green topography, there’s no better view than from above. Flying into Cherry Capital Airport (TVC) is one way to take in the scenery. Or book a flight with experienced pilot Jeff Geiger and float gently upward with Grand Traverse Balloons. Here you’ll glide over vineyards, golf courses, orchards and streams before landing with a champagne toast.
Traverse City is a walkable town, with plenty to do within amiable distance from the city center. Hop on the T.A.R.T. trails, which cover nearly 60 miles of Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, with seven multi-use trails of various lengths and surfaces.
If riding is more your style, there are several tour companies geared toward exploring various aspects of this great city. Join a winery tour with Celtic Shuttle and leave the driving to those not drinking. Or check out the brand new Magical History Tour, a 90-minute bus ride from the History Center on Sixth Street through Traverse City’s historic Victorian neighborhoods and into the 480-acre “Central Park” known as the The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. This tour runs through the summer on Mondays, and daily Wednesday through Saturday.
One of the best ways to discover the beauty of Traverse City is by water. If you’re arriving by boat or towing a vessel there are several marinas in the area, including Clinch Park Marina, Elmwood Township and Harbor West. Looking to demo a boat while you’re in town? Check out Great Lakes Power Cats demo center behind Center Point building in Harbor West. You’ll see why a catamaran is the safest, smoothest ride on rough water.
To enjoy the view with less responsibility consider a two-hour cruise aboard the Tall Ship Manitou, a 114-foot replica of an 1800s schooner sailing three times daily. Help hoist the sails, then watch as she plies easily through the waters of Grand Traverse Bay. Or hop aboard the Nauticat for cocktails and a pleasure cruise.
Anglers love northern Michigan, where fishing is nearly a year-round sport. Charter boats search for king salmon, coho, whitefish and lake trout in the bays, while the Boardman River is known as one of the best fly fishing streams in the state.
If diving underwater is what you had in mind, you’ll discover the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve is home to several shipwrecks, sunken docks and even unexpected treasures, including a ’72 Ford Pinto. Beachcombers will enjoy searching for the elusive Petoskey stone, beach glass, granites and fossils that wash up along the sandy beaches. Take your stones into Korner Gem and have them made into jewelry to remember the trip. A day on the water in Traverse City is something you’ll never forget.
The state motto of Michigan reads, “Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam, circumspice,” which is Latin for, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” From the wineries to the beaches to the streets of downtown, the state founders must have been in Traverse City when they wrote it.
Brandy Wheeler lives in Lake Ann, Michigan with her husband and two sons. She is the owner of Mealtickets & Unusual Ideas® and creator of the Traverse Traveler app, which promotes northern Michigan businesses to area visitors. You can find her on Twitter@TraverseTravelr.