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Discover Michigan: Traverse City

By: Linda Shepard | Online Only | Published July 1, 2016

Beaches, cherry and film festivals, wineries, fine resorts and much more make Traverse City one of the top tourist destinations in the state. The city also has a rich history, including a legacy of long-ago lumber barons, along with cultural offerings like the restored City Opera House and the Traverse City Film Festival.

“We have a vibrant cultural and social life here,” said  Mike Norton, media relations manager for Traverse City Tourism, “with an emphasis on the historical. For a long time, people took our history for granted. Then we realized that we could grow so quickly, we could lose touch with our past.”

If you plan on visiting the Traverse City area, here’s what you need to know:

• Approximately 250 miles, about a four-hour drive.

Visit the Village of Grand Traverse Commons: The historic 1884 former mental hospital complex is now a unique example of urban redevelopment — featuring shopping, fine dining, an arboretum and hiking trails.

• Take a walk: Lumber baron Perry Hannah’s 14,000-square-foot, three-story Victorian mansion — built in 1891 — is virtually unaltered and now serves as a funeral home on historic Sixth Street, near bustling Union Street. Sixth Street’s charming homes offer a view into the past, and the amazing gardens at 325 Sixth St. are open to the public. Visit Sixth Street’s History Center for more information in person or visit  

• Hit the beach: The sugar sand beaches of Traverse Bay are the perfect spot for all ages to enjoy swimming, sunning and boating. Clinch Park, in downtown, has a splash pad, kayak and paddleboard rentals, picnic tables, bike racks, lifeguards, a snack bar and restrooms.

• Drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes: The national lakeshore was named the Most Beautiful Place in America by “Good Morning America.” Enjoy the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, climb a sand dune or enjoy a swim in Loon Lake.

See the Great Lakes Children’s Museum: The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is located on West Bay Shore Drive, on the campus of the Discovery Center Great Lakes, less than two miles from downtown Traverse City. The museum features lots of hands-on activities for young children.

• Enjoy some paddle sports: The River, located in Clinch Park, specializes in getting families on kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and tubes down the Boardman River as well as on several inland lakes and Lake Michigan.

• Go to a drive-in movie: The Cherry Bowl Drive-In delivers old-fashioned family fun under the stars in nearby Honor. The site also features a minigolf course, hula-hoop contests and homemade caramel corn.

Watch a ball game: Wuerfel Park, on Stadium Drive, provides minor baseball league Traverse City Beach Bums fans budget-friendly grass-berm seating and thousands of stadium seats. Enjoy lively entertainment between innings and Friday night fireworks.

Visit the Dennos Museum Center: The museum on the campus of Northwestern Michigan Community College features three changing exhibit galleries and a sculpture court, an Interactive Discovery Gallery for children and adults, and the Inuit Gallery.

Take a bike ride: The Traverse Area Recreational Trails network offers 60 miles of multiuse trails in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, as well as a cross-town bike route.

Have a cocktail at the Park Place Hotel: The glass-enclosed Beacon Lounge in the tallest building downtown offers amazing views of the city and Grand Traverse Bay. The hotel, located on the corner of Park and State streets, was built by R. Floyd Clinch in 1929.

Sail away on a tall ship: The 114-foot schooner Manitou plies the waters of Grand Traverse Bay on two-hour cruises or on a “floating bed and breakfast.”

Taste some wine: More than 40 wineries and tasting rooms are nearby on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas. In addition, the wineries boast of some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

National Cherry Festival: Now in its 86th year, the festival is held the first full week in July. Every year more than 500,000 attendees enjoy cherry pit spitting and pie eating contests, the Grand Royale Parade, an airshow and much more.

Traverse City Film Festival: July 26-31. Founded by award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, the festival brings films and filmmakers from around the world to Traverse City.

City Opera House: Built in 1892 and recently restored, the City Opera House hosts the National Writers Series, performing arts and more.

“Union Street is a blast. So many restaurants and pubs with indoor and outdoor seating. A really happening place to be.” — Terry Oparka, reporter

“Black Star Farms, on the Leelanau Peninsula, is great if you have kids. They have a petting zoo of farm animals, so everyone is happy. Boathouse Vineyards is beautiful too. You can sit on Adirondack chairs and watch the water.”  — Kristyne Demske, reporter

Where’s your favorite place to travel in Michigan? Leave us a comment or email We may use your suggestion in an upcoming edition of Discover Michigan.