101 GuidescityTravel

traverse city guide

by Stephanie

Vintage Traverse sign at GoJumpinTheLake at Etsy

Today’s city guide comes to us from Heather Brady, a full-time marketing professional and artist working in the heart of downtown Traverse City for the past 11 years (she’s self-publishing her first book, Great Beach Picnics — Northwest Michigan 2011, this spring). Today Heather is sharing the many treasures of this small northern Michigan haven, including fantastic dining, shopping and outdoor activities. Thanks, Heather, for a glimpse into Traverse City! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

Traverse City is a creative oasis in northern Michigan imbued with the positive feng shui of its location on the south shore of Grand Traverse Bay. TC is a great home base for exploring the area’s two main wine trails, venturing out into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or exploring the miles of bike trails crisscrossing the region. Whether you are a foodie, wine-lover, adventure-hound or art patron, TC has something to offer you!


Kiteboarding — The Broneah brothers saw the bay’s potential several years ago and opened up a kiteboarding shop in TC’s warehouse district near the bay. Today they offer kiteboarding lessons, camps and equipment rentals to anyone seeking an h2o adrenaline rush. http://broneah.com/

Unleash your inner pirate — You don’t have to walk along the beach for long before you can look up and see a schooner in full sail out on the bay. The Tall Ship Company offers bay cruises ranging from several hours to four days. Packages include moonlight cruises, floating bed and breakfasts and more — arghh! http://www.tallshipsailing.com/

Wine trails — Both the Leelanau Peninsula and the Old Mission Peninsula are home to vibrant and beautiful wine trails. Between the two there are more than 30 wineries with a huge range of wines, spirits and a growing collection of meads less than 30 minutes from downtown TC. Roughly once a quarter, each trail hosts special events. Details can be found on the websites. http://www.lpwines.com/ http://www.winesofoldmission.com

Take in a movie at the restored State Theatre. This grande dame of the golden age has been renovated and revamped by a Michael Moore-led team to sound-and-Technicolor glory. Ushers are in period dress and snacks are reasonably priced. So grab a ticket and some popcorn and snuggle into a red velvet under a ceiling featuring twinkling lights that replicate the August night sky over Traverse City.  http://statetheatretc.org/

Culture lovers will want to check upcoming event lists at the Opera House, the Dennos Museum, the Traverse City Playhouse and the world-famous Interlochen Arts Academy (30 minutes south of TC). These venues offer an ever-changing palette of art, dance, theatre, guest productions and drama.


Traverse City has been called a “new foodie haven” by the Huffington Post, and the town is surrounded by lush orchards and farms. Many of these fresh items find their way onto local menus — from quality takeout to fine, upscale dining experiences. A few favorites are below, but there are many more for you to discover!

Quick Bites

Bay Bread, located on Bay Street near (yes) the bay, tempts you into carb overload with a wall of bread baskets bursting with fresh scones, muffins, coffee cakes and over 20 varieties of breads and rolls each day. Sandwiches are made to order and there is often a fresh soup each day. http://www.baybreadco.com/

Good Harbor Coffee typically has a line out the door early each morning as locals drop in for their wakeup call. The main location is at the corner of Union Street and Division and offers a choice of coffees and teas from around the world in addition to scones, muffins, sandwiches and cookies. http://www.yelp.com/biz/good-harbor-coffee-and-bakery-traverse-city

Patisserie Amie, on Lake Street, offers a jewel-like bakery case filled with French-inspired treats including flourless cakes, macaroons and tarts for carryout. If you choose a table, you will have a choice of savory crepes, Belgian hot chocolate and a daily special. Evenings offer candlelight and plats du jour, such as delectable lamb with potato gratin and local wines. http://www.patisserieamie.com/

Time to Linger

If you’re in the mood to linger and lounge, try Red Ginger downtown next to the State Theatre. This stylish restaurant is fairly new to the scene and offers an array of Asian specialties (including sushi and lunchtime bento boxes) with sakes, wines and creative cocktails (my favorite is the caipirinha). http://www.eatatginger.com/sit.php

Trattoria Stella, in the up-and-coming Grand Traverse Commons area, takes it local foods seriously, calling them out individually on the daily menus. Italian favorites mingle with pizzas and delicious antipasti. http://www.stellatc.com/stellatc/


You can do no better than the Park Place Hotel if you want to leave the car parked. Situated in the middle of downtown, you are in the ideal location to enjoy TC by day and night. http://www.park-place-hotel.com/

Cambria Suites recently opened a new location with upscale urban suites if you sleep better in the simplicity of modern design.

For a truly special getaway, several wineries offer suites and guesthouses on property: Leelanau: Black Star Farms and Silver Leaf Vineyard; Old Mission Peninsula: Chateau Grand Traverse and Chateau Chantal.

If you are looking for a spa experience, the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa and the Homestead Resort (Leelanau) both offer luxurious accommodations in addition to full-service spas.


The American Planning Association voted TC’s Front Street one of the top 10 Great Streets of 2009. The downtown shopping district offers something for everyone – clothing, high-quality footwear, foods, wines and an independent bookstore with two floors for browsing. The small neighboring communities of Suttons Bay and Elk Rapids add their own special local-art shops and parks to the mix. The downtown Traverse City website is a great place to start planning your shopping strategy. Every Friday night during the summer, Front Street is closed for a street fair with food, music, and specials. http://www.downtowntc.com/merchants/

There are many stores that deserve a mention here; I will mention a few, and you will be sure to discover other gems along the way! Haystacks offers locally crafted stylish women’s clothing perfect for layering mixed and edited choices from quality lesser-known brands from the US and elsewhere. http://www.haystacks.net/

If you are looking to take something home that screams “Traverse City,” you will find many choices at Cherry Republic. This shop offers many cherry products (wine, candies, jams, salsa, bath & body) in a rustic atmosphere filled with clever signs challenging bananas as deserving of their own republic. http://www.cherryrepublic.com/

Being an outdoorsy lot, you’ll find no shortage of fleece and hiking shoes here. If you’re looking for something a little more special for dinner on the town, drop into Posh and ask owner Julie Goodwin what she would recommend for you. Her shop is a hand-picked assortment of casual and dressy complete with shoes and accessories, including items by local artists.  http://www.poshtc.com/

For a truly special keepsake, make a stop at James C. Smith, a fine jewelry store on the corner of Union and Front Streets. Any purchase here will garner many compliments whenever you wear it. Ask to see the peninsula pendant, a silver and gold rendering of our little corner of the world. http://www.jamescsmith.net/


While the big event used to be July’s Cherry Festival, the area is now home to a changing roster of events throughout the year. Winter brings the VASA cross-country ski race; spring offers art shows and blossom festivals; summer turns up the heat with the Cherry Festival and its airshow (featuring the Blue Angels every odd-numbered year); a world-class film festival coordinated by Michael Moore the last week of July; and several microbrew festivals and individual events sponsored by the wine trails. Couples, friends and families will all find their place in the sand along the blue waters of Traverse City!

Suggested For You


  • The Village Commons is an absolute MUST! Fantastic shops and places to eat, and just walking around the grounds of that amazing and HUGE old psychiatric hospital is awesome! (And if you’re like me, you will wish someone that works there would let you go in and explore!)


  • She mentioned the wine but left out the beer! Michigan is one of the biggest and best when it comes to microbrewed beer and some great breweries are in TC. Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (also great food) on the Old Mission, Right Brain, North Peak and Mackinac in downtown TC and, if you’re adventerous, a short drive outside the city to Shorts in Bellaire.

  • I am so proud to be a Michigander and see Traverse City on DesignSponge! I was born and still living in Grand Rapids, and love to visit TC frequently. It truly is one of the best spots in MI and really does offer something for everyone. It is beautiful any time of the year!

  • Nice job capturing some unique things about a most beautiful place! We lived there like tourists for six wonderful years and it is our goal to find a way to settle there finally. Don’t miss Pierce Stocking Drive, Poppycocks downtown, Underground Cheesecake Factory and Elk Rapids beach. Homesick!

  • Wow! Earlier this morning I was so excited to see my “adopted” home town (Louisville) featured, and now I’m really amazed to see the place I was born, raised, and currently reside featured! I do love it here. I’m lucky enough to work downtown so I have easy access to all the fun shops and some pretty amazing eats. Don’t forget Poppycock’s for lunch, dinner, and some great cocktails. And my favorite place to grab a quick lunch is Mary’s Kitchen Port … the Gobbler is THE best turkey sandwich you will ever eat. And now I know what I’m having for lunch today.

  • Don’t forget the little towns that surround Traverse City. One favorite, Glen Arbor, home to the original location of Cherry Republic. And the most fabulous women’s clothing boutique pretty much anywhere, Cottonseed Apparel. Check out: http://www.thecottonseed.com

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