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


  • I spent my childhood in Traverse City and it’s so neat to see it featured in Design Sponge! It’s one of my very favorite places!
    I’d like to add a few more places to the list:

    -The Grand Traverse Pie Co- best cherry pie! (T.C. is the world’s cherry capital): http://www.gtpie.com/location/traverse-city/

    – The Cook’s House restaurant- a tiny storefront on Front St. that serves amazing locally sourced food with a menu that changes daily. Mario Batali is a fan (he has a summer home in Northport near Sutton’s Bay):

    -Don’s Drive-In on East Bay has the best fresh black cherry milkshakes:

    -Zany- a cool downtown consignment boutique: http://www.zanyconsignment.com/

    -The Sarah Hardy Farmer’s Market- downtown on Sat. and Wed. mornings: http://www.localharvest.org/sara-hardy-farmers-market-M2577

    -Ranch Rudolph- a lodging ranch where you can stay or come for the day and ride horses in the woods, go on a hay ride, fish, hike, canoe, etc: http://www.ranchrudolf.com/index.php

  • My parents live in Lake Leelanau, and this is one of my favorite places on earth. Take the drive out to the peninsula and check out Sutton’s Bay and Leland. Both totally adorable towns with lots of fun shopping and ice cream. And a visit to this area is totally incomplete without a chicken dinner from Fisher’s.
    Now I’m homesick! :-)

  • woohoo! this is my hometown. born and raised and still enjoying the beauty of traverse city, and leelanau county. so happy to see it on design sponge! thanks :)

  • So happy to see little traverse city featured on here always trying to convince people of what a true gem of a place I am lucky enough to live in and I think this confirms it! Thanks for the feature on or town :)

  • I moved here from Los Angeles a year ago and it’s amazing. Great farm to table food, over 20 wineries and beaches galore with fantastic blue water.

    But shhhhh…this place is so good it should be kept a secret!

  • I grew up in TC! This is my first year out of town and it has definitely made me realize how special and unique my hometown actually is. GT Pie Company and Don’s Drive in should definitely be added to the list.

  • We spend every summer not too far away in Harbor Springs, a beautiful Victorian town, on Lake Michigan. It wouldn’t be vacation without spending at least one day in TC. Grand Traverse Bay is glorious! Instant stress reliever.

  • Yesss! TC is my hometown and seriously one of this country’s best kept secrets. As a former Bay Bread Co. employee I was so glad to see them featured! Best bread in town.
    A few more dining spots not to miss include Bubba’s (burger joint with fantastic veg options) and the Bluebird in Leland. Best perch ever.

    Thank you for the pleasant surprise! I love D*S for this very reason.

  • The Village Commons is one of my favorite parts of Traverse City – it’s a thriving group of shops, eateries, and professional offices all housed in the old state psychiatric hospital. http://www.thevillagetc.com/index.html
    Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery is a fantastic hearth bakery in the old firehouse of the hospital.
    Higher Grounds Trading Company is one of my favorite places for a french press full of yummy free trade coffee. http://highergroundstrading.com/

  • My family takes a couples trips each year to the Traverse City area and we love it! We always make 1 or 2 (let’s be honest, we stop every day) at Moomers Ice Cream (http://www.moomers.com/)! Moomers has its own cows on location where all their ice cream comes from. There are also quite a few ice cream shops in the greater TC area that carry Moomers like our favorite right in Suttons Bay. Enjoy!

  • I just said to my brother, Tec Petaja http://www.tecpetaja.com that we needed to submit our hometown of Traverse City to Design Sponge! How great is this :) I live up in Petoskey which is another fabulous place just an hour north of Traverse. Although, Leelanau County is my favorite!

  • I was so lucky to have lived in TC for 30 years. I come back yearly……it’s still my favorite part of this great country.

  • Ditto on Don’s Drive-In!

    And, the best butcher on the planet does his stuff at Sonny’s Torch Lake Market. They’re a ways up Hwy. 31 on the way north to Charlevoix out of TC, but if you’re headed that way, you must stop for breakfast or pizza, and then check out the fresh meats and gourmet items – try the brats! (Yes, a little biased – but I’m not a family member. And I wouldn’t steer you wrong, biased or not!)

  • So happy to see all the Michigan love!! Born and raised West Mich girl–spent summers in TC and will always love it! This is a great guide–I’m passing it on to my parents who are still on the Lakeshore.

  • Well, my cousin sent me a link to read and here I sit reading all about a place I’ve grown to love! What a fun website. We have spent many summer vacas in Northport, MI
    (top of Michigan’s “pinky”) so I need to give a shout out to my hubby’s FAVORITE donut shop….Barb’s Bakery. The Leelanau Peninsula is near and dear to us. No place like it in the world….truly!

  • Really? Best kept secrets? Take it from a local….this town is always crowded. A lot of the locals can be very rude. Many people who are “transplants” think they own the place. I am so underpaid because “a view of the bay is worth half the pay”….but a lot of locals can’t enjoy the expensive restaurants and night life:(

  • Thank you so much for this guide! I make several trips to the TC area each year but haven’t had much time to explore the town itself. I’m really looking forward to checking some of these places out!

  • Most relaxing place on earth! I grew up going there, have family there. What To Wear has the cutest clothes ever! Cali’s has the best shoes and jewelry! Just driving around is amazing! Go to nearby Frankfort to jump waves in Lake Michigan!

  • I still call Traverse City my “home” – although I have lived in Texas for over 25 years. One word for outdoor recreation – Kayaking. Amazing experiences moments away from downtown.

  • Honestly, Patisserie Amie’s pain au chocolat are unreal… probably the best I’ve had in the U.S.
    Plus the oeufs africaine: couscous, romesco, grilled pita and poached eggs are my perfect breakfast :)

  • So excited to see TC featured here! I’ve lived in the mitten (excluding college) my whole life, and I’m in utter agreement with all the Michigan pride!

    Last summer, my mom, sister and I went on a tour of the wine trails. We fell in love with 45 North Winery–their Blanc de Blanc pinot noir is delicious!

  • So excited to see TC featured here! I’ve lived in the mitten (excluding college) my whole life, and I’m in utter agreement with all the Michigan pride!
    Last summer, my mom, sister and I went on a tour of the wine trails. We fell in love with 45 North Winery–their Blanc de Blanc pinot noir is delicious!

  • LOVE this post!

    Best vacation my husband and I ever took was a road trip from Chicago up lake Michigan to Traverse City (and ultimately Mackinac Island). So many AMAZING road trip sights! Best during July and cherry season… Fond memories…see below!


  • Well! I live here and guess what??? there are SO MANY MORE WONDERFUL THINGS HERE! Like, when’s the last time you stopped at a roadside market only to pay a coffee can for your produce??? :-)

  • Don’t forget Interlochen Arts Camp about 20 minutes away. Catch great music, drama and art in a lovely setting. We’ve camped there for years and love the entire atmosphere.

  • I attended Interlochen Arts Camp back in the day and used to visit Traverse City when my parents came to see me perform. (And by the way, the Academy is mentioned above, just not the summer camp). In TC, we would shop at Callie’s Cottons, a beautiful little boutique. I see, from Yelp, that it is still there.

  • So excited to see TC listed! I’d also like to suggest North Peak Brewing Company as an excellent casual dining experience. Also I love shopping at Nest, American Spoon Foods, Fustini’s and Ella’s!

    Don’t forget to go to Right Brain Brewery for some great beer!

    @Katie: Happy to see that you mentioned Frankfort! I was born and raised there but migrated north to Traverse City. Frankfort has some excellent dining experiences as well. For great eats go to Dinghy’s, The Fusion and the Coho Cafe!

  • I’ve visited TC the past few summers for a relaxing time on Lake Leelanau and the Traverse City Film Festival. I always stop in The Red Dresser on Hall Street. It’s a great group of local vendors and craftsfolks. My favorite is vintage button jewelry by Notion. Very cute!

  • So happy to see this beautiful town showcased here! Being a native Michigander we often hear negative comments about Detroit & our state, but it really is one of the most diverse & gorgeous states in America, with so much to do any time of year! Thank you for highlighting another great place to visit in Michigan!

  • Yay! I am so happy to see my hometown featured here! Traverse City and the surrounding area is such a magical place! I want to add omena cut flower farm U pick to the list. It is a great place to get a beautiful bouquet and peonies are almost in season! The most charming part, you pay a coffee can:) http://www.omenacutflowers.com

  • Nice to see my hometown get some exposure. I would add a couple spots to that list.

    For a great lunch, check out Slabtown Burgers. Local products, local sodas, these guys rock at burgers. http://www.slabtownburgers.com

    Another spot in Old town is Blue Tractor. They have a killer beer selection and great mac and cheese. http://www.bluetractorcookshop.com

    And make sure to check out the GT Commons. It’s an old insane asylum transformed into greenspace, shops, wineries, and restaurants. http://thevillagetc.com and stop into Silver Fox Jewelry! http://silverfoxjewelrytc.com

  • So fun to read all these comments about our town. It is great to see it featured on Design Sponge. Now you all come and visit us soon. New restaurant to try out is Rolling Farms. Family owned and very healthy.

  • As a displaced Michigander, it is wonderful to see the Traverse City profiled. You really can’t beat downtown, the views of the bay and anything from American Spoon Foods http://www.spoon.com/. For a great outing from Traverse City, I head to Fishtown in Leland to check out all of the new handmade items at Tack + Jibe http://www.tackandjibe.com/. Such a great shop!

  • Im from Traverse City and was so thrilled to see it featured here!
    It really is a charming and idyllic as it sounds. Slab Town burgers, the Sate Theatre, The Dish, Amical…. So many great places to eat and play.

  • I’ve lived here for forty years–couldn’t leave because of the beauty and excitement. Visitors must go to the Grand Traverse Commons to see the old asylum (converted into condos). The shopping space in the Mercado space features Mana, a great place for Southern cooking. Cuppa Jo also offers the best scones around. Afterwards, go for a walk in the woodland above the buildings and look down on the city. It doesn’t get any better than this!

  • 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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