From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Americans know the midwest is the heart of our nation, and it’s as beautiful as it is thriving. Traverse City in particular is known by locals as a four-season playground, and it’s easy to see why: brimming with culture, surrounded by nature, and populated by some of the kindest and most thoughtful people in the world, who wouldn’t want to spend their time exploring this one-of-a-kind city?
Along with its array of restaurants, museums, parks, lighthouses, and other attractions, Traverse City is also the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. Each year in July, thousands of visitors flock to town to participate in the yearly National Cherry Festival — but those who stick around know that fall and winter are just as stunning and full of opportunity.
We’ve written this travel local guide for those who want to get an authentic taste of the Traverse City life, even if you’ve called the area home for years. From dining and drinking to hiking and more, here are the top things to do in Traverse City, Michigan.
Don’t worry — there are an incredible number of restaurants, museums, theaters and other cultural attractions to keep you busy in urban Traverse City. But nature lovers will be happy to know there are plenty of outdoor recreation activities to choose from, too.
Here are just a few of the best state and national parks in and around Traverse City, MI.
Covering nearly 10,000 acres of beautiful Michigan countryside, Hartwick Pines State park is located just over an hour outside of Traverse City, and makes for a great day trip or full-on weekend getaway retreat. Featuring rolling hills and views of the valley of the East Branch of the AuSable River, this is the perfect place to hike, camp, bird watch, or just relax.
A beachside oasis covering about 1,500 acres of the tip of the little finger of the Leelanau Peninsula, this state park is, among other things, home to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. There are also more than eight miles of hiking trails and a well-appointed campground. A visit is sure to make you understand why the Native Americans gave it its name, which means "A Land of Delight!”
Traverse City folks are lucky in that they don’t have to go very far at all to enjoy Michigan’s stunning outdoor scenery. Traverse City State Park may be small, but it’s mighty — and mighty accessible! With about 50 acres of green space nestled right into the heart of town, this is a great place to get away from it all without going very far away at all.
Less than an hour of driving will lead you to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the most beautiful preserved waterside wildernesses in the lower 48. Its namesake dunes are huge and scalable, and the park also offers multiple beaches and plenty of hiking trail miles to meander.
You don’t have to go very far into the woods to find beautiful hiking trails in Traverse City, MI. Here are some of the very best.
If you need a little peace and quiet — and who doesn’t, from time to time? — the Brown Bridge Quiet Area Trail is one of the most popular places to enjoy some solitude with a view. At just over 5 miles all told and seeing a little more than 100 feet in elevation gain, this moderate trek leads viewers through forested dells and over wooden footbridges, and also features beautiful wildflowers.
Looking for a bit of a longer, less-than-leisurely stroll? The Sand Lakes Quiet Area Trail stretches almost 7.5 miles and sees over 300 feet of elevation gain, making it both a workout and a chance to relax and rejuvenate. Plus, the crystal-clear waters you’ll pass will bring peace and joy to your soul as well as refreshment to your body.
Tucked into the sanctuary of the Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park, Vasa Trail is one of the most popular destinations for Traverse City dwellers — and for good reason. Running more than 26 miles all told, this trail offers a plethora of exploration options depending on what you’re in the mood for, from a quick walk in the woods to a lengthy backpacking trip and everything in between. (Just be sure you’re well prepared with equipment and supplies if you’re heading out for more than a couple of hours!)
Located in the Timbers Recreation Area, Fern Lake Loop is a perfect opportunity for those new to hiking and looking to get some practice before they take on a longer project. Stretching just 2 miles round trip and seeing little more than 100 feet in elevation gain, this trail is considered easy, but it’ll definitely still get your blood flowing — and the lakeside views aren’t bad, either!
Rolling green hills, blue skies and birdsong all await those who take the trip around the Hickory Hills Loop Trail, which runs a very doable 1.8 miles and sees less than 400 feet of elevation gain. With its gentle undulations and sweeping views, this is a perfect opportunity to grab some exercise that feels like anything but a chore.
With all the places to explore and things to do in Traverse City, you’re going to need a good meal or five to get you through. Good news: this town is home to some of the best dining in the midwest (and beyond!). Here are some of our favorite restaurants in Traverse City, Michigan.
When it comes to hearty, wholesome, delicious fare that’ll keep your belly and soul full alike, it’s hard to beat Italian — and if you’re looking for the best Italian restaurant in town, you’re looking for Trattoria Stella. From curated charcuterie plates to hand-rolled pastas and beyond, there’s no shortage of delectable delights to discover here. Plus, this place made #2 on Eater’s 2018 list of 18 Outstanding Places to Dine and Drink in Traverse City — so you don’t just have to take our word for it!
You might assume it’s hard to find authentic, delicious Mexican flavors this far north of the border, but one trip to Spanglish would set you straight on that front. Offering authentic favorites with a playful twist, this is a great place to grab a spicy lunch or dinner.
Plant-based comfort food: yes, it exists. And if you’re looking for something comforting and conscientious at the same time, Rad.ish Street Food has you covered. Serving up some of the very best vegetarian and vegan fare in Traverse City, this place considers kindness one of its key ingredients… but the rest of its fresh, local flavors will also have your mouth watering.
With so many options, it’s hard to pick the best Asian restaurant in Traverse city — especially if you can’t decide between, say, spring rolls or sushi. Fortunately, Red Ginger offers a selection from all across the east, from Indian to Vietnamese to Japanese and beyond.
If you’re hoping to keep your finger on the beating heart of the Traverse City dining scene, we recommend making the trip to Alliance Restaurant, which offers elevated American fare in a casual, inviting environment. From a wagyu bacon cheeseburger to fig and ginger cheesecake, this place is all about putting inventive and delectable spins on old favorites.
Traverse City is alive with things to see, do, and experience, no matter your situation or desires. Here are some of the top things to do in Traverse City — with kids, as a couple, or even solo without a cent in your pocket.
Got kids along for your adventure? That’s great, because there are plenty of family-friendly activities to choose from in Traverse City. Here are just a few.
Although there’s no shortage of wonderful places to ice skate outdoors in the wintertime in Michigan, come summer, the urge to skate might still strike — and fortunately, there’s a place to take to the ice even in the heat of July! Howe Ice Arena is a community skating rink that’s perfect for an afternoon of chilly family fun, no matter what the weather is doing outside.
If your kids are skeptical about museums, it might be because the ones they’re used to are the ones in which you’re not allowed to touch anything. Take them to the Great Lakes Children’s Museum for an opportunity to turn that narrative on its head! With tons of interactive exhibits and educational opportunities that are anything but dull, a trip to this museum will leave your whole family smiling.
Sure, there’s no shortage of stuff to get into in Traverse City during the day. But what about after nightfall?
Here are some of our favorite activities in Traverse City to take on after dark.
Opera is just the start. At City Opera House, you’ll be treated to all manner of cultural entertainment and art events, from live theater to dance to recitals and more — and it’ll all take place in one of the most beautiful buildings you’ve ever laid eyes on.
Heading out to the bars is one thing. But if you really want your night out to become an experience, we recommend making your way to Low Bar, Traverse City’s one-of-a-kind speakeasy and craft cocktail lounge. Along with lovingly concocted drinks that put innovative spins on old classics, this place is also renowned for its extensive list of rare (and delicious) spirits.
Yes, you can explore Traverse City without taking out a second mortgage to do so! Here are some of the coolest things to see and do in town on the cheap.
The Mission Point Lighthouse has been guiding weary sailors home since all the way back in 1870, when it was built. Today, Traverse City residents and visitors can travel a mere 17 miles north to experience the lighthouse themselves, and can even enjoy comprehensive tours of the premises for a small fee.
Originally established in 1881, the Traverse City State Hospital has a long and storied history. It’s served as a psychiatric hospital, tuberculosis ward, rehabilitation facility, and even stood empty for a while — and today, it’s a residential and commercial development. Still, you can take a variety of tours through the grounds, all of which are offered at prices of about $25-$35 per head. Add your own small story to the long, running legacy of these grounds!
It’s true: there are things to do in Traverse City even if you don’t want to spend a single dime. Here are some options.
Traverse City is well-known for its variety of beautiful beachfronts, and Clinch Park is perhaps the most popular in the area. Offering visitors over 1,500 feet of beautiful sands to stretch out on and a stunning view of West Grand Traverse Bay, the beach is also pet-friendly and free to visit.
Traverse City has a longstanding legacy as an artistic community, and although it might cost a pretty penny to take those works home, you can certainly visit them for free. Many of the town’s art galleries are clustered along Front Street, where you can also enjoy the bayside view and vibrant downtown atmosphere.
Who doesn’t need to be pampered from time to time? We’ve all been there — and if that’s where you are (and you happen to be in Traverse City, too), here’s where to head.
Inspired by the clean lines and warm atmospheres of spas across the pond, Pavlova Spa & Salon is a European day spa offering an indulgent array of beautifying and relaxing services. From massages and body scrubs to facials, nail care, and hair styling, chances are, whatever you need done, you can get it done here.
Salt rooms are all the rage these days, and fans swear that those pink Himalayan crystals can be total game-changers when it comes to health and well-being. Find out for yourself at Urban Oasis Salt Spa, where, along with relaxing in the salt cave, you can also enjoy facials, massages, and other detoxifying services.
Staying in shape is about so much more than looking your best: it’s about feeling your best and having the strength to put your best foot forward in everything you do. Here are the best gyms and yoga studios in Traverse City, Michigan.
If you’re looking for a straightforward fitness facility where your goals are considered gilded, Elite Fitness North may be just the place for you. Devoted to crafting longstanding relationships between trainers and clients, the professionals who work here want to help make your dreams a reality — and guide you through the work it’s going to take to get there.
The largest class-based fitness studio in all of Traverse City, Yen Yoga & Fitness offers more than your standard set of hatha poses — though you can certainly practice those here, too. Whether you’re looking for spin, strengthening, or even yoga teacher training, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to get your sweat (and smile!) going here.
As you can see, there’s certainly no shortage of things to keep you occupied in Traverse City itself — but we can’t resist the opportunity to tell you about some of the great day trips you can take in the area, too! Here are just a couple to consider.
Lapped by the waves of Lake Huron, Mackinac Island sits between the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan — and offers visitors from across the state and beyond the opportunity to step back in time. From fine dining and posh hotels to horse-drawn carriage rides, this place makes for a great romantic getaway if you’re looking for things for couples to do in Traverse City and beyond!
No matter where you hail from in Michigan, or even if you’re from out of state, chances are you’ve heard the gospel about the endlessly beautiful Upper Peninsula. In Traverse City, you’re just a few hours away from some of the densest forests and most beautiful lakeshores in America, so you might as well take the opportunity to visit them.
The largest city in Wisconsin, Milwaukee is chock full of amazing things to see and do — and if you take the ferry, it doesn’t require all that much driving from Traverse City. Plus, who doesn’t love the opportunity to drive their vehicle onboard a boat? It’s like a travel-related Russian nesting doll set!
Note: some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Traverse City that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Traverse City? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.