Set in the bosom of the Great Lakes of the Midwest, Traverse City is one of the best places to take in the culture, tastes, and sights of Michigan. Northern Michigan is full of natural wonders, as well as some of the kindest people you’ll meet.
With parks, museums, outdoor adventures, festivals, ski resorts, beaches, family-friendly activities and more — you will never run out of things to do in Traverse City.
Here are 19+ things to do in Traverse City, Michigan, that you’re not going to want to miss.
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN TRAVERSE CITY
- Resort Option. Grand Beach Resort Hotel features a mix of hotel rooms and privately owned villas. This lakefront resort is 5 miles from the Music House Museum and 7 miles from Turtle Creek Casino.
- Best Vacation Home. The Nest is a 3-bedroom 2-bath home that sleeps 9 comfortably. It’s located in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a unique renovation of dozens of historic buildings formerly known as the Traverse City State Hospital. It’s packed with a series of restaurants and bars – so have fun!
- Best Budget Option. Comfort Inn Traverse City is no-frills, but only 1,700 feet from the lake and 1.7 miles from downtown. It’s a highly rated property, and has a pool and complimentary breakfast making it a great choice for families.
THINGS TO DO IN TRAVERSE CITY: VISIT CLINCH PARK
Located in Downtown Traverse City, you’ll find the area’s most popular beach and park — Clinch Park. Set against the Great Lakes, Clinch has some unbelievably gorgeous views with sandy shores to wander to your heart’s content. Nearby is the Clinch Park Marina for boating enthusiasts, and there are lifeguards on duty at Clinch Park Beach for most of the summer.
The beach has a splash pad for kiddos or kayak rentals if you’re feeling up for watersports. The Great Lakes waters in the area are calm enough for even some of the smallest kiddos, plus there’s a snack bar nearby when you get hungry.
A visit here is one of the absolute best things to do in Traverse City.
DENNOS MUSEUM CENTER
At home at Northwestern Michigan College, the Dennos Museum Center has been showcasing artifacts, as well as exhibitions in a variety of genres. Their spotlight collection is their Inuit Art of the Canadian Arctic, which is one of the largest and historically complete ones in the country. They also have outdoor sculptures to marvel at as well.
The museum’s education efforts and events cater to a range of ages, from primary school through adulthood. It’s never too late to learn something new!
LEFT FOOT CHARLEY
No, this isn’t some Michigander fancy dance move. Left Foot Charley is a winery and cider maker in Traverse City. The name is derived from owner’s childhood nickname. Their wine comes from 18 different Michigan growers who work to give LFC the tasteful blends they’re known for.
Some of their partner growers include Eden Hill Vines, Macdonald Vineyard, Island View Orchard, and Engle Ridge Farms. Find out for yourself why LFC continues to be an award winner in Michigan and beyond.
CITY OPERA HOUSE
Like many towns across the country, there are performing arts spaces of old still telling stories. City Opera House has been catering to its Front Street facing visitors since 1892. This Victorian opera house is known as “The Grand Old Lady,” and is one of only seven structures of the original 48 opera houses of its time in Michigan still open to the public.
Now Traverse City’s opera house is a hub for all things performing arts, as well as local events and weddings. Even touring Broadway shows have moved into City Opera House from time to time, not to mention writers’ events or even The Moth series.
NATIONAL CHERRY FESTIVAL
Traverse City’s National Cherry Festival has been a destination for visitors far and wide since 1926. The festival has been repeatedly honored on local and national levels, as well as being called a top event by publications time after time. The majority of the activities and programming in the festival are free for attendees.
It’s only fitting that the festival is a mainstay in Traverse City, which is the Cherry Capital of the World. If cherries aren’t your thing, there are also big star performers throughout the festival as well. Past performers have included Sheryl Crow and Styx.
INTERLOCHEN CENTER FOR THE ARTS
As one of the foremost performing arts schools, Interlochen Center for the Arts is well-known in the arts community. Since 1928, the center has grown some of the greatest artists and arts patrons around.
How could one not be inspired by the Great Lakes that surround them at Interlochen? Some of their iconic alumni include Maria Bamford, Terry Crews, and Santino Fontana.
HICKORY HILLS SKI AREA
In the winter months, you’ve got to visit Hickory Hills Ski Area in Traverse City!
Hickory Hills Ski Area has eight unique ski runs, including a bunny hill, as well as two runs for advanced skiers. They even have night skiing available. For cross-country skiers, there are areas for you too at Hickory Hills.
In addition to wintertime fun, you’ll also find amazing recreational activities in the warmer months too. Check out the awesome 18-hole disc golf course here. The award-winning course is popular during the spring, summer, and fall.
KEITH J. CHARTERS TRAVERSE CITY STATE PARK
Right along Grand Traverse Bay, a few miles from downtown Traverse City, is a nearly 50-acre state park known as Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park.
Within the bounds of the park, there are camping areas, as well as cabins to spend time out in the woods of Michigan. There is also a petite beach to splash around in the Great Lakes if you’re so inclined. The park is also an accessible space.
SLEEPING BEAR DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE
When it comes to iconic areas in the United States, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is absolutely up there with the best of them. This national lakeshore was voted by ABC Good Morning America viewers as the Most Beautiful Place in America!
This magnificent work of natural beauty is the perfect place to do a dune climb (harder than it sounds), see some wildlife, or just enjoy the Lake Michigan Overlook. There is never a bad time to take in the Great Lakes. The dunes are always open, just with a matter of seasonal hours or availability.
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is one way to take in seven miles of the gorgeous landscape from the comfort of your vehicle or by foot. There are a dozen places to stop along the way and it takes about two hours if you make all the stops, according to the National Park Service.
Sleeping Bear Dunes was formed by ancient glaciers which provide the area with an unbelievable look you’re unlikely to see in many other places. Plus the unique terrain gives rise to a variety of year-round activities that everyone can enjoy.
SAMPLE THE WINES
Traverse City has the unique position of being on the 45th Parallel, which puts it literally in line with some of the most recognizable wine regions of Europe, including Bordeaux. It only makes sense that the area is home to 40 wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms. In fact, it’s been considered one of the top 10 cities for wine connoisseurs.
The largest contiguous winery estate on Old Mission Peninsula is the Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery. Other nearby wine spots include Chateau Grand Traverse, Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, MAWBY Sparkling Wines, and Verterra Winery.
Black Star Farms is another popular winery in the area featuring amazing wine in a gorgeous setting. They have locations on both the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula.
THE VILLAGE AT GRAND TRAVERSE CITY COMMONS
You’d never guess it from the gorgeous exterior, but The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is housed within a former mental asylum. This historical space, considered an “architectural treasure,” sits on over 60 acres of campus, making it one of the largest historical preservation developments in the United States. Not only can you enjoy some fabulous shopping, you can even get guided tours around the property.
If you’re feeling particularly spooky, book a flashlight tour and spend some time in the former asylum. For 90 minutes you can hear stories from the building’s past while getting goosebumps. Maybe you’ll even find a ghost…or two.
TRAVERSE CITY BEACHES
In addition to the beaches already mentioned, there are several more Traverse City beaches in the area with incredible access to the pristine waters of Lake Michigan. Some of those beaches include Elberta Beach, Glen Arbor Municipal Beach and Gilbert Park.
Some are even dog friendly, but be sure the ones you are going to with your favorite pup(s) are friendly before heading out. If you do decide to take your four-legged family members, make sure to keep them on a leash to help protect wildlife in the area.
Even in the midst of Michigan you can find a town not unlike those you’d find in the mountains of Colorado or Utah.
Crystal Mountain, with its scenic overlooks, is a magnificent spot for skiers in the winter or anyone who loves a family-friendly town destination. It’s been called one of the top family destinations by major travel publications.
Crystal Mountain has 58 downhill trails, as well as 36 rounds of golf, in addition to spas, resorts and plenty of places to relax on your adventure.
TOUR A LIGHTHOUSE
Unsurprisingly, a city on the Great Lakes, like Traverse City, has myriad lighthouses to keep ships safe on the water. In fact, Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state. If you want to tour a lighthouse, Traverse City has got several to choose from.
GRAND TRAVERSE LIGHTHOUSE
Positioned on the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is one of the oldest on the Great Lakes. For more than 150 years, the mighty lighthouse has kept boats safe and gives visitors a glimpse into its history.
Because it resides inside the Leelanau State Park, there is a park fee, in addition to admission fees to the lighthouse itself, if you choose to climb into it.
MISSION POINT LIGHTHOUSE
Inside the aptly named Lighthouse Park, the Mission Point Lighthouse is the most unique of its Traverse City siblings.
Built in 1870, the lighthouse is nearby to beaches, picnicking areas, hiking trails and even the Hessler Log Cabin, which is free to enter. The cabin has been restored from its turn of the 19th century roots to showcase the history of the lighthouse grounds.
POINT BETSIE LIGHTHOUSE
Completed in 1858, Point Betsie Lighthouse is close to the Manitou Passage and continues to be an important navigation assistant for the channel.
There hasn’t been a lighthouse operator on duty since it went automated in the 1980s, but the lighthouse is available for teaching the public about its history and that of keeping ships safe. It is considered one of the “finest” historical lighthouses along the Great Lakes.
Not to be confused with the area of the same name in Pennsylvania, the area around Randolph Street in Traverse City is also referred to as Slabtown. The name comes from the way in which several of the houses were built using “slabs” of scrap they saved from the nearby mills. Slabtown was once home to working-class folks, particularly from Bohemia, or what is now Czechia. (That’s why another nickname of the area is Little Bohemia.)
One staple of the neighborhood is Sleder’s Family Tavern. Established in 1882, the tavern is Michigan’s oldest continuously operated restaurant. They’re known for their buffalo burgers and Sleder’s Cream Ale. And don’t forget to kiss Randolph the moose for good luck!
Another neighborhood icon is Little Bohemia Pub & Grill which was purchased in 2021 and renamed Lil Bo, which had long been the restaurant’s nickname, according to the Traverse City Record Eagle. The paper noted that some of the spot’s famous guests have included Arnold Palmer and Sir Walter Hagen.
DAYS OF SAIL
With so much open water right nearby, spending time on a boat is a no-brainer. For those days when you want to sail, you can reach out to a variety of places to snag a ride on an iconic ship or schooner.
The Tall Ship Manitou, for example, is a cargo schooner replica from the 1880s. You can enjoy brunch cruises or dinners aboard the boat, or even take a spin around the lake on a yacht! There are plenty of ways to enjoy the water even if you don’t own a boat.
Wind Dancer also offers specialty, signature, and private sailing tours in Traverse City. The 3-hour tours feature amazing sailing, locally-sourced food, drinks, and more.
BROWN BRIDGE QUIET AREA
A little bit southeast of Traverse City is the Brown Bridge Quiet Area, a 1300-acre preserve. The Boardman River runs through the area with tons of hiking trails. Wintertime sports enthusiasts also have space to snowshoe or ski, while warmer months visitors can spend lots of time wildlife watching or admiring the regional plants.
Be sure to keep an eye out for great blue herons, otters and minks!
DAY TRIPS FROM TRAVERSE CITY
Because Traverse City is so close to so many other wonderous places, there is always the option to take a day trip somewhere else.
Take Mackinac Island for example, which is just three hours away by car and by ferry (because it’s an island). Mackinac Island has long been considered an ideal destination because of its gorgeous lake views, in addition to its historic feel. Take a horse carriage ride down the cobblestone streets or enjoy a sunset on the water, you can’t go wrong here. (Don’t forget to get the famous Mackinac Island Fudge.)
It’s likely you’ve seen pictures of the Michigan Tunnel of Trees located along the Harbor Springs scenic drive route. The 20 miles between Harbor Springs and Cross Village are strewn with sets of tree canopies, adorable small towns to explore, and a myriad of stops for the foodies on your trip.
If you’ve got whitewater rafters in your crew, be sure to stop at the Bear River Valley Recreation Area near Petoskey, which boasts some of the best whitewater in the Midwest. You’ll find the the Bear River Valley Recreation Area about an hour from Traverse City.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO MICHIGAN
- GRAND RAPIDS: 15 Amazing Things To Do In Grand Rapids, Michigan
- ANN ARBOR: 20 Amazing Things To Do In Ann Arbor, MI
- DETROIT: 26 Things To Do In Detroit You Don’t Want To Miss
- BEST OF MICHIGAN: 21 Of The Absolute Best Things To Do In Michigan
WHERE TO STAY IN TRAVERSE CITY
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