Traverse City, Michigan

True Love Pairings: Beer & Wine, Food & Fun

A couple finds common ground in Traverse City, Michigan

By Holly Bacchus

You know that old saying, “opposites attract”? Well, that couldn’t be truer of my husband, Chris, and me. Whether it’s my contemporary taste versus his traditional style, my jazz versus his country music, in so many ways we’re polar opposites. So, vacation planning can be quite the challenge.

My friend Renée had suggested we try Traverse City in northern Michigan. She has a summer cottage there and is always talking about how beautiful it is.

“You both love hiking and great food, and there’s plenty of that,” she had told me. “Plus, with all the wineries and craft breweries, you’ll both be happy.” She was referring to another of our “opposites”: Chris loves beer, while I’m a wine lover.

Traverse City sounded perfect! And on our drive up, we both agreed to keep open minds about sampling each other’s favorite beverages.

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The adventure begins

Fun Facts

Traverse City sits at the southern end of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, its Caribbean-blue waters divided by the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas. We decided to start our vacation with something we could agree on: hiking! At the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, 650 acres of parkland are laced with nearly 10 miles of trails. We hiked through Old Mission Point Park and parts of Lighthouse Park, winding through old-growth forest, abandoned cherry orchards and fragrant meadowland. Afterwards, we sat in the soft sand in front of picturesque Mission Point Lighthouse. The 1870s structure gleamed white in the afternoon sun while we soaked up the view, reveling in the play of light on the crystal-blue waters.

On our drive back down the peninsula, we stopped at Bowers Harbor Vineyards for a little wine tasting before dinner. The vineyard produces more than 30 wines and hard ciders. I saw Chris investigating the hard cider options and playfully snatched the menu away.

“You agreed! We’re tasting wines right now,” I said.

We sat outside amid the rolling vineyards and sampled a flight of five, 1.5-oz. pours. We sipped their sparkling Brix, fruit-forward Chardonnay, medium-bodied Bowers Harbor Red, dry Pinot Grigio and dark berry-and-spice Claret Wind Whistle. Chris admitted he liked the Pinot Grigio, so we bought a bottle to take home and then drove to the Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant, Brewery & Distillery for dinner.

“Your turn to try something new,” Chris said with a smug grin.

Vintage swag lamps illuminated the restaurant’s inviting, dark-wood interior. We ordered smoked whitefish dip with fresh-made, crispy flatbread, followed by pizza topped with charred sweet peppers, spicy chipotle chicken, gooey smoked mozzarella and fresh basil. Chris chose their Bam Biere, a golden ale blending spicy malts, hops and yeast. I took a hesitant sip of my Calabaza Blanca… and smiled. Orange and coriander made the ale refreshingly tart and surprisingly delicious.

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Fun Facts

Boardman, brews & bites

Our next day began with a hike along the Boardman Lake Trail. It’s part of the Traverse Area Recreation Trail (TART) that comprises more than 100 miles of trails. Starting at Medalie Park, we hiked north along the densely wooded eastern shoreline. Elegant swans drifted silently over the lake, and the sweet serenade of birdsong was the only sound in this tranquil environment.

By the end of our hike, even I had to agree that indulging in a cold one sounded good, so we drove to Right Brain Brewery. Their zany-meets-industrial décor was unique, with local artwork filling the walls and a giant Star Wars fighter jet hanging from above. Chris washed down his lunch with a pint of Northern Hawk Owl, a malty amber ale, and for fun, I ordered a Cherry Pie Whole beer. It was a fruity, biscuity amber ale made with—you guessed it—a whole cherry pie! Knowing that Traverse City is called the Cherry Capital of the World, I couldn’t resist.

After sightseeing and exploring downtown shops all afternoon, we stopped for dinner at Rare Bird Brewpub. From their menu of farm-to-table options, we chose the pecorino garlic-dusted fries served with an incredible artichoke-and-white-truffle dipping sauce. I even heard Chris making little sounds of satisfaction while he was eating them! We followed it up with cheesy pork belly nachos loaded with pickled cabbage and poblanos, topped with a drizzle of avocado cream. Chris suggested I try the Lagunitas Gnarlywine. I liked its rich caramel and toffee flavors. He gave me a sip of his Ludington Bay Brewing James Street Brown, a velvety, dark beer with a lacy, tan head.

The night was still young, so we stopped at The Workshop Brewing Company to listen to live music over after-dinner drinks. All their brews are made with organic ingredients. We enjoyed the 70s-style folk singers while sipping our Pry Bar porters. I’d never had a nitro beer before and found it incredibly creamy.

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Wandering & wine

On Sunday, we did a late-morning hike in Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area, a web of trails sprawling over 140 acres of preserved parkland. With fresh pine perfuming the air, we wandered up and down forested hillsides, skirted burbling streams and wetlands, and savored this serene retreat right in the heart of Traverse City.

For our next wine tasting, we visited Left Foot Charley. It’s the region’s only urban winery, tucked inside the historic Village of Grand Traverse Commons. Eighteen local viticulturists grow the grapes used in producing the wines. Chris and I smelled, swirled and sipped our flight of six on the wine garden patio beneath towering trees. We tried their La Caban Riesling, intensely fruity Pinot Blanc, mellow Tale Feathers Pinot Gris, aromatic Gewurztraminer and delightful Chardonnay. For our final selection, we chose (and absolutely loved!) the Cinnamon Girl hard apple cider. Owner-and-winemaker Bryan shared that the secret behind Cinnamon Girl’s gentle, spicy warmth was his use of Sumatra’s Korjinte cinnamon.

Afterwards, we wandered in and out of Village shops, strolling along walking paths that wound among the 19th-century castle-like buildings and manicured lawns. For our final Traverse City meal, we headed downtown to Taproot Cider House overlooking the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay. Renée had raved about how they represented the epitome of Northern Michigan’s friendly culture and billed themselves as offering “earth-to-table” fare.

The view of the sunset from a vineyard in Traverse City, Michigan
Red grapes growing near orange and green leaves in Traverse City, Michigan
Three glasses of white wine on a wooden bar
The view of the sunset from a vineyard in Traverse City, Michigan
Red grapes growing near orange and green leaves in Traverse City, Michigan
Three glasses of white wine on a wooden bar

Chris and I made selections from their overflowing menu of hard ciders. Then, we both ordered Phat Gregory sandwiches made with cider-braised pulled pork and smothered in a tangy cherry barbecue sauce. For dessert, we split a rich, chocolate ganache cake drizzled with a fabulous raspberry sauce.

Laying down my fork with a satisfied sigh, I looked at Chris from across the table. “I don’t wanna go home!” I pouted, and he laughed.

“Me neither,” he said. “Renée was right. This was the perfect vacation spot for us, with everything we both love. And I have to admit, I actually liked a few of the wines we tasted.”

“And I actually liked the beers I tried,” I said. “It was kind of fun breaking out of our ‘beverage’ comfort zones.”

Chris agreed and threw his arm around me as we walked to our car for the drive home. “Well, we’ll just have to come back,” he said. “I looked online and saw a lot more craft breweries and wineries here just waiting for us to discover them!”

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