Traverse City, Michigan

Family Fun

In Traverse City, Michigan

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Discover the best two and five-day itineraries

By Dan Christopher

Not too big. Not too small. Traverse City is a thriving yet relaxing vacation destination on Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay that is just right, especially for active families in search of an unforgettable summertime retreat.

Here, visitors wet their toes in the sparkling waters of scenic inlets and whet their appetites at taste-tempting coastal eateries. All this while soaking up a delicious variety of activities that satisfy even the most discriminating travelers, whether for a two-day getaway or longer.

Choose Your Itinerary

If you have two days in Traverse City:

Revel in nature

Aptly hailed as one of the most beautiful places in America, the region features 35 miles of beaches and silky-soft sand dunes. It’s a sprawling playground thanks to the handiwork of bygone glaciers that nudged and shoved the landscape into majestic slopes overlooking Lake Michigan. It showcases both the grace and the might of Mother Nature. The kids will love this natural wonder where they can run freely. Moms and dads will love it, too.

While barefooting it through the sand, also explore exhilarating landscapes such as Empire and Pyramid Point bluffs, which climb 400 feet above Lake Michigan with sweeping vistas.

Trek the trails

Lace up your hiking shoes and let your curiosity take you to a myriad of trails that lead to local wetlands, streams and nearby forests. Here, you’ll come across lush greenery, plentiful wildlife, untouched wilderness and diverse species of rare birds in their natural habitat. This family-friendly adventure perks up the spirit and works up an appetite. 

Acquire a taste

There are plenty of dining options in Traverse City. So many, in fact, that Bon Appétit listed it as one of America’s Top Five Foodie Towns. Whether you prefer pizza with pizzazz at a sidewalk café or cuisine with a continental flair at a rooftop restaurant, tasty treats abound in and around Front Street downtown. Enhance your meal with a local craft brew or a vintage from a regional winery.

Instead of a restaurant, you may wish to grab some take-out at a local deli and head along Peninsula Drive to Bryant Park, one of several well-groomed hangouts on the waterfront. Relax under a big shade tree and let the kids swim, play Frisbee or simply enjoy the play area.

Let the good times roll

With sunny afternoon skies and lake breezes too good to waste, it’s time to explore more. A family bike ride will capture the flavor of this charming port town. If you didn’t bring along bicycles, you can easily outfit your family with wheels from a local adventure outlet. Family bonding and forever memories are almost guaranteed.

Light the way

As daylight begins to fade and the longer shadows of late afternoon set in, check out historic Grand Traverse Lighthouse, easily accessible from the city and located on the tip of Leelanau Peninsula. It’s nestled in a picturesque state park and dates back 150 years. Now a museum, it welcomes visitors with exhibits and authentic decor from the 20s and 30s. Grab your camera to take some artistic lighthouse photos and let the kids snap a few shots of the setting sun. 

Adventure high and low

Morning breezes off the bay are an invitation for high-flying spirits to soar their kites and head for wide-open spaces. In fact, one of Traverse City’s treasures is called The Open Space in Clinch Park. An easy walk from downtown, the well-maintained playground sits on a protected cove where swimming and other water sports such as kayaking and paddleboarding are popular. This is another prime picnic spot, with plenty of tables and unparalleled views of West Grand Traverse Bay.

See the sunset at the dunes

This treasured hideaway may be one of the nation’s best-kept secrets, yet the region still ranks as Northern Michigan’s top tourist destination, especially because of breathtaking Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the beautiful Leelanau Peninsula. After grabbing dinner at Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, savor the sunset at the dunes to round off your Traverse City visit.

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If you have five days, add these activities to the agenda:

Time to talk shop

Head downtown to window-shop at any of the city’s many gift shops and art galleries. The boutiques are diverse and plentiful, brimming with curios and souvenirs to please family and friends back home. Drive from the heart of the shopping district to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, which offers more browsing opportunities in a renovated, 19th-century complex with a unique history.

Hit it out of the park

There is nothing like the crack of the bat, a cold drink and a hot dog at a summer baseball game. Head to Wuerfel Park to cheer on Traverse City’s Frontier League team, the Beach Bums, and don’t forget to try a Bum Burger right off the grill.  

Blank canvas

If art and antiques are your thing, Traverse City’s galleries offer everything from historic to hip. Take your time browsing the eclectic galleries downtown, and venture out a bit to visit the equally enticing galleries beyond the city core. You’ll find fine art, prints, pottery, sculpture, photography, fabric, folk art, glassware, intricate metals and so much more, featuring artisans from all 50 states.

State of the art

The Dennos Museum Center is a must-see for both visual and interactive experiences in the world of arts and science. Its exhibits include a laser harp, an anti-gravity mirror and a Hubble Space Telescope Theater that presents educational programs and astronomical updates. Don’t miss the center’s signature collection of Inuit art, one of the most complete in the world.

Pop and pour

If you can squeeze in some adult-only time, summer is the ideal season to tempt your palate at local vineyards where wineries offer their new releases from last year’s vintage. Travel the countryside wine trails and tour sprawling vineyards to taste exceptional wines. Located on the same parallel as the legendary wine regions of France, Traverse City’s prime vineyards are on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas and are as beautiful as they are productive. Some visitors leave the driving to local tour operators. Others travel the wine trail at their own leisurely pace with a designated driver. 

All hands on deck

To wind down from your Northern Michigan getaway, head for a day of tall ship sailing on the waterways. You can opt to set sail on a relaxing boat tour of Grand Traverse Bay, taking in the scenery while you indulge in a delicious meal and a local craft beer or wine, or board one of two “floating classrooms” to discover Traverse City’s maritime history and learn more about the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. For those who’d rather stay close to land, check out the dockside tours of replicas of 18th- and 19th-century tall ships.

No matter how much time you have to spend on your summer getaway, Traverse City is ready to please with activities to delight the whole family.

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