We traveled the entire sunset coast of Michigan this summer and while it seemed each tiny beach town was more adorable than the last, Traverse City took us completely by surprise.

best small town

You see, I’ve never thought much about the state of Michigan, I don’t know why I just never have.  It wasn’t on my must see list and I didn’t know anything about it other than it’s the home of Detroit and the unofficial state bird is the mosquito.

So, you can imagine my surprise when we landed in Traverse City, the realm of beautiful beaches, cherries, wine, micro brews and endless small town charm.

Traverse City has a population just over 14,600, is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States and is near the 45th parallel (halfway point between the equator and the North Pole).  At this latitude the sun is visible for 15 hours and 37 minutes during the summer solstice.  This means lots of sweet sun ripened fruit and extended beach time!

We just so happened to visit the week of the Cherry festival (first full week of July) and it attracts a half a million people.  Even with the influx of visitors and cheesy carnival rides the town didn’t seem overrun.  We choose not to participate in the festival as we only had a couple of days and we were bound and determined to explore as much of the area as possible.  This, in hindsight, was definitely the right call!

We created a mixed itinerary of outdoor exploration, food, wine, beer & cider tastings.  Here are our favorites…or maybe we should call it our Incomplete Guide to Traverse City Michigan.

Outdoors

outdoor travel guide

Haserot Beach

This is the locals beach (so don’t tell em’ we sent you or we might not be invited back!). It’s a great little spot to sit, enjoy a slice of pie and just relax (or sleep off a serious case of food coma).

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Old Mission Lighthouse

We love this quaint historical spot (especially because it’s free).  Stroll along the trails, enjoy the beaches and take the self guided tour to learn what life was like for the lighthouse keepers.

old mission peninsula old mission peninsula traverse city

Wine

Peninsula Cellars

While these were not our favorite wines, we did love the quaint old school house setting and think it’s worth the stop.  If it’s nice outside, grab your tasting and head out to the patio.

traverse city wine

Bowers Harbor Winery

Something about this place had a real family feel and the wines were fairly solid and not as overly sweet as some of the others we tasted. Our wine guide was super friendly and gave us the lowdown on some other must-see spots.

best of michigan bowers harbor winery

2 Lads

Tasty red wines, lovely bubbly, grand views and good sustainable farming practices…its high scores on all levels. And the uber cool contemporary look and feel provided a very different wine sipping experience. Splurge for the chocolate, cheese and nut plate, it’s divine with wine 🙂

Mawby Sparkling Wine

Bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles, I love bubbles!  This all sparkling wine stop was definitely one of our favorites and it’s where we inevitably spent most of our wine shopping budget! Ooops.

best sparkling wine michigan best bubbly traverse city

Beer/Cider

Mission Table / Jolly Pumpkin

This stop is a two-fer. The Bowers Harbor Inn Estate houses two distinctly different experiences.  Mission Table is an upscale, locally sourced, culinary experience that boasts a wide variety of their crafted wine, beer and spirits.  Housed on the other end is The Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant, Brewery, and Distillery with its low key rustic atmosphere.  If you’re a craft beer fan like we are, then you’ll dig their oak aged and bottle conditioned brews.

Bowers Harbor Inn EstateBowers Harbor Inn Estatebest food traverse city area

The Workshop Brewing

This is the perfect hang out bar.  Anytime you provide a space with good beer, food, lots of room and games; it’s a clear sign they want you to stick around for a while.  Plus, you have to love their commitment to using as many Michigan grown ingredients as possible.

traverse city best beer traverse city

Tandem Cider

There isn’t anything better on warm sunny day than a crisp, dry, not too sweet cider.  Obviously, we are not the only ones who feel this way.  When we were greeted with a long line and full patio, we knew we were in for a treat!  These guys feature a wide variety of flavors all expressive of the locally grown apples.  I suggest you sample them all and then take your favorites to the beach!

traverse city michiganbest cider michigan

Food

The Little Fleet

One open air central bar with a garden full of food trucks, what’s not to love?  It’s kid friendly, casual and the perfect atmosphere for rubbing shoulders with the locals. And Yes, there are a ton of local brews on tap!

the little fleet  food truckstraverse city michigan

Georgina’s

We love a good hole in the wall and this tiny 18 seat Asian and Latin Taquería hit the spot.  They have a unique two sided menu, one Asian and one Latin.  You can indulge in pad thai and seared tuna tacos all in one place!  Oh, and make a reservation, otherwise you could be waiting a long while or might not get in at all.

best food traverse city georginas

Coffee Shop / Bakeries

A good local coffee roaster is something we seek out in every great city we visit.  We have a deep (obsessive) love for coffee, and nothing pairs better than a gourmet pastry.  With that mad love comes a fair amount of snobiness and high expectations, so trust us on these.

Brew

Brew doesn’t disappoint! Located in the historic opera house building downtown, Brew is loaded with character and offers a variety of delicious beverages beyond just coffee.  They are big on sourcing local so you’ll find several microbrews and wines along with pastries, grilled sandwiches, soups, salads and so on.

traverse city michigan

Higher Grounds / Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery

This cozy coffee shop is on the historic grounds of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.  It’s a funky/cute little area that was the former state mental hospital and is now home to one of the nation’s largest historic adaptive reuse projects.  The whole village is filled with boutiques, artisan shops and restaurants.  Talk about character!

best shopping and dining

Higher Grounds gave us our first aero-press coffee experience while we chatted up the baristas about their fair trade standards and environmental commitment to no plastic, paper or Styrofoam cups (hence the Christmas cup in the middle of summer).

best coffee traverse city

With our cup of joe in hand, we walked across the lawn to the Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery and scooped up one of their organic cinnamon rolls.  Fair warning, everything about this bakery is intoxicating…you will want to walk out with everything they make.

best of traverse city

Grand Traverse Pie Company

So many of you suggested this little pie company and to be honest, we were skeptical.  We have visited so many disappointing and kitschy pie shops claiming to have the best pie that we weren’t very optimistic.  We should have known you wouldn’t steer us wrong!  It was a truly sinful experience!  However, I have to say I was disappointed in some of their ingredient choices (partially hydrogenated oils, fake coloring’s and flavors).

best bakery michigan

 

Have you been to the Traverse City area?  Did we miss something we should add to the list for our next visit? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.