Traverse City Travel Guide

traverse city travel guide

Traverse City has the great outdoors, tourism infrastructure, and a small-town feel. This city near Lake Michigan is ideal to go for a relaxing getaway or a vacation filled with outdoor activities. Read on for a complete Traverse City travel guide!


Traverse City is now known for its cherries and has come to be titled the Cherry Capital. But before it was known as a cherry town, it was a lumber town. Surrounded by woods and having navigable waters around it, the lumber business was what was responsible for the founding of Traverse City

The area was once called Kitchiwikwedongsing by the natives who lived here at the head of the bay before settlers came by. 

In the 18th century when French traders canoed across the big bay, they thought it was a ‘long crossing’ so they called it Grand Traverse Bay. Later, in 1847, a sawmill was set up south of the west arm of Traverse Bay and a new settlement took root. Within a century, the sawmill had changed hands, there had been more expansion in terms of development, and the area came to be called Traverse City. 

What to see and do

what to see & do in traverse city

Present-day Traverse City is known not just for its cherries, cherry orchards, cherry blossoms, the largest cherry pie pan, & the cherry festival. It’s also known for farms, wineries & breweries! It’s also known as one of the US’s best small towns to vacation in.

The long list of things to do in Traverse City spans from hiking around the lakes in the area to biking through farms & wineries. There’s wine tasting & beer tours to do. You can also go on some scenic drives like the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive or drive along the Leelanau Peninsula & Old Mission Peninsula. 

The number of lakes around Traverse City gives visitors and locals some freshwater beaches to enjoy. It also facilitates boating, kayaking, & paddleboarding.

A visit to the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Leelanau is a must for the views of Lake Michigan and the tall sand dunes you can climb.

You can learn more about the past of the area by visiting the many lighthouses nearby. You can also tour historical buildings like Perry Hannah House, the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, City Opera House, & State Theater. 

If you like museums you should visit the Dennos Museum Center, & there’s Great Lakes Children’s Museum for the kids. If you don’t mind driving a bit to see more museums, there’s the Music House Museum in Williamsburg and Eyaawing Museum & Cultural Center in Suttons Bay. There’s also the Cannery Boathouse Museum in Glen Arbor. 

To get a feel of the small town, make it a point to stroll through the downtown area. Hop into the cafes & stores on Front Street to check out the food & shopping scenes of Traverse City. 

Check out my post top 10 things to do in Traverse City for more ideas that aren’t included in this Traverse City travel guide.


food in traverse city

Traverse City is where you can eat some fresh cherries, cherry pies, and things like cherry chicken salad & cherry burgers. This city has a couple of much-liked burger joints, many cafes and a whole lot of restaurants offering different cuisines from American to Italian & French, Asian, & Mexican. 

The food here can also be found in its pubs & taprooms and at Little Fleet, which is a collection of food trucks with a good spread of different styles of cooking. You’ll find drinks there, too.

You should also try some of the 160 odd flavors of homemade ice cream at the famous Moomers Ice Cream.

Check out my post best restaurants in Traverse City for specific restaurants to check out not included in this Traverse City travel guide.


shopping in traverse city

When you’re in Traverse City, you’re in an area that grows and processes cherries. So buy some cherries or go pick some from the farms if you’re there when the fruit is in season. Otherwise you can drop into the stores that sell cherry-based products like preserves, juices, cherry salsa, cherry ketchup, & cherry soda. 

Since this is also a wine-growing area, you can take back local wine, too. With farming also being big here, you can stop at the many orchards & fresh produce stores to pick up some fresh fruit.

A walk down Front Street will show you a number of boutiques, art galleries, & some bookstores you’ll enjoy shopping at. 


geography of traverse city

Traverse City is located on the northeastern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula just south of Grand Traverse Bay, and a few miles east of Lake Michigan. 

This city is surrounded by lakes, freshwater beaches, hilly, & forested areas. There are even some tall sand dunes not very far from it. There’s also the Boardman River that flows right through the town. Its natural surroundings make Traverse City a destination that has many outdoor activities to offer locals and tourists. 


accommodation in traverse city

Traverse City has a diverse range of accommodation available from resorts and hotels to rentable apartments and lofts. A lot of accommodations are situated in places that celebrate the beauty of the area so you’ll find lakeside rooms and homes, some close to the fresh water beaches, and some in farms. 

There are a couple of ski resorts, too, in Traverse City.


transportation in traverse city

If you’re flying into the area, Cherry Capital Airport just south of the town is the nearest airport. The next best option would be the one in Grand Rapids which is a bit over 150 miles away from Traverse City. 

If you’re driving in to Traverse City, US 31 that runs from Alabama through the states of Tennessee and Indiana, passes through Traverse City. There are also bus services that connect some cities to Traverse City. 

If you’re taking a flight, you could think of renting a car at the airport or in town so as to be able to do the scenic drives around Traverse City. 

Best time to visit

Traverse City is quite an all-season destination because it has different things to do in every season. So the best time to visit Traverse City would depend on what you would like to do there!

In the spring you can see the cherry farms of the region in full bloom. But go in July if you’d like to attend the annual Cherry Festival and go cherry picking.

If you want to enjoy outdoor activities, Traverse City is warm and has longer days in the summer. The months of June, July, & August are the busiest. People come to enjoy the great weather, the hiking, biking, dune-scaling, and water-related activities like kayaking, paddling, and boating.

If you enjoy leaf-peeping, go to Traverse City in the fall. These parts are known to have rich colors around this time. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a great route to take to see the colors of the season. 

In winter, Traverse City turns into a winter attraction with skiing, sledding, snowboarding, and other snow-related activities. 

 Nearby destinations

nearby destinations to traverse city

Despite this being a Traverse City travel guide, you should also look at visiting the historical town of Manistee situated just beside Lake Michigan. Another small town you could explore around here is Charlevoix. These towns are 1.5 and 1 hours away from TC, respectively.

Detroit, MI is around 4 hours southeast of here. And Chicago, IL is another big city that’s just around a 5-hour drive from Traverse City.