Traverse City, Michigan is an ideal weekend getaway no matter the season. While summer is filled with trips to the beaches and water activities, in the winter you can take in the beauty of the area hiking with snow crunching underfoot or skiing, or stay inside and visit a museum, the indoor farmers market, or just relax and enjoy a cocktail in front of the fireplace. A Traverse City weekend getaway is an opportunity to discover wineries and breweries, outdoor activities, and plenty of shopping.
I was invited to spend a few days in Traverse City as part of a press trip. Since the opportunity included a plus-one, my sister joined me for a weekend getaway. Here’s what we found -- and recommend.
Check In At The Grand Traverse Resort And Spa
You’ll find everything you need for a weekend getaway in northern Michigan at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. This luxury resort has shopping opportunities, fine and casual dining, a spa, a pool, a health club with tennis courts, an award-winning golf experience, and a private beach. Choose from accommodations at the Tower, the Hotel, or the Resort Condominiums.
Take A Historic Walking Tour Of A Former State Hospital
Formerly the Traverse City State Hospital grounds, The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is a complex of buildings that have been renovated and repurposed as a shopping destination. Take the Village’s two-hour tour to learn about the history of the buildings and its origins as a state-run asylum. Learn about Dr. Munson’s “beauty is therapy” theory on patient care. Explore the grounds and buildings as well as an un-renovated historic building. The walking tour ends after you travel back to your starting point via a brick steam tunnel built in 1883.
Experience The Arts
Peruse the exhibitions and art collections, or enjoy a performance in their concert series at the Dennos Museum, located on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College.
The City Opera House, located downtown, is one of 48 opera houses built in Michigan in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s one of only seven of the historic Victorian structures that are open statewide. The restored City Opera House hosts quality arts and cultural entertainment, arts education, and public and private gatherings.
Check Out The Craft Brewery Scene
Walk around downtown to discover the craft brewing scene in Traverse City. Or, if the sheer number of breweries -- 12 at last count -- is overwhelming, take a brewery tour. Find out why the Travel Channel listed Traverse City as one of the top seven beer destinations in North America.
Downtown, these are a few places where you might want to sample brews: Rare Bird, Workshop Brewing, Right Brain, Filling Station Microbrewery. Or visit Brewery Terra Firma, which is located on a MAEAP- (Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program) certified farm, which does an amazing job at maintaining a sustainable brewery practice.
Indulge Yourself With A Spa Treatment
Spa Grand Traverse is listed in the top 25 of America’s top 100 spas. During my visit, I opted for the Organic Body Indulgence. This 80-minute, full-body treatment smooths and plumps the skin using a blueberry soy sugar scrub to exfoliate, a Vichy shower to melt muscle tension, a strawberry rhubarb masque with hyaluronic acid, and a full-body massage. I left rejuvenated and ready for another day of exploration.
Drive Along The Peninsula
Drive the peninsula to the end of the road at the Mission Point Lighthouse. It’s a beautiful 35-minute drive along the coast to the historic site at the end of Old Mission Peninsula 20500 Center Road. Tickets are not needed to visit the lighthouse, but there’s a small fee if you’d like to climb to the top of the lighthouse for the view. While it’s not a tall lighthouse (there are only 37 steps), know that the climb is steep. The top is enclosed, so you can safely take in the view and snap a photo or two.
Outside the lighthouse, walk along the beach, hike the wooded trails, or take a photo by the sign declaring you’re at the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.
Nearby, stop in the Old Mission General Store for a trip back in time. The owners are friendly and tell stories about times past. Antiques, candy, and groceries fill the small space. We purchased a local soda in a glass bottle and were told the opener was by the door. If the bottle cap landed in the spittoon, we’d get a free ginger snap. Old Mission General Store is open year-round and has a lunch counter if you’re after something heartier to eat.
Explore Local Wineries
With about 40 different wineries in the area, you’ll have to narrow down your list of which to visit. On the drive back from the lighthouse, you’ll see signs for several -- Brys Estate, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, and Chateau Chantal came highly recommended.
At the Village Commons, stop by Left Foot Charley Winery for a wine or hard cider tasting. Located in the laundry house of the former state-run asylum, the space is filled with floor-to-ceiling windows used to cool the laundry area for the previous tenants. Now it creates a unique space to sample old-style winemaking that involves sourcing atypical fruit.
Eating In Traverse City
The food scene is as unique as the locale. Whether you’re dining at the resort, downtown, or at the Village Commons, you’ll find farm-to-table, high-end, and casual dining options.
Aerie Restaurant And Lounge
Take the elevator to the 16th floor at the Grand Traverse Resort to find the Aerie Restaurant and Lounge. You’ll find panoramic views of Grand Traverse Bay whether you’re dining in the restaurant or at the bar. Enjoy happy hour at the bar from 4 to 6 p.m. with drink specials like the Fig Yours, made with fig-infused bourbon, and small plates of tempura-fried vegetables, sliders, and more.
Or make a reservation and dine at the restaurant. During my visit, I enjoyed the scallops with a succotash of sweet corn, fava beans, summer squash, zucchini, pearl onions, wild mushrooms, and asparagus tips, followed by the Classic Creme Brulee with Chocolate Ganache. Delicious.
Located inside the Turtle Creek Casino, Bourbons 72 prepares hand-cut steaks and chops seared over an open flame, plus premium seafood. I tried a variety of dishes during my visit, from the Maine lobster bisque with a drizzle of sherry as a starter to the main course of a filet mignon Oscar-style with crab, asparagus, and a bernaise sauce.
Another soup that looked fantastic (and my sister vouched for its flavor), is the Baked Six Onion Soup with caramelized onions, beef and marsala broth, Leelanau raclette cheese, and a magnificent puff pastry dome. And, as the restaurant name states, it offers 72 different bourbons from which to choose.
Another fine-dining option, Trattoria Stella, led by five-time James Beard Award semi-finalist Executive Chef Myles Anton, focuses on sustainable ingredients sourced locally when possible. Designated as one of the top 100 wine restaurants in America by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, you’ll enjoy contemporary Italian cuisine consisting of house-made pastas, fresh cheeses, charcuterie, breads, and desserts.
The House Charcuterie consists of 16 house-made items including Calabrese ham, mazzafegati, duck liver pate, rabbit galantine, hard boiled egg, giardiniera, and more.
Grand Traverse Pie Company
For lunch fare, stop by the Grand Traverse Pie Company downtown. Although you’ll enjoy a variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches, the namesake pies are the real draw. We took a small berry pie back to the hotel as a dessert for later. The crust was tender and flaky and the berries a bit tart with a delicious crumble on top.
Red Spire Brunch House
Located inside the Village Commons, the Red Spire Brunch House was packed on both of our visits to the shopping district. Enjoy traditional as well as unique breakfast and lunch options.
Shopping In Traverse City
Shop At A Renovated State Hospital
The Village at Grand Traverse Commons isn’t your typical shopping mall. This former state hospital is now a dining and shopping area. Walking the halls and seeing the cold hard floors and walls, it’s easy to imagine what it might have been like when it was a mental institution. The space has new life now, though, thanks to one of the largest historic preservation and adaptive reuse developments in the country, which is still underway. Dozens of historic buildings are renovated and now home to a myriad of businesses, as well as restaurants and retail shopping.
Stop by on a Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for the indoor farmers market. The halls are filled with vendors selling local products like roasted maple-ginger walnuts, smoked cheese, maple products, mushrooms, and a variety of produce and handmade items. I discovered the market right before heading to the airport and was so happy to bring home a taste of Michigan with me in the form of cheese, dried honey mushrooms, a delightful handmade morel mushroom pendant, and walnuts.
Traverse City’s downtown area has a funky college town vibe with boutique shopping, restaurants and breweries, two bookstores, jewelers, antiques, and more. With 150 shops, there’s truly something for everyone to enjoy.
Vacationing in Michigan? Consider these eight things to do on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, and don’t miss the best things to see and do in Ann Arbor.