Traverse City, Michigan.
If you've heard of this small city in northern lower Michigan at all, you might know it as the Cherry Capital of the World (or at least of the US) thanks to the fact that it grows the majority of the cherries in the United States.
But if you can't make it to Traverse City's National Cherry Festival in July, don't worry – this city is actually great to visit in other seasons, too.
And if you have to pick a season other than summer to visit Traverse City, I would tell you to pick fall.
In the fall, Michigan transforms from green forests and blue lakes to a cacophony of other vibrant colors – reds, yellows, oranges, even purples appear. And this is especially true in and around Traverse City.
Things to do in Traverse City in the Fall
1. Enjoy the fall colors
One of the must-do things, of course, is to take a drive (or multiple) to enjoy the area's fall foliage. You'll find some right downtown, but I'd also recommend driving up into the Leelanau Peninsula around tiny towns like Cedar to see some of the best displays.
2. Visit some wineries/distilleries
Set aside at least one day to explore some of Traverse City's local wineries and distilleries – it's not ALL about cherries up here.
The Mission Peninsula is a definite must when it comes to wineries. Drive up one side and down the other, stopping at least once or twice. If you want wine AND a great view, make Chateau Chantal one of your stops.
(And if you want to visit a bunch of Old Mission wineries in one go? Book a winery tour like this one so you don't have to worry about driving yourself.)
As for distilleries, the must-visit is the Grand Traverse Distillery. They have a tasting room in downtown Traverse City, but if you drive out to the actual distillery you can do a quick tour and four tastings (complete with souvenir tasting glass) for about $10.
They are known for their True North vodka, which has won tons of awards, but also have bourbons and rums and gin, too. This is a true craft distillery, distilling just one batch at a time.
3. Tour The Village at Traverse Commons
What do you do when you have an old, sprawling former mental asylum sitting unused not far from a small Midwestern city? You turn it into a hub for food, shopping, and living, of course!
At least, that's what Traverse City is doing with the old Traverse City State Hospital, which served as a mental institution from 1885 until 1989. Now, it's the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
The story of the building is actually pretty amazing – unlike those horrid places you've seen on TV, the Traverse City State Hospital was actually very progressive, adopting a “beauty is therapy” philosophy very early on.
Today, the whole site is being converted into shops, restaurants, offices, apartments, and even condos. They are still in the restoration process, though, meaning you can still see how things looked after the hospital fell into disuse.
I highly recommend the 2-hour historical tour here — for $25 you can learn all about what the buildings used to be and what they will become. And the tour ends with a trip down into the old underground steam tunnels; and who doesn't love a good underground tunnel, especially right around Halloween??
4. Embrace harvest time
Even though the cherries have long since been picked, there are plenty of other harvest-related activities and foods this time of year. Like apples. And pumpkins. You can find many of them for sale at adorable roadside stands all throughout the peninsulas near Traverse City.
Take a drive out to visit the Mission Point Lighthouse on the Old Mission Peninsula, and stop to pick up some apples for snacks along the way.
5. Take an afternoon trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes
You can't visit Traverse City without making the 25-mile trip out to Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore and its impressive sand dunes standing sentinel over Lake Michigan. This place was voted the most beautiful place in America a few years ago, and it certainly does feel that way on a sunny autumn day.
RELATED: Conquering the Sleeping Bear Dunes
6. Explore downtown Traverse City
And, even though there are plenty of day trips and half-day trips to take from Traverse City, don't skip the city itself!
Wander down Front Street for some shopping, check out the State Theater and its glittering marquee, take a stroll along the river or lakefront, and plot out where you're going to eat (there are lots of options!).
Where to stay in Traverse City
If you don't mind being a little ways outside of town, consider staying at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. With shops and a spa and multiple golf courses, it's a great getaway spot.
Within Traverse City itself, there are quite a few chains hotels available (with the Cambria Hotel being the highest-rated). We stayed at the Bayshore Resort, which is located right on the lake shore (with a beach of its own out the back) and is within walking distance of downtown.
A little ways outside of the city, the Cherry Tree Inn and Suites is popular, and there's also the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.
There are also some nice vacation rentals in the Traverse City area, too, including this condo in the Grand Traverse Commons, and this East Bay condo with great views. A little further away, this modern farmhouse is dreamy.
Where to eat in Traverse City
Traverse City and the surrounding peninsulas are full of great places to grab a bite. Some of my favorites include:
- The Jolly Pumpkin (on the Old Mission Peninsula)
- Bubba's (for BBQ in downtown Traverse City)
- The Filling Station Microbrewery (located in an old train depot)
- The Little Fleet (a collection of food trucks in downtown Traverse City)
- Sparky's Diner (we got delicious breakfast sandwiches at their drive-thru)
- Red Ginger (for Asian fusion and cocktails)
Have you ever been to Traverse City? If not, would you like to go?
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*Note: Big thanks to Traverse City Tourism, the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, and the Bayshore Resort for hosting us during our trip!