Traverse City, Michigan
From cherry-picking to wine-tasting, snowshoeing to kiteboarding, there’s a little something for everybody in this midwestern town.
To the residents of Tra
verse City, a small but culturally rich metropolis on the northwest edge of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (if you think of the state as a mitten, Traverse City rests between the ring finger and the pinky), Lake Michigan is many things. It’s a venue for summertime swimming, sailing and kiteboarding. A beautiful view to be admired from vistas at the South Manitou lighthouse or the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Not to mention a temperature-tamer.
“The lake takes a long time to warm up in the summer,” explains Mike Norton of the Traverse City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, “and by the winter, it’s become a heat sink that helps moderate the weather.”
This phenomenon, known as the lake effect, also ensures that Traverse City gets plenty of powdery snow, perfect for the area’s favored winter sports of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. But it’s not all snow, all the time: In the summer, bikers take over the area’s extensive trail network, as sunbathers and volleyball players crowd the 181 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay.
Summer also heralds the city’s most notable event: the National Cherry Festival. Now in its 87th year, the celebration draws as many as 500,000 visitors to the area each July for events such as the Cherry Pit Spit Contest.
But even those who miss out on the Cherry Festival aren’t likely to escape the area’s fervor for all things cherry. A trip up the winery-dotted Old Mission Peninsula will net you a bottle of cherry wine from Chateau Chantal, while on Front Street, Traverse City’s main shopping drag, you can pick up anything from a slice of mouth-watering cherry pie at the Grand Traverse Pie Company to cherry-based dog bones for your pooch at The Cherry Shop.
And the future could bring even more cherry offerings. Downtown Traverse City is booming, with new boutiques, restaurants and galleries consistently being added to the eclectic mix already found on the tree-lined streets.
“We seem to be going through a growth spurt right now,” observes Norton, adding that the area, which has always been a popular spot for families with vacation homes, is now drawing a fair amount of retirees as well.
Perhaps that’s because, despite the city’s increasingly chi chi profile, it still maintains a laid-back atmosphere. “You can enjoy a certain amount of sophistication and enjoy being out in the great outdoors without really switching gears,” Norton says. “It’s the kind of place where people wear hiking boots to work.”