Travel Bug: Traverse City, Michigan

We spent a wonderful six days exploring the Northwestern corner of Lower Michigan this July. This area of the Midwest offers stunning views, delicious food, beautiful natural scenery and an abundance of good wine and beer. It’s also incredibly dog-friendly! I was so impressed by the Traverse City, Petoskey and Charlevoix communities and would love to plan a return trip in fall or winter.

Just a note, I refer to Traverse City broadly here – but the area we visited was roughly a 1.5-2 hour radius. Traverse City is just the largest community in the area. If a restaurant or accommodation is in another community other than Traverse City, I’ll note that!

Tips for Visiting Traverse City Area

Photo via Great Lakes Fishermen DIgest
  • Where to Stay: There’s something for everyone in this area – downtown, urban hotels with rooftop patios, cozy lakefront or wooded cottages, campgrounds for tents or campers and a large number of vacation rentals (both condo style and Airbnbs in people’s homes). We wanted a central home base for our exploration of both Traverse City and Sleeping Bear Dunes, so we stayed in an Airbnb in Cedar. It was about 15-20 minutes from all of the attractions we wanted to visit and was so peaceful and quiet. The large yard was great for our dog, and we enjoyed the beautiful stargazing and firepit in the evenings. Check out the Airbnb listing where we stayed. We spent one night in Charlevoix, too (about 40 minutes away from Traverse City) and stayed in a delightfully quirky (but well-appointed) Airbnb owned by an artist. Check out the Airbnb listing in Charlevoix. Both of these stays were dog-friendly. Check out the Visit Traverse City website for more options on where to stay.
  • How to get there: From where we live (Green Bay, Wisconsin), this is about a 6 hour drive. It’s incredibly scenic and there’s virtually no traffic, so it was hardly stressful traveling there by car. It’s also a better option for us to drive as we bring our dog with us. You can fly to Traverse City though, and I was surprised by the volume of inbound flights at Cherry Capital Airport. You will need a car to get around if you intend to see the outlying destinations in the Traverse City area.

Where to Eat in Traverse City Area

Traverse City has a wonderful food scene and really leans in to the farm-to-table movement. It always makes me happy seeing restaurants highlighting locally-sourced produce and meat! Some of our favorites we tried were:

  • Rare Bird Brewpub: Brewpub with microbrews, craft cocktails on tap and unique dishes. The bahn mi and whitefish dip were SO yummy.
  • Grand Traverse Pie Company Food truck: Cherries (and fruits of all sorts) are kind of a big deal in Michigan. You have to try a slice of pie (I prefer blueberry) OR a pie milkshake (just what it sounds like… a piece of pie blended with ice cream). Their foodtruck sets up outside of Right Brain Brewing.
Photo via Village Cheese Shanty
  • Village Cheese Shanty in Leland: Leland is a quaint, remote, lakeshore community with a fishing industry. This cash only spot is somewhat iconic and features delectable fresh-made sandwiches on your choice of pretzel bread, pita or baguette. They’ll also help you assemble a to-go picnic of cheese, wine, beer, etc.
  • Farm Club Brewery: This is a mash up of a brewery, a farmers market and a restaurant. They offer drinks, a limited menu that is veggie-forward and a market where you can purchase Michigan-made items, beer, wine, cheese and fresh baked bread.
The Filling Station. Photo via Awesome Mitten
  • The Filling Station: We had heard great things about the pizza at The Filling Station and I can confirm that it was worth the long wait the night we were there to get a table and enjoy a pizza. With their setup in an old train station, they have a fun railroad-inspired them with their beer names and some really delicious pizza combinations. They have a brew each month that is supporting a local charity (a cool concept that I love seeing).
  • Short’s Brewing Co. in Bellaire: A bit removed from Traverse City and to the east of Torch Lake, this brewery has a good deal of Midwest clout. We’d intended to just swing through their giftshop to stock up on beers and seltzers to-go, but we ended up being in the vicinity at lunchtime AND they have a dog-friendly patio. Can’t say enough good things about their beer, their food and their setup! I am regretting not buying more of their Mule Beer. At least I have the memories!
Photo via USA Today
  • The Little Fleet: This food truck setup in downtown Traverse City off of Front Street is a neat concept I’d like to see recreated in more places. I’m unclear if the food trucks rotate of if they are all permanently housed there, but The Little Fleet features 7 food trucks, plus a bar with an outdoor, shaded seating area in the center of everything. It is dog-friendly and offers the opportunity to share a variety of different dining options between your party. Downtown Petoskey has a similar concept called The Backlot that we passed, but during the AM. Check out Petoskey’s Backlot here.

Where to Drink in Traverse City

If you didn’t notice from the multiple breweries listed above, we love craft beer and have planned multiple trips around brewery stops. The breweries noted above are those that are more of a brewpub (food sales onsite, too). Those below are more focused on the drinks. Michigan also is home to many wineries, especially on the Old Mission Peninsula.

Photo via Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery
  • Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery: This dog-friendly winery has multiple outdoor seating areas that overlook the water and vineyard. I’m not a big frose fan, but this is what they’re famous for, so we gave it a try.
  • Bowers Harbor Vineyard: This was my favorite of the wineries we visited. Also dog-friendly, this vineyard had great protocols in place for COVID-19 safety (including advance reservations and socially distanced accommodations. Bowers Harbor also offers cider for members of your party who aren’t as interested in wine tasting.
  • Right Brain Brewery: We really enjoyed the beers at this spot AND the vintage arcade games and pinball machines in this brewery. On the outskirts of downtown, it felt far less busy/crowded, which was nice.
  • Earthen Ales Brewery: Located on the grounds of the Traverse City State Hospital (more on that in the next section), the staff was incredibly kind and friendly here. We stopped in for a drink after our guided tour of TCSH and they gave us great recommendations on other breweries to visit and hiking trails. Earthen Ales also offers a Beer CSA?! This is the coolest concept and I’d totally subscribe if I was local!

Other things to do in Traverse City

Hiking and Exploring Nature

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo via
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire: This is the main driver why we wanted to visit this area. One of the four national lakeshores in the U.S. along the Great Lakes, this was the last one we had the chance to visit. It is often cited as one of the most beautiful spots in the United States, too. The park offers a scenic drive, the chance to hike the sand dunes and hikes for varying skill levels. Weekly admission fee applies.
  • Esch Beach in Empire: This beach is a part of the National Lakeshore designated area and is dog-friendly. Dog-friendly beaches are not the easiest to find, so we were happy to spend an afternoon here. Weekly admission fee applies.
  • Petoskey State Park in Petoskey: Hiking, camping, beach (not dog-friendly), etc. Daily admission fee applies.
  • Old Mission Peninsula Park: Short hikes, beach (dog-friendly), an historic lighthouse where you can take a brief tour and climb to the top. Fee to access lighthouse only.

History, Scenery and Architecture

One of the many “Mushroom” houses designed by Earl Young in Charlevoix. Photo via Charlevoix Mushroom Houses
  • Find the Mushroom Houses in Charlevoix: Earl Young is the Charlevoix, Michigan-based architect who designed the ‘hobbit’ or Mushroom houses that are scattered around downtown Charlevoix. Some are Airbnbs where you can experience staying in them, but many others are private property.
  • Search for Petoskey stones on Lake Michigan: These stones that are highly localized on Lake Michigan beaches in Northern Michigan feature visible fossilized coral. You can legally rock hunt on Michigan beaches and remove up to 25lb of stones each year per party. You cannot remove stones from beaches within the National Lakeshore area.
An aerial view of the sprawling campus of the former Traverse City State Hospital. Photo via Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
  • Visit the Village at Grand Traverse Commons: The revitalized former state mental hospital in Traverse City is a tremendous example of historic preservation and adaptive reuse. The sprawling campus has been (and is still currently) being revitalized into apartments, assisted living, shops, offices, restaurants and more.
  • Take a Guided Tour of Traverse City State Hospital: I can’t stress enough how highly worth the money this guided tour was. The 2+ hour tour takes you throughout much of the buildings and grounds of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons and not only speaks highly of the practices and people who spent time there, but how influential this development was in Michigan and Traverse City history from an employment and industrial perspective.
Photo via Leland, MI municipal website
  • Visit Historic Fishtown in Leland: While this won’t take up too much of your day, it’s worth heading up to Leland for a few hours to explore the downtown area and walk around historic Fishtown. The fishing shanty village is a unique piece of history. The community is actively fundraising to continue to restore this piece of Leland’s commercial fishing heritage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s