Tips from a Local: Traverse City, Michigan

TFAL is a feature where local residents provide tips for visitors on what to do, see, eat, and otherwise experience.  Today’s tipster goes by the handle “Modern Alewife.”

(Mod note: I’m going to embed all of these links later so that you just click on the name of the place and can get there – but that isn’t happening today.  Thanks for your patience. And thank you Modern Alewife for doing all of my homework for me!)

If someone was in town just for a day, and wanted three really fun or interesting things to do, what would you suggest to them?

If you’re staying in Traverse City: 1) Go check out the Grand Traverse Commons ( — where the former Traverse City State Hospital (i.e. asylum) has been turned into a gorgeous community with retail shops, condos, and restaurants. No visit is complete without a stop at Left Foot Charley ( for a glass of wine or cider. 2) Take a brewery tour that gets you outdoors and moving with TC Cycle Pub ( or Kayak, Bike & Brew ( The beer is good and cold, but being outdoors in northern Michigan is even better. 3) Rent a bike from The River Outfitters ( or Paddle TC ( and take a ride along the TART Trails ( Ride along the beautiful Grand Traverse Bay from West End Beach to Clinch Park and then bike through historic neighborhoods to get to the Boardman Lake Trail. The six mile round trip takes you through wooded areas around the edge of an inland lake. When you are back the beginning, you can grab a beer on the patio at the Filling Station Microbrewery ( in the historic depot. You’ll have a view of both the lake and the Children’s Garden at the public library.

If you have a car and fancy a short drive (shorter than a day trip): 1) Go up Old Mission Peninsula. There are breathtaking views of East and West Grand Traverse Bay, and loads of pretty orchards and wineries. Stop at the lighthouse at the top of the peninsula and check out the historic exhibits and the rock strewn beach. 2) Check the schedule and see if there is a show at Interlochen Center for the Arts ( Between student performances, the Shakespeare Festival, and a summer series of nationally touring artists, there’s always something to see at one of the nation’s premier arts centers. 3) Drive up the Leelanau peninsula and stop at L. Mawby winery for a glass of bubbly. ( Specializing in sparkling wines, they grow pinot noir, vignoles, pinot gris, regent, riesling, chardonnay and pinot meaner. If you have time for a longer drive, you can drive to Sutton’s Bay and shop in the colorful downtown, or up to Northport to see another historical lighthouse. You can also head west on the peninsula and explore the docks at Fishtown ( in Leland.

What are your favorite non-chain-restaurant places for cheap lunch on the go?

In no particular order: 7 Monks Taproom has been named to Draft Magazine’s list of 100 Best Beer Bars in the country twice. In addition to their 47 rotating craft handles, they have burgers, salads “monk” & cheese, and all sorts of elevated bar food for reasonable prices. ( The Little Fleet ( has nine food trucks with budget friendly options, plus a full bar and a great patio. Finally, Harvest ( is a little counter service place in an alley with amazing food. All of the taco options are great, but the ones with blackened local whitefish are a true summer treat, and both the ramen and pho are on point. You should also order the flash fried “street beets” with wasabi mayo or the sweet potato fries with chimichurri sauce. There’s no bar at Harvest, but the food more than stands on its own.

Which touristy things are worth doing in your city/town? Which ones are all hype in your opinion and are safe to skip?

In beautiful weather, you simply can’t beat being outdoors in northern Michigan. For those who can bike or walk, the trails and tours are absolutely worth it. The breweries vary in quality, but are all worth a visit, and the wineries up both the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas are always fun. The casinos are a waste of both time and money. Who wants to be shut up in a smokey building when you could be outside?

Any special suggestions for visitors about clothing or footwear to be worn in your area?

Comfortable shoes! You’re going to want to be able to walk along the Bay or the Boardman River (especially when the salmon are running). Comfortable footwear (like Chacos or Tevas) that go in the water is never a bad idea since it’s always tempting to wade in the Bay or amble out onto the rocks at the lighthouses. Also, bring a sweater! The weather can turn on a dime in northern Michigan, and we get lots of breeze from the water. Layers are always appropriate, even in July.

How is your city/town in terms of accessibility and acceptance?  Would you personally characterize it as easily navigable for a single parent with young children in tow?  For the mobility impaired?  Would you say that it is accepting of racial diversity and of LGBT people?

For the rural midwest, Traverse City is fairly tolerant place. There is a visible and active LGBTQ population. In the summer, it can be crowded, but it tends to be child friendly as it has been a family vacation spot in Michigan for generations. In recent years, the city has made an effort to become more accessible, instituting things like restrictions to the size of sidewalk cafes in order to comfortably accommodate motorized assisted mobility devices.

Where is the best place to buy reasonably priced non-tacky souvenirs?  To buy kitchy tacky souvenirs?

For both, the place to go is the Front Street downtown shopping district in Traverse City. The one way street boasts everything from cheesy t-shirt shops to two bookstores, a spice shop, a shop selling artisanal olive oil, several fudge shops, two shoe stores, and numerous clothing boutiques at a variety of price points. An honorable mention goes to the rapidly expanding Warehouse District (walkable or bikeable from front street for those with no mobility issues).

What is your favorite day trip from city? (Out and return same day.)

Sleeping Bear Dunes ( is about a 45 minute drive and is one of the most stunning places in the country. (Even Good Morning America said so!) Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a great option for those with mobility issues, while visitors looking for a workout can try the Dune Climb. Make a day of it, pack a cooler, and pick one of the many Lake Michigan beaches for an afternoon in the sun. (Empire Beach, North Bar, Elberta Beach, and Frankfort are favorites for our family. In Frankfort, be sure to check out Stormcloud Brewery which specializes in Belgian styles.

What are your three favorite places in your city?

1) Grand Traverse Commons (and the patio at Left Foot Charley!) 2) Hannah Park on the banks of the Boardman River 3) The Open Space on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay

Any faux pas to note?  Tips on how not to irk or otherwise offend the locals?

1) Don’t walk into a craft beer bar and order a Michelob Ultra. Read the menu. If you have questions, ask. 2) Park in the lines. Parking is at a premium in downtown, so be respectful of others. 3) In recent years some tourists have attempted to bring badly behaved animals into bars and restaurants under the “service animal” law. Don’t do it. A true assistance animal is well trained, and if you try to fake it, you’re just creating a problem for those with a need for true service animals. 4) Beer and wine are big in Traverse City, but that doesn’t mean everyone is drunk all the time. In fact, the locals would truly appreciate it if you would drink responsibly. 5) PICK UP YOUR TRASH. After festivals, the town can sometimes look like a garbage dump until our teams of volunteers have a chance to tidy up. Be polite and don’t contribute to the problem.

Please feel free to add anything you wish that I may not have thought to ask about but that you want to share.

Getting here can be challenging. We have an airport with commercial flights, but the sheer volume of tourists here in the summer can make those flights pricey. Consider driving up from Grand Rapids (2.5 hours) or even from Detroit (4 hours). You’ll get to see more of the state, including forests, farmland, and classic midwestern small towns.

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