Travel // Traverse City, Michigan

Even though there are many places we’d love to visit, we have long wanted to go to Traverse City, Michigan. Since it is only a four hour drive from our home, it was easy to get around and investigate all of the great tips our friends and family offered. Traverse City shares the same climate as the Rhine region of Germany and produces wonderful Rieslings along with other fantastic wines. We enjoyed some wonderful dry Rieslings for those of you that find them too sweet for your taste. We had some bold reds, unique Rosé and fantastic Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. I’ve been to Napa Valley twice and loved it, but I was surprised to find that I overall liked the wines better from Traverse City. We came home with three cases full from all of the different wineries. Needless to say, I’m enjoying a glass right now. Two peninsulas sit just above Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula. The wineries are located in both areas, but we preferred the wine tour on Old Mission. The Leelanau Peninsula has a larger shoreline with other fun activities and charming towns that you can split into 2-3 day trips.

Traverse City is also considered a foodie town and we can now see why. Mario Batali appreciates what the area has to offer and has a summer home located on the Leelanau Peninsula. Several articles have been written about Traverse City’s rightful place among top foodie cities including a nomination for Bon Appétit’s 2010 list of America’s Foodiest Small Towns.

The thing that impressed me most about Traverse City is that each business has the right idea. They have a passion for supporting local businesses and they often collaborate to create great events for the community. Most restaurants feature local beer, wine, cheese and produce while the gift shops carry local preserves and handmade goodies. The small gourmet grocery store is doing all kinds of right by listening to their customers and supporting local all along the way. It was uplifting to see the support Traverse City has going for it.

Wineries

Old Mission Peninsula

Peninsula Cellars-Old schoolhouse turned into a winery. Some of their wines have cute names like Homework and Detention.

Two Lads-Gorgeous modern building and grounds. Situated on a high bluff for great views. Knowledgeable staff that are excited about their wines. Wonderful experience.

Bower’s Harbor-Cozy tasting room with good wine. Owners have dogs that sometimes roam around the property.

Chateau Grand Traverse-Friendly and knowledgeable staff with great wine. The tasting room is a bit touristy for my taste, but the views outside are beautiful.

Chateau Chantal-Busy wine room, but wonderful wines. The outside is currently under construction, but you can still see how beautiful it is. You can stay at their bed and breakfast and they offer food and wine pairings along with a wine tour. Friends of ours stayed for their anniversary and had great things to say about the experience.

Brys Estate-Excellent wine at prices that reflect they know their wine is good. The tasting room is nice and all employees are dressed in black.

Shady Lane Cellars-Good wine in a beautiful stone building that used to be an old chicken coop. One of the most beautiful tasting rooms.

L. Mawby-Wonderful sparkling wines. We were shocked by how different this wine tasting was. We walked into “Pour Some Sugar On Me” playing on a the sound system and we were asked to start at the far end of the room and work our way back. We were able to try two sparkling wines for free and then if we wanted to try more, we were sent back to the front and for a small fee get two more wine choices with a snack of whitefish pâté or a goat cheese spread. The place was hopping! Lots of fun.

Leelanau Peninsula

Leelanau Cellars-A bit of a drive north, but from what we hear, the largest producing winery in Michigan. Their wines were very drinkable and I imagine great for opening a bottle with friends. Beautiful bay views.

Boskydel-Like walking into someone’s personal garage. This retired school teacher is in his 80’s, but makes excellent French-style wines for very reasonable prices. His tasting room only accommodates 8 people.

Food

We loved the food here and it just seemed to get better and better. You can view iPhone pictures of almost everything we ate on Foodspotting.

Casual

Omelette Shoppe-Local breakfast place with fresh bread and many great breakfast choices.

Greenhouse Cafe-Wonderful soup and salad. Marc had a reuben with cherry sauerkraut that was amazing!

Crema-Cute little cafe with soup, sandwiches, paninis, coffee, etc. I didn’t love my caprese salad, but Marc’s panini was quite good.

Dish Cafe-Our last lunch in TC. Great wraps, sandwiches and soup.

Apache Trout Grill-We had Sunday brunch here on the first sunny day of our vacation. It sits near the water and we had the best table. We were looking directly out onto the water through the slightly opened doors that let a cool breeze in. Gorgeous!

Jolly Pumpkin-So good, we went twice. A short drive up the Old Mission Peninsula with outstanding local food. Marc enjoyed their beer and they served wonderful dishes like pulled pork nachos, a warm and cheesy BLT with local creamery cheese and a snack board with local meats and cheeses. All excellent with top-notch wait staff.

Northpeak Brewery-Affiliated with Jolly Pumpkin and a few other establishments, this was our first dinner we had in Traverse City. Marc had pizza and I had a delicious pretzel coated chicken sandwich. Great casual atmosphere.

Boone’s Prime Time Pub-Small local restaurant in Sutton’s Bay up a little way on the Leelanau peninsula. Fantastic burgers and friendly people. You can tell the locals come here.

Fine Dining

Amical-This French-inspired restaurant was recommended to us and we thought it was good. I thought the portions were small for the price, but since we had been stuffing ourselves, this did not leave us hungry. I heard that it is a better deal during lunch time where the same food is offered at cheaper prices. We sat on the outdoor patio and soon after, a loud bunch of people in town for a conference were seated to fill the rest of the patio. Yes, I know this tidbit because we probably heard every conversation they were having. This put a damper on our romantic dinner and taxed our poor waitress, but the food was still good.

Hanna Bistro-Lovely restaurant. Atmosphere is great and the wait staff was attentive and knowledgeable. We chose soup and salad because once again, we hadn’t felt hunger since arriving in Traverse City. They offer olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar from Fustini’s down the street and local teas. We also tried the cracker jack sundae with homemade cracker jack topped with ice cream and salted caramel. Heaven!

Trattoria Stella-I saved the best for last. We stopped in for lunch one afternoon and had the most delicious food for under $20 and had to come back for the dinner experience. Our last night in Traverse City we went all out and had the burrata appetizer (made by the chef now after importing it for a while), the most outstanding fresh pappardelle pasta dish with cabbage, spinach and tarragon cream and for the entree I had salmon and Marc had duck. Did I mention the bread? I have had some bad focaccia in my day and rarely seek it out, but this focaccia has changed my mind completely. It was thick and spongy inside with an herb crust on the outside. Everything here was fantastic and it was probably the finest meal we’ve ever had.

Things To Do

Tasty Morsel Culinary Excursion

We decided to do this tour the first full day we were in town to help us get acquainted with the city. It is a three hour walking tour of what downtown Traverse City has to offer. The main street is called Front Street and we stayed mostly on this street and just beyond it. The rain poured and poured all day and we were soaked from the knee down, but we still had fun. Lisa and Gigi shared their city knowledge as we made stops along the way. We stopped into the Grand Traverse Pie Company, Cherry Republic, Morsels, The Chocolate Den, Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars, Burritt’s Fresh Market and Right Brain Brewery. Every stop was fun, but Burritt’s and Right Brain were the highlights for us.

Burritt’s-Ken, the owner, talked with us about his business philosophy and he knows what he’s talking about. Customer service is number one and his employees write down every request their customers have. The store is not very large, but he is doing some outstanding things. There is a Spanish olive oil that he carries for $20 a bottle and one day he decided to ask if they carry that olive oil in a larger amount. He now gets a 55 gallon drum of it and pours it himself into bottles so he can offer it to his customers for $10 a bottle. They have a great selection of fresh fish, cheese and wine and make great dips including their famous whitefish pâté. Many of his employees have worked there for years and they are all trained in every aspect of the store. A great place!

Right Brain Brewery-We also had a great time at Right Brain Brewery. It was our last stop on the tour and I am not a beer drinker, but we were able to taste their selection and I did enjoy their Strawberry Fields beer. They also had a Big Pink watermelon beer that I liked, too. It tasted like watermelon rind and I loved the unique flavor. We enjoyed our beer flights while drying off and when Lisa and Gigi left, Marc and I played a few games of darts and enjoyed the cool atmosphere. Russ, the owner is a hairstylist that started brewing as a hobby and he eventually opened up the brewery behind his salon. He recently sold the salon to someone else and continues to brew unique beers for his growing business. They don’t serve food, but have snacks from local companies that you can purchase. We ordered some beers during happy hour and snacked on cherry chipotle pretzels that were great. Right Brain Brewery beertender John O’Hearn created the amazing art piece of the older gentleman above. It’s made from small plastic pegs to create the overall design. There were several of his pieces around the brewery and they added to the great vibe. It was a great afternoon.

Canoe/Kayak/Tubing on Platte River

I thought we would be canoeing, but Marc signed us up for the tandem kayak. It sat in the water nice and low, but the paddling left us with soaked pants. We did the Lower Platte 2 hour trip and it was calm with beautiful views of the lake. The salmon were just started to move and there were a few fisherman we had to maneuver around. A fun activity to help burn some of the food calories. We brought a picnic lunch of items we picked up from Burritt’s Market.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

This beautiful stretch of road is about 7 miles long and takes you around to 12 lookout points. We saw sand dunes, small lakes and the vastness of great lake Michigan. Wonderful views with great picture opportunities.

Leland

Cute little fish town on the water with lots of charming shops to visit. The people in each shop were so friendly and we ended up purchasing some nice items here. Beautiful views of the water.

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Believe it or not, this area used to be the state’s largest mental hospital. With the help of a visionary, this large property is turning into a little community. The renovation is only about 25% complete, but boasts housing from an affordable $100,000 to a steep $1,000,000. A little market is set up with coffee shops and small businesses. There are separate buildings that have been turned into bakeries, restaurants and one is home to Left Foot Charley, a winery. One large building is currently undergoing renovation and will become a church and banquet area for couples to be married in this desirable spot. We were amazed by what has been done with these buildings that might be vacant or torn down.  A great success story.

We had a relaxing time and if you’re ever looking to visit Michigan or if you live in Michigan and have never made it to Traverse city, I recommend going. If you need any more motivation, apparently Bill Murray has been.

6 Notes Leave a Note

  1. Well I never would’ve pegged Traverse City, MI as a great place to holiday, but you’ve certainly changed my mind! Maybe after visiting home (Milwaukee) some time, we can jaunt over to TC before heading back south. Oh and the Bill Murray bit will definitely sway my fiancée — Groundhog Day is one of his favorite movies.

    Cheers,

    *Heather*

  2. Wonderful blog of you visit. Please come back to Northwest Michigan anytime. We really Love our visitors/friends!

  3. Thanks for sharing your trip! I am looking to spend Christmas there with my husband (we are from Texas and must have a white Christmas this year).

    I will definitely be looking up all of the places you visited.

    • I’m so glad this is helpful to you, Rachel! I have two more Traverse City posts from 2014 and 2015 you may want to check out, too. New places are always popping up. You’ll love it!

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