Traverse City has my heart and I think you’ll love it, too. It’s beautiful, friendly and good food is everywhere. The restaurants, wineries and breweries proudly share their cooperations with local farms, bakeries and cheese producers. It’s my kind of place.
Scroll to the bottom of the post for links to everywhere we went. Lots of photos ahead!
We stayed in a condo at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a thriving community that is a repurposed state mental hospital. It sounds pretty creepy, but the hospital treated their residents with respect and kindness. The hospital closed after the advancement of modern psychiatric medicine slowed enrollment. Later, a contractor from the Detroit area moved to Traverse City for retirement and couldn’t bare to see all of the history torn down. He helped make The Village what it is today, with condos and several independent businesses. It’s crazy how much it has grown in the 4 years since we were last in TC.
I booked the condo through Airbnb and it was a rare treat to stay in a historic building surrounded by hiking trails, fantastic coffee, the sweetest little bakery and great restaurants. We could have stayed inside the community for our whole stay, but of course we wanted to explore because Traverse City has so much to offer.
Every morning I woke up to the morning light streaming in through this window. The tall condo was split into 3 levels with our bed located at the top and this little window tucked into the second floor.
My brother and sister-in-law joined us for a few days! We met Torrey and Bethany in downtown Traverse City and without planning it, we arrived within 10 minutes of each other. Bethany even loitered in a parking space to save it for us. After a quick lunch and beer at North Peak Brewing Company, we went up the Old Mission Peninsula to 2 Lads for wine tasting. It was a beautiful night and we had the friendliest guy, Andrew, helping us.
We all woke up early the next morning and decided to hit the trails at The Village for an early morning walk. I didn’t have my camera or phone with me and I completely forgot my Fitbit, ugh, but the trails are wonderful. Part of it is covered by shady woods and part is covered in sand and beach grass. They are long enough that you can discover new parts of the trail, but not so expansive that you can get lost. After we showered, we headed to Frenchie’s for their famous pastrami sandwich.
What a sandwich! Housemade pastrami piled high on fresh foccacia with a sweet and slightly spicy mustard. It was really delicious. I sadly had to hand half of it over to Marc because I just couldn’t eat it all. The service is no-nonsense, but if you can roll with the punches, they make a mean pastrami sandwich and an excellent (and fast!) tea or coffee latte. We sat on the adorable back patio and the weather was perfect for sitting outside with a hot drink in your hand.
The flower garden attracts bees and one bee in particular had it out for us all and was boldly flying into our faces! I’m not usually one of those people that freaks out over bugs, but when they land on your face and refuse to be swatted away, you end up doing a weird bug-swatting dance. The bee went back and forth between the people at the other table and us, causing a stand up frenzy each time he landed. Finally, the other table caught the bee and we all clapped. The rest of the bees were content to buzz around the flowers and let us finish our lunch in peace.
Bethany and I wanted to wander around the shops in downtown Traverse City and the boys wanted to drink beer, so they went to 7 Monks where they routinely have about 50 beers on tap. 50! The boys met an interesting older gentleman at the bar that shared his story about how he was influential in popularizing craft beer and Jaegermeister in Michigan. Pro tip: Sit at the bar and you never know who you’ll meet.
Bethany and I started our shopping journey at West Bay Antique Shop that had an amazing Richard Simmons exercise book with black and white photos of each technique. We laughed and laughed as we flipped through the pages.
I found the best Tom Hanks thank you card at one of the shops and now I’m pretty devastated that I didn’t buy it. I did buy some beautiful handmade metal earrings at Ella’s and I’m still dreaming about the cobalt blue leather tote I saw there.
We picked up the boys for Moomers ice cream at Peppercorn (the spumoni!) and then we went to Right Brain Brewery. It was a favorite stop the last time we were in Traverse City and they’ve since moved to a larger location. They had a Schrute Farms Beet Saison (!!!) and lots of other great beers to try. I ordered a tart cherry soda that was tart and lightly sweet. So fantastic! And you can get it by the growler, which would be my Friday night ritual if I lived nearby. Four years ago they didn’t have any sort of food, just bags of pretzels to hand out, but now they make savory and sweet waffle sandwiches for if you’re hungry, which we technically weren’t after our big sandwich and ice cream cone. As we sat there, though, the smell of waffles teased us the whole time. Marc eventually broke down and ordered one, but the kitchen had just closed and Marc’s heart broke a little.
We kept our brewery tour going and stopped by the new brewery, Terra Firma. It’s a few minutes from downtown, but definitely worth the trip. The service was really friendly and we were able to try all 13 beers on tap. The glasses look pretty huge in the photo below, but I promise they were small. The master brewer at Terra Firma came from Right Brain before starting his own brewery. One of the beers, Scarborough Fair, was infused with herbs and Bethany and I were thinking how great it would be for cooking. The Sun Cup Lemon Wheat was a favorite for its easy drinking, but really, we enjoyed them all and left 13 empty glasses.
The next morning, we started our Labor Day with another trail hike, this time much later than the last one because, beer. We found the “hippie tree,” a large, weaving tree that is spray painted in bright colors and glitter that was really fun to discover. After showering and getting ready for the day, we weren’t sure which businesses would be open, but someone in our group remembered walking by The Workshop Brewing Company and seeing some great looking food. They were open for business, and while most of us opted for water, Torrey ordered a beer (trooper!) and we all ordered one of their grilled sandwiches and loved them. Bethany and I both ordered the turkey sandwich on cranberry pecan bread which was excellent.
We had seen posters for a free concert at The Village for Labor Day evening and it sounded like the perfect plan for Torrey and Bethany’s last night in TC. We spent a little time back at our condo before the concert. We heard the band practicing in the distance from our balcony and then suddenly we were treated to an impromptu accordion performance from one of the neighbors! She played two songs and then went back inside. We clapped, but I don’t think she noticed us.
We walked over to the concert area a few minutes before 6 pm and the small farmers market that’s open on Monday afternoons was just closing up. I spied this saskatoon jam and needed a taste and then I needed my own jar. NPR had just aired a story on how northern Michigan has been trying to turn saskatoon berries into a new thriving business. They’ve been growing in Michigan for seven years and they look like a blueberry, but are a member of the apple family. The jam’s consistency was more like a chutney because the fruit itself is high in fiber. It’s delicious and unlike any other fruit I’ve eaten.
We found a little weathered picnic table outside to enjoy the concert and although the weather was touch and go, we never had more than 3 or 4 drops of rain. Breathe Owl Breathe set up inside Leftfoot Charley’s because of the rain threat and we could hear the mellow music and hum of the cello as we sipped Cinnamon Girl ciders and watched the locals fill up the area with their families. It was perfect.
The Pleasanton Bakery and Higher Grounds Coffee opened up for special hours to accommodate all of us hungry and thirsty concert goers. In addition to making beautiful breads, croissants, cookies and tarts, they also make pizzas Wednesday – Sunday in the evenings. Pizza menus were set out on the tables and we just had to get one. We decided on a pepperoni and portabello mushroom pizza and it was one of the best pizzas of my life. Sauced up with San Marzano tomatoes with a chewy and slightly charred crust.
And because my eyes are always bigger than my stomach and you just don’t see homemade moon pies everywhere, I bought a moon pie. The graham cracker cake was crumbly and salty sweet with a springy marshmallow center and a snappy chocolate coating. An eleven year old kid walked right up to me, pointed at it and said, “Where did you get that?” I didn’t blame him one bit. It was maybe my favorite night of our vacation.
Bethany is an ice cream connoisseur and she insisted on Moomers that last night, which was fine with us. We went to the Moomers farm where the sun was just setting over the cows. You can get Moomers at several little shops in Traverse City and up the Leelanau Peninsula and although the farm is fun to visit, I recommend going to one of the little shops for different flavors and less-rushed service. The girl that helped us wasn’t particularly accommodating, so I didn’t quite get the flavors I was hoping for, but of course, they’re all pretty good. The girl at The Peppercorn was really friendly and let us taste as much as we liked. And they’re the only location where I saw the spumoni, my favorite. I included links to the other Moomers locations at the end of the post.
We helped pack up Bethany and Torrey’s car and hugged them goodbye on Tuesday morning. It was sad to see them go, but there was still so much to do and eat with the time we had left. We decided to drive up the Leelanau Peninsula to soak in the sunny day. We stopped in Leland, a charming little fish town that has lots of little shops and sandwiches not to be missed at The Village Cheese Shanty. The pretzel bread is fluffy with crunchy salt flakes on top. We both ordered their famous North Shore sandwich with turkey, bacon, swiss (the BEST swiss I’ve ever had), lettuce, cucumber and herb mayo on pretzel bread. It was the vacation of sandwiches and this was the best one of all.
After lunch, we were ready to hike and see Lake Michigan from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. No matter where you want to hike or check out the lake, you’ll need to get a National park pass for your car before your adventure. You can drive to Empire to the Phillip A. Hart Visitor Center or purchase your pass at The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive entrance. Those two spots were most convenient for us. The visitor center has several maps and I highly recommend getting maps for the hiking trails because cell service isn’t always strong in the area. Once we bought our pass, we drove to Pyramid Point to hike the trail and see the expansive view of Lake Michigan from the top of the dunes.
It was so beautiful and peaceful to look out onto the water that varies in shade from light green to dark blue. The waves gently rolled by in a mesmerizing way and a breeze was in the air that just begged to be inhaled deeply. It reminded me of Big Sur.
A few weeks before our trip, I made reservations for dinner at The Cook’s House. It’s one of the restaurants Mario Batali says is his favorite in the world. He has a summer home on the Leelanau peninsula and he seems to know what he’s talking about. He also recommended Frenchie’s above. We had a bit of a drive to get from Sleeping Bear Dunes back to Traverse City to clean up before dinner. We took fast showers and dressed in the nicest outfits that we brought for this particular dinner. I kept debating whether to call to say we’d be a minute or two late, but we pulled into our parking spot at 5:31. We fed the meter with all of the large coins we had between us for a leisurely 2 1/2 hours, just in case. I walked as fast as my chunky-heeled sandals would take me to….the old location for The Cook’s House. Ugh! I had written down the old address 4 years ago and didn’t think to check for a new one. I felt silly. Frustrated, I Googled the new address and tried to see if we could walk there because we had used all of our change in that particular meter. It thankfully said we were close, but in our frenzy, we took the long way around the block and eventually I did have to call to tell them we went to the wrong place and we were almost there. She seemed bored by the abbreviated version of my story. We finally arrived an embarrassing 17 minutes late, a little sweaty and I didn’t even want to know what my hair looked like.
A friendly lady greeted us and led us to our seat. She took our drink order and then we met the water and bread guy, who was our constant companion. Were our water glasses that small? I can’t remember. The restaurant itself is quite small and when we had arrived, hardly anyone was in the restaurant. It filled up, though, after an hour. The hyper seasonal menu is inventive, but not too quirky to deter most people and I wanted to try as much as I could. Marc and tasting menus do not go together. He usually gets lost at the chilled soup course. It was nice that the restaurant was ok with one of us ordering the tasting menu and the other not, which isn’t always the case. I went for the 7 course meal because my pretzel bread sandwich seemed like a distance memory at this point.
My 7 courses included 2 additional complementary courses for a total of NINE courses, phew. 1) black pepper beignets with mustard sauce, muligrain toast and pork rillette 2) chilled roasted tomato soup with fennel and lemon zest 3) pig’s tail over savory steel cut oats with scallions and bee pollen 4) white fish with kimchi, mustard greens and bourbon barrel ash 5) hanger steak with bone marrow potato puree, puntarelle and chimichurri 6) heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and herbs and kefir sorbet 7) cheese plate with blueberry preserves and honeycomb 8) coriander popcorn, sweet and spicy brittle and vanilla bean shortbread 9) sparkling wine parfait with hummingbird nectar sauce. Everything was delicious and tasted like summer. It took a long while to get through all of the courses, so I’m not sure I would do it again the next time, but I’m glad I had the privilege of trying all of those dishes. My favorites were the main courses of white fish and hanger steak, which were both available to order as main courses on the menu.
Marc ordered the duck breast and pork belly with duck egg, romaine and hakurei turnips. I couldn’t possible try his food with all I had coming to me, but he said it was all good. His duck breast was a little cold at first and they promptly heated it up for him, but he was a little disappointed that it was no longer medium rare and didn’t want to be a bother and ask for another. Come to think of it, none of my courses were hot, but I didn’t find my main courses to be cold, either. This was fine with me because I really dislike burning my tongue.
Marc had two other courses that he enjoyed, but in the end, this was more my kind of place than it was his. He prefers a more casual atmosphere. But truly, it was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Each plate was gorgeous to look at and was a love letter to Michigan. The kefir sorbet on the heirloom tomatoes was delightful. The bourbon barrel ash beneath the crispy white fish paired beautifully with the spicy kimchi. The chimichurri was bright and stood up to the big beef flavor of the hanger steak and I could have eaten it all night long. They had a special dessert that day, cherry clafoutis, that you had to order at the beginning of your meal if you wanted it for dessert, because it took 25-30 minutes to prepare. We didn’t order it, but our table neighbors did and it looked INCREDIBLE. I was so full at that point, but I seriously was running scenarios in my mind of me introducing myself and how quickly would be too quickly to ask my new friend for a bite of their dessert.
Thankfully my flip flops were in the car and I removed my fancy sandals as quickly as possible because they were definitely not made for speed walking on bumpy sidewalks. On our short drive back to The Commons, Marc suggested stopping by Leftfoot Charley’s for a nightcap. I felt like I could not eat or drink anything more, but I was all for hanging out. After a few minutes, I did take tiny sips of wine from Marc’s wine tasting. If we were less full, we would have had another glass of their cinnamon girl cider which tastes like apple pie. We had the friendliest girl helping us and we told her about our impromptu accordion concert and she loved that story. We chatted for a while before heading back to the condo to watch the sunset from our balcony.
Our time at Sleeping Bear the day before was cut short, so with our parking pass still valid, we wanted to go to Pierce Stocking Drive. First, we wanted to savor another stop at Higher Grounds where they made me a wonderful earl grey tea latte and the guy asked if he could add a little vanilla bean because he likes it that way. Of course the answer was yes. They roast their own beans and I heard the timer beep when my earl grey was done steeping. You really must go.
We then walked a few steps over to Spanglish for some fresh Mexican food. Our new friend at Leftfoot Charley’s told us we had to go. It definitely made me think of the Adam Sandler movie. Again, we ordered too much, expecting normal tacos, but these were the fullest tacos! Marc ordered a taco and two tamales and I ordered 3 tacos. The carnitas and barbacoa tacos were our favorites and the tamales were tender and wonderful. Order some of that red salsa, too, because it’s smoky and delicious. They also have vegetarian tacos and tamales.
We found our way to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive for the view above. This dune looks out over two lakes. It was stop #4 of the different stops you can take along the drive. You can hike a loop from the parking lot to get this view and circle back to your car. The trail isn’t marked well towards the end and we found an older couple that was lost and looking for the way back. We were pretty sure we were heading in the right direction because we remembered it from our last trip. That poor couple had gone up the steepest bluffs looking for the way back! We walked the trail at a steady, but slower-than-normal pace because I could tell the wife was pretty exhausted. We assured her we were almost there and when we saw the reflection of the sun on the cars in the parking lot, we all did a happy dance. You can continue on to stop #9 for another magnificent view of lake Michigan and you really should, but we were running out of time for wine tasting.
Our first stop was back to Leland for Verterra wine. The tasting room was busy, but we ended up purchasing 6 bottles of wine because we liked them so much. The pinot grigio and the chaos red cuvee were my favorite. While we waited to get checked out, a local guy that had been boating came to fill up his growler with their cider. He was very tan and a happy guy. We joked around a little and he was kind enough to let us go first, which we normally wouldn’t have taken him up on, but we had more wineries to visit.
We also stopped at Good Harbor where the friendliest older gentlemen told us all about their wines. He let us taste a bunch of different kinds of their wine and we bought a few bottles there. The winery above is Blustone, a newer winery with a modern tasting room that we really appreciated. A friendly young woman walked us through our tasting and we enjoyed our shared tasting. The cherry port was nice at the end and came with a dark chocolate.
We stopped in Suttons Bay for dinner at 9 Bean Rows. It was about 6:30 and we were the only ones there. It was such a beautiful evening that we asked to sit on the patio. After looking at the menu for a while and determining we couldn’t go wrong, we ordered with the calamari with tomato, sausage and arugula. It was a lovely take on calamari that I’ve never had before. I liked that the calamari wasn’t fried and the flavors all went together beautifully.
Marc ordered the rabbit special and I had the scallops over corn and enoki mushrooms. We both were overjoyed with our food. It was nice to slowly eat while people watching because the restaurant is located on the main street in Suttons Bay. School was just back in session and you could see parents taking their kids out for ice cream to ease them back into the transition. Or maybe it was to ease themselves back into the transition.
As we ate, two couples were seated at the table next to us and then a furry friend dropped by. Riley the cat is apparently a frequent visitor and does not like to be shooed away. The wait staff was trying to make sure the cat’s presence wasn’t bothering anyone and you could tell the stubborn cat had tried all of their patience in the past. The cat wandered under our feet looking for a rub on the head and then settled onto the bench between us and the other table. He was friendly to us, though, and we had a laugh as he looked to everyone for attention.
We passed on the dessert at 9 Bean Rows because we had purchased cheesecake from The Underground Cheesecake Company earlier and put it in our fridge to enjoy on our last evening in Traverse City. We took our plates out onto the patio and watched the cotton candy sky as the sun set.
Picking a final restaurant before we left wasn’t easy, but we couldn’t leave Traverse City without going to one of our favorite places, Trattoria Stella. Located right at The Commons, we packed up the car and headed over for lunch. It’s one of those places where some menu items might sound a little strange, but you can trust it will be delicious. Four years ago I had a rice and bean frittata that was out of this world and cabbage with fresh pasta that I could have eaten a huge bowl of. It can get pricey at dinner, but lunch is a good option for trying their beautiful menu for less. We both agreed that the gnoccietti with broccoli raab, crispy shiitake mushrooms and caramelized onions was our favorite dish. We also ordered the chargrilled octopus with tomatoes and creamy rice beans which was excellent, too.
I insisted we stop at Pleasanton Bakery to pick up some bread and croissants for later. We were full at that moment, but I knew we’d be hungry later at home with an empty fridge. We picked up a loaf of rye bread, cherry and pistachio bread, an almond croissant and a chocolate almond croissant. Everything was fantastic, as expected.
Gray-blue clouds had started to roll in, but we wanted to take one more look out onto the water. We were treated to the loveliest cloud patterns in the blue-gray sky and met a couple from Colorado that had been in town for a week. They said that Colorado doesn’t have water like this. We took each other’s photo and continued our little walk up the pier before getting in the car to go home.
Thanks for everything, Traverse City. I miss you already.
Downtown Traverse City/Old Mission Penninsula
Frenchie’s 619 Randolph Street Traverse City, MI
The Cook’s House 115 Wellington Street Traverse City, MI @TheCooksHouse
The Workshop Brewing Company 221 Garland Street Traverse City, MI @WorkshopBrewing
7 Monks 128 South Union Street Traverse City, MI @7Monks
Jolly Pumpkin 13512 Peninsula Drive Traverse City, MI @jollypumpkin
Moomers Ice Cream 7263 N Long Lake Road Traverse City, MI @MoomersIceCream (Other shops that carry Moomers: MI Farm Market in The Commons, The Peppercorn in downtown TC and at Harbor House Trading Company in Leland, MI)
Right Brain Brewery 225 East 16th Street Traverse City, MI @rightbrainbrew
Terra Firma 2959 Hartman Road Traverse City, MI @brewterrafirma
Bonobo Winery 12011 Center Street Traverse City, MI (opening soon!) @BonoboWinery
2 Lads Winery 16985 Smokey Hollow Road Traverse City, MI @2LadsWinery
Bay West Antique’s 205 Garland Street Traverse City, MI
Ella’s 209 East Front Street Traverse City, MI
Peppercorn 226 East Front Street Traverse City, MI (kitchen stuff and Moomers Ice Cream, get the spumoni!) @PeppercornTC
Pleasanton Bakery 811 Cottage View Drive Traverse City, MI @pleasantonbaker
Spanglish 133 Yellow Drive Traverse City, MI @Spanglishtc
Underground Cheesecake Company 1375 Yellow Drive Traverse City, MI
Trattoria Stella 1200 West 11th Street Traverse City, MI
Higher Grounds Coffee 806 Red Drive #150 Traverse City, MI @highergroundstc
Leftfoot Charley 806 Red Drive #100 Traverse City, MI @LeftFootCharley
Breathe Owl Breathe @cassettecanyon
Suttons Bay/Leland/Lake Leelanau
9 Bean Rows Cafe 303 St. Joseph Street Suttons Bay, MI @9beanrows
9 Bean Rows Bakery 9000 East Duck Lake Road Suttons Bay, MI
Little Bee’s Italian Ice 309 North St. Joseph Street Suttons Bay, MI
Cheese Shanty 199 West River Street Leleand, MI
L. Mawby 4519 S. Elm Valley Road Suttons Bay, MI @mibubbly
Tandem Ciders 2055 N. Setterbo Suttons Bay, MI @TandemCiders
Verterra Winery 103 E. River Street Leland, MI @VerterraWinery
Good Harbor Winery 34 S. Manitou Trail Lake Leelanau, MI @GoodHarborWine
Blustone Winery 780 N. Sylt Road Lake Leelanau, MI @bluestonewine
Northern Latitudes Distillery 112 E. Phillips Street Lake Leelanau, MI
Bug spray, sunscreen, maps, camera