Marine News from the Great Lakes

Traverse City’s Top Ten

Published: Sunday, March 1, 2020
By: Jillian Manning

When you’re in Traverse City, the beach is your backyard. Everywhere you look, sailboat masts wave hello and the bright hulls of kayaks wink in and out of the waves. Swimmers splash their way through summer, and ice fishing shanties dot the coast during the winter months.

Lake Michigan’s crystal waters flow inland to form the bays and rivers that make this area a water-lover’s paradise. Whether you’re seeking a beach vacation or an action-packed adventure, these are the top 10 ways to explore Traverse City.

For the Laidback Traveler

Sun on your face, toes in the sand… there’s nothing better. If a relaxing getaway is up your alley, these five experiences will have you in vacation mode in no time.

1. Take a Sunrise SUP…

A scenic, 18-mile drive out Old Mission Peninsula ends at Mission Point Lighthouse, where East and West Bay meet. Bring your SUP along for an early morning paddle to catch a picture-perfect sunrise on calm, quiet waters. Maritime enthusiasts can also explore the lighthouse museum, open May through October.

2. …and a Sunset Cruise

Experience the breathtaking scenery of Traverse City at our most beautiful time of day: sunset. Hop aboard one of the local day sail ships—like the Nauti-Cat or Tall Ship Manitou—and enjoy an evening excursion around the bay. The crew will even give tutorials on the ins and outs of sailing for those looking to learn.

3. Feel the Beach Vibes

There’s no salt—and no sharks—in this water! But everything else about the golden sand beaches and aqua waters will make you think you’re on a tropical getaway. Build sandcastles with the kids, go for a refreshing dip, or just soak up the sun. Be sure to stop by West End Beach (just a short walk from the town center) to be near the top restaurants and shops.

4. Say Hello to Happy Hour

The Traverse Wine Coast is a destination unto itself. Dozens of wineries—many of them award-winning—offer an array of red, white, and sparkling wines for every palette. Bay views beckon from many of the area wineries, so you can look out over the water while enjoying a glass of your favorite vintage. Cheers!

5. Discover Downtown

Downtown Traverse City provides the perfect mix of small-town charm and big city amenities… and it’s just a stone’s throw from the water. Explore eclectic boutiques, try a restaurant (or three), and be sure to stop by Grand Traverse Pie Company for a slice of their famous cherry pie. (Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the World, after all!) 

For the Adventure Seeker

If you like your vacation with a side of thrills, look no further than Northern Michigan. Here, sky, sand, and water meet to give you the ultimate watersport playground.

6. Catch a Big Fish

Smallmouth bass, king and coho salmon, lake trout, brown trout, walleye, and steelhead are just a few species swimming in our waters. Charter a ship with friends, take a fly-fishing class through the local Orvis outfit, or go in search of the perfect fishing hole (peace and quiet included).

7. Do the Dune

A trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the crown jewel of Northern Michigan’s stunning landscape, is a must during your trip. Towering sand dunes reach toward the sky, while Lake Michigan’s endless waters extend toward the horizon. Stretch your legs with a climb up the dunes, get a sea-worthy kayak to paddle the lake, or try the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive to visit all the best overlooks.

8. Grab a Drink

Three words for you: Paddle for Pints. This pub crawl is like no other—instead of walking, you kayak from brewery to brewery, experiencing five or more of Traverse City’s best beer destinations. The urban paddle trip takes you along the friendly Boardman River, which is accessible to kayakers of all skill levels.

9. Hang Ten

Lake Michigan may not get ocean-sized swells, but the waves are just right for folks looking to get on a board. Surfing is best in the late summer and fall, when storms roll across the lake with waves driven by the wind. The most avid surfers are even out in the winter in serious gear—unless the lake has frozen over!

10. See Michigan on Ice

Speaking of frozen… we all know summer is the best time to be on the water, but winter in Traverse City offers another season of fun. On clear, windy days, iceboats race across the bay’s frozen surface; families skate in the shallows; and the bold explore the stunning ice caves along the shores of Lake Michigan. Of course, the ice fishers also come out in droves, seeking the perfect catch.

Plan Your Visit

Come experience the lake life of Northern Michigan! To plan your next trip to Traverse City, check out

This article first appeared in the Spring Issue (Mar/Apr) 2020 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Destination


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