By Bob Glaze
Traverse City is approximately 320 miles or a five hour drive from downtown Chicago. It is a perfect place for a long weekend this summer of fall. I was there last September and was very impressed with the number of things to do and experience while you are there.
With great restaurants, wineries, distilleries, orchards and farm stands, Traverse City has acquired a reputation as one of the country’s up-and-coming foodie towns. Midwest Living magazine has listed Traverse City among its Five Top Food Towns, and Bon Appetit magazine named it one of the Top Five Foodie Towns in the country several years ago.
The 30 mile Leelanau Peninsula is northwest of Traverse City and extends into Lake Michigan. Here you will find charming towns, wineries, fun shopping and great restaurants. The Old Mission Peninsula is just outside of Traverse City and is an easy drive and great to explore. It is 19 miles long and 3 miles wide and has ten wineries, cherry orchards, beautiful inns/hotels plus restaurants to explore.
Traverse City with a population of almost 15,000 people is located on the shores of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. There are some great restaurants to try while you are in town. My recommendations include:
Cooks’ House Restaurant: Located in a small house at 115 Wellington St., this is a local farm-to-table restaurant featuring locally sourced and foraged food. I had a really outstanding meal and I highly recommend it!! Since it is so small, I would call ahead to book your reservation.
Amical: I had a great dinner at this warmly decorated downtown bistro that features European entrees as well as some local specialties like fresh Great Lakes white fish. In addition to dinner, they are open for lunch and Sunday brunch. 229 E Front St.
Warehouse MRKT: This is a contemporary group of shops, restaurants and a coffee shop. Here you will find BLK\MRKT, a sleek coffee shop and bakery featuring baked goods made from locally sourced ingredients. It is located at 144 Hall St. #100. There is also the Alliance Restaurant located at 144 Hall St. This is a popular new spot in the Warehouse District, so make sure to call early for reservations.
Grand Traverse Pie Company: Make sure to stop in at the original location at 525 W. Front St. I had a great lunch of a butternut squash and kale quiche along with some homemade pumpkin bread. They have a large selection of soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps and of course pie!
Trattoria Stella: Having been told not to miss this restaurant by two wineries, I just had to go for dinner. This is a fun Italian restaurant located a short distance from downtown at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. The former Traverse City State Hospital has been totally transformed into a large complex of residential buildings, restaurants. shops and boutiques, plus a microbrewery and urban winery. I enjoyed the traditional atmosphere and the large menu. 1200 W. 11th St.
J & S Hamburg: A fun, casual diner downtown, their slogan is “Curing Hangovers since 1938”. I enjoyed breakfast on a Sunday morning which was a great time to feel like a local. It is small place, so go early to stake out your table. 302 W. Front St.
In addition to the nearby wineries, Traverse City is experiencing a boom in the growth of new distilleries and microbreweries. Make sure to check out:
Traverse City Whiskey: This is a local craft distillery/tasting room, offering tours and artisanal whiskey cocktails in a speakeasy bar setting. It is located at 201 E 14th St. just south of downtown Traverse City. They feature an XXX Straight Bourbon, American Cherry Edition (bourbon infused with cherries), a Barrel Proof Bourbon, a North Coast Rye Whiskey and a bourbon finished in port barrels called Port Barrel Finish. I found that the XXX Straight Bourbon was excellent and now am enjoying it at home in Chicago.
Mammoth Distilling: Located in a new location in the Warehouse District, this is a tasting room/cocktail lounge of the Central Lake, MI based company. They feature their gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, bourbon, rye whiskey and cherry bounce. I tried the rye whiskey, rum and bourbon. All were excellent, but the bourbon really stood out. They also sell a line of small batch, craft dark chocolates from Fresh Coast Chocolates. 221 Garland St. Suite D.
In the same complex is The Workshop Brewing Company. They feature their beers, craft beers from other Michigan brewers and a seasonal food menu. 221 Garland St.
North Peak Brewing Company: At 400 W. Front St., this is a large brewpub serving their house-brewed beers and pub food. The building is an old candy factory building from 1899.
When visiting Traverse City, you will find in addition to many outdoor activities a number of fun things to do from shopping for anything involving cherries, visiting museums to attending the annual film festival or a theater event. The Traverse City area is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. Don’t miss:
American Spoon: With several locations throughout Michigan, this is my go to place for the best in jams, jellies, fruit butters, salsas, grilling sauces, maple syrup, dried cherries, granola and more made from locally sourced ingredients. I highly recommend the Sour Cherry Jam or Spoon Fruits. 230 E. Front Street.
Cherry Republic: At 154 E. Front St., cherry lovers will love this fun store to buy gifts, cherry jam and jellies, cherry salsa and BBQ sauce, chocolate covered cherries and dried fruits. I love the dark chocolate covered cherries.
Dennos Museum Center: Located on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College, the museum features exhibitions throughout the year along with concerts in blues, jazz and chamber music. It is known for its collection of Inuit art from the Canadian Arctic. 1701 E. Front St.
State Theatre: Catch a movie at the famous art deco style downtown movie theater built in 1949. It was donated to the well-known Traverse City Film Festival in 2007. 233 E. Front St.
City Opera House: At 106 E. Front Street, this a Michigan State Historic Site. Catch a music concert, a musical, a production of the Young Playwrights Festival or a lecture of the National Writers Series. You may also like to attend a concert of the Traverse City Symphony Orchestra.
Traverse City Film Festival: A close friend recommends this local film festival that brings films and filmmakers from around the world to Northern Michigan in late July to early August. The festival was founded by Academy Award-winning director Michael Moore who makes his home here, runs the festival, and serves as president of the board of directors. It uses several venues downtown as well as offers free outdoor screenings.
Wine and Food Events: There are a number of wine and food events in Traverse City throughout the year, including the Traverse City Wine and Food Weekend in May, the Traverse City Wine and Cider Festival in June and the National Cherry Festival also in June. The Leland Wine and Food Festival is in June as well.
Interlochen Center for the Arts: Founded in 1928, this is a well-known arts center south of Traverse City. During the year they feature adult programs in creative writing, visual arts, theater and music, along with concerts and events. Their Summer Arts Camp is nationally known and is for children in grades 3 to 12 and features classes in creative writing, music, theater, dance, visual arts and motion picture arts. There is also a fine arts boarding high school for grades 9 to 12. You might check out one of their concerts or programs when you are in the area.
I decided to stay in downtown Traverse City at the Hotel Indigo near the Warehouse District. Here I could visit the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas during the day and be in town to walk and enjoy dinner downtown in some of the great restaurants or visit one of the distilleries or microbreweries. The Hotel Indigo is a contemporary property with a good dining room for breakfast and fun rooftop bar with great views. I would advise asking for a room away from the Bay as the road along that side of the hotel is a busy highway and therefore very noisy at night. 263 W. Grandview Pkwy.
Make sure you spend at least a day exploring the Leelanau Peninsula and its charming small towns.
Glen Arbor is a small town with a population of only around 230 in a beautiful setting. There are many annual festivals as well as outdoor activities in every season to enjoy. I was glad to connect with a long-time friend who was able to join me for lunch and be my guide.
The highlight of the area is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This is a spectacular National Lakeshore that should not be missed. I started my exploration here before heading to Glen Arbor. Established in 1970, the most prominent features are the stunning dunes above Lake Michigan. The dunes overlook at the Sleeping Bear, Empire and Pyramid Point bluffs are about 400 feet above Lake Michigan. With 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and numerous inland lakes and streams, the park is wonderfully water oriented. Make sure to get a map and pay your entrance fees at the visitors center. You can then drive through the park, stop for hikes or just to view the dunes and the below lake.
Glen Haven Historic District: Just north of Sleeping Bear Dunes is the Glen Haven Historic District. Established in 1857, Glen Haven was a company town and eventually diversified into farming, canning of fruit, and tourism. The National Park Service is restoring many of the historic structures from the 1920s in the Historic District including the Blacksmith shop, the Sleeping Bear Inn, and DH Day General Store. Also included in the district is the Glen Haven Cannery that houses the Great Lakes Boat Museum.
Leelanau Coffee Roasting Company: After your tour of the dunes, stop in for a coffee at this local coffee roaster. 6443 Western Ave.
Good Harbor Grill: This is a fun, casual spot for lunch with a great nautical interior. They have a large menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and more. I enjoyed the turkey sandwich, a cup of split pea soup and a nice piece of homemade pumpkin pie. 6584 Western Ave. It is open May through October.
Other places to try include Western Ave. Bar and Grill and Blu Restaurant for fine dining. Blu received a James Beard nomination for Best Chef-Great Lakes and high praise from Wine Spectator and Travel+Leisure Magazine. Art’s Tavern and Joe’s Friendly Tavern in nearby Empire are fun spots to grab a drink.
While exploring Glen Arbor, make sure to stop in at Lake Street Studios at 6023 Lake St. which houses two galleries, the Forest Gallery and the Center Gallery. Here you will find paintings, ceramic and more by local artists.
Cottage Book Shop: Located at 5989 S. Lake St., this is a small charming bookstore located in an historic log cabin. You will love it.
Cherry Republic: At 6026 S. Lake St., this is the original location of the popular store featuring all things cherry from jam, salsas, chocolates, pies, ice cream and more.
Leland is lovely small town that is 25 miles northeast of Traverse City. The original inhabitants in the 1830s came due to its location as a fishing settlement. Make sure to take time to wander and explore. I was glad to have found:
Leland Fishtown: This is a charming area along the water in Leland with restaurants, a fish market specializing in smoked fish, a cheese shop with great cheese sandwiches and a number of galleries and gift shops.
The Cove Restaurant: At 111 W. River St. in Fishtown, this is a must when you are in town. The views of the water and docks are the best and the food is really excellent. I thought the baked white fish with garlic and parmesan cheese was really good and the cherry pie was one of the best I have ever had. I would suggest going early as it is popular and the crowds can be large.
Village Cheese Shanty: Located on the dock in Fishtown, this popular spot for over 25 years, features pita, baguette and pretzel bread sandwiches, over 60 imported and domestic cheeses and local cherry and related products.
For breakfast, Bluebird Restaurant & Tavern is the go to place according to locals. 102 River St.
Sporck Tile Art in Fishtown for painted ceramic tiles and Leland Gal with its colorful home accessories, gifts, bags, textiles, apparel and more are both fun to visit.
Blue Boat Coffee: This is a top coffee shop in town located at 106 N. Main.
If you want to stay in Leland, the Riverside Inn gets great reviews. It has four rooms and is located at 302 River St.
Suttons Bay is a cute, small town of just around 620 people. In addition to the wineries nearby, there are some fun shops and restaurants to explore. Here you will find:
9 Bean Rows – Farmstead Cafe Bakery: This is a good cafe and bakery in Suttons Bay. Produce from their own farm can be found in their own food as well as at many farmers markets in the area. 303 N. St. Joseph St.
Leelanau Cheese: Leelanau Cheese produces a number of cheeses made locally using local ingredients. In addition to their award winning Raclette and Fromage Blanc you can also find their specialty Sharp, Rosemary, Green Peppercorn and small wheels of Raclette. It is located south of Blackstar Farms at 3324 S. West Bay Shore Drive.
Cherry Country Quilters: 310 N. St. Joseph St. This is a fun store featuring fabrics, books, quilts, patterns and quilting classes.
Martha’s Leelanau Table: This is a popular cafe for over 10 years. Martha’s features breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a full espresso bar, pastries and beer, wine and cocktails.
Bayside Coffee & Tea: This is a fun spot for coffee at 210 N. St. Joseph, St.
Tandem Ciders: This is a local cider maker that uses fruit from both the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas. I tried the Farmhouse aged in American oak barrels and The Scrumpy Little Woody which is a cider and apple brandy aged in an oak barrel. The Smackintosh has a sweet and appley taste and is one of their most popular. Their tasting room is located in a fun old barn. They also offer some snacks including a cheese plate featuring local cheeses. 2055 N. Setterbo Rd. in Suttons Bay.
Located just north of Suttons Bay is the cute town of Omena. I loved visiting the Tamarack Gallery after a local friend recommended this really lovely gallery which for over 42 years features jewelry, paintings, glass and ceramics. The quality is excellent!! 5039 N. West Bay Shore Dr.
Check out the Omena Bay Country Store at 5055 N. West Bay Shore Dr. for takeout food, ice cream, baked goods and more.
A fun spot on the water for great views is Knot Just a Bar. It is a casual spot that offers sandwiches, burgers and seafood with an emphasis on local fruits and vegetables. 5019 N. West Bay Shore Dr.
Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail
There are 24 wineries currently on the Leelanau Peninsula that make up the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. These are broken down into three separate loops, The Sleeping Bear Loop, the Northern Loop and the Grand Traverse Bay Loop. Most have tasting rooms where you can sample their wines and enjoy the views. I highly recommend that you visit the following:
Boathouse Vineyards: This is a winery located in the Village of Lake Leelanau. Their tasting room is right on the water. Here you can try their Pinot Grigio, one of their Rieslings, a Pinot Noir, a Rose or the Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend. 115 St. Mary’s St.
Blustone Vineyards: Don’t miss their contemporary tasting room in Lake Leelanau at 780 Sylt Rd. Here you can get great views of the vineyards and orchards. They produce Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and a Gewurztraminer.
45 North Vineyard & Winery: This a local vineyard featuring a number of red and white varietals, along with a number of fruit wines from peaches, cherries and strawberries. There is also a bourbon-barrel-aged apricot wine. They also produce four ciders as well. I really liked the Oakayzie, a dry cider aged in bourbon barrels. 8580 E Horn Rd in Lake Leelanau.
Aurora Cellars: Also in Lake Leelanau at 7788 E. Horn Drive, they produce a number of whites, reds and sparkling wines. They also produce a number of ciders including one aged in bourbon barrels and a hard-pressed pear cider.
Black Star Farms: This is a large facility that has a hotel, wine tasting room, a distillery and restaurant. They make a number of reds, whites, roses plus sparkling, fruit and dessert wines. What really sells is its A Capella Ice Wine, an unusual breed of wine that requires very specific conditions to make, that was twice served at the White House, including the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. It is located in Suttons Bay at 10844 E. Revold Rd.
L. Mawby: Also located in Suttons Bay at 4519 S. Elm Valley Rd., they are known for their sparkling wines.
Rove Estate: Just west of Traverse City, Rove Estate opened in the spring of 2016, making it one of the newer area wineries. Their tasting room is located at one of the highest points in Leelanau County, so the views are outstanding. They make a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Franc/Merlot and a Rose. As far as whites go, they produce a Chardonnay, a Riesling, a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. 7007 E. Traverse Hwy. It is a great spot to stop on the way to or back from Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Verterra Winery: This is the tasting room of the local winery in downtown Leland at 103 River St. The winery is located in Northport, MI. I stopped in and enjoyed visiting with the owner. They produce a number of whites, reds, sparkling wines, fruit and dessert wines plus apple based ciders. I really enjoyed the pinot noir rose and bought a bottle to take home. You can tour their vineyards at the Ridge of Verterra in Northport.
Old Mission Peninsula
You can make a day trip visiting the wineries, many of which have stunning tasting rooms and views. Make sure to visit:
Bonobo Winery: Bonobo Winery was founded by brothers and longtime Traverse City residents, Carter and Todd Oosterhouse. It has a rustic, elegant atmosphere helped by the creativity of Carter who was a host for many years on HGTV. I was thrilled to have had a private tour by Todd. They produce a number of reds, rosés and whites. They do offer a limited menu of small plates in the tasting room to try along with the wines. I loved the pinot noir. This is a lovely vinery that should not be missed.
Bowers Harbor Vineyards: This is a winery that produces over 30 wines and ciders. Most of the wines are white including sparkling wines. They also make close to 10 reds. I did enjoy the Pinot Noir Rosé. It has a nice tasting room and attractive patio.
2 Lads: This winery came highly recommended by the sommelier at the Cook’s House Restaurant in Traverse City. It is located on 59 acres and specializes in cool climate red, white and sparkling wines. Their flagship wine is the Cabernet Franc which was really excellent. Its modern tasting room has beautiful views of East Grand Traverse Bay. Grab a glass and one of their small plates and enjoy the experience.
Mari Vineyards: This winery has a large tasting room and outdoor patio. It produced a large number of whites and reds. Their flagship is a red blend that was smooth and full-bodied.
Brys Estate Winery & Vineyard: This is one of the largest winery estates on Old Mission Peninsula with over 90 acres. They have a lovely tasting room with large upper deck for relaxing in great weather. They make a number of reds, whites and rosé wines. I enjoyed tasting their pinot noir rosé. Just down from the tasting room is the Secret Garden which has 12 acres of lavender fields, blueberries, strawberries, perennial flowers and herbs. The store carries their lavender products, gift items and ice cream made for them by Moomers Homemade ice Cream.
Chateau Chantal: Located atop a hill with stunning views, they make a very large number of white, red and dessert wines. The views from the outdoor patio are amazing. Hands on cooking classes are also available as are special monthly wine dinners and jazz events at sunset on Thursdays from June through August.
Black Star Farms: This is a smaller tasting room compared to their large hotel, restaurant, tasting room on the Leelanau Peninsula. They feature a large number of wines.
To stay on the Peninsula, there is the historic Old Mission Inn at 18599 Mission Rd. This is a four room/two suite hotel that was built in 1869. Located with great views of East Grand Traverse Bay from the porch, it is like taking a step back in time. It features many antiques, old post boxes and a phone switchboard. It is a short drive to the lighthouse, to local restaurants, beaches and wineries.
For something more contemporary there is the Chateau Chantal. This is a winery with a B&B that features a number of attractive rooms and suites. The views of both East and West Grand Traverse Bays are lovely. Breakfast is included as are tastings and a glass of wine. The restaurant is not open in the evenings, except for special wine dinners. There are a number of restaurants nearby if you don’t want to drive into Traverse City. Hands on cooking classes are also available as are jazz events at sunset on Thursdays from June through August.
The Boathouse Restaurant: This is a stunning restaurant location overlooking Bowers Harbor Bay on the west side of the Peninsula. The food is highly recommended.
Old Mission General Store: This is the area’s original General Store and Trading Post since 1839. It is not to be missed as it is totally out of the past. You can grab a sandwich, coffee, bakery item or ice cream and enjoy the porch. The cherry ice cream was perfect on a lovely fall afternoon!!
Mission Table/Jolly Pumpkin: Located along Bowers Harbor, this is the former home of Charles F. Stickney and his wife Genevieve that was built in the 1880s. Mission Table is the fine dining option for dinner, while the Jolly Pumpkin is a casual bar/restaurant for lunch or dinner. There is a tasting room for the Winery Bonafide Wines, North Peak Draft Beers and Northern United Brewing.
A highlight of your trip should be visiting the Mission Point Light at the north end of the Peninsula. It was built in 1870. You can visit historical displays, climb to the top to see the great views and visit the gift shop.
You will love visiting the area and wonder why you have not done it sooner. I hope you like my recommendations. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for my next trip and I am excited to go back!
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