6 Fun Activities for a Day Trip to Traverse City, Michigan

October 11, 2019


With beautiful natural scenery and plenty of activities to keep you busy, Traverse City is a great place for a day trip or a weekend getaway. On our recent visit to Grand Rapids, we took a day trip to this charming small town. Even though our visit was brief, we got a taste of what the town has to offer and I think it would be a great spot to spend a few days. In this post, I'll share some of the fun activities that we found on our day trip to Traverse City. 

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Getting to Traverse City

Traverse City is located in the northwestern part of Michigan, just east of Lake Michigan, at the foot of the Grand Traverse Bay. We drove up from Grand Rapids, which took approximately 2.5 hours one-way.

The drive was scenic with lots of farms and forests along the way. This year has been a relatively warm year weather-wise. As a result, even though it was early October, the fall foliage was not as vibrant as it normally is by this time of year. Halfway through our trip, we started to see some vibrant reds and oranges on some of the trees.  

Pro Tip: You could fly into Traverse City as it does have a small airport. Most of its flights are to/from Chicago or Detroit.

Some Fun Ideas for a Day Trip

Although we left Grand Rapids early in the morning, we only had a few hours to to spend in Traverse City. We had to get back early so I could do laundry before our flight to Washington, DC the next day! Even in a short amount of time, we managed to fit in several fun activities on our day trip to Traverse City.

1) Shop at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

As we drove into Traverse City, our first stop was The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. This historic building complex was formerly the Traverse City State Hospital - an insane asylum. Through a large historic preservation project, the buildings were restored and the campus transformed into a vibrant community. 

large beige stone building with green trees

We perused the shops on the lower level of the main building. As you stroll the halls, you can read more about the history of the complex and its transformation. The community's campus also includes apartments, senior living residences, restaurants, coffee shops, and more. 

antique shop at the Village in Michigan

Shop selling antiques in the basement of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons

If you have time, take the 2-hour guided historic walking tour through the Village campus. On the tour, you'll learn more about the history of the hospital, the architecture, and the transformation of the buildings. It cost US $25 per person but young children (age 11 and under) are not permitted on the tour.  

Visiting the U.S.? Check out these 10 Things You Must Know Before You Visit Washington, DC!

2) Drink Craft Beer at Local Breweries

Michigan is a wonderful state for visiting breweries! A few years ago, we spent a couple days visiting breweries around Grand Rapids, On our day trip to Traverse City, I noticed several breweries right in the quaint downtown area. 

We chose to drive up the Old Mission Peninsula on Rt. 37 and have lunch at the Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant and Brewery. I tasted my first Jolly Pumpkin beer at my favorite pizza place in Hong Kong! So I was excited to visit the brewery in Michigan.

They have a large variety of sour beers in addition to more traditional brews. I ordered the sour flight and loved them all! Jeremy got his own flight which leaned more towards IPAs.

beer flight with six beers and menu at Jolly Pumpkin Brewery in Michigan

Although we had lunch at Jolly Pumpkin, we weren't impressed by the food we ordered. Overall assessment: beer = delicious; food = mediocre. 

3) Visit Mission Point Lighthouse

If you drive to the end of Rt. 37, you'll reach the Mission Point Lighthouse at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula. It's a cute little two-story lighthouse which you can climb for a US $4 fee.

white two-story lighthouse

Steps from the lighthouse, you'll also find the Hesler Log House which has survived from the mid-1850s when settlers first started building on the Old Mission Peninsula.

Walk around to the back and you can look into the cabin's exhibit through a large glass window. Though it's about the same size as my Hong Kong apartment, it looks a lot chillier. Can't imagine living there during a Michigan winter!

log cabin surrounded by green trees with path leading to house

4) Relax on the Beach

In the summer, I imagine that swimming in the bay or relaxing on the beach would be appealing activities. The beautiful blue water beckoned me even as the chill in the air had me shivering in my borrowed coat. The tip of the Old Mission Peninsula is a lovely spot to sit on the soft sandy beach and admire the waves. 

Since Traverse City is right on the bay, you can also find several beaches right there in town. We passed several boat yards on our drive and it looked like there would be plenty of opportunity for water sports in addition to swimming.

blue water of Grand Traverse Bay with sandy beach and green grasses

Planning a trip soon? Check out my Ultimate Guide to Preparing for International Travel!

5) Wine Tasting with a View

If you're looking for a relaxing atmosphere to have a glass of wine, be sure to check out some of the wineries along the peninsula. On our drive back towards Traverse City, we stopped at Chateau Chantal - a winery and inn on the Old Mission Peninsula.

At the top of a hill, this winery offers bay views in two directions. Although it was too chilly and windy to sit outside on the deck on the day we visited, in the summer, it would be a great spot!

bay view with green trees

On our visit we tasted a few wines at the bar and our server was friendly and enthusiastic. They had a wide selection of sweet wines and a few dry ones as well. Since Traverse City is known for cherries, we had to try the cherry cider which was refreshing and fruity - perfect for a summer day!

Grand Traverse Bay view from winery

6) Grab a Coffee for the Drive Home

To end our day trip to Traverse City, we got some coffee for the drive back at a local coffee shop. The historic town has plenty of coffee shops to visit so if you're staying in the area, you can try a new one every day! 

Need More Time to Explore?

Although we only had time for a quick day trip to Traverse City, you could easily spend a couple days exploring the town and the surrounding areas. I noticed several hotels along the bay which looked perfect for a weekend getaway.

Find a Unique Place to Stay in Traverse City

Trying to find the perfect place to stay in Traverse City? Use the map below to start your search! Filter by your individual preferences and input your travel dates to see what places are available and what their nightly rates are. 

This map shows both hotels and VRBO (vacation rental by owner) accommodations. Click on a property in which you're interested to go to either Booking.com or VRBO to read reviews and to book your stay.

Check out these 11 Awesome Airbnb Stays near Traverse City for ideas!

Final Thoughts

Traverse City is a beautiful town with lots of fun activities to keep you busy for a day trip or a weekend getaway! I'd love to go back one day and discover more of the countryside when I have more time.

Have you been to Traverse City before? Tell me in the comments which activities you enjoyed! 


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pinterest image for beckyexploring.com 6 fun activities in traverse city with lighthouse, bay view, and stone building
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