Traverse City: Traveling during a pandemic looks very different, maybe in a good way

Where the heck is Traverse City? Never heard of it. I mean I’m not gonna drop a boatload of dough to go to a place I’ve never even heard of. Then the pandemic happened. And everything changed.

Suddenly the thought of cramming inside a metal capsule with 100+ germy strangers to fly somewhere didn’t sound like the best idea. The thought of going to Atlantis or Disney or Legoland sent me into a full blown panic attack. So we started looking for a house within driving distance where we could have a different kind of vacation. And we discovered a little piece of heaven on earth. Traverse City.

Now if you’re thinking about visiting Traverse City, stop thinking and go. And if you’re not thinking about visiting Traverse City, why not?!!! As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” Because this place is like a breath of fresh air. And here are a bunch of reasons why.

Hiking

It is no secret that my hubby and I LOVE hiking. This is why we decided to move to the Chicago area with zero elevation. WTF? Yes, we picked the wrong place to live, which makes Traverse City an awesome place to vacation. There were three hikes we went on.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I have two words for this hike. Holy. Crap. I have NEVER been on a hike like this before. When the website said we park at the bottom of the dune and climb up, I kinda thought that was the whole thing. Ennnh, wrong.

This was only the first dune of like 9,000 you have to climb to get to the water. I’m sure it wasn’t really 9,000 but it felt like it. You climb up and down and up and down these amazing sandy dunes and every time you climb up, you think the lake’ll be on the other side. Nope. 


Not yet.

And then suddenly after about an hour of hiking, THIS.

Worth. It.

Seriously, it was GORGEOUS!!! And we felt so victorious for making it. 

Of course, then you have to go back over all the dunes again to get back to your car. My calves!!! But it is worth it. One word of advice, we loved this hike so much, we did it twice. The first time the temperature was in the low 70s and it was gorgeous. The second time was in the 80s and we felt like eggs frying on a hot car. There’s almost no shade. The kids struggled and complained and begged to be carried, and I would NOT recommend this hike in the heat, and if you ignore me, please bring a ton of water and food and take LOTS of breaks and don’t yell at your kids as much as I did. 

Sand Lakes Quiet Area

This is pretty much the complete opposite of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Well, except that it’s awesome too. It’s in the middle of nowhere, like literally the google map was blank, but it has these beautiful paths winding through the shady woods and you keep ending up at gorgeous lakes with lots of wildlife. Froggies, and birdies, and snakes, oh my! Seriously, Holden almost shat himself when he saw a real live snake. But he came home with a killer souvenir!

And last but not least, and maybe my favorite…

Pyramid Point

This is a totally kickass hike. You’ll have two paths to choose from. DO THEM BOTH. First, take the itty-bitty hike to the lookout area which is high up over Lake Michigan. Then do the rest of the 2.7 mile loop which is very worth it. You’re walking through these gorgeous woods when all of the sudden there’s this very steep sand dune.

At the top you get the most amazing views of Lake Michigan.

Then to finish the loop, you walk through the woods and a gorgeous meadow and it is pretty darn amazing.

I kinda think I might even like this hike more than Sleeping Bear Dunes but shhh, don’t tell Sleeping Bear I said that.

Food

Honestly, I don’t know jack about food in Traverse City. Why? Because there’s a pandemic going on, people!!! Yup, we ate at home most of the trip. MOST. We did make it to a few outdoor places where we felt comfortable.

The Little Fleet Food Trucks

This is the first and ONLY dinner we ate out while we were there. It’s basically a parking lot lined with totally awesome food trucks and a bunch of tables. Pizza, BBQ, Vietnamese, etc. FYI, the CB fries are flipping AMAZING and I inhaled them before I had a chance to take a picture of them. Sorry not sorry. This is why I’m not a food blogger.

 

Grand Traverse Pie Company

It is illegal to come to Michigan and not eat cherry pie. And apple pie. And really it’s not illegal but it should be.

 

Ice Cream

Speaking of laws, it is a law that you have to get ice cream every day on vacation. We had TWO favorite places.

The Dairy Lodge. I HIGHLY recommend their famous Cosmo cone.

Moomers. People say this is the best ice cream ever because it comes straight from their cows. We had to go inside to get it, so even though it was delicious, I refused to go back. I’m a curbside pickup kinda gal these days

 

Campfire S’Mores

And last but not least, the best dessert ever invented. The kind you can make right in your own backyard.

Entertainment

Entertainment looks a little different during a pandemic. No movie theaters. No mini golf. No ropes courses or shopping or any of that fun stuff. But there’s other fun stuff! 

The Cherry Bowl Drive In

Woohoooooo, a drive-in theater. Wait, WHAT? The movie doesn’t start until 10:00?!!!! My kids were like F that and we left (the drive-in was super nice and gave us our money back!!). Bring dinner, games, pillows and blankets and then take a lonnnnnng nap and wake up for the movies. 

Collecting (and skipping!!) rocks

The rocks on the beaches in Lake Michigan are AMAZING. We were constantly on the hunt for these really cool ones called Petoskey Stones that are fossilized coral made from glaciers (amazing science stuff I really don’t understand). And we found a bunch!

Along with a bazillion flat rocks that were perfect for skipping.

Kayaking

ME: Zoey, want to go kayaking?

ZOEY: No.

ME: Holden, want to go kayaking?

HOLDEN: No.

ME: Oh woe is me, I guess I’ll have to go all by myself. Sorry honey, I might be gone for a while. Hmmmm, I wonder if you can kayak to Europe from Lake Michigan.

Stargazing

This was literally my favorite moment of our entire trip. Since the stars don’t come out until 11:30 at night in Traverse City right now (insane!!!), we decided to put the kids to bed early and wake them up to see the stars. But before we woke them up, we did a little something special to the beach.

A glow stick garden!

Of course the real magic was happening above us.


And as we sat there together gazing up at the constellations and satellites and making wishes on shooting stars, I thought about something. As much as I love going to places like Disney and seeing the spectacular firework finales and incredible light shows, THIS is better. The quiet finale that Mother Nature puts on every single night. Especially in a very special place like Traverse City. 

If you liked this, please don’t forget to like and share it. Thank you!!




There are 13 comments for this article
  1. Jessica Perez at 10:15 am

    As a Michigander, I love seeing people other than Michiganders show love to us. We truly have so much natural beauty to offer. If you’re ever feeliing like a bit further of a drive, I recommend going to the UP & doing St. Ignace. Gorgeous!

  2. Sarah at 10:23 am

    ohhhhhhhh this Michigander LOVED this post! I got all giddy when I saw you wrote about my family’s old stomping grounds! <3 Now you should go look up Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula. You'll drool! 🙂

  3. Kirsten M. at 10:31 am

    I love TC. I live 3 hours from there and do there OFTEN. I have been to every place that you mentioned and they are all awesome. Next trip, stop by Ludington State Park on your way to TC for some AMAZING hiking. And if you want to hit the UP, The kids will love the crossing of the bridge, and you can see Fayette, Kitch-iti-kipi, Pictured Rocks, And so much more. My littles are 7 and 10 and we take them on adventure Sunday’s to discover things in our state. ❤️

  4. Susie Schaul at 10:45 am

    We took our kids to Traverse City and surrounding are about 8 years ago. We did Sleeping Bear dunes among other things. Very fun vacation! We loved Michigan so much we went back a few years later and stayed on the UP and took a day trip to Mackinac Island. Loved it! So many fun things to do and see in Michigan!

  5. Gena at 11:19 am

    Love this post! I’m from and live in Illinois but my family is from Michigan and I love getting up there when I can! I second the UP as that is where we always go but I would like to explore the mitten a little more…

  6. Amanda P at 11:45 am

    We moved to Michigan from Maine about six years ago and finally did this trip last weekend. It was amazing! I’m so happy to see someone else enjoying some of the amazing natural beauty that Michigan has to offer! Thanks for the shout out to gorgeous Lake Michigan and this beautiful area!

  7. Kim at 3:51 pm

    Our family has been going to Michigan every summer since our kiddos were babies. They are now 20 and 18 and it is always the vacation they most love every year. This year it will be our only vacay and we are so glad. We get out of the heat, drive 10 hours north and do all the same things you wrote about. We also have found Petoskey stones then spent several days polishing them by hand-it is a lot of work, but they are beautiful! I loved reading about your amazing trip!

  8. Sherry Kraus at 5:46 pm

    Another Michigander appreciating the love and the promotion of responsible travel. Our state has been hit hard by the pandemic, so we welcome all but ask you to help us keep everyone safe.
    I’ve spent many vacations in TC. If you enjoy hiking, I agree with the previous posters- get over the bridge! Become a temporary Yooper (those who live over the bridge) and look down on the Trolls (those who live under the bridge- the lower peninsula). There is sooo much to see and do up there!

  9. Jessica hass at 6:01 pm

    I love how every one is acting like we’re back in the 90’s. Doing more with the earth and outdoors instead of phones and tablets and staying inside.

  10. Genevieve Thompson at 7:48 am

    I love and hate this post,which I say jokingly! Your telling the world about our secret. I live in Leelanau county where Sleeping Bear Dunes is and we love the beauty and nature. There are a bunch of great hikes in Leelanau County and an amazing bike trail system. While this place is amazing the upper peninsula has so many great things also. You can vacation here every year and never get bored. Also the winter is fun and sledding down The Dune is amazingly fun!

  11. Spike at 9:54 am

    Well done! Thanks for showing love to Pure Michigan and thanks for being a responsible traveler during these times. You hit the good spots! I agree with the others – you’ll love Pictured Rocks and Lake Superior next!

  12. frankfortrvresort at 11:22 am

    I grew up near TC and am heartbroken that Covid19 is keeping us away (live in Seattle) this year. Thank you for visiting so many of my favorite places and letting me see them through your posts.

  13. Julie Dawson at 5:53 pm

    Sounds like a great getaway, thanks for so many great ideas. But unless I missed it somehow missed it, you left out one very important piece of info (that also happens to be one of my greatest fears about traveling right now)… Lodging? Where did you stay, and how were you not worried about staying in a public place, even if it was a private house, still, who knows who has been there, etc… I’m a scaredy cat about other people’s germs and cleaning practices. Can you share some insights? Thanks!

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