TRAVERSE CITY SPRING IDEAS FOR FAMILIES
Quick Trip to TC? Yes, Please!
Plane tickets and long drives just aren’t practical every time you want to get away. Thankfully, if you find yourself home for spring break this year, you’ll have lots of options for local fun. (Hint Hint: Our Grand Rapids spring break daily activity guide publishes soon!)
If you’re like me and crave a change of scenery when Spring Break rolls around, now is the time to plan a quick trip to change things up. I’ll be honest… I’ve been known to plot ways I could drive myself and three kids to the gulf coast for some last minute spring break fun. But that spontaneous escapade has yet to materialize, ha!
This year, a new spring break option smacked me upside the head. Traverse City. I find it mildly amusing that Traverse City has never occurred to me as a spring break destination until the Traverse City tourism organization called me up and proposed the idea. Why is that so funny? I grew up in Traverse City and that’s where my extended family still lives! I visit Traverse City frequently in the summer and over the holidays, but never for spring break. Growing up in Traverse City, there really wasn’t much to do during the spring. But now, with the help of my new friends at TraverseCity.com I’m realizing a lot has changed in 30 years and TC has a ton to offer for a close-by spring break trip.
My family went up north for a quick pre-spring break weekend to scout out activities and here’s what we recommend:
MORE LIKE THIS: Traverse City Great Wolf Lodge: Is It Worth It?
1. Be Sure to Explore!
One of great things about Traverse City is that, while it’s grown a lot over the years, it still has that small town, friendly feel. It’s very easy to get in and out of places and parking, traffic, and way-finding aren’t overwhelming. With that said, here are a few stops to put on your Traverse City spring trip list:
Downtown Traverse City
Find yourself in downtown Traverse City on a Saturday morning? Then you’ll definitely want to pop into the State Theatre for their $0.25 Kids Matinee! Every Saturday at 10 AM (and on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the summer) kids are treated to a film on the big screen. Simply watching the curtain go up in the renovated, historic State Theatre is a treat in itself. Bonus: $1 candy and $2 kiddie combos are well priced, too!
Hint: Buy your tickets online to ensure you get seats. It’s easy and that way you won’t arrive at 9:46 AM to find the show sold out.
While you’re downtown, there are kid-friendly shops to explore.
Be sure to stop in for samples and climbing fun at the Traverse City Cherry Republic location. Here, adults can do a little wine tasting while kids taste test soda pops in the Cherry Republic Winery. Other sample stations offer cherry candies, jams, salsas, trail mixes and more. After you’ve made your selections, eat lunch in the Cafe at the back of the shop or let your kids climb and play on the cherry tree playhouse in the center of the store.
Downtown is also home to Toy Harbor, a uniquely-filled toy shop that kept my kids’ attention for some time. I was impressed with the wide variety of unique items not found in big-box stores. They really took to this Thinking Putty!
If you have plenty of time in your day, also consider dropping by Handz On Art, a paint your own pottery studio, or grabbing an ice cream cone at Kilwin’s (their caramel apples are pretty wonderful, too!).
Really, there are a lot of fun stores you can easily pop in and out of when you’re downtown. I stocked up on the Tuscan spice blend at Spice Merchants while we were in town. It’s yummy on vegetables!
Horizon Books, an independent book seller, has a great selection of kid’s books, as well as a story hour for children every Friday at 10 AM.
Grand Traverse Commons
Even if you don’t go in any of the buildings, driving through the Grand Traverse Commons is an interesting experience. Once a state mental asylum, many of the historic buildings have been reclaimed. Restaurants, shops and residences have popped up across the campus. There’s an indoor farmer’s market on Saturdays from 10AM-2 PM in the Mercato that runs through April.
Perhaps your kids will play chess in the hall like mine did while you peruse a few cute shops!
The Grand Traverse Commons is also where you’ll find ELF – Eat Learn Frolic. ELF is a hybrid cafe/play place that is as inviting as someone’s home. You can grab some healthy food, coffee, or wifi and let the little ones play on an indoor slide or with building toys. Drop in playtime is a reasonable $4 per child.
If bike riding is up your alley, check out the TART Trail. This trail winds along the bay downtown and stretches for miles in each direction. We picked it up for a short jaunt behind Woodland Sweets where we also found a great playground.
2. When in Traverse City, Eat Local
Eating out as a family can be tricky business. As parents, you have to weigh so many factors – Will the kids like it? Will the adults like it? How long is the wait? How expensive is the food? What’s the atmosphere like? No wonder parents prefer to visit restaurants recommended to them by other parents!
Our family of five (we have an 11 year old son, as well as 5 and 8 year old daughters) tested out a few TC dining locations that we’d like to pass along.
RED MESA GRILL
Hands down, Red Mesa Grill is our new favorite family restaurant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed this restaurant and I’m not sure why I never went in before, but now that the seal is broken, I will be at this place whenever I go to TC!
Really this place has it all. They had me from the start, when they handed our kids Wikki Stix to play with. These bendable sculpting toys kept the kids engaged and creating till their food came, which says a lot!
And the food!
I love mexican food. My hubby loves it, too. Our kids, not so much. (That’s probably why I’ve never been inside before!)
Red Mesa Grill’s kid menu had something everyone was happy with. My fish tacos were divine and the burrito my hubby ate, well, it was huge and he ate it all!
You can’t go wrong with the Jack Stuffed Shrimp or Flaming Chile con Queso appetizer, either. Add beer and margarita and you’re good!
SLEDER’S FAMILY TAVERN
Sleder’s is the oldest restaurant in Michigan! Opened in 1882, Sleder’s has been serving up family food for generations. This is where you go when you want a great burger. Big portions all around ensure that no one leaves hungry. Count on down-to-earth friendly service that you’d expect from a place like this.
Oh, and before you leave Sleder’s, make sure you KISS THE MOOSE. Legend has it, it’s good luck. My older kids had to climb up the step ladder to smooch Randolph, but they got the job done!
Chef’s In is where you go for a sandwich. Made to order, these sandwiches keep us coming back again and again. Get yours to go and you have an instant picnic.
There are so many more family-friendly restaurants in Traverse City… if you have a favorite, please leave a comment below.
3. Snow Fun is Still Around in the Springtime
TUBING AT MT HOLIDAY
Chances are, when you head north for spring break, there will still be snow at the ski resorts. Traverse City has Mt. Holiday right at its fingertips – it’s where all the kids learned to ski when I was growing up. Today, not only is it a great place for kids to learn to ski and snowboard, but they’ve also added snow tubing to their roster.
None of us had ever tubed before, so we were nervous about trying it out. But it just took one trip down for all us and we were hooked. I love that it’s got such a low barrier to entry; our five year old was self-sufficient after just one run.
4. Your Hotel Matters
The pool. It matters, too.
Make sure the hotel you book has a pool. Better yet, find a hotel that has a pool suited for your children. I loved the Cherry Tree Inn’s pool – it’s right next to the hot tub, so I could leisurely unwind while keeping one eye on the kids. We brought our youngest’s life jacket along and that gave even more peace of mind. In Traverse City, the Grand Traverse Resort and Great Wolf Lodge also offer great hotel/pool experiences for families as well.
The Cherry Tree Inn was great for our family, not just because of the pool, but because it had enough room for us to relax and unwind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to turn away from a hotel because they couldn’t accommodate the 5 people in our family.
Rooms at the Cherry Tree Inn are spacious enough for all of us, without breaking the bank; we could get a studio room with two queen beds and add a roll-away bed without any difficulty. April weekend rates for a family of 5 are around $139 a night. That includes the full waffle bar breakfast, cookie reception and wonderful hospitality we received. There is a play structure on the sandy beach to take advantage of as well.
There’s a nice little waiting room in the lobby area with a fireplace and a wonderful selection of coffee and tea available all day long, as well.
And, if your fingers get the itch, you can even play the piano in the lobby. Kids welcome, too.
5. Have a Plan B
Any parent knows things don’t always go as planned.
Once you have your hotel in place, craft a loose agenda and then go with the flow. Traverse City is such a fun place to explore and discover it’s hard to go wrong.
Here are a few more places that are fun for families in Traverse City:
- Great Lakes Children’s Museum. Small, but good for the little ones.
- Incredible Moe’s. Large entertainment center with restaurant, bowling, bocce, arcade, laser tag, kid zone and more.
- Lucky Jack’s. Family entertainment center that offers bowling, laser tag, arcade, and a full restaurant with a bar and grill.
- Dylan’s Candy Bar. Eye-catching candy store located in the Grand Traverse Resort.
- Ice Skating. For just a few dollars, rents skates and have fun!
Have you spent spring break in Traverse City? What were your favorite things to do?