Things to Do in Traverse City in the Summer
I grew up in Traverse City. And I never tire of visiting in the summer.
Summer is the time when Traverse City is ripe with things to do with kids.
Beaches, fruit, festivals, you name it, it’s probably happening in Traverse City in the summer. And, if you manage to book a stay at the secret loft downtown you won’t even need a car to get to lots of the fun!
With endless options on where to go and what to do with kids in TC during the summer, I thought it would be helpful to have a list of the best things to do in Traverse City with kids. Of course, this is all based on my personal experience and opinions, so if you have something to add feel free to leave a comment.
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Things to Do with Kids in Traverse City, MI
1) Find the Best Beaches (Hint: the Splash Pad is at Clinch Park!)
By far, if the weather is nice, hit up a beach.
With East and West Grand Traverse Bay, you are blessed with miles and miles of sheltered Lake Michigan shoreline that provides a superior swimming experience.
If you want to enjoy concessions, modern restrooms and a splash pad along with your beach, visit Clinch Park downtown.
You can ride a bike to Clinch Park via the TART Trail system. Lifeguards are on duty at the 1500 foot long sand beach during the high summer months.
Clinch Park, including the beach and the splash pad, is free to visit but you will probably need to pay for parking.
111 E Grandview Pkwy, Traverse City, MI, 49684
Traverse City State Park is located on East Bay and offers restrooms, a lengthy sandy swimming beach with a nautical-themed playground. You will need a state park pass to access the beach by car, or you can bike to the park using the TART trail system. (If you do bike, access to the beach requires using a highway pedestrian stairway overpass. You will need to lock your bikes on the far side of the overpass and carry your beach items over with you.
|Traverse City State Park|
1132 US-31, Traverse City, MI 49686
If you want a beach with fewer people, drive a bit and find one of the many public access points that dot the lakeshore. There are so many to choose from that you could spend a month just visiting the different free beaches in the area.
2) Bike the Trails
Over the past two decades, the Traverse City TART (Traverse Area Recreation Trail) group has been working hard to build a network of trails and bikeways across the region, making hitting the trail one of the best things to do in Traverse City.
Right now there are over 60 miles of trails just waiting for bikers, walkers, and in-line skaters.
If you need to rent bikes, stop at Brick Wheels (736 E Eighth Street, Traverse City, MI), conveniently located on the TART trail. They carry kids bikes, bike trailers, trail-a-bikes, and more and will be able to give you more info on the trail system – or just point you to the nearest beach and ice cream shop!
If mountain biking is more your thing, head to the VASA single track. The trailhead is at 5450 Supply Road, Traverse City, and will connect you with 13 miles of well-marked, well-maintained singletrack.
Or, if you’re looking for an entry-level mountain biking experience, go to the VASA Skillz Building Loop (TRAILHEAD: 4450 Bartlett Rd, Williamsburg, MI 49690). You’ll find 2 one-mile loops with jumps, tabletops, berms, and rock gardens to give kids (this area is geared toward kids ages 6+) and adults a place to work on their technical skills.
3) Rent a Kayak or SUP
Bring your own or rent water toys to play on.
Stand Up Paddle Boards are a great option for the oft-calm Grand Traverse Bays. Or choose to kayak in the Boardman River or in the lake – either option will cool you off. If you need to rent equipment, check out The River Outfitters. They’re located in the heart of downtown Traverse City and offer all sorts of rentals.
|The River South|
Medalie Park @ Boardman River & Lake – 1910 W. South Airport Rd, Traverse City MI
|The River East|
TC State Park Beach @ East Bay – 1132 US31, Traverse City MI
4) Go Fishing
My brother runs a charter fishing boat in Traverse City, Michigan.
I’m proud of my little brother for his top-notch ratings on Trip Advisor for Daydreamer Fishing Charters. He’s a dad and knows how to get kids involved in the catch and set them up for big wins. My kids can attest to how awesome it is to catch big fish with Captain Ben!
|Daydreamer Fishing Charters|
231-218-5176 (text or call Captain Ben)
Hint – book a trip for August. That’s when many of the out-of-state visitors have gone home (their schools typically start before many in Michigan) and the salmon have started biting in the bays. It’s an experience you will never forget!
4) Go Flower & Fruit Picking
When you’re in the Traverse City area you are not far from an amazing agricultural area that produces some of the best fruit around.
Depending on the time of your visit, you can look for different flower and fruit picking experiences – including the unusual saskatoon berry!
Here’s a list of when different fruits are in season and where you can go fruit picking in the area:
|Guntzviller’s Berry and Vegetable Farm: 11122 US 31 South, Elk Rapids, MI 49629|
Bulldog Berries: 7187 East Harrys Rd Traverse City, MI 49684
Secret Garden at Brys Estate: 3309 Blue Water Road, Traverse City, MI 49686
|Rennie Orchards: 11221 Munro Rd Williamsburg, MI 49690|
|Saskatoon Berries: |
|Saskatoon Michigan: 7924 Sayler Rd Williamsburg, MI 49690|
mid-July to early August
|Guntzviller’s Berry and Vegetable Farm: 11122 US 31 South, Elk Rapids, MI 49629|
mid-July to mid-August
|Bulldog Berries: 7187 East Harrys Rd Traverse City, MI 49684|
Buchan’s Blueberry Farm: 1472 Nelson Rd, Traverse City Michigan49686
September & October
|Rennie Orchards: 11221 Munro Rd Williamsburg, MI 49690|
|U-Pick Flowers: |
Spring through Fall
|Secret Garden at Brys Estate: 3309 Blue Water Road, Traverse City, MI 49686|
Omena Cut Flowers: 12401 E Freeland Road, Suttons Bay, MI 49682
Iris Farm: 5385 E Traverse Hwy, Traverse City, MI 49684
Old Mission Flowers: 16550 Center Rd., Traverse City, MI 49686
5) Play Footgolf at Elmbrook Golf Course
Mix up your golf game by bringing along a soccer ball.
At Elmbrook Golf Course in Traverse City, you are welcome to kick your soccer ball around the course. Plan on two hours for a round of 18 holes. Bring your own ball or rent one there.
|Elmbrook Golf Course|
1750 Townline Rd. Traverse City, MI 49696
6) Watch a Matinee a the State Theatre
The State Theatre is currently closed due to COVID-19. Check their website for their current open/closed status.
It’s no secret that the historic State Theatre has $0.25 kids matinees every Saturday at 10 AM (and on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the summer.)
233 E Front St Traverse City, MI 49684
Watching a film on the big screen in the renovated, historic State Theatre is a treat. Bonus: candy and 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.
7) Zip Line at Mt. Holiday
Are you looking for adventurous things to do in Traverse City?
Mt. Holiday is the local ski hill in the winter. In the summer months it transforms into zipping adventure.
Plan on 90 minutes to do the 8 zip lines.
(Riders must be between 60 – 260 pounds, hair tied back, and wear closed-toe shoes.)
3100 Holiday Road, Traverse City, MI 49686
8) Head to the Ballpark for a Pit Spitter’s Game
Traverse City has it’s own baseball team: the Pit Spitters. Elite college baseball players call Traverse City home for the summertime, playing games for the Northwoods League.
|Traverse City Pit Spitters @ Turtle Creek Stadium|
333 Stadium Dr Traverse City, MI 49685
Baseball is played, yes, but the game is punctuated with fun between innings entertainment, too.
There’s a playground with a sandy bottom and lots of lawn for the kids to run around on, too.
9) Play Around at Pirate’s Cove
From the road, Pirate’s Cove appears to be a fun place to play putt putt. What you don’t see is that beyond the giant mini-golf mountain, there are lots of other amusements to play on.
1710 U.S. 31 North, Traverse City MI 49686
Specifically, Pirates Cove is home to:
- Ropes Challenge Course
- Adventure Golf
- Go-Carts & Kiddie Go-Carts
- Bumper Boats
9) Try Bowling, Axe Throwing & Play the Arcade
The Den at the Grand Traverse Resort has an arcade as well as axe throwing.
1705 S. Garfield Ave, Traverse City, MI 49686
|Incredible Mo’s & Sauce Restaurant|
1355 Silver Lake Crossings Blvd, Grawn, MI 49637
|The Den at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa|
100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd, Acme, MI 49610
10) Children’s Museums
Take your pick between these two hands-on destinations just for kids.
Call ahead for reservations and to learn about current open hours/precautions being taken due to COVID-19.
The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is located just outside of downtown Traverse City.
|COGNiTiON Science & Discovery Center|
232 N Michigan Ave, Beulah, MI 49617
|Great Lakes Children’s Museum|
13240 S West Bay Shore Dr, Traverse City, MI 49684
11) Tall Ship Sails on the Bay
These tall ships played a big part in the history of the Great Lakes.
Now, families can jump aboard what looks like a pirate ship and sail the big waters out of Traverse City, MI. The summer sailing season begins Memorial Day Weekend.
The Tall Ship Manitou is a replica of an 1800s coasting cargo schooner. Book your spots on a Moomers Sail and get some of the country’s best ice cream while you cruise the open waters.
|Traverse Tall Ship Co|
13258 S W Bay Shore Dr, Traverse City, MI 49684
Or, get an education out on the water when you learn by doing with the Inland Seas Education Association. While they offer school field trips during the school year, you can sign up for public programs, specialty sails, and overnight accommodations throughout the summer.
|Inland Seas Education Association|
100 Dame Street Suttons Bay, MI 49682
Programs like Great Lakes Discovery let you act as a scientist on board, or Steady the Ship gets your family playing the part of schooner sailor.
12) Visit the Nature Center & Go Hiking
When it comes to hiking and nature in the area, the Grand Traverse Conservation District is all over it. Not only do they manage the Boardman River Nature Center on Cass Road, but they also are keepers of nine different nearby natural recreation areas.
|Grand Traverse Natural Education Reserve|
1450 Cass Road, Traverse City, MI 49686
An interpretive center (Boardman River Nature Center) with 7 miles of improved trails along the Boardman River that includes 1200 feet of boardwalks and bridges. The nature center has exhibits, a nature theater, and an activity area for kids.
Get outside of town a bit further, and the conservation effort belongs to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. They watch over a huge number of amazing properties – so many that they’ve built a directory so that users can search by desired activity and location.
Some are close to downtown Traverse City like Refitt Nature Preserve.
Just outside of town, in Long Lake, the South & Fox Island Nature Preserves are accessible by boat or kayak and make fun summer day excursions.
13) Find the Best Playgrounds
Playgrounds in Traverse City are a little harder to find than you might imagine. They are always at the top of our list of things to do in Traverse City, though, so we thought we’d share.
Here are a few of our favorites – please note that some are located on school grounds and are not available during school hours.
|Grand Traverse County Civic Center |
1213 W. Civic Center Dr, Traverse City, MI 49686
|Playground, skate park, one mile outdoor paved walking/biking track.|
1101 Peninsula Dr, Traverse City, MI, 49686
|This lakeside park with sandy beach also has a nice shaded playground.|
|Greilickville Harbor Playground|
13133 S W Bay Shore Dr, Traverse City, MI 49684
|This park has a sandy beach, BBQ, picnic, playground areas, bathrooms and a swing set. It’s located near the Children’s Museum.|
|Immaculate Conception Elementary School|
314 Vine St, Traverse City, MI 49684
|This private school often allows the public to play on their amazing playground after hours. Artificial turn and lots of unique play structures are a huge draw.|
|Central Grade School|
301 Seventh St, Traverse City, MI 49684
|Large Public School playground with lots of different play structures, located in a neighborhood.|
|Woodland Sweets & Eats|
4386 N US Highway 31 N Traverse City, MI 49686
|Swings and climbing structures located at this ice cream and pizza shop along East Bay.|
14) Farmer’s Markets
|Indoor and Outdoor Markets at the Village Commons|
During the warmer months (May-October), the Outdoor Farmers Market is held on Monday afternoons, from 2pm-6pm on The Piazza (between Cottageview and Red Drive).
In the colder months (November-April), you can stay toasty while you shop at the Indoor Farmers Market in The Mercato corridor on Saturday mornings, from 10am-2pm.
|Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers’ Market|
Wednesdays and Saturdays, lot B across from Clinch Park.
15) Visit the Commons & Play Bocce Ball on the Lawn at Left Foot Charley
The Village at Grand Traverse Commons are a destination in themselves.
The historic buildings once served as a psychiatric hospital. Years of restoration and preservation efforts have turned this place into a destination. (Adult Date Night Idea: Take the Tunnel Tour!)
Specifically, take time to lounge on the outdoor patio at Left Foot Charley, a Traverse City urban winery tucked away here.
|Left Foot Charley|
806 Red Dr, Suite #100, Traverse City, MI 49684
Sit under the tall shade tree while the kids play in the sandbox. Check inside for bocce balls to play on the nearby courts on the Village Piazza.
16) Get Painting at Handz On Art
Stop in for a few hours at this paint your own pottery studio in the Warehouse District in Traverse City, MI.
The owner is really helpful, kind, and inspiring. Choose from the many different options for kids and adults. Be sure to inquire about shipping your art home if you will not be in town for very long.
|Handz On Art|
144 Hall St Suite 110, Traverse City, MI 49684
17) Conquer MagiQuest at Great Wolf Lodge
You don’t have to be a house guest at Great Wolf Lodge to play their addicting MagiQuest game. (GWL is a great place to stay if you have kids – here’s more on that.)
To play the game, you need a wand that has been activated in their MagiQuest store (fee). After that, players spend time trying to beat dragons, complete quests, and do other tasks to win the game. Kids should be able to read for the best experience.
Most players will spend hours on the game, making this a great rainy day activity and one of our top things to do in Traverse City.
18) Hunt for Petoskey Stones
The beaches in Traverse City are sugar sand and not great for rock hunting. To find the prized Petoskey stone, you’re going to need to head out of town and get ready for a hunt.
Thankfully, you don’t need to drive all of the way to Petoskey to uncover some of these gems. (If you’re really into rock and fossil hunting be sure to put Rockport State Park on your bucket list – they have an old quarry where you can mine for fossils and Petoskey stones!)
|Barnes Park: 12298 Barnes Park Road, Eastport, MI 49627|
A picturesque park on the north end of East Grand Traverse Bay.
|Elk Rapids Day Park: 920 S Bay Shore Dr, Elk Rapids, MI 49629|
|Antrim Creek Natural Area: 9890 Old Dixie Hwy, Ellsworth, MI 49729|
Search along the creek.
|Fisherman’s Island State Park: 16480 Bells Bay Rd S, Charlevoix, MI 49720|
|Point Betsie Lighthouse Beach: 3701 Point Betsie Rd, Frankfort, MI 49635|
|Christmas Cove Beach: E Christmas Cove Rd, Northport, MI 49670|
|Peterson Park: 10001 E Peterson Park Rd, Northport, MI 49670|
Lots of different fossilized coral as well as a lot of other rocks to pick from.
|Sayler Park: 5923 Yuba Park Rd, Williamsburg, MI 49690|
19) Crystal Mountain’s Outdoor Waterpark & Alpine Coaster
Visiting Crystal Mountain for the day (or staying here!) is an excellent choice.
There is so much to do here during the summer for families:
- Alpine Coaster: You ride a chairlift to the top of the mountain and then you ride down a curved track on a specially designed sled.
- Michigan Legacy Art Park: A thirty-acre preserve located on the Crystal property with over 1.5 miles of hiking trails. Along the trails, you will find over 50 sculptures.
- Outdoor Adventure Pool: Zero Entry pool with slides, water guns and lily pads. There’s a sandbox and playset, too.
- Edge Adventure Course & Zipline
- Vertical Edge Climbing Wall
- Mountain Biking Trails & Bike Rentals
- Laser Tag, Paintball & Archery
- Chairlift Rides
20) Shop Downtown
Popping our heads into a few Downtown Traverse City shops is another one of our favorite things to do in Traverse City.
Here are the shops we frequent:
Cute selection of baby and young children’s clothing, toys, shoes, and more. I always find something new or interesting in here.
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!
This store is so fitting, as Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the world. Stop in for cherry everything – be sure to try the bottled soda – my kids’ favorite!
The local bookseller that the town wouldn’t let go! They have a wonderful children’s section, cafe, and three floors of amazing books. Stop in and buy something – you’ll be glad you did.
21) Friday Night Live
The road closes down for this popular community block party, held the first four Fridays in August.
Check Downtown Traverse City’s website for the current status of Friday Night Live in 2021.
With a full slate of music, entertainment, food, demonstrations, and family activities along the 100 and 200 blocks of East Front Street, this is the place to be on a Friday night.
Friday Night Live runs from 5 – 9 pm.
22) Find a Festival or Fair
Most people have heard of the National Cherry Festival, held in downtown Traverse City the first full of week of July.
But that’s not the only festival around. Chances are if you’re visiting Northern Michigan in the summer, there’s a festival nearby.
2021 Festival Roster:
|Cedar Polka Fest: June 17-20, 2021. Food, drink, and continuous polka music and dancing.|
|National Cherry Festival – July 3-10, 2021 (Traverse City)|
|Great Lakes Equestrian Festival – July 7-August 15, 2021 (Williamsburg)|
|Venetian Festival – July 17-24, 2021 (Charlevoix)|
|Elk Rapids Harbor Days: August 4-7, 2021 (Elk Rapids)|
|Northwest Michigan Fair: August 8-14, 2021.|
Best Places to Eat with Kids in Traverse City
Whether you’re looking for a meal or a snack, there are a lot of great places to eat in Traverse City with kids!
|Red Mesa Grill |
A kid-friendly restaurant with Mexican food.
|Spanglish at The Commons also has great Mexican fare.|
|Chef’s Inn – Perfect place to grab that sandwich before you hit the beach.|
|Little Fleet – Downtown Food truck mecca with lots of foodie options. Yummo!|
|Hop Lot Brewing Company – not a lot of food options here, but their outdoor space is kid-friendly|
|Jolly Pumpkin Brewery – Great pizza!|
|Moomer’s Ice Cream – Drive out to see the cows that give the milk to make your Ice Cream. The wait is worth it.|
|The Original Grand Traverse Pie Company – The hardest part is picking a flavor!|
|Oryana – The local food coop has a wonderful cafe and takeout area.|
Best Places to Stay in Traverse City with Kids
There are a multitude of places to stay in Traverse City with kids.
Lodging options vary greatly, from downtown hotel rooms, neighborhood vacation rentals, or accommodations outside of the city limits.
Look for a breakdown of each area below, or choose a vacation rental from the map.
Downtown Traverse City
Staying in downtown Traverse City is perfect for people that want restaurants, beaches, shops and festival access right at their fingertips.
If you have bicycles, there’s a good chance you won’t even need a car to get to most places on your list.
We had a fabulous time when we stayed at this giant, secret Downtown Loft. The chef’s kitchen is to die for and the décor played to the strengths of the historic building. Definitely recommend if you have the chance.
More places to stay right downtown include:
|West Bay Beach: 615 E Front St, Traverse City, MI 49686|
Bayside hotel is a 3-block walk from downtown. They have a great patio with indoor and outdoor pools.
|Park Place Hotel: 300 E State St, Traverse City, MI 49684|
This historic hotel is one of the tallest buildings in downtown, giving it fantastic views of Grand Traverse Bay as well as the city.
If you want more space than a hotel offers, look into vacation rentals in the neighborhoods of Traverse City. The tree-lined streets are filled with charming houses from the 1800s and 1900s. You will be able to ride bikes to most everything while enjoying the laid back vibe of the old streets. Here are some of our top picks:
The Leelanau Peninsula is a favorite place for many people to stay because of it’s proximity to Traverse City, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and its natural beauty. Orchards and wineries take advantage of sweeping hilltop views. Beaches are everywhere. Leelanau is an amazing place to base your Northern Michigan vacation around.
If you have a chance to stay at the Leland Lodge, we highly recommend.
Old Mission Peninsula
Old Mission Peninsula doesn’t have many lodging options.
The largely rural peninsula is home to several wineries and many million dollar homes. That said, if you can find a place for your family on Old Mission, take it. You’re in for a treat.
East Bay & Acme
The East Bay and Acme areas are where you will find many lodging options and restaurants geared toward tourists.
The shores of the East Bay are lined with family-friendly hotels like the Cherry Tree Inn.
Another family-friendly place to stay on the water is the Grand Beach Resort Hotel.
In addition to hotel rooms, they offer condos to accommodate all family sizes. Amenities here include pools, beach, shops and activities (golf, tennis, etc.)
South of town is where you’ll find Great Wolf Lodge – They offer big suites for families plus the perk of an indoor water park.
You’ll also find chain hotels mixed with shopping centers as you get farther away from the lake and the peninsulas.
Day Trips from Traverse City
|Sleeping Bear Dunes – Climb the dunes, visit Lake Michigan, ride your bikes, gaze at the night stars – there is so much to do here. Put it into a day or make it a longer trip!|
|Tube the Platte River – Rent tubes and float with your gang down this relaxing, beautiful river in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.|
|Torch Lake – Rent a boat and cruise out to the sand bar for the day for a memory-making day.|
|Charlevoix & Petoskey – This area is huge and lots of fun to explore. You may want more than a day!|
|Mackinac Island – the island is almost 3 hours away from Traverse City, so it would make for a really long day trip but you could do it if you were pressed for time.|
|Crystal Mountain – go for the day or just stop by for a ride down the Alpine Coaster|