TC Tourism helped with trip planning and passes for some of the activities mentioned below. All opinions are my own.
Our Traverse City Fall Getaway Was Zero Stress and 100% Rest
Believe it or not, my family hasn’t been on a true vacation in years – let alone taking some extended quality chill-time with just me and my hubby.
So, when we had a chance to take a trip to Traverse City this Fall we did not hesitate – because asking parents if they’d like a little getaway is like asking if gravity exists.
That would be a big HECK to the YES!
Our Trip to Traverse City came at the perfect time. We were busy with back to school and work schedules, and were heavily involved in the upcoming massive mural festival in Lansing.
Don’t get me wrong – we LOVE our crazy life, but this getaway helped us get back to our day-to-day responsibilities with all smiles and a little more pep in our steps.
Although this was technically a work trip, as I was tasked with finding all these wonderful free or affordable vacation ideas for our readers, it felt like nothing of the sort.
Our trip to Traverse City was just pure relaxation and rest.
11 Insider Tips on Cost FREE, Stress FREE, and Kid FREE fun in Traverse City this Fall
In all honesty this trip was perfection. One of the biggest reasons was because of the many FREE activities in this absolutely gorgeous destination spot!
My husband and I had great quality time together – just the two of us. Here’s how you can plan your own relaxing, affordable weekend in Traverse City.
First things first – Grab a FREE Traverse City Tourism Guide. It has tons of great ideas, and the 72 hour trip guide was really helpful!
We snagged our complimentary copy in our hotel room but you can also get them at the TC Tourism Center located across the street from Open Space Park. (101 West Grandview Parkway, Traverse City, MI 49684)
11 FREE Reasons to Get Away to Traverse City in the Fall
Going out of town doesn’t have to break the bank or take a year of savings. If you know where to look, you can find affordable adventures in Traverse City that will give you room in the budget to splurge on other special meals and outings in this wonderful beach town.
The Free/Affordable Things to do on a Traverse City Fall Getaway
1 – Hike the Stunning Sleeping Bear Dunes Trails
First up was a hike through one of the most beautiful places in our state, Sleeping Bear Dunes trails.
We chose Empire Bluff on recommendation from a TC native and wow – it was breathtaking. There were so many serene lookout points on our hike of the Empire Bluff loop that it was hard to imagine it getting better – and then it did, with each step!
We stopped and admired (and took lots of selfies) many times on the 1-½ mile hike up because the captivating views. The trail leads you through hilly terrain, up winding stairs, then loops around the bluff on a wood plank trail to the most stunning view of all.
This only made me more curious of the other adventures awaiting us on the many other trail options.
Insider Tip – plan for multiple hikes, the only thing you’ll regret is picking just one.
2 – Enjoy Fri-Yay! Happy Hour at The Rove Estate
The Rove Estate was my first vineyard experience, and I was curious what to expect other than the noted Fri-Yay! Happy Hour offerings of FREE wine tastings and $2 off wine and cheese plates.
We wondered, how do we dress and will we be comfortable? Is this a spot we can truly relax? Will it even remotely be as amazing as the hike we just experienced?
What to wear: We walked up to The Rove Estate as a wedding reception was in full swing on the grounds. When we entered the tasting room, we were warmly welcomed by the staff and noticed others enjoying the experience in their casual gear.
We were ready to have a great time at The Rove Estate!
Truly Relax: Since my hubby loves to be inside in the warmth and I love the breezy night air, we sat both outside and inside throughout the night.
We also took a little jaunt through the grounds to gaze at their unique building architecture and the beaming sunset piercing through the vines. They even provided blankets to warm you during the cooler fall nights.
Views extraordinaire: The sun sets in direct eye-view from Rove Estate’s wrap-around deck, standing lookout, and inside seating. If you time it right, you can watch the sunset from any of these cozy spots.
The Rove Estate is a must-stop experience.
Insider Tip: You’ll pass The Rove Estate on your way back into town from the Sleeping Bear Dunes trails. If you plan to hike and then relax, bring a change of clothes and shoes to make for an all-in-one trip.
3 – Watch the Sunset on the Beach
It’s a beautiful credit to Traverse City that there are miles and miles for residents and tourists to enjoy the water views. No matter where you watch the sunset over the water, I can say with enthusiasm, you’re going to love it.
When you drive along Front Street and Grand View Parkway, you’ll see many public places to set up your spot for the day or evening.
We saw a few hammocks perched in the trees making me wish I would have remembered ours. But our view was just as grand. We opted to watch the sunset from the boat docks near Open Space Park.
If you’re staying at a place that faces the water you’ll enjoy walking on the private beaches. There are endless amazing spots to look along the water, one of them being the Pointes North Beachfront Resort Hotel where we stayed.
Insider Tip: Even though its not as warm during this season, adults and kids were still swimming. Bring your suit in case you are brave enough to jump in!
4 – Try the FREE Tastings at Sarah Hardy Farmers Market
We loved this place because it’s a local favorite plus a great spot for visitors to get a good feel for the community.
This city market spans a large parking lot and loops around, ensuring you won’t miss any of the wonder – our favorite parts were the FREE tastings.
Who doesn’t love tastings?! Many of the vendors offer FREE samples so you can make great choices on what to take home.
From crispy apples, velvety and sharp cheeses, to coffee, dips and mushroom teas, the tastings we plentiful.
We couldn’t help ourselves and had to take home some strawberry grapes, coffee in a can for our trip back home, and some Anise Hyssop tea from Heartwood Forest Farm.
Insider Tip: Plan to get there early. Lots of people love this place so finding parking can take time. We made it close to the end and had a close call to making it around to all of the vendors. So glad we made it!
5 – Take a Traverse City Historic Walking Tour
One of the best ways to get to know a city is to walk it. There’s something different about your feet touching the ground and taking in the views at a slower pace than in a car.
Take either the guided or self-guided walking tour and follow along on their site that has history details and pictures. We chose the self-guided tour because we get distracted along the way and like to go into the little shops as well as go at our own pace.
We loved the stunning architecture and rich Traverse City history, including learning about the Native American Bent Tree. I do think it would be great to go back and do the guided tour next time to experience the group interaction.
Insider Tip: If you take the self-guided tour, map your route ahead of time. There are many people walking the streets of downtown so knowing where you’re going is a help.
6 – Browse and Shop Downtown Traverse City
While browsing is technically FREE, you could spend an entire day galavanting the streets of Traverse City shops and will most likely end up buying something to bring home.
There’s a diverse amount of clothing styles, fun trinkets, and ultimately a great shopping experience and vibe.
One of the highlights for us was stumbling across a new-to-town spot, West Bay Handmade. They had been open just a couple of months making a great new addition to the downtown area’s many charms.
7 – Visit Art Galleries and Street Art
We love implementing art walks through our trips together because it always cultivates great conversations we wouldn’t normally have when things like laundry, car pools, work, and bedtime routines are our narrative during this season of life.
During our morning coffee we ran across a flier for Higher Art Gallery and found that it’s FREE to visit so we made our way over to check it out.
The current exhibit was “Modern Female Archetypes.” It was a beautiful breath of fresh air to learn through these art pieces, how “regardless of age, geography & social status” we are all connected.
8 – Bike or Walk the TART Trails
If you bring your own bikes you can roam FREE …for FREE! We didn’t bring our bikes but rented for a great price at Brick Wheels – $35 for the entire day.
Another great spot for bike rentals near Traverse City and the beachfront is downtown’s City Bike Rentals.
In our past visits to Traverse City, we’ve camped with family at the state park. The TART trail connects near the park and we’ve really enjoyed that portion of the trail in the past because of its scenic and peaceful nature.
This time around we picked biked the shoreline portion of the trail and it was just as grand.
Next time we visit, we want to take the 16 mile trek up to Suttons Bay. Have you done this before? If so, let me know what you think!
Insider Tip: Bring your own bike if you can, making this a truly FREE option and FUN!
9 – Relax at a Wine Tasting at Shady Lane Cellars
As soon as we stepped out of the car we were hit with an overwhelmingly nostalgic scent. Their wood burning stove near their outdoor bar was burning and the sounds of the night’s guitar player filled the blowing air.
Shady Lane Cellars offers 3 pours for $5. After trying a few options we settled on a reds flight and cider (which we ended up loving so much that we took a bottle home with us.)
We loved chatting with the staff who recommended we walk through the vineyard. We took them up on it – making it an unforgettable experience.
I cannot recommend this place enough! Check it out and let us know what strikes you as awesome about this place.
Insider Tip: You can move the seats around. We moved a table directly into the sun so that the breezy winds still felt nice despite the Fall temps.
10 – Grab Coffee, Treats, and Eats around Town
The reason this makes the ‘FREE or close to it’ list is because grabbing a coffee costs around $2-$5. Grabbing a coffee together each morning took our hangout time from normal to “date mode” for a close-to-free outing win.
I’m a coffee fanatic and connoisseur of “cuteness” so when the two are combined it’s magical.
Breakaway Coffee fit the bill for both, and we had found a match made in coffee heaven.
Find more yummy coffee spots here.
We stumbled upon the State Street Market during our bike ride and found a DELICIOUS crepe’ pop-up inside called Crepes and Co.
Find more treat options here.
Food is another must on a trip if you haven’t planned to cook on your own. We really enjoyed Poppycocks (a family favorite), and the vibrant atmosphere of The Little Fleet.
Find all the delicious restaurants here.
Insider Tip: Sometimes going with your gut – no pun intended – can take you a long way. We waited in line for quite some time to get a table at a few places and decided that we were too hungry to wait any longer.
We are glad we did otherwise we would have never found Crepes and Co.
11 – Enjoy Live Entertainment
Traverse City is known for its live entertainment. I remember many trips as a kid, listening to the house band at the Grand Traverse.
But, you don’t have to go there to hear great music. There are spots all over town where local musicians are giving folks a FREE night of artistic fun.
We loved hearing 90’s rap from a super talented lady at the Taproot Cider House, beautiful guitar medleys at Shady Lane Cellars, and strolls through The Little Fleet during the day, just to name a few.
Your Fall Trip to Traverse City is Calling Your Name
We had such a lovely time and experience that I’m already planning my next trip back up to TC – possibly a mom’s getaway or repeat of our one-on-one time.
If Traverse City is calling your name too, fall is a perfect time to visit.
The weather wasn’t too hot or too cold where people were even swimming! Our kids would have loved that. One of these days we’ll have to bring the kiddos.
1 thought on “11 FREE (or close to it) Reasons Why a Traverse City Fall Getaway is Exactly What You Need”
Nicely laid out and informative article. Have you ever been to The West End of downtown? There’s a lot of businesses there that get passed by and overlooked that are TC icons.