The Unexpected Delights I Discovered in Traverse City
It helps to enter into adventures with no expectations.
That’s how I entered into my girls’ weekend in Traverse City and I had the most relaxing, enjoyable time. And it came at the perfect time.
I originally thought that this girls’ getaway was coming at the worst weekend for me. We were in the middle of a bathroom remodel, leaving us with one sink and one toilet in the house and my poor husband up to his elbows in demolition and rebuilding. We had some big deadlines looming at work. And I was planning a virtual baby shower for my SIL, taking place simultaneously in Detroit and Austin, TX, the following weekend.
How was I supposed to RELAX with all THAT on my shoulders?
It turns out that this weekend in Traverse City was going to save my sanity.
I got two hot showers in a row, was pampered at a spa, was spooked in a steam tunnel, and had a holy tea experience. Plus, a constant supply of epic food.
I returned to Grand Rapids on Sunday feeling like I could take on the world.
Since I know I’m not the only mama out there who is bending under the strain of trying to do it all, I wanted to share our how-to for Traverse City. May you all get to adventure in Traverse City this year – I think it’s good for your health!
Stay: Sugar Beach Resort Hotel
Sugar Beach Resort Hotel is located on the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay, just east of Old Mission point peninsula. What I super liked about Sugar Beach: it was clean! I did not feel suspicious climbing into my bed or into the shower.
Like the view? No matter the time of year you stay here, it’s pretty exciting to start the day with a Michigan sunrise. Be sure to ask for a lake side room at Sugar Beach Resort.
Eat: All the Places
Not one meal was a dud in Traverse City! It helped that it was restaurant week, and everyone was putting out their best food, but …wow. Out of all our many many meals, we only experienced one “okay” dish – a blueberry cake dessert.
That’s right- Traverse City has incredible food.
I did not expect this.
I grew up in rural Michigan and have had many small town, northern Michigan meals.
But Traverse City is like Grand Rapids eating. Actually, on the whole, Traverse City restaurants may be better than Grand Rapids restaurants.
Yes, I just said that. I feel a little like Judas Iscariot here. But as I reflect on my meals, I have to be honest.
How can this be??? Grand Rapids has stellar eats. Maybe I just had great luck in Traverse City, but every single meal was perfect.
Sister restaurant to the famed Trattoria Stella in TC, The Franklin’s ambiance is very welcoming. Their historic building is especially beautiful from the outside at night, and their bar is gorgeous. Add to that their finely-tuned menu, and you’re in for a lovely night.
I especially enjoyed my hard cider and was a little jealous of Melody’s stuffed squash.
Ask anyone who’s been to Spanglish what they thought and they will immediatley end the conversation and drive to Traverse City for lunch. That’s how much visitors love this place.
It is delicious Mexican food, and I have a little golden nugget for you – the little Grand Rapids restaurant Taqueria San Jose is a pretty close contender with Spanglish.
Okay, so none of us drink beer. But our husbands are all into craft beer so we tasted it like we were our husbands. And all I can say is that every beer in the Earthen Ales flight was full of flavor and I could actually tell each drink apart, which speaks to each beer’s uniqueness. Co-owner Jamie Kidwell-Brix took us through each beer and you can tell how personal the entire beer-making process is for her.
I don’t drink wine, either. (I find it so comical that I did a beer AND a wine tasting!)
I tried three wines at Left Food Charley and I haven’t stopped thinking about their Blaufränkisch wine. Or as I call it, “black pepper wine.” I have been craving a juicy steak and a glass of Blaufrankish ever since. What’s happening me?? I’m turning 40 this year – is this what a midlife crisis is like? If so, bring it on!
Firefly is like The Franklin’s hipster cousin. The same basis in excellent food choices, only with more Edison bulbs and funky light colors.
Melody and I had surf and turf. Melody couldn’t believe that both her surf and her turf were excellent. Usually she finds that one is done well and the other is only okay. Even though we were so full from Spanglish, we managed to scrape our plates clean.
Drumroll please. Our final food destination was:
I feel like we got drunk on the food at Patisserie Amie. Is that a thing? It is now. French delight after French delight was brought out to us and Andrea was in heaven. (She made sure we were there 10 minutes before the doors opened so that we’d be guaranteed a seat. Within 10 minutes of open the place was packed out.)
Her cappuccino was excellent. I opted for the moka, with housemade chocolate. A++.
Then they brought out the beignets. The server told us that people put them on level with New Orleans beignets. I’ve never had a New Orleans beignet and I’m sorry to report that ours disappeared about 10 seconds after hitting our table so I can’t really do a proper comparison. However, Andrea seemed to be in some zen state after she ate hers so I feel like they’re pretty high end.
Honorable mentions: we did not get to visit Mama Lu’s or Stella Trattoria but these places are consistently packed out and have rave reviews from friends.
Do: Downtown, The Village at TC Commons, Spa, Tea
Melody, grkids founder, is a big cheerleader for her hometown of Traverse City. But she wondered what it was truly like for visitors. Andrea and I had each only been to Traverse City once, and only for a day or less, so we were perfect testers for Traverse City Tourism.
Downtown – Food, Shopping, State Theatre
When we arrived in TC on Friday evening, we explored downtown. It was so pretty all lit up – the trees still had white twinkly Christmas lights on them and the ambience was so sweet. The iconic State Theatre was in full display.
Many storefronts were still open after 6:00 and we didn’t even notice the Michigan cold as we walked to Traverse City Distillery to get my husband their cherry whiskey (pro tip: their cherry whiskey pairs great with Coke!).
This is also where Cherry Republic has their giant store. Cherries EVERYTHING. (Traverse City is the nation’s cherry capital.) I love that they let you taste a lot of their treats so you can see what you like before you buy.
We bought lots of things. And then returned the next day and bought more. No, we do not have a problem. But sometimes when you don’t buy the yogurt covered cherries and you see your friend Andrea having too much fun eating the ones she was smart enough to buy, you have to go back.
When we returned for my Cherry Republic add-ons, we also scoped out the clothing shops in Traverse City and each walked away with a new shirt.
The Spa at Grand Traverse Resort
The Grand Traverse Resort is a very well-known hotel in Traverse City. You can’t miss it, as it’s the only 19 story building in Traverse City. I hear that the views from the top floors of this place are incredible. But I was too busy getting a pedicure in the spa to check it out.
When they offer you mimosas at checkin, you know you’re in the right spa.
I don’t think I’ve had a pedicure since I was super pregnant and feeling junky, so this was a special treat for me. Five days later and my feet still feel — younger! I don’t know if that’s an actual phenomenon but my feet are now as cute as a 25 five year old’s feet.
Tunnel Tour and Wine Tasting at The Village
Okay, so I know I said that I had no expectations when I visited Traverse City. It was mostly true, except for our tour. I’ve always wanted to do a tour of the old State Asylum in Traverse City. I heard that you can learn the history of this expansive place and also go down in the steam tunnels and I was so excited to do that.
I wanted our tour to go on forever. There was just so much history to this place. The main building is over 300,000 square feet. Many annex buildings dot the sprawling campus of 63 acres, and today serve as cool restaurants and office buildings. What started out as a positive place for the mentally ill (and some who weren’t so ill) had turned into a sad, cruel place in the mid 20th century and is now being reclaimed as a place of happiness and community.
There are several types of tours you can choose, depending on your interests.
- History buffs will dig the 2 hour guided history tour.
- Like creepy stuff? Do the Twilight Tour at night.
- Foodies will enjoy the tour with beer and wine tasting at the end.
- Photographers can take their time and really capture the place with the Tripod Tour, where you will have 2 ½ hours to explore the buildings and capture the spirit of the place.
This is where the beer and wine tasting came in. At the end of the tour we chose, we tasted the wines of Left Foot Charley and had a beer flight at Earthen Ales. While we enjoyed our tour, we all agreed that the longer history tour would have been a blast for us, as we are into old stories and/or architecture.
The Unexpected Crown Jewel of Traverse City
Having an itinerary is good – it assures that you do the things that interested you in the first place, and helps have some structure to your time. And while I love a good itinerary, it’s also smart to have free time to stumble into things that no one has told you about yet.
And we stumbled on a crown jewel of our Traverse City trip.
Melody had read about this tea farm, Michigan’s only certified biodynamic farm, somewhere on the internets and thought we should check it out. I wondered just how one could check out a tea farm in winter.
I think this is a big part of the “relieves stress” part of my trip came in. The staff and atmosphere make you feel enveloped with calm and rest.
First, they have tea flights. Now THIS is my thing. Now I get why people are so excited when they do wine or beer tasting — it’s their favorite drink in all different flavors! For $10 you are taken through five different teas plus a nice dose of matcha at the end.
More than Tea Tasting
Kristen was our tea flight attendant and she knows her stuff. I’ve been drinking tea for years but she dropped some major knowledge on me about how tea is made, which tea comes from which part of the plant, and how they get all those crazy good flavors into their teas.
We kept commenting how pleasant it was to be there and how incredible it must be to visit there in the summer and fall when all the plants are in bloom.
And then Kristine had us try Leelanau Licorice tea. Doesn’t it sound kinda weird? We all took a sip, there was a pause, and then, “woah!!!” I dare not try to explain it other than that it doesn’t taste like black licorice and ends with a pepperminty upswing. We each bought a tin of it and I’ve had it regularly since we returned from our trip.
If you like farming or tea at all, Light of Day Organics has to be on your list.
Traverse City Wants you to Explore
This northern town loves visitors and meeting friendly new faces. I love that there are things to do here that I can’t do in Grand Rapids, like tour an old asylum or visit a tea farm.
Feel free to copy our itinerary or just pull from it the parts that interest you. There seems to be plenty to explore, no matter your tastes, and one thing for sure – it’s the perfect cure for mom burnout.