[note] Welcome to the latest installment of our Mitten Adventures Series! If you’re looking for fun trips around our great state, check out our complete list of articles here.[/note]

[pullquote_left]by Stephanie Pearson[/pullquote_left]

Traverse City Isn’t Just for Summer Vacation

Traverse City is a frequent summer destination. The sand, the crystal clear water, the dunes, the wine. But how does it this northern Michigan town fare in the off-season? Let me count the ways…


Enjoy a Fruity Haven at Cherry Republic

No visit to Traverse City is complete without stopping at Cherry Republic. In this cute shop on Front Street you will find samples around every corner of all things cherry. Cherry jam, cherry salsa, cherry BBQ sauce, peanut butter, chocolate, sausage…and of course, wine. And they’re all free! While you’re there be sure to have the kids find the ‘missing animal’ and take a picture in their infamous Cherry Pit.


The State Theatre Is So Affordable It’s Almost Unreal

Just down Front Street from Cherry Republic is the beautiful State Theatre. The theatre is owned and operated by the Traverse City Film Festival and aims to allow everyone to experience the cinema by keeping prices low. Every Saturday at 10:00 am, they show a film for kids for just 25 cents (the same price the State Theatre charged when it opened in 1916), and for an entire week during Spring Break they have shows FREE each day!

They also offer a free small popcorn on Tuesdays and the least expensive concessions around. We happened to be there over break and took in Horton Hears a Who. We chose to sit in the balcony (because, what other movie theater has a balcony) where a gentleman led us to our seat via flashlight. Following the show, we did a bit of stargazing from our seats, as the ceiling features a fiber optic exact replica of an early August night sky in Northern Michigan. A great experience overall!

02_Childrens Museum

Explore the World of Water at the Great Lakes Children’s Museum

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is another good option for indoor play. The museum is on the small side but still has quite a few cute and educational exhibits making it worth a stop. Just inside the front door is a ‘living river’ projected on the floor. As you step on it, the water moves. My three kids, young and old, found this entertaining. They also loved the large water table where they were able to investigate how water moves around obstacles, create waves and eddies and more.

A few other favorites included the Water Cycle slide, the Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters playhouse, and my environmentalist son’s favorite, Garbage In, Garbage Out. The cost of admission is $6 per person for those 3 and up (kids 2 and under are free).

03_Sleeping Bear

The Great Outdoors Is Loads of Fun Even When It’s Not 70 Degrees

DUNES: Natural beauty surrounds you in Traverse City, and can be a joy to experience even in cooler weather. On our visit up last year, we decided to drive one hour west to Glen Arbor and climb the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. Covered in snow, they were amazing (and semi-easy to trek over, being frozen). The kids loved making body slides down the dunes and we promised to come back another time with sleds.

We returned with our sleds this year, two weeks earlier in the season than before, and much to our surprise found sand! Regardless, I wouldn’t have traded the time for anything. The views are just spectacular and the time spent together in the great outdoors is even better.


TRAILS: Skiers and snowshoers have long known about the miles of winter trails that meander through the forests and dunelands surrounding Traverse City. A few of the more popular ones include those at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, as well as trails at Mission Point, Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area, the Muncie Lakes Pathway, the Vasa Pathway and the Sand Lakes Quiet Area. Rentals are available at numerous locations including Brick Wheels.


Treat Your Tastebuds to Popular Moomers Homemade Ice Cream

Just five miles from downtown Traverse City is Moomers, the cute little ice cream place that has made a big name for itself. They make over 120 different flavors of homemade ice cream with over 20 being featured in their store daily. Our family each chose a different flavor so we (er, mom) could sample them all, and if I had to pick, my favorite was the White Chocolate Oreo.

I would dare say it was the best ice cream I’ve ever had…and I’m not alone! Moomer’s was voted America’s Best Scoop on ABC’s Good Morning America in 2008! If you happen to visit in the summer, tours of the store and the farm are available from mid-June to August.

Lucky Jack’s Is the Craig’s Cruisers of Northern Michigan

Although we didn’t stop there, Lucky Jack’s is an indoor family fun center that includes 33 lanes of bowling, bumper cars, laser tag, billiards and a great arcade!

07_Great Wolf

Have Fun at Great Wolf Lodge…for Nearly Free

Even if you don’t choose to stay and swim, you can stop into Great Wolf Lodge for a little adventure. They offer two ‘games’ (MagiQuest and Compass Quest) that allow you to explore their hallways on a magical quest. You must purchase a wand, but it can be reused at MagiQuest locations throughout the US (which I’ve heard can be pretty cool in comparison)! These wands ‘capture’ items and lead you to a final challenge. The kids loved it, and it filled a few hours here.

08_The Village

Don’t Miss the Historic Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Shops, restaurants, wineries and more can be found in this old state asylum. This beautiful and uniquely renovated property is full of character and worth a stop. They also have over 200 acres of trails that can be accessed from six different trailheads!

09_Old MissionMeander Up and Down Old Mission Peninsula

If you have extra time, take a drive up Old Mission Peninsula. As you follow the west coast up you will see beautiful houses lining the water, and eventually (18 miles in) will reach the Old Mission Lighthouse. Take the east coast down and stop in the original 1839 Old Mission General Store, complete with candy and pickles in barrels. They also offer pizza, ice cream and more, or you can grab a bite to eat at the nearby Peninsula Grill & Bad Dog Deli.


Foodies take note, Traverse City is full of great restaurants and unique food. Here are a few of our family favorites!

Have you visited Traverse City in the off-season. What things did you enjoy?