Hightail it to Traverse City for Delightful Fall Fun
Escaping to Traverse City for the weekend is like jumping into the most enjoyable choose-your-own-adventure book you’ve ever read.
My husband and I dropped our three kids at grandma’s and hightailed it to TC for a much-needed adult weekend away. We had made it through summer (I work from home, so keeping the kids constructively occupied for three months in a row is an ongoing challenge…) and the stacks of back-to-school paperwork, and we were in desperate need of a break together!
Traverse City is one of our favorite getaway destinations because of it’s natural beauty, charming downtown, close proximity to Grand Rapids, wide array of activities, and spectacular restaurants. Our recent trip (early October 2017) was no exception – we found ourselves thoroughly recharged and refreshed after just a weekend in Traverse City.
*We worked with Traverse City Tourism to craft our weekend adventure. They granted complimentary access to some of our experiences and they are a GRKIDS sponsor. All opinions are my own- this was one of my favorite trips to TC all around!
Where to Play
Autumn in Traverse City is a marvelous time to visit. Vineyards are starting their harvest, as are the apple orchards. Leaves are beginning to change color and are striking against the blue sky and water. (October will be a great month for colors in Traverse City.)
We wanted to do all of the things Traverse City has to offer, but had to narrow it down to what time allowed. That’s a good problem to have!
Mountain Biking the VASA Trail
We’re new to the mountain biking scene. (Proof that you can learn new things after you have kids!) I’m not sure why we didn’t try it sooner – we both love hiking and road biking, so this is the perfect adrenaline-pumping combination.
Whether you’re new to mountain biking or an old pro, you’ll enjoy riding the VASA trail. You can park at the ski trailhead, where the paths are cut wide to accommodate skate skiers, or you can park at the Singletrack trailhead (state recreation pass required).
The track is flowy without a lot of climb – but there is a section of switchbacks that challenged me quite a bit. The singletrack is 9 miles long and took us about 90 minutes to ride. (I kept stopping to take pictures, ha!) There is also a fat bike section that was super fast and fun.
We have our own mountain bikes, but if you’d like to rent while in town, Einstein Cycles is close to the VASA trail. We’ve rented from them before and had a great experience.
Kayak the Platte River Salmon Run
Simply amazing. I finally get to check this box on my bucket list. Kayaking in northern Michigan is beautiful any time of year, but when you do it while the salmon are swimming en masse up the river, it’s a whole new experience.
Riverside Canoe Trips is offering kayak rentals through Sunday, October 15 and there are still a lot of fish making their way upstream.
Vineyard Tour and Tasting at Shady Lane Cellars
Ambiance galore. That’s just one of the sweet treats waiting for you at Shady Lane Cellars. From the outdoor wood-burning fireplace to the scrumptious cheese and light bites sampler paired with their wine, you’ll be in a land of bliss.
Start with a leisurly walking tour of the vineyard, learn how Shady Lane Cellar produces their unique handcrafted wines, and top it off with a relaxed wine tasting session.
The vineyard tour and tasting packge is offered throughout the season on Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 and 3:30, and on Sundays at 1:30. (Reservations are recommended. Arrive at least 15 minutes prior to start time.) 9580 E Shady Lane, Suttons Bay, MI 49682. Call 231.947.8865.
Another neat option for wine tasting is the Bike Vineyard Tour. Grand Traverse Bike Tours offer a remarkable package that lets you bike the paved trail to a variety of wineries. The package includes bike rental and helmet – plus – a van will come along and collect any wine that you chose to purchase, and they will deliver a catered lunch to one of your stops to enjoy along the way.
Did you know you can rent bikes in Suttons Bay and ride the paved bike path to wineries in your way to TC?? The rental package not only includes your bike/helmet, but a catered lunch delivered to one of your winery stops and van support to pick up any of the wine you purchase. They operate April -November and the colors have hardly started turning up north yet, so plenty of time to get out and enjoy the harvest in #traversecity 🍷🍂🍷🍂🚴🚴🚴#redwine #biketour #vineyardtour #bikeandwine #harvest #leelanau #michigan #michiganwine #getaway @traversecitytourism @shadylanecellars @tarttrails
Apple Picking at Rennie Orchards
If you love honeycrisp apples as much as I do, you’ll want to stop in at Rennie Orchards to grab a bushel or so.
You can pick your own or get ready-for-you bags at the orchard, as well as donuts and cider. It’s a fun stop with hayrides and fall fun for kids, too. The Orchards are located just northwest of Traverse City at 11221 Munro Road Williamsburg, MI.
Couples Massage at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa
Why get a couples massage? It’s a wonderful way to relax and get on the same wavelength as your partner. My husband and I enjoyed our first couples massage at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and found ourselves completely relaxed at the same time.
What a gift to enjoy together! Often we divide and conquer when it comes to parenting and running a family – it is the rare occasion that we are both in the same quiet space, able to enjoy one another’s company.
Our spa services were exquisite – the couples massage, the relaxation lounge, the comfy robes – everything added to our fantastic weekend of rejuvenation.
There are Spa Deals right now, too, at the GT Resort for Spa Week. Running Oct 16- Oct 31, spa patrons will enjoy Warm Amber Relaxation Massage, Autumn Sunrise Facial, or Fall Harvest Express Mani/Pedi for $50. Call 231-534-6750 to make a reservation.
More Things to Do
There’s no shortage of things to do on an autumn trip up north. If you’re ready for mountain biking, a hike through the crisp autumn air at the Boardman Valley Nature Preserve or the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area will get your heart pumping and treat your eyes to a feast of fall colors. Another fun outdoor option is golf. Bonus: most of the local courses, including those at the Grand Traverse Resort, offer great shoulder season rates.
If you find yourself on a foodie adventure in Traverse City, consider adding a cooking class to your weekend roster. Fustini’s in downtown Traverse City offers an array of classes, as does the teaching kitchen at Northwestern Michigan College.
Winery and brewery tours, casino packages, shopping and nightlife round out your weekend-away options, all found on TC Tourism’s helpful website.
Where to Eat
It’s hard to go wrong when eating out in Traverse City. Increasingly known as a foodie destination, farm-to-table is a concept that many local restaurants have adopted and embraced.
The best advice I can give you is to make your restaurant reservations as soon as you book your hotel room. Many of the most sought-after spaces are intimate venues that fill up fast.
Here are some of our favorite places to dine. I’ve included gems from this past weekend as well as other trips up north. Whenever these are part of a weekend in Traverse City, I count it a win!
Aerie – This restaurant’s top of the tower location translates into panoramic views of Grand Traverse Bay. Every morsel of our dinner at Aerie was sublime, from start to finish, including the cocktails and local microbrews. Schedule your meal to coincide with sunset and you’re in for an extravagant treat. Call 231-534-6800 for reservations.
The Franklin – Casual restaurant in downtown Traverse City with good vibes and great food. Offering a multi-cuisine experience for a quick bite or a lingering dinner. Brunch is delicious. Sit outside if you can!
The Little Fleet – A Food Truck village in downtown Traverse City where you can’t go wrong. Big on flavor and replete with an awesome bar, this is a great place to grab a quick lunch or dinner if you are short on time or forgot to make a reservation. Anchor Station served up a mean Falafel Salad that I would eat again and again!
Trattoria Stella – Hidden away in the Grand Traverse Commons, this Italian restaurant does food as well as it does intimate Old World atmosphere. Come for the wine and pasta.
Red Mesa Grill – Enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, queso, guacamole, margaritas – Red Mesa has it all, and they do it well. Easy, casual, and tasty, this is a great stop after a busy day of exploring.
Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen – Not far from the Grand Traverse Resort, in a little town called Elk Rapids, is Pearl’s. Their Cajun flavors are unexpected but welcome, as everything tastes good and the ambiance draws you right in.
Cook’s House – Literally in a house in downtown Traverse City, this restaurant is know for its farm-to-fork cuisine and intimate size (they have a 26-seat dining room). It goes without saying that reservations are probably the only way you or I will get to experience the Cook’s House. 231-946-8700.
Alliance – Just a over a year old, this little restaurant has already made a big name for itself on the food scene. Specializing in shareable plates, this is a great date destination. For reservations call Tuesday – Saturday from 12 – 5 p.m. 231-642-5545.
Patisserie Amie – Say it with me – get there at least 45 minutes before they close! I was so disappointed when we walked in 25 minutes before the 2pm close and were told that the kitchen was closing and couldn’t accommodate us. I completely understand (it was our fault for taking so long to get there), but I was sad that this place I’ve heard everyone gushing about was going to have to wait til next time. Lesson learned!
Where to Stay
We loved staying at the Grand Traverse Resort for our weekend away. Located just a few miles from Traverse City, it’s a natural choice for anyone wanting to stay and play golf or use the multitude of resort facilities (great pools, spa, exercise facilities, and outdoor hot tub at your disposal). Our room had a cozy king bed and was overall very comfortable.
I particularly enjoyed having the restaurants, lounges, and spa and shopping right on site. It’s nice after a long day of exploring to have a leisurely dinner and head back to your room without having to drive.
The Resort was also a great home base for our explorations – our drive into Traverse City was about 10 minutes. It took us 15 minutes to get to the VASA Singletrack Trailhead and less than 5 minutes to make it to Rennie Orchards.
On previous trips to Traverse City, we’ve also stayed at the Cherry Tree Inn and the Sugar Beach Resort. I’d recommend all of these lodging options to any of my friends, and direct them to the Fab Fall Packages for Traverse City getaways going on right now.