Fun fact: Did you know that Traverse City, MI is is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. Near the time of cherry harvest, the city hosts the annual week-long National Cherry Festival in the first full week of July, attracting approximately 500,000 visitors annually. The city is the main inland port of the Grand Traverse Bay—a long, natural harbor separated from the waters of Lake Michigan by the Leelanau Peninsula, and divided longitudinally almost evenly by a narrow peninsula called Old Mission Peninsula. All that to say- it has a lot of pretty (fresh) water and beautiful beaches and all the fun and amazing things that come with that.
Thanks to my friend, Maria, I got to spend last weekend there and I had an absolute blast. It was my first time visiting Traverse City and I had heard so much about it, more recently since I moved to Michigan, but even as far back as undergrad- so I was excited to explore.
I drove up Friday evening, and it being fall, it was pretty dark by the time I drove up Old Mission Peninsula but I could feel the beauty of the lake just a few feet away from the road. The very next morning, I got the real treat of seeing the lake in daylight when we went for a run on the peninsula. Maria was on a mission to run to ‘the point’ so we ended up being out for about 2 hours but it was a run/walk combo and a personal record for Maria in terms of distance :).
It was a beautiful run with various views of the lake and the pretty lake houses and neighborhoods, the boats in the harbor and a few people running, biking, and taking walks that quiet morning. I just couldn’t get enough of the stunning views.
Next, we had breakfast then headed downtown to Front street, which I would describe as the main hub of tourist activity with lots of shops, restaurants, souvenir/gift shops, and Cherry Republic! Omg- I didn’t expect to be so smitten by that store but it felt like a Disneyland for all things cherry and I don’t even like cherries! lol
They have lots of samples to try so I went ham on the crackers and spreads- I tried 2 different spreads and they were amazing. They had at least 10 more different ones. Then there was cherry salsa at various levels of spicyness, cherry gummy bears, chocolate covered cherries of course, and so much more. It was a great adventure and I didn’t even explore up to a quarter of the store! The most fun thing I saw was this Nalgene bottle but painted over with some cute quotes– I would have bought it if I wasn’t working so hard on adulting and budgeting and all that fun stuff. But Christmas is almost here, and so is my birthday- hint hint, dear family members :).
I also went into the M22 store. I had been seeing M22 stuff on social media recently, having just moved to Michigan, and Maria has an M22 sweatshirt and I was curious so she said she’d take me to the store. It had so many cool sports things, I felt like buying them all. lol. But adulting got in the way again. We decided we’d wait till Black Friday :). But basically, from what I understand, there is something called the M22 challenge, a kind of triathlon- running a sand dune course, biking around a lake (or two?), and then paddle boarding or kayaking around said lake. Sounds pretty intense to me!
I did actually buy something on Front street. I bought this cute beach bag that I decided I would use as a gym bag but now I think it’s too big. I like that it has a ‘picture’ of all the great lakes on it with their names written in the shape of the lakes. I also got a T shirt with the same design. I’m definitely a proud michigander now. lol. I’m also eyeing a few things from the @puremittigan instagram account, but it’s ok– step by step.
Next, we headed to Hickory Hills to play disc golf- an activity that Maria recently introduced me to but I currently (still) suck at. We started playing from the middle of the course because a) we were in a time crunch, b) I am painfully slow c) she hadn’t played from the middle of the course to the end that much and wanted a chance to do that. There is also one of the tees that is on a hill that overlooks the lake and downtown Traverse City in the distance– great photo opp 🙂 #doitforthegram
Next, we headed back home to change because we were all going out to dinner at an old Psych Ward! I know, right? lol. Her parents had friends in town, her brother also came home that weekend, so we all went to this super fancy Italian restaurant located in a huge building that used to be a Psych Ward back in the day. It has now been converted to restaurants, shops, and [quite pricey, by the looks of it] apartments.
Food was delicious!! I should have taken a picture but didn’t even think about it till now. After dinner, we stopped by her dad’s gun store briefly. I think that may be the first time I have ever been in a gun shop. At most, second time.
The next day, we went to church. There, I met their friend who owns a farm nearby and she invited us to come pick apples. So that’s what we did! All sorts of apples ready for the pickin’. She also had peach trees and grape trees. It was a fun little unexpected adventure and I am glad she invited us. The apples were really yummy too!
Next on the agenda was the moment I had eagerly been waiting for. The trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. First of all, can we all agree that that is the cutest name for a National Park? lol. That was my third national park visit this year (I visited Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park earlier this summer), incidentally all thanks to Maria :). People (and the internet) had told me that Sleeping Bear Dunes was gorgeous so I was really excited.
Because we were short on time and the park is huge, we decided to just do the Pierce Stocking scenic drive. It was a pleasant drive with a few stopping points along the way to see interesting things. Driving in, there is a covered bridge which Maria wanted a photo op in front of. There weren’t any cars behind us so we took the opportunity. Just as we were wrapping up and I was deciding whether I also wanted a picture, a car pulled up so we hurried, giggling, into the car and made a hasty exit- only to realize that the car behind us had the exact same idea for a photo op. lol
Stop 2 is Glen Lake which absolutely took my breath away and photos hardly do it justice. Stop 3 was a dune overlook, which Maria said people could climb but that we shouldn’t bother because we were going to climb a bigger and prettier one. I started to get a little nervous.
Stop 9/10 is the real Mc-coy- The Lake Michigan Overlook and the Sleeping Bear Dune Overlook. Long story short, we hiked down to the bottom of the very steep ~450 ft tall sand dune- right into Lake Michigan, took a few pictures and started the hike that seemed to last forever back up the dune. Imagine going up never ending stairs but with each step you take, you sink back down a little bit- or a lot. So your best option is to climb up as fast as you can but then that can’t last too long because you get tired …
I saw grown men collapse [temporarily] on that climb, I saw fit dudes breathing heavily and one actually (fake?) collapsed once he got to the top. It was super hard and my legs were aching terribly. Thankfully I had a bottle of water and took numerous breaks. But now I can say I did it- I did something I didn’t even realize I wanted on my bucket list 🙂
That was all we had time for but I definitely want to go back someday and explore more parts of the park. And go back to Traverse City in general because we didn’t get a chance to actually hang out at the beach or take a dip in the lake. Maybe by next time, I will have my swimming skills down pat and be able to swim in the lake or be confident enough to kayak or paddle board on the lake. Or go on the jet ski (I’ve done this before in the Atlantic Ocean so it shouldn’t be too bad). We also didn’t get to visit the hippy tree- apparently, it’s a thing, according to instagram 🙂 I’d also like to visit the lighthouse, because trip advisor said it’s a thing. lol.
When we got back from Sleeping Bear Dunes, it was time for me to make the ~3.5 hour drive back home. A huge thank you to Maria and her family for hosting me! I will be back :).
Have you been to Traverse City, MI? What’s your favorite part?