Exploring Traverse City with Kids
*A HUGE thank you to Say-n-Play Columbus for visiting and highlighting Traverse City’s own Great Lakes Children’s Museum!*
Located on Lake Michigan, Traverse City is the “Cherry Capital of the World” and a wonderful place for a weekend trip in the fall for any family. We had heard so many wonderful things about Northern Michigan that we decided to hit the road to check it out for ourselves. In one weekend, we fell in love with the city and it’s residents! The people were refreshingly friendly, the scenery was breathtaking and we never had to search far for a good meal. Read on to see how we spent a fall weekend exploring Traverse City, Michigan, with our 14-month-old daughter.
Where to Stay
The Sugar Beach Resort Hotel – Located on East Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan. The highlights of this resort are the room size, complimentary breakfast, an indoor swimming pool and, of course, the beautiful sandy beaches. We arrived after sunset, in the rain, and didn’t know what to expect from our location. We woke to find this view right outside the hotel.
The staff at the resort were all incredibly welcoming and helpful in answering any questions we had. The resort was well maintained and clean. We felt completely at home at The Sugar Beach Resort Hotel. Although, we were there for only a weekend on this trip, I could easily see us spending an entire week there in the future.
The suites are so spacious! Along with a dining and seating area, our suite had a separate bedroom with double doors where we could put our daughter down in her portable crib for bedtime. When we arrived at the Sugar Beach Resort, it was too late to explore downtown, but with the separate rooms, my husband and I were able to order in food and unwind together while our daughter was sleeping soundly in the other bedroom. Generally, when it comes to hotel living, we often spend our evenings clumsily tip-toeing around the room in the dark after our daughter goes down for the night…This was a welcome change!
The resort is a 10-minute drive from downtown Traverse City. Given the location, the amenities, and the room size, this resort was an ideal home base for us.
Baby girl loved the room, too. She had plenty of space to explore and wear out her tiny legs.
The Great Lakes Children’s Museum – A hands-on interactive environment designed for children ages 1 to 10. Admission is $7 per person (children under 1 year-old are free) and is valid all day.
We were the first ones in the door when the museum opened at 10 a.m. We had the whole museum to ourselves for a while! Our first stop was the Great Lakes Room. This is a play space near the museum entrance and separate from the main exhibits. On the day we visited, the room was set up with interactive stations designed for a variety of ages (building blocks, interactive books, etc.). My girl spent most of her time between the alphabet letter board (pictured below), sensory bins filled with uncooked rice and noodles, and boxes filled with noise-making toy birds and bugs.
Overall, we spent an hour and a half exploring the museum. The museum itself is the perfect size for little ones. Not too small that their done exploring in 2o minutes, but not so big that your little one can’t explore it all before they’re tuckered out. Each corner offers something for your child to see or touch. There was so much for my girl to take in she was constantly on the move to see it all. Baby girl loved the water feature and the interactive map of the Great Lakes (pictured below).
Downtown Traverse City – Take the time to wander up and down the main strip. There are toy stores, clothing stores, and bookstores to explore…and so many treats to taste! My girl loved taking in the sights, waving to people on the street and reaching for items she wanted to buy. We were so struck by the friendliness of everyone. We were greeted up and down the street and in every store with smiling faces and warm hellos.
Mission Point Lighthouse – Located at the end of the Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City. The lighthouse is a 30-minutes drive from downtown Traverse City, but well worth the trip. The picturesque drive on State Route 37 takes you past cherry orchards and vineyards. The lighthouse is open daily for self-guided tours from May-October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the rest of the park is open daily from dawn to dusk.
We arrived after 5 p.m., so an inside tour of the lighthouse wasn’t on the agenda for us. We walked around the lighthouse and then made our way down to the beach. The beach itself was worth the drive! Crystal clear water and some of the softest sand imaginable. My girl’s favorite part was swinging on the swings we found that overlooked the lake and playing in the sand.
City Playgrounds – There are several playgrounds scattered throughout Traverse City. A complete list can be found here. Being a new walker, my girl needed some time to move on her own on a manageable surface. She loved the freedom she had while at the playground. The rubberized surface on the ground gave us some peace of mind as she walked (and fell…and fell, again) around the playground. Many of the playgrounds over look Lake Michigan, which serves as a beautiful backdrop for any little one’s adventure.
Sleeping Bear Dunes – Located in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, approximately 30 minutes west of Traverse City. The park offers a variety of ways to access the dunes, including dune climbs, a scenic drive, and hiking trails.
The thought of a strenuous hike with a 14-month-old seemed daunting, so we opted to take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The scenic drive is a 7.4 mile loop with 12 marked points that allow you to park your car and explore.
These are the stops you shouldn’t miss:
#2 Glen Lake – There is no parking lot at this stop, just a pull off point. But once out of the car, you are treated to this spectacular view.
#3 Dune Overlook – A very short walk from the car to the overlook. A beautiful stop.
#9 Lake Michigan Overlook – It is a short walk from the car to the Lake Michigan Overlook. Then, there is then a short path uphill to stop #10, Sleeping Bear Dune Overlook. It is well worth the stop for the views! Baby girl’s favorite part was playing in the sand. Both stops offer breath-taking views of Lake Michigan. Honestly, the photos don’t even do it justice!
Where to Eat
Grand Traverse Pie Company – The perfect stop to refuel at lunchtime. There is a kids menu and a variety of options to choose from for adults (sandwiches, soups, salads, etc.). Make sure you save room for a slice of pie at dessert! There are tons of options from which to choose. We recommend any pie that includes cherries (you are in the “Cherry Capital of the World,” after all). Baby girl recommends the blueberry applesauce!
The Filling Station Microbrewery – A wonderful spot for dinner for both children and adults. This microbrewery is located in an old train depot and offers a list of craft beers, food, indoor/outdoor seating, live music and activities for children.
Upon our arrival, the waitstaff was extremely helpful directing us in how and what to order (it’s all done at the bar and delivered to your table). The staff was warm and inviting. They had great suggestions on food and drink pairings, and took the time to ask questions to better understand our personal tastes. They also helped us locate a high chair, which made dining on the patio much easier for our family.
My husband and I split a fresh garden salad and wood-fired pizza. After a full day of site-seeing, both were delicious and hit the spot. My beer geek husband even approved of the in-house microbrews in his sampler! After enjoying our meal (we were pleasantly surprised at how quickly it arrived, despite a large weekend crowd), we walked across the tracks to a children’s garden. This gave our girl a chance to move on her own after being strapped in a high chair during dinner. Baby girl loved exploring the wooden train (pictured below).
Cherry Republic – The world’s largest exclusive retailer of cherry food creations. We didn’t realize until we arrived to Traverse City that more than half of the nation’s cherries are grown in Northern Michigan. Cherry Republic is a shrine to Northern Michigan’s the cherry growing glory!
Upon entering, we found samples located throughout the store. We tasted chocolate covered cherries, cherry salsa, cherry barbecue sauce and dried cherries. This is literally only a small example of the cherry food items in the store. You could spend hours in this store and find dozens upon dozens of cherry items. The store offers a retail area, a wine bar, a cafe and children’s play space. We highly recommend the cherry salsa and may be traveling back to Traverse City just to restock! Baby girl highly recommends the dried cherries.
That’sa Pizza – When we arrived in Traverse City on the first night, it was just in time for baby girl’s bedtime. We were hungry, tired and hoping to unwind. After speaking with the front desk, we were informed that That’sa Pizza delivered to the resort. The pizza was delicious and the salad was made with fresh vegetables. It was reasonably priced and arrived quickly. If you’re looking to eat in, this checks all the boxes.
Until next time – A huge Thank You to Sugar Beach Grand Resort for hosting our stay in Traverse City, Michigan, and to Traverse City Tourism for coordinating our visit. We truly had a wonderful time and fell in love with this beautiful and inviting city!
We couldn’t possibly visit all that Traverse City had to offer in one weekend and hope to return to explore further. Please, leave a comment and share your favorite spots for next time we visit!