Family Road Trip Guide: Traverse City, Michigan

Nature, food and fun are just some of the things families will love about being in northern Michigan.

Northern Michigan is filled with natural beauty everywhere you go. One of the best cities to explore nature as well as enjoy great eats and activities is Traverse City. My family has been traveling about four to five hours from the metro Detroit area to Traverse City year after year since I was a child. Now that I have my own children, it has been so much fun carrying on the tradition while also creating new ones.

Although there is plenty to do with children in Traverse City, it is a wonderful spot to plan a parents’ weekend away to rejuvenate as well. I have been to Traverse City many times, both with and without children, and am happy to share some of our favorite things to do and see to help you to start planning your northern Michigan adventure.

Getting to Traverse City

Within Michigan it is convenient to drive (and in the fall, very scenic!) to and from Traverse City. From a further distance, you could choose to fly into Cherry Capital Airport, a public airport right in Traverse City.

Things to do in Traverse City with Kids

Clinch Park

This beautiful park has a beachfront, equipped with public restrooms and picnic tables. Kayaks and paddleboards as well as beach chairs/umbrellas are available to rent. There is a small concession stand that serves cool beverages and small meals/snacks. There is also a splash pad area for the kids to enjoy, all within the same park. You can easily spend a whole day here! It is close to downtown, too, if you choose to eat lunch or dinner while in the area.

Pirate’s Cove

This adventure golf course consists of 18 holes and was voted AAA “Best in Michigan.” This is a place that we visited as kids that my son now can enjoy. Besides golf, there are also go-carts, bumper boats and a game room.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The national park dunes are a short car ride away from Traverse City in nearby Empire, Michigan. Not only is this activity educational, but the dunes also provide a great way to get moving as a family and climb for spectacular views of Lake Michigan.

Photo by Jessica Sesto

Horizon Books

There is just something so fun about going into a large bookstore on vacation. It was so exciting as a child to pick out a new book on my trip and then spend the next day reading it on the beach. We took my son to this same store this year and he didn’t even know where to look first!

Great Lakes Children’s Museum

This play-based museum is filled with exhibits geared to many age groups. Be sure to make reservations online in advance.

Wineries and breweries galore!

If you are on an adults-only trip, there are SO many wineries and breweries in and around the city. Scheduling one of the wine tour buses is most efficient way to explore a good amount of all Traverse City has to offer in this category.

Where to Stay in Traverse City

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

For a parent getaway, this resort offers rooms and condos and has three restaurants, two bars, three golf courses and a spa on-site. They also have packages that include your stay as well as some of the amenities for a deal.

North Shore Inn

This is a relaxed lakefront apartment hotel with seasonal pool and access to private beach. We enjoyed coming here as kids and it is a comfortable place to stay as a family. There are small kitchenettes inside each unit, which makes it easier to make simple meals and enjoy hassle-free days at the beach or on-the-go with kids!

Photo by Jessica Sesto

Airbnb

Another great option when traveling to Traverse City with kids is to search for cottages on Airbnb. The “home” type atmosphere is always comforting to kids, and usually cottages for rent are stocked full of things you might need during your stay (beach chairs, towels, a grill to cook, etc.) and more space for your family to relax. I have found that the renters are usually full of helpful recommendations on places to eat, drink and play in the local area because they know it best.

Delamar Traverse City

This upscale resort offers views of the bay and waterfront, a fine dining restaurant and other excursions (boat tours, sunset cruises and more) available. It is great for a parents’ getaway or for a family with grown children.

Places to Eat in Traverse City

Paesano’s pizza

A family-run, laid-back pizzeria, I highly recommend their breadsticks or Paesano cheese bread.

Milk & Honey

This ice cream parlor serves delicious ice cream, gelato, sorbet & more. It is hard to choose what to order because there are so many options.

Bubba’s

This restaurant has a bar atmosphere and is known for burgers and beer options. It is definitely a casual place that you could bring kids to as well!

Apache Trout Grill

Known for seafood with a lodge-type atmosphere, this is a restaurant we used to enjoy as a family when I was a child.

Why our family loves this road trip

Our family loves visiting Traverse City because it is filled with so many things to do. Although there are so many places that have stayed the same over the years, there are also always new places popping up, too. It is fun showing the next generation in our family all of the places that I loved visiting as a child.

If you enjoy being outdoors, there are endless beaches, parks, festivals and small business shops to explore. For a rainy day, there is a theater, children’s museum, wineries (for that parents’ getaway weekend, of course) and so much more! Start making your own memories by planning your visit to Traverse City.

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