The Midwest's Most Picture-Perfect Town: Traverse City
The first thing I noticed when I was deboarding the plane was the smell. A mid-October scent of thick fall flannels and pumpkin patches. It smelled like home.
I was eager for fall color. Let me rephrase. I NEEDED fall color. I half expected to roll around in the leaves like an untamed dog at the first site of a leaf pile.
Traverse City was my destination on this trip back to the Mitten. With travels and life keeping me out of Michigan a lot these days, it felt good to head back to a familiar place. I spent much of my childhood at my aunt’s cottage on Skegemog Lake, just 20 minutes outside of town. As a kid, I’d cry and beg to my aunt to let me live with her whenever we had to leave. But she always said I’d hate living there because she’d make me do my homework.
On Friday I sat inside Brew, sipping on my latte and listening to the heavy wind roar outside. Of course, I forgot to pack my coat. When I had to run to my car I asked the lady beside me if she could watch my computer. She said she’d only watch it if I wore her coat to my car.
Always warm hearts in this town. Always.
I also happened to be in town at the same time two of my biggest photography inspirations (@everchanginghorizon & @jess.wandering) were traveling through the state. We met up at the cafe for a quick chat of photography, travel, and van life. It was their first time in Michigan. Jess, sweet as can be, admitted she didn’t think anything was here. She really had no desire to visit the Midwest. Of course, it took just three days to change both their minds.
I think this is where I share a small confession. You’ll rarely, if ever, find me in Traverse City in the summer. Why? Well, I mean...that’s when everyone goes.
And we all know I am very bad in both crowds and traffic.
A weekend in Traverse City is one of my favorite off-season spots. They’re spoiled with the three best things to warm you up:
In order to make the most of your time in Traverse City, you must combine adventure, the three warming necessities, and a hint of luxury. Here’s how:
Crowds are one of the few things that ruin my beach experience. I crave broken silence by small waves and just enough solitude to take in the beauty of the world. Away from the bustling summer, the beaches are quiet here. Quiet and wonderful. An off-season sunrise along one of Traverse City’s bays is what makes Michigan, Pure Michigan, after all.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
In the summer this place gets a bit crazy, coming from a first-hand experience. That isn’t all that surprising, considering it was voted America’s Most Beautiful Place by USA Today. In the shoulder season, trade the sound of boisterous families for crashing waves. You can hike the Empire Bluff Trail or take the scenic M22 route around the entire Leelanau Peninsula, all without lines of people and traffic.
I’m a firm believer the best sunsets happen in the fall. Two of my top three favorite Michigan sunsets happened at Empire Beach, both in October.
Coffee, Wine, Beer
Obsessed with all the above. I’m a pretty simple-minded girl. Feed me coffee when necessary (every day), beer after an adventure, and wine when I’m stressed.
Chateau Chantal is where I go when I want to feel like I have my life together. I’ll sip great wine with friends, take in views of Lake Michigan, pretend like I know what to do with the five forks at dinner, and act like I’m always this clean and showered. Wine season is my favorite season. And let’s be real wine season never ends HEYOOOOO.
I like coffee shops that offer a bit more than a fancy latte. Brew reminds me of a down-to-earth family-owned farmers market, artistic coffee hangout, and low-key cocktail lounge. There really is no “look” you need to fit here, which is great for me because I’d probably be kicked out.
Seven Monks Taproom
There are a few different taphouses and breweries in Traverse City, but I think Seven Monks is my go-to. Mostly because I like to try lots of different Michigan beer all in one location. It also sits on top of an underground speakeasy, Low Bar, which has the towns best cocktails.
Fun fact: Traverse City actually has two speakeasies. The second is more difficult to find. I'll leave it up to you to track it down.
Hint of Luxury
I love my life. I really do. One Sunday morning I’m waking up in an off-the-grid treehouse in the North Carolina mountains and the next Sunday I’m drooling on the pillow of my king-size bed with a panoramic view of the Traverse City area.
Here are three major things I love about the Grand Traverse Resort:
- The view. I’d get a room just to sit and write all day while overlooking Grand Traverse Bay.
- The activities. There’s yoga, and tennis, and golf, and swimming pools, and all things active and wonderful. You can play tennis and drink a glass of wine without leaving the building. YES PLEASE.
- Aerie. Yes, it’s a restaurant, and we all know this girl can get down with food. I mean, cheese, steak, dessert, carbs, happiness on a plate. Not to mention it's on the top floor of this unique Traverse City resort. They nearly had to roll me out of that place.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’ve never heard anyone say they hate Northern Michigan. A weekend in Traverse City is all we need to connect back to life a bit. Where fancy can be casual and adventure can be simple. We don’t need a lot to be happy, just good views, wine, and friends to share it all with.
At any given moment, Shalee is either lost, hunting for ice cream, or obsessively planning her next adventure.
Born and raised in rural Michigan, she began exploring the shores of Great Lakes as a teen, often sleeping in her car to save money. Eventually, her urge to explore pushed beyond her Midwest borders. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, outdoor, and sustainable tourism. Her pack now includes two spunky hiking cats and her partner, Josh. Learn more about her here.