Traverse City: cherries, dunes, and lakes, oh my!

When we were thinking about taking a vacation earlier this year, we decided we wanted the same laid-back vibe that we found in Maine a couple years ago.

We started out with a few criteria. We wanted to:

    • Rent a cottage. We knew from Maine’s experience that as a family of 5 we do better with a little space. Hotels and motels are fine, but I constantly feel like I’m shushing the kids to keep them from being too loud. There’s never enough room for us all, and spending a week there? No thanks. Renting a summer home is the perfect option for us right now, especially since I like to have a real kitchen for us to prepare most of our meals.
    • Near a lake. We wanted to hang out near a lake — or to be more exact, we wanted to be on the lake in a boat — for fishing, swimming, canoeing, etc.
    • Near a National Park. In Maine, we spent a lot of our time exploring Acadia National Park, and honestly I think we all fell a little in love with the brilliance of the National Parks concept. The more I read about them, the more I want to visit every last one of them. They offer that taste of preserved nature for everyone to enjoy.
    • Not too far from home. Unlike our trip to Maine, I didn’t want to drive hours and hours and hours to get there. This time around, it wasn’t about the journey; I wanted to get there already to start the holiday.
    • With Lou the Wonder Pup. This was the hardest obstacle for us to plan around, and the one that meant the most to me. I really wanted to have our dog Lou come with us on vacation, so I wouldn’t worry about him and the separation anxiety (his and mine!). Finding a summer home open to pets is one thing; trying to make sure that we could do all we wanted to do without causing Louie undue stress at being in a new place was quite another.
    • And not break our budget. Enough said, right?

And miracle of miracles, we found just the spot: Traverse City, Michigan.

Strangely, right before we left, I read articles in both Family Fun and Cooking Light magazines about Traverse City. Both touted it as being a great place for family and “foodie” vacations. (As an aside, apparently Mario Batali loves it up there in the summer. Who knew?). I took it as a good omen.

Traverse City is close to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Believe me when I say that if you go, you have to do the Dune Climb.

Sleeping Bears National Park Dune Climb

It’s like walking on a vertical beach. Behind the main dune are even more sandy inclines and trails to walk around. Sure, it’s exhausting on the way up, but oh, so much fun to run down!

Walking up the dune climb at Sleeping Bear National Park

We rented a little house on a very shallow lake. The owner allowed us to bring our dog and to rent his pontoon boat for the week. It was fantastic. We taught the kids to canoe and snorkel.

paradise P063-382-255-301-10091

We took the boat out and even caught a few fish.

Do you see Captain Louie at  the front?

Do you see Captain Louie at the front?

M and E fishing C fishing

In fact we spent so much time out on the boat, eating dinners and tooling around the different inlets, that occasionally someone would lay down and fall asleep in the sun.

Lou on boat tired boater

We ventured into the little towns to eat lunch and see the sights. There are all sorts of wineries popping up along the peninsulas that stick out into Lake Michigan with restaurants offering both delicious fare for foodies and great menus for the kids as well. Pleasing the palates of adults and kids alike is a tricky balance to strike, yet we saw lots of places manage it so well. After stuffing ourselves silly, we walked it off by wading in the Great Lake itself.

Wading in the shallows of Lake Michigan

Wading in the shallows of Lake Michigan

I learned that Traverse City is all about the cherries and that it is host to the National Cherry Festival which happens in early July each year.

Cherry Republic

Can I just say? Dried cherries are perhaps my new favorite food. So delicious!

For us, it was only about a 6 hour drive away from home (and that was with a puppy). I’m still amazed that we were able to find a place that fit all the criteria we outlined so close to home.

If you’re looking for a laid-back vacation around the Great Lakes, I’d highly recommend looking into Traverse City. And don’t forget the cherry pie!

About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
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20 Responses to Traverse City: cherries, dunes, and lakes, oh my!

  1. Lynne says:

    Traverse City is my favorite place to visit!! A true gem for our state! Glad you enjoyed your “Pure Michigan” trip!

  2. Micha says:

    Sounds perfect! I just saw something on the Food Network about the Cherry Festival not too long ago. Glad you had a wonderful time! Have you dug out from under the laundry pile yet? 😉

    • I think Traverse City is going to be crawling with foodies — and not just because of the cherry festival. One of the articles I read said that it was like Napa Valley in the 1970s because of all the wineries and chefs heading up that way. I think I should go back every year to see if that’s true… 🙂

      As for the laundry: I’m debating doing all of it or just waiting for the kids to hit a growth spurt and outgrow it all. It’s not a bad strategy, really…

  3. daniellajoe says:

    It looks perfect to me too, what fish did you catch?? Fresh fish is delicious.: -)

  4. It’s my favorite place in the whole world! I spent five idyllic summers there, a few decades ago, and have never gotten over it. In fact, I wrote an entire novel about it! Thanks for sharing your recent trip so we can relive a great vacation with you.

    • That’s wonderful! There’s something about that area up there. I don’t know if it’s the interplay of the dunes with Lake Michigan or all the trees, but what a great setting for a novel!

  5. Miriam says:

    I remember when you posted that you were thinking about this trip. I’m glad that you enjoyed it 🙂 It’s on my list of places to visit- I have a fascination with the Great Lakes. Since I’m a Mainer (now transplanted to Colorado), I’m wondering how it compared to Maine for you?

    • Miriam, I’ve been thinking about your comment all day today and how to describe the difference. To me, Maine was nature at its most grand, crisp and vivid. It was Technicolor-bright light and had actual mountains with big boulders. Even the beaches were rocky, and the ocean was such a deep blue (freezing cold, when we went) and vast with white-capped waves.

      Traverse City, on the other hand, is like a smaller, softer version of that. Instead of rocky mountains, you have sand dunes — with really smooth sand — rising gently up. Instead of the vividly bright colors, the light is soft and almost hazy — like being in a dream in the early hours. Lake Michigan feels big, like the ocean, but unlike the Atlantic, it’s not so cold nor so deep blue. And the trees. Michigan has these super tall, straight trees that clump together — they are everywhere.

      Both have their own special personalities, I think, and we definitely felt very much at home in both places. Both provided that peaceful zen feeling I was looking for — Maine just does it on a larger, sharper scale while Traverse City personalizes it on a smaller scale. I’d really recommend both places for vacation. I hope you come around to visit the Great Lakes area — I think you’d love it!

  6. mtetar says:

    What A Blessed Trip! God is good it all went well. Be A Blessing because you’re Blessed. Mtetar

  7. Wow! What a beautiful place!

  8. What a fun trip!! Looks like you had a great time.

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