There is no doubt that Traverse City is a very cherry place. The airport, after all, is called Cherry Capital. And the annual National Cherry Festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every summer. More than 74 percent of the country’s tart cherries are grown in Michigan, a great many of them around Traverse City. “They’re the greatest of all the fruits and we better treat them that way,” said Bob Sutherland, who owns a group of stores called Cherry Republic.
But what Mr. Sutherland calls “ruby red morsels of joy” are far from the only attraction. There’s the water — the city is on Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. There’s an abundance of wineries and appealing restaurants. And thanks to the filmmaker Michael Moore, the city has become a magnet for moviegoers. He is the driving force behind the Traverse City Film Festival, which began in 2005 and last summer drew 120,000 fans for 181 “meaningful movies” (to use Mr. Moore’s words). He also lives in town: “I love the outdoors. I really love the people. It’s sort of like Canada fell a little bit into Michigan — the kindness that exists. It’s very evident.”
Order up a fried whitefish sandwich from Scalawags (the fish is from the venerable John Cross Fisheries in Charlevoix, Mich.) or head down the street for a savory house-made sausage from Wren the Butcher at the State Street Marketplace; in the early 1900s, the building it occupies served as the stables for the city’s police department (Traverse is adept at repurposing its past). Make your way to Discovery Pier for the noon departure of the tall ship Manitou, a replica of cargo schooners that once sailed the Eastern Seaboard. It’s a two-hour tour ($40) on West Grand Traverse Bay (on a sunny day, it sparkles), and passengers can help raise the sails (“Heave!”). “The lake is our greatest resource and is really what makes Traverse City what it is,” said Dave McGinnis, the Manitou’s owner. “Not having the opportunity to actually get out on the bay just seems wrong.”
There are more than a dozen wineries in Grand Traverse County and more than 20 in Leelanau County next door. Try a sauvignon blanc in the airy tasting room in the Crain Hill vineyards of nearby Brengman Brothers just over the county line or drive through the rolling hills and cherry orchards of the Old Mission Peninsula north of downtown. Have a glass of Bestiary Red on the terrace at Mari Vineyards (a modern manor) or Cabernet Franc at 2 Lads Winery (sleek, lots of glass). Both look onto East Grand Traverse Bay.
The Dennos Museum has one of the largest collections of Inuit art in the country (1,600 works), with captivating stencils, stonecuts and linocuts by artists like Annie Pitsiulak from Pangnirtung and Cee Pootoogook from Cape Dorset, both in Nunuvat in northern Canada. Some themes: walrus hunting, ball games and legends like Sedna, goddess of the sea. Sculptures and carvings are made from whalebone, tusk and soapstone. The exhibition “gives the viewer the ability to travel to the Arctic,” said Jason Dake, the museum’s curator of education. “You get to see the culture, the animals, the history of the Inuit people.”
Earlier this summer, dinner at Trattoria Stella was grilled asparagus with a lemon zabaglione, tender sliced lamb with rosemary, a Perfect Italian cocktail, feathery tiramisù. Another night, seared walleye with roasted cauliflower and a bottle of Nebbiolo from an extensive (and engagingly written) list. Almost everything is from area farms or made in the kitchen (pasta, bread, burrata, charcuterie). Myles Anton, the chef since Stella opened in 2004 (and a frequent regional nominee for James Beard Awards), said, “I kind of let the ingredients shine, and a lot of that’s based off what I’ve seen in Italy — simple things that taste really good and maybe put just one little twist on it.” (Dinner for two, with drinks, about $180.)
I’ve been happily eating at Stella for 10 years, for the romance of the brick nooks and alcoves (it’s in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons); the warm and knowledgeable service; and cooking that by some magic manages to be both down-to-earth and elevated.
The talented singer-songwriter Levi Britton has been playing in and around Traverse for a decade. I caught him on the patio of North Peak Brewing Company, in the former Big Daylight Candy factory, built in 1904. Mr. Britton, a guitarist, plays songs from a solo album and records by Stolen Silver, his band with Dan Myers. “Blue” and “Please Stay Strong” are standouts. “The cool thing about this town is people appreciate art,” Mr. Britton said. “I can play mainly original tunes and they respond to that.” (He’ll be at the Shed Beer Garden in late August.)
At the crisp and inviting S2S Sugar to Salt in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, the chef Jonathan Dayton blows way past Benedicts — his audacious morning menu includes a Lake Michigan fish cake with ramp aioli and a sunnyside egg and pancakes made with the spent grain from the neighboring Earthen Ales (the coffee is from Higher Grounds, a Commons mainstay). Everything is delicious. Mr. Dayton said he loves “the serenity” of the hour: “Seeing somebody in the morning, they’re a little more open — their day hasn’t happened to them yet.” Keep the calmness going with a hike in the adjacent Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area; the Streamside Loop to the Cedar Cathedral Trail is a pastoral route.
The Northern Michigan Asylum admitted its first patients in 1885, closed in 1989 and in 1998 was almost demolished. The developer Ray Minervini got the title for $1 and the Village at Grand Traverse Commons is now one of the largest historic redevelopment projects in the United States, with shops, restaurants, residences and the hum of reinvention on its 63 acres. The centerpiece is the quarter-mile-long, Victorian-Italianate Building 50. A tour ($25) takes you into (and under) the campus — and through the history of mental health care in the United States.
The guide, Joe Kilpatrick, paints a vivid picture of the Kirkbride Plan (created by the psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride) for patients, which emphasized natural light and fresh air. “The philosophy was, build a place that they will be proud to be living and thereby feel better about themselves,” he said. (After the asylum closed, Mr. Kilpatrick said, patients were “kicked to the curb.”) The tour features an excursion through a tunnel under Building 50; it’s memorable, but not as memorable as Mr. Kilpatrick’s plea for changes in mental health care: “We can’t continue to treat these folks as if they were just throwaway people.”
Landmark Books in the Village majors in Michigan, with books by Ernest Hemingway, Jim Harrison, Elmore Leonard. There are also first editions by out-of-state writers, pulp paperbacks and a variety of vintage typewriters. During the annual type-in, participants “make friends with the machines and learn that the MR button isn’t mister,” Paul Stebleton, the proprietor, said. “It’s margin release.”
Anna and Vicente Serrano have a goal: “You should feel better after you ate food than you did before,” Anna said. At their Mexican-inspired Spanglish (in what was the asylum’s potato-peeling building), the salsas are made in-house, shredded cabbage is a star, and the beans and rice plate is vegan. The tamales ($3) are terrific. Eat them inside, on the patio, or take them to the tables outside the winery Left Foot Charley, where Bryan Ulbrich makes some of Michigan’s best wines (the roster includes pinot blanc, blaufrankisch and dry riesling). Left Foot Charley has relationships with 18 grape and apple growers (Mr. Ulbrich does ciders, too). “We’re looking for grapes that Michigan can add to the whole wine conversation instead of mimicking another region,” he said.
There are few more enjoyable places to sit in Traverse City than in front of the large window at Blk Mrkt in the Warehouse District — that was by design. “All of my favorite shops in the world have this indoor/outdoor aspect,” said Chuck Korson, the owner.The house-roasted coffee is excellent; so are the baked goods by Hannah Lane — everything-style bialys with cream cheese, frosted hand pies with dates and cherries (Pop-Tarts perfected).
Then take in a movie at The State Theater — the first in Michigan to show a talking picture — which animates downtown. Since 2007, it has been the homebase for Mr. Moore’s festival. When he had the inspiration to restore it, the State had been closed for over a decade. Now it’s a year-round destination. The screen, the curtains, the seats — “everything in there was made in Michigan,” Mr. Moore said. (The festival also restored and operates the Bijou by the Bay, a jewel box in a former museum.) “Having a great movie palace has really helped pick up the spirits of the area,” Mr. Moore said, “and has made people excited about going to the movies again.”
The chef James Bloomfield said he wanted his light-filled restaurant Alliance “to bring the spotlight to Michigan ingredients but kind of through a worldwide lens.” Thailand is a major part of that world — he was inspired by working with Thai chefs in Texas and a “whirlwind” trip to the country. So there’s a bibb-lettuce salad with Thai sausage, crisped rice and plenty of heat, and chicken larb too; the lineup may also include ravioli with wild mushrooms and asparagus, king salmon, grilled trout. (Dinner for two, with drinks, is about $130.) Mr. Bloomfield creates his lively dishes in an open kitchen, popping by tables when he can. He wants diners to be surprised by the food, he said, “but really comfortable.”
Twilight’s the time to be at H & L Social, the rooftop bar at the Hotel Indigo with sweeping bay views — lights glow along the shore, a slash of sun slips through the clouds. Take it in with a Terra Firma Manitou Amber. For a nightcap, head to the perpetual midnight of Low Bar. The list of spirits is voluminous, the cocktails first-rate. The Krampus Old-Fashioned ($9), with its notes of clove and nutmeg, was intended as a holiday drink — it takes its name from the Christmas creature that punishes bad behavior — but it is available year-round, whether you’ve been naughty or nice. Ask for it with Grand Traverse Distillery bourbon, one of the more than 100 on offer.
Then observe Traverse tradition with a post-bar burger at J & S Hamburg (it opened in 1938) — it’s the after-after party, open 24 hours on Friday and Saturdays. The waitresses here really do call customers “honey.” And the cheeseburger is a definitive diner version, cooked and served by staff wearing T-shirts that read “The Dark Side of the Spoon.”
Start the day with an herb omelet or croque madame at the cafe at Patisserie Amie, where a sign near the kitchen reads “Happy Hollandaise.” Then head to The River Outfitters at Logan’s Landing to rent a kayak ($30 an hour) for a trip across Boardman Lake and through town on the river of the same name. Swans are in elegant residence on the lake, and a paddle on the river takes kayakers under bridgesand through a fish weir (deftness suggested). On non-breezy days, the bay is the finale. “You remember ‘A River Runs Through It’?” said Tawny Hammond, the operations manager at the River. “I feel like the river is the main artery of Traverse City. It’s the lifeblood.”
Get your swimsuit and flip-flops and go north on Park or Cass Streets and across Grandview Parkway to the city’s string of enticing bay beaches: Clinch Park, Volleyball (six courts) and West End among them. The last is two blocks from Dairy Lodge — established 1958 — with soft-serve sundaes, slushes and, of course, a cherry-pie flurry. (The owner, Stacey Popp, uses Michigan fruit and milk.) Head back to Front to Cherry Republic for sour cherry patches and cherry salsa to take home. If there’s still time, a Bijou matinee is calling.
There are toasts to Traverse City throughout the cosmopolitan Hotel Indigo (263 West Grandview Parkway): rugs in guest rooms were inspired by the flannel shirts once worn by area loggers and the rooftop bar, H & L Social, takes its name from Hannah Lay & Company, a prominent timber and retail business in the city in the 1800s. The coffee in the first floor shop is from the local Higher Grounds and art in the rooms is by the Traverse artist Lindy Bishop. The hotel, which opened in 2016 in the Warehouse District and has more than 100 rooms, is a genuinely fun place to stay. Rooms in August from $289.
Bed-and-breakfasts are another option, including the Old Mission Inn (18599 Mission Road) on the Old Mission Peninsula, from $175 in August; the Grey Hare Inn (1994 Carroll Road), also on the Peninsula, from $245 in August; and, in town, the Wellington Inn (230 Wellington Street), from $205 in August.
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