What comes to mind when you think about Michigan…Detroit? College football? Copious amounts of snow? How about a cozy town set on the shores of a lake with water so clear it could easily be mistaken for the Caribbean?
In October of 2017 Ben and I were still living in North Carolina, it was 90°F, and we were aching for anything that felt like a northern fall from our childhoods. Ben had just returned from a deployment in the Middle East, so we decided to head north for a long Halloween weekend in Traverse City.
We chose to stay in an Airbnb and found the spookiest option possible, given the season. Our Airbnb was a 1 bedroom apartment with a kitchenette, inside of an old state/psychiatric hospital! The old hospital was converted into a sprawling site for entertainment, lodging, and dining – where you can now wander around narrow underground hallways to discover little shops and restaurants. Very cool if you’re into historical buildings and creepy vibes. Every morning we stopped at Cuppa Joe, which is located on the lower level of the complex, to get a caffeine kick and plan our day. Wherever we go, Ben always orders the Americano, my favorite drink was called ‘The Diablo’ which was essentially a mocha latte with cayenne pepper! Exploring the city is a must – it is small enough to tackle by foot (weather permitting, which it was not for us) and there is ample CHEAP public parking if you opt to drive. This was the first Midwestern city we had stayed in that had free and reliable Wi-Fi available to the public – which we utilized every day. There are parks scattered throughout TC, and also a designated recreational walking trail that runs along the shore and through the heart of town. Street after street of picturesque century homes make this place look like it’s out of a horror movie but in all the right ways!
As far as dining options, TC has countless selections for pretty standard bar food. We tried 7 Monks Taproom, which was slightly above average and also slightly pricey for the serving size. Our favorite day-time eatery was Grand Traverse Pie Company – quick, locally owned, and budget friendly. We each got a beef pasty and large bowl of soup for $11, and of course we had to get 2 slices of pie to go! For breakfast, definitely check out The Omelette Shoppe. Again, very budget friendly…are you noticing a trend in our selections? They have typical breakfast options but with huge portions and fun skillet combos! Ben and I have a tradition of splurging on our last dinner of every trip, so we chose Apache Trout Grill which resembles a lodge and overlooks Grand Traverse Bay. There was a bit of a wait, and the crowd was mostly well-dressed middle-aged folk, but the food 👌. Ben went for the pan seared halibut, and I chose their award winning loaded Mac & Cheese, we also both got a cup of shrimp and lobster bisque. Dinner topped out around $100 but you would be hard pressed to find a better meal in the area!
When we weren’t exploring the maze of shops in the basement of our Airbnb, or sampling local eateries, we were driving around checking out the surrounding area. We took a scenic drive from TC through Sutton’s Bay, Leland, and Glen Arbor before arriving at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A quick google search and you’ll understand how it’s possible to get this place confused with the Caribbean. Though it was a little rainy, we were visiting during peak foliage change so the colors in the park were fantastic. When the rain finally stopped we decided to go for a hike which began with a jog up an almost vertical sand dune, not recommended for anyone out of shape or with health issues. Wearing heavy jackets seemed necessary at the beginning of our trek because it was about 40°F, but by the time we ascended a few more dunes, we were sweating and peeling off layers. However, 3 miles up and down sandy hills is a really great leg workout if you have been eating an abnormally large amount of food, and the views are so worth it! Unfortunately, we never made it all the way to the shoreline because we started later in the day, it was getting dark, and we underestimated our walking-through-sand pace. If you plan on visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes, start early in the day and pack lots of snacks and water because you will burn tons of calories exploring the park. This would also be a very nice spot to look into if you wanted to go camping or try a more rustic stay in Michigan!
Overall, I would highly recommend visiting Traverse City if you’re looking for a relaxing weekend destination that won’t break the bank. For a 3 night/4 day stay we spent about $600 which included gas, lodging, food, shopping, and activities. It is more popular in the summer, as many people own lake houses and use the bay for recreation. But visiting in the fall can also be super fun, even if the weather is a little dreary. Traverse City has several Halloween parades, “haunted houses”/haunted attractions, and classic Halloween Movie viewing parties! We didn’t get a chance to check out any of the numerous orchards in the area, nor did we have time to continue north to Mackinac or the UP – but there’s always next time!