If you have your walking shoes, or maybe a car, I highly recommend exploring some of the residential areas near the historic center. The residents and the city have done a great job of keeping them maintained, clean and well preserved. If you appreciate architecture and/or history, take a walk down these roads.
While walking down Front street, a sign for a LEGO expo over at the History Center of Traverse City caught our eye. My little guy loves LEGO, so we hoofed it over here to check it out. On the first floor of the building, there were a few larger LEGO displays, and then a few rooms you'd expect to find in a History Center - rooms dedicated to farming, older schools, etc.
The main draw was in the basement, where there was a large table of LEGO displays, then several more tables where kids are invited to build whatever they want. They also set up a large ramp for kids to let their vehicles fly! Obviously, the kids love this place, though I pity the poor people who have to clean that mess up every day:)
For $5 a piece (free for 4 and under), I think the LEGO carnival is worth the price if you want to kill a few hours. It looks like the LEGO is seasonal, so check out their website to see if it is open. Not sure it is worth the effort to make it over to the small place without it...
The main shopping drag of Traverse City is Front Street - or downtown Traverse City. Here, you will find a ton of dining and shopping options - from the boutique stores to the tourist traps, and everything in between. The nice thing is that the stretch is only a few blocks long, so you don't have to drag yourself up and down miles and miles to see it all.
There are plenty of restaurants to suit all tastes, from breweries, to fine dining. There are your fudge shops (my recommendation - go to Kilwins and not Murdicks - Kilwins has a better selection and friendlier people.) There are your "cherry-themed" stores (Cherry Republic is a must do - the samples are incredible and will entice you to lay out a few bucks.)
Be sure to check out windows around the area for events around town - this is how we got clued in to visit the History Center of Traverse City.
Parking seems to be available in the various lots around the city - and at 50 cents an hour, is a great deal.
Hey - in any touristy town, you're going to find a couple of mini-golf courses. At Pirate Cove, along with the golf, there are several other attractions (Go-karts, water slide), but the highlights are the two 18 hole mini-golf courses. Since the two kids wanted to play, we decided to take the "easier" course - and admittedly for an older golfer, this one will be fairly easy (lot's of 2 putts.) The course is in pretty great shape - there are a few fun hazards, such as jumping the ball over water. Prices are around $8 a person, regardless of age, which is just slightly on the high side, but overall, the golf was a fun distraction. At the end of the round, the kids were given little goody bags - crayons, a small gift, and piece of candy. So they were totally excited by the outing.
When visiting the historical architecture at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons don't miss the opportunity to taste the best darned bread for miles around.
Know that with every mouth watering bite you are supporting the best of Northern Michigan right down to its organic crops.
This scrumptious, amazing, yeast less SUPER GOOD FOR YOU bread is baked in a wood burning brick oven in the old world style and uses only the finest local organic ingredients.
At 900 degrees Fahrenheit it only takes 18 minutes to bake a loaf. Now that's Hot!
Our visit to Chateau Chantal Winery was pleasant and 'fruitful.' This beautiful winery sits atop a well-groomed hill top on the Mission Peninsula on the outskirts of Traverse city, on the coastline of Lake Michigan. It has old-world charm and the wines produced are some of the best Michgan wineries have to offer.
'Chateau Chantal was established i n1983 when cherry orchards were replaced with grafted vinifera grape vines; the same type of wine grape grown along other parts of the 45th parallel in the Bordeaux region of France. The vineyards of Chateau Chantal are planted with Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gewurtraminer, Merlot and Pinot Meunier. Wine grapes thrive in the unique micro-climate characteristic of the Northern Lake Michigan coastline.
Traverse City and the Grand Traverse Area has become such a great biking region. I am going to stay within the confines of downtown however...
Pick up the Boardman Lake Trail and go south from the Library along the Lake.
Pickup the TART Trail and head east, following the railroad.
Head northwest into town on the TART Trail, passing homes, parks and following the Bay...
Or follow the Boardman Trail west, cross the bridge and wander through the Old Town District.
ALL are lovely and refreshing.
The Four Seasons are well represented in Traverse City and the Grand Traverse Region. I appreciate the founding fathers' efforts to bring the country to the city when they had the forsite to plant blooming trees along Front and Union Streets and the current leaders who understand the importance of a lakeside trail.
Located on the shores of West Grand Traverse Bay, Clinch Park is a great park for walking and running, going to the beach, or using the Marina. The exceptional location, right in the city, makes for a lovely spot for urban dwellers as well as tourist.
At one time, there was the Clinch Park Zoo that was operated by the City of Traverse City and the Grand Traverse Zoological Society. It was 3.5 acres that exhibited the wildlife of northern Michigan. Evidently, the small train is STILL there.
We found this lovely park to be a picturesque setting in the heart of the city. In the summer, it is the area's most populated beach and has over 1500 feet of sand along West Grand Traverse Bay. There are picnic tables, lifeguards from mid-June through August. It is located east of Union Street on Grandview Parkway.
1. As we were walking within Clinch Park, we saw this lovely spot with flowers and a beautiful bronze statue of a father helping his son learn to ride a bike.
2. As we walked further along, we found this rocky area overlooking the West Grand Traverse Bay.
3. As we walked on the pier, I stopped to take a photograph, and, as you can see, with the sun position, Micky and my shadows are evident.
4. The canopy advertises Clinch Park, the Marina, Restrooms, and the beach.
We were amazed at how many locals use these facilities. Each day, we saw people on bikes; people running; people walking; and people sitting admiring the view of West Grand Traverse Bay.
BE SURE TO SEE ALL THREE PHOTOGRAPHS
In this tip, I plan to give a small overview of some of the businesses that have sprung up in the surrounding buildings on the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. These are three that Mickey and I found quite interesting.
1. Pleasanton Bakery: This small bakery is located at 812 Cotton View Drive; (231) 941-1964
This was the mental asylum's former fire station; it is now the location of a unique bakery. The owners, Gerard Grabowsk and Jan Shireman use a wood-fired brick oven to bake hand-shaped loaves of bread made with organic Michigan grains and natural leavening agents. Now, this oven is enormous and uses large amounts of wood. Besides breads, they also make cookies in this oven. [Mickey bought a cookie, and we shared it]. The textured breads include Parmesan Olive Herb, Cranberry Pecan, Sesame Whole Wheat, and Village Rye. Yum. We would have bought some but we had no way to keep it.
2. Underground Cheese Company: This small cheesecake company is located at 1333 Yellow Drive, Traverse City, Michigan. (231) 929-4418
This cheesecake emporium occupies two brick buildings at the Grand Traverse Commons [ one is for baking and another is for sales; this one pictures is for sales]. They produce 42 different plavors of cheesecake, nine cake varieties, five kinds of brownies, and their famed "cheesecake on a stick". Salads, sandwiches and drinks are also served.
Be sure to see tip under restaurants, too
3. Left Foot Charley [Urban Winery] is located at 806 Red Drive, Traverse City. (231) 995-0500.
This building is located in the former laundry and is shared with Higher Grounds..see tip under restaurants. The owner/winemaker is Bryan Ulbrich purchases the grapes for his winery from growers on nearby Old Mission Peninsula. The wines are made here in "the old laundry building". There is a tasting room for sampling Rieslings, Pinot Grigios, and other whites.
I hope that from these descriptions, you are better able to understand the unique nature of this "Commons" renovation. We certainly enjoyed the half day that we spent exploring the grounds, buildings, and shops.
Before leaving on our trip, Mickey and I researched the area and were intrigued by the information that we found about Grand Traverse Commons. We just could not figure out what it was exactly. Well, no wonder. This is the most UNIQUE project I have ever seen.
A short drive from downtown Traverse City is a 63-acre site that used to be [starting in 1885] the Northern Michigan Assylum, a hospital dedicated to the mentally ill.
It was a self contained area with a farm, dairy, laundry, and hospital. This hospital is of century-old Victorian-Italianate architecture [when I first saw it, I thought that it looked similar to a huge university building].
This hospital complex closed in 1989. These castle-like buildings were abandoned and fell into disrepair. Since there was asbestos and lead in these buildings, the state decided to tear it all down. The beautiful 63 acres of forested grounds also suffered from inattention.
About seven years ago, a group of people made a deal with the state and bought the buildings/land for very little [a local told us that the buildings went for about $1.00 each!] as long as this group got rid of the asbestos and lead and renovated the are. They have been working on it since...it has been transformed into a mixed-use development. It is now known affectionately either as "The Commons" or "The Village". The Mercato is found on the lowest level of the hospital and has been tuned into restaurants and unique locally run shops and boutiques.
People can now walk this lovely grounds or run, ski or bird watch. It's a favorite place to shop for art, jewelry, gifts, etc. The Italian Restaurant called Stella is a great place to eat. One floor of the hospital building is used for businesses such as for lawyers, real estate, investment agents, etc. The two top floors are for residences [lofts and condominiums].
Several of the other buildings have been turned into such things as a bakery, coffee shop, wine tasting establishment, and Cheesecake shop. [see other tips]
DO NOT MISS seeing this unique and historic area. Talk to the locals about it...there are many unique and frightening stories about it.
The first thing that we did after finding our hotel and unpacking was to drive to downtown Traverse City to find The Traverse City Visitor Center Throughout this entire trip, we used Mickey's GPS to find locations [thank goodness]. Parking in the public parking lot nearby, we scurried off to the Visitor's Center to ask for some quarters because that was what we needed for the parking meters. As soon as the nice people at the center gave us change, I hurried back [only about 1 1/2 blocks] and fed the meter.
Since we visited Traverse City shortly before Memorial Day, we noted that the town was being "spruced up" for the summer season. I had a difficult time taking a photo of the center because a work crew was right in front of the building.
At the center, I note public restrooms and a public telephone [rare these days]. And that is when I saw the sign for FREE SHORT TERM PARKING ONSITE with that additional municipal parking nearby. This is a new building and very well maintained. It has over 400 brochures about shopping, dining, attractions, lodging, golf, galleries, and area businesses.
Here, you are able to purchase souvenirs of northern Michigan. The people who work here are more than willing to assist with any questions that you might have such as reservations, local events, and places to eat.
[Memorial Day through mid-October]
Monday-Saturday: 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:oo a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Monday-Saturday: 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Closed on Sunday
Be sure to visit this beautiful Traverse City Visitor Center as soon as you arrive.
One of the beautiful buildings in Traverse City that I wanted to see was the City Opera House. This Victorian structure was built in 1891 by 3 brothers-in-law. The Opera House has 1200 seats and was designed by E.R. Prall of Pontiac, Michigan. Interestingly, the opera house was the first facility in Traverse City to use electric lights. The plaque outside the building says that the facility has a "43-foot ceiling, hardwood maple floors, and excellent acoustics."
It was originally used as a meeting hall and an auditorium. Traveling plays, vaudeville shows, high school graduation ceremonies before it closed in 1920. Now, it has been restored to its former splendor. Community meetings and dances as well as a full schedule of performance events are scheduled each year.
I almost bypassed it because as I walked down the sidewalk, I could not see the grandeur of this two story building. To see its beauty, I needed to cross the street in order to obtain the total view. Tours of the inside were not available when we visited.
The Hesler Log Home was built between 1854 and 1856 on the Southern part of the Old Mission Peninsula by Mary and Joseph Hessler who were one of the Earliest settlers of that area. They cut huge logs from the local pine trees and hand hew the logs and stacked them one on top of the other to form the walls. The wooden planks used to built the outside walls were joined with modified dove-tailed joints, which held the corners snugly together without any nails or fasteners! The Hesler Log House typifies the first shelters built by early ioneers. Faced with acres of forest, these brave pioneers cleared their land, built a house with the timber, and planted crops. The Heslers sold their house in 1866. During the following 1235 years, it served as a private residence, housing for migrand workers, a school, and quarters for a bull! When the house was threatened with demolition in 1992, the local citizens rallied. The cabin was eventually moved to its current location, repaired and furnished during 1992-1997.
Visitors can view the interior of the cabin and it's period furnishings through a glass partition while listening to a prerecorded explanation of the history of this unique cabin and Historical Monument.
The North-Western coastline of Michigan has a great number of excellent wineries, growing in populariety and quality. The combination of the landscape and climate, enhanced by the proximity of Lake Michigan, makes for a perfect climate to grow and cultivate grapes for the making of wine. Winery tours, wine tasting and much more awaits the traveler to one of Michigan's best tourist and holiday area. Visit these wineries for wines of superior taste and pleasure: Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery, Black Star Farms, Boskydel Vineyard
Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Brys Estate Winery, Chateau Chantal, Chateau De Leelanau, Chateau Fontaine, Chateau Grand Traverse, Ciccone Vineyard & Winery, Circa Estate Winery, Gill's Pier Vineyard & Winery, Good Harbor Vineyards, Forty-Five North Winery, L. Mawby Vineyards, Leelanau Wine Cellars Ltd., Left Foot Charley, Longview winery, Peninsula Cellars, Raftshol Vineyards, Shady Lane Cellars, Silver Leaf Winery, Two Lads Winery, Willow Vineyard
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