bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

Three days in Traverse City, MI–Big Trip #1

We visited Traverse City in May 2016 during Big Trip #1.

downtown traverse city

We spent Memorial Day Weekend in Traverse City, Michigan. It’s a cute, fun little town, with several distinct neighborhoods wrapped around the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. There are lots of running options around town, good hiking nearby, and many breweries in the area!


holiday park campground traverse city dog at the lake

We stayed at Holiday Park, a huge, wooded (not TV dish-friendly) campground on a pretty lake off a busy road about 15 minutes outside of town. The park used to be Airstream-only, which surprised us since it’s so big! It’s clean, well-run, with full hookups, laundry, camp store, and multiple playgrounds. The waterfront spots book up way in advance; many seem to be season-long rentals, complete with plants and patio furniture. It’s a lovely campground, and we really enjoyed our stay there, except for it being kind of far from town.


Do you want to run on trails? Or would you rather run along the water? There are many top-notch running options around Traverse City, and I was happy to find this article, helping me to narrow the choices down. We were only running once while in town, so we opted for the TART Trail, starting at Clinch Park and heading west along Grand Traverse Bay, for its in-town location and ease of access and navigation. Bugsy showed her approval with a post-run jump into the Bay, where she tried to make friends with/eat a duck.

We were in town for the Bayshore Marathon, and all day Saturday we saw runners out on the town celebrating (mostly at breweries), still wearing their finishers’ medals. If you’re looking for a Spring marathon, that seems like one you should consider!


We knew we wanted to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore so I only casually clicked around to see other hiking options. I especially admired this site as a seemingly fantastic resource for finding trails in Northeast Michigan.

sleeping bear dunes national lakeshore dune climbing

We hiked two trails at Sleeping Bear Dunes and drove the scenic drive through the park. The scenic drive hits many overlooks, and in one spot you can climb around on the dunes, but there are a zillion people at each stop and we had to bypass a few because there was no parking. We did fight our way through the crowd to see the dunes up close, but the wind had kicked up and the flying sand and throngs of people sent us back to the car pretty quickly. The dunes are cool, but we’re from Jockey’s Ridge country, so nbd. 🙂

dog hiking alligator hill lake michigan
dog hiking alligator hill lake michigan

Alligator Hill is a nice walk in the woods on a wide trail to a couple scenic lookouts over Lake Michigan; we looped around the Easy and Intermediate trails, only briefly getting lost on the Advanced trail. (The difficulty designations are for cross-country skiing; all trails seemed easy hiking-wise.) We were lucky that the sun was out for this hike because Lake Michigan is a brilliant blue under the sun. It looks like the Caribbean. Gorgeous.

lake michigan from empire bluffs

The Empire Bluff hike is an easy 1.5 mile round-trip to big views of Lake Michigan and its sandy, wild shore, and Sleeping Bear Dunes in the distance. This hike was much more crowded than Alligator Hill, but it was a pleasant walk and the view was fantastic (if a bit gray due to the clouds).


the filling station microbrewery pizza

Our first night in town we had dinner and beer at The Filling Station, buzzing with families and pre-marathon carb-loaders. The pizza was good, the beer was ok (J wrote about it here), and the staff was cool but a couple things annoyed us: it’s TOO family-friendly (no offense, parents, but when I go out to dinner I don’t want to hear your kids screaming or see them tearing around the restaurant), and the service is slow/lacking. Everyone orders from a single location at the bar, and the food is delivered to you when it’s ready–that means if you want a beer, or a water refill, or anything at all, you have to go to the counter and order it/get it yourself. Boy, I really do sound cranky, huh, Uncle Jim?

grand traverse pie company dog-friendly patio

Saturday morning we had breakfast downtown at Grand Traverse Pie Company, mostly because it had dog-friendly sidewalk seating. The breakfast sandwiches were good, but what we really should have gotten (maybe not for breakfast–or maybe definitely for breakfast) is the cherry pie. The cherry industry is huge in the Traverse City area, and you can find cherry-themed shops and menu items around town, and Traverse City is home to the National Cherry Festival each summer.

dog at lake michigan beach park empire michigan

Between Sleeping Bear Dunes hikes, we picked up sandwiches from Gemma’s in Empire and took them to Lake Michigan Beach Park a few minutes down the road. We nabbed the last waterfront parking spot and had a delightful picnic in the back of the truck, watching the brave souls splashing in the freezing water and frolicking on the beach.

traverse city farmers market
interlochen michigan farmers market

We were lucky to hit two farmers markets while in town! Saturday morning is the downtown Sara Hardy Farmers Market. It is not dog-friendly, so we visited early and quickly with Bugsy in the car (remember, we were there in Springtime so the car wasn’t hot) and bought some produce and snacks for later. We expected more breakfast options at the market (spoiled by all the deliciousness at Charlottesville’s City Market) but otherwise there was an interesting variety of food and handmade goods. On Sunday we stopped by the Interlochen Farmers Market, near the campground and on our way to hiking. It is dog-friendly and in our opinion much more interesting (and with way better parking) than the downtown market.


ferment brewery traverse city
right brain brewery traverse city

We visited a slew of breweries in the Traverse City area:

  • Bravo Zulu Brewery
  • Brewery Ferment (when J first mentioned going there, I thought he said “brewery for men” and was offended)
  • Brewery Terra Firma
  • Filling Station Microbrewery
  • Rare Bird Brewpub
  • Right Brain Brewery
  • Stormcloud Brewing Company

J wrote everything you need to know about the breweries we visited here. I especially enjoyed the outdoor dog-friendly patio, environmental practices, and refreshing basil (!) beer at Terra Firma; the interesting asparagus (!!) beer and big open warehouse space at Right Brain; and the cool-kids vibe, really good beer, and my new artistically-branded tank top at Ferment.


2 responses to “Three days in Traverse City, MI–Big Trip #1”

  1. […] Traverse City, Michigan (on Lake Michigan) […]

  2. […] we had a few days of play in our schedule before we were due in Traverse City, so after extensive googling and debating we decided to spend part of that time in Sault Ste. […]

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