Visit Traverse City, Michigan in the fall and you can sample award-winning wine in the most colorful of settings, hike among the sand dunes voted Most Beautiful Place in America, and explore the historic charm of downtown. While the popular beach town is a top summer destination and #1 city for millennial millionaires, it's also an incredible choice for a fall getaway.
When the team at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and Traverse City Tourism invited me on a press trip to explore the city in the fall, I jumped at the chance!
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and Traverse City Tourism hosted nine women in the travel industry for three days in the Cherry Capital of the World.
Our hosts know the city better than anyone, and they put together a fantastic itinerary for us to experience Traverse City, Michigan in the fall!"
Sadly, I had to leave a day early to get back for the Best Buddies Gala in Chicago. However, I’m sharing all of the plans, so you can replicate them. The itinerary I’ll share makes a great weekend trip!
Fall things to do:
Before we dive into the three-day fall itinerary, here are a few activities you can build into your our Traverse City trip.
- Hike at Sleeping Bear Dunes
- Go wine tasting
- Take a scene drive through the iconic Covered Bridge
- Sample Hard Cider
- Shop at the Boutiques Downtown
- Fish for salmon
- Bike the country roads or wooded trails
- Relax at the spa
Traverse City, MI Fall Itinerary
Lunch at Jack’s Taproom
After checking into my room at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, I met the hosts for lunch in the newly renovated sports bar serving upscale pub fare. Jack’s Taproom was a convenient choice because it’s one of the many restaurants located on the resort property. We kicked off the lunch with grilled corn and goat cheese fritters.
Visit The Village at Grand Traverse Commons
The former Traverse City State Hospital transformed into a thriving community which is now complete with shops, restaurants, offices, and residences. Apparently there are great hikes from the commons too! The former state-run asylum has a storied history spanning 100 years. Plus, the property and architecture of this landmark are beautiful.
Tour the former Traverse City State Hospital
I highly recommend taking a guided tour of the property to learn about the history of this former asylum. We were fortunate to get a tour with Vanessa Vance, whose father was the superintendent of the asylum. Vanessa grew up on the property and has lots of good stories including the tale of a patient making a remarkable escape!
We learned that the asylum’s philosophy was “Beauty is Therapy.” The belief was that patient outcomes improve if patients are surrounded by a beautiful environment including the architecture and grounds. They aimed to create a community environment which was a progressive way of thinking at the time.
The tour ended with a walk through the underground tunnels. That made for a fun photo opp.
Higher Grounds Coffee
After the tour, I picked up a cinnamon latte from Higher Grounds Coffee, which is located at 806 Red Dr, Traverse City, MI within the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. It’s such a cute spot. They have a green initiative where they give you ceramic mugs to cut down on waste — even if you are ordering coffee to go. The policy for their to-go mugs is “Take it or leave it, bring it back or keep it.”
Left Foot Charlie’s I brought my latte next door to Left Foot Charlies where the rest of the group enjoyed wine and hard cider. (ICYM, I’m not drinking because I'm pregnant!) Left Foot Charlies (806 Red Dr Suite #100) offers wine and cider made from a collection of grape and apple growers from around Northern Michigan.
Dinner at Aerie
At sunset, we headed to the 16th floor of Grand Traverse Resort and Spa for dinner at Aerie Restaurant & Lounge. It offers 360-degree views including a great view of Grand Traverse Bay! The food was fantastic and there’s an excellent wine menu. Aerie is a three-time Wine Spectator Award of Excellence Winner.
Relax at the Spa
I kicked off the day with a relaxing prenatal massage at Spa Grand Traverse. The masseuse set me up with special pregnancy pillows to ensure I was comfortable the whole time. It was great! The full-service spa is a serene 7,000 sq. ft. space offering HydraFacials, nail services, hair care, massages and more.
After the spa, I broke off from the group and explored the charming downtown (see Day Three activities) before heading back to Chicago for my event. I’m still sharing the full Traverse City fall itinerary because our hosts planned everything so well! So as I headed downtown, the rest of the group continued on to Cherry Republic.
Lunch at Cherry Republic
Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital of the World, and Cherry Republic celebrates that fact. It offers more than 200 cherry-based products including, baked goods, jams, BBQ sauces and more. The group headed to its headquarters in Glen Arbor, but Cherry Republic has six retail stores around Michigan, including Traverse City.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Good Morning America viewers once voted Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as the "Most Beautiful Place in America." The dunes tower 450 feet high, offering incredible views of Lake Michigan. With miles of sandy beaches, lush forests, and unique flora and fauna, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a top attraction.
Visit a Winery
More than 40 wineries are scattered along what’s known as the Traverse Wine Coast. Traverse City sits on the 45th Parallel, which is the same latitude as prestigious wine regions like Bordeaux, France. The fertile soil, insulation from Lake Michigan, and long hours of sunlight contribute to the exceptional wine-growing conditions. The area is known for its rieslings.
Sip on sparkling wine among the stunning colors of fall. Mawby Vineyards began in 1973 and its tasting room is located among the rolling hills of Leelanau County alongside Lake Michigan. The sparkling wine named “Sex” makes a great bachelorette gift.
Dinner at Bourbons 72
This steakhouse offers more than 72 kinds of bourbon from Michigan and beyond. You can find premium seafood on the menu too! Bourbon 72 is located inside Turtle Creek Casino.
Shopping in Downtown Traverse City
The 19th-century Victorian storefronts create the most charming setting for a little shopping! There are more than 150 shops, galleries, restaurants, and boutiques to explore. I popped into Sincerely Betty, a Women’s clothing & accessories boutique and picked up some witty greeting cards. I also enjoyed browsing in My Secret Stash, which sells Michigan-focused good made by local artisans.
As you shop in downtown, you’ll likely notice the movie theater. Look down and you’ll see handprints from A-list celebrities such as Madonna, Sinbad, and Kristen Bell. This is because Michael Moore hosts the Traverse City Film Festival every year which attracts filmmakers and actors from around the world.
Explore Downtown Traverse City
The team at Traverse City Tourism and Grand Traverse Resort and Spa put together a list of things to do to help us experience Downtown Traverse City. I pasted their list below. Before heading to the airport, I knocked the first one off the list. Had to get a slice of pie!
- Savor a slice of Cherry Crumb pie from Grand Traverse Pie Company
- Snag an M-22 sticker at the M-22 store
- Dip your toes in Grand Traverse Bay
- Snap a photo of the State Theater marquee
- Visit the Boardman River bridges and/or river walk
- Play a game at the Coin Slot
- Pick out your favorite touristy T-shirt
- Peek inside the City Opera House
- Find a copy of 101 Things to Do in Traverse City in Horizon Books or Brilliant Books
- Sample some up north fudge at Kilwins Chocolates or Doug Murdick’s Fudge
How to Get There
I hopped on a quick flight from O’hare to Cherry Capital Airport (TVC), a full-service international airport. The flight was less than an hour, and the airport is minutes from downtown Traverse City and our hotel.
If you’re driving, the trip takes around five hours from Chicago depending on traffic. It’s about 320 miles.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, which seems to be the nicest place in town. My room overlooked the beach, and I was welcomed with a beautiful rainbow arching over the lake. Quite the welcome! The resort has a lot to offer including a spa, golf courses, a private beach club, and restaurants. They offer a complimentary airport shuttle too. I’d highly recommend booking a stay here if you’re in town.
Traverse City in the fall makes for a fantastic getaway! With an excellent food and wine scene, a colorful setting, and charming shopping scene, you'll have a memorable trip!
Thank you to Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and Traverse City Tourism for sponsoring this trip.