A Week-End Of Beer & Wine – Traverse City, MI
We heard about Traverse City looong before we came here. Our local friends raved about it, blog readers raved it about and we’d been told multiple times that it was “just our kinda place”.
With an endorsement like that we KNEW we needed to visit, even if we just had a few nights to spend there before we headed East for the cat. As luck had it we were able to book the last site in the State Park for the week-end, or at least the last site that could fit us. Traverse City State Park (review coming) is not much of a park, more like a dirt campground in a busy roadside forest, and it’s definitely a squeeze for “beast-size” rigs like us, but it’s in a great location to explore the area including being positioned perfectly for B to B (Bike To Beer). That’s enough incentive to get our beastly butt wedged in, even if it means a few nights of less than perfect camping.
We arrived on Friday afternoon and, once snugly settled into our site, set out to explore the many offerings that Traverse City had to give.
A Small Town Foodie Destination
The largest city in the Northern Michigan region, Traverse City sits at the bottom of the protected waters of Grand Traverse Bay, sandwiched between two long fingers of land, the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula.
It’s located on the 45th parallel, a fact that might not seem particularly interesting unless your mind wanders to the world of wine. It’s just about the same latitude as some of the most famous wine regions in the world (Italy’s Piedmont region, the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux in France etc.) and it turns out both the moderating climate of the Bay and fertile soils of the two peninsulas makes it a superb wine-growing region here too. That very same combo is also, interestingly enough, perfect for growing Tart Cherries and Traverse City is the #1 Tart Cherry producer of the US, churning out over 228.5 million pounds of the little fruit per year. Who knew?
Add in some excellent breweries, tasty restaurants and a few dozen internet awards (AOL Travel News named Traverse City one of America’s Top 10 Beach Towns, TripAdvisor.com called it one of America’s Top 10 Charming Small Towns and Bon Appetit magazine called it one of the country’s Top Five Foodie Towns) and you’ve got a small town destination that’s practically on everyone’s list.
With our penchant for tasty food and libations it definitely fit the bill for “our kinda place”.
We Started With Beer
Although mostly known for it’s wine, it turns out Traverse City has quite the booming craft beer culture, and given the type of foodies we are, we couldn’t resist starting with that.
There’s over 15 local microbreweries, a number that’s continuously growing, and it’s supported by an emerging local hop production too. Plus there’s many ways to enjoy the selection, either by collecting passport stamps along the Traverse City Ale Trail, bicycling around on your own two legs or joining a group in a 14-passenger bike car on a Pedal-Powered Pub Tour. Oh, and for those that like a little less effort there’s several regular Bus Brew Tours too.
Since we had our own bicycles and had positioned “the beast” strategically for B to B we decided on the two-legged method. We didn’t get to try nearly as many breweries as we wished, but we managed two top-rated ones, both of which were excellent:
The Filling Station – This is a large and airy brewery in an old train station depot along now defunct train tracks. They cater to bicyclists with several large bike stands, and also cater to dog-lovers with a huge outdoor covered patio area and spacious bench tables. Excellent selection of brews and extremely tasty gourmet-style pizza (incl. gluten-free options). We particularly enjoyed the Cycle Pub Ale, Jay Walkin Tripple IPA and Walla Walla IPA. Click HERE for more info. Dog friendly!
- Rare Bird Brewpub – This is a gem of a little brewery with a cozy wood interior and a small outdoor dog-friendly patio (nice, but limited shade). They offer a short selection of quality in-house brews as well as over 26 guest taps and a really tasty pub menu. We loved everything here, but Paul had a particular penchant for the La Passion IPA (with mosaic hops) and I went pretty wild for the Dubbel Butt Belgian (one of the nicest Belgian-style brews I’ve had outside of Belgium!). Click HERE for more info. Dog friendly!
There’s many others we WISHED we could have tried, plus there’s a local Distillery aaaand a Meadery, both of which looked most intriguing, but alas there’s only so much your liver can handle in a few days. For a fuller brew experience I estimate we’d either need a full week here, or we’d need to come back and hit one of the big festivals such as the Microbrew & Music festival in late Aug, or the Annual Beer Week in mid-Nov. All options for a future visit 🙂
VISITOR AND PAW NOTES/ All the local microbrews are within an easy bike/drive in downtown Traverse City. See HERE for a full list and HERE for the breweries on the official Ale Trail. For paw parents, both the breweries we tried had outdoor dog-friendly areas (The Filling Station was awesome!), but that may not apply to all breweries in the area so make sure to check beforehand if you’re bringing the paws along.
We Hit The Lighthouse (Of Course)
The day after our first brewery we loaded Polly into the car and headed north on Old Mission Peninsula to hit the lighthouse at the very top of the tip. It’s a lovely little 30-min drive to the light at the end of which you’re greeted by a most lovely lighthouse on a gorgeous sandy stretch of coast.
Mission Point Lighthouse was first lit in 1870 and guided ships through the dangerous waters of West Grand Traverse Bay until it was decommissioned in 1933. It no longer has a light in the tower, but it does have a 5th order on display (sadly not the original which was lost, but a very nice loaner) and some interesting history about the lighthouse and the keepers who guarded it, including Sarah Lane who became the first and only woman keeper in Mission Point’s history after her husband passed away on the job in 1906. Plus there’s a few miles of nice hiking trails and a wonderful little beach, all of which are dog-friendly. A delightful little lighthouse!
VISITOR & PAW NOTES/ Lighthouse is open for visitation daily from 10AM-5PM (May – October). Grounds are free to visit, but there’s a $4 fee to climb into the tower. Click HERE for more info. For those with dogs you cannot enter the lighthouse, but ALL surrounding grounds, hiking trails and beach are pooch-friendly, so if there’s two of you it’s easy to swap out and visit individually with doggie in tow. Polly loved the beach here!
And We Finished With Wine
As a European who lived for many years in CA I’d honestly never heard about MI wines, before I started traveling to the Midwest that is.
It’s hard to wrap your mind about the fact that they actually grow grapes here, especially given the hard-core winters, but it’s actually a perfect environment for cooler-climate varietals such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc. And it’s not a small business either. There’s a mind-boggling 100 wineries in the state covering over 15,000 acres of land. And ~35 of these gems are within spitting distance of Traverse City along the two fingers of land known as the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula.
Drive just 10 mins north of downtown and you’re right smack in the middle of it, mirroring the same views you might get in Napa Valley or even Bordeaux. You’re enveloped by rolling hills, fine estates and miles of grape vines. It’s quite impressive.
The scenic drive up to Mission Point lighthouse takes you by 9 different wineries, building up quite a thirst for the drive home. We were intrigued of course and rather anxious to try some tasters, but we’d bought Polly along for the lighthouse trip and having read about the restrictive pet rules beforehand I knew we probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy any libations with doggie in tow.
Of course no-one ever got anywhere in life without asking….
On the way back from the light we selected Brys Estate at random and parked the car to check it out. I put on my most charming Danish tourist smile and wandered into the tasting room
“Any chance we can sit on your patio with the dog?” I asked sweetly
“No, we don’t allow dogs here” the lady replied perfunctorily. She glanced at me and I must have looked sufficiently puppy-sad, because she paused and appeared to think for a moment
“But I don’t see why you can’t buy a glass and take it outside to our Adirondack chairs?”
Score! I selected a most delicious Rosé while Paul picked up a dry Riesling and we enjoyed them with Polly on our very own private “patio” with a scenic overview of the vines just next to the main estate. They even had a bocci ball court there. The wines were wonderful and had we had more time in the area there’s no doubt we would have left Polly at home for a few hours and tried a few more. But a taster is always better than nothing, right?
VISITOR & PAW NOTES/ There are 9 wineries on the Old Mission Peninsula and 26 wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula. For those wanting a designated driver there are several different operators offering both private and group wine tours and shuttles (click HERE for a list). For those with paws be aware that none of the wineries allow dogs in their tasting rooms or patios, but many do allow dogs on their grounds, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if you can buy a glass and sit outside with doggie to enjoy it.
There’s plenty more we missed of course. We didn’t get to try any of the big restaurants in the area, or even any of the famous pies in the area (there’s both Grand Traverse Pie and Cherry Republic), but we packed in as much as we could in out limited time.
Our stop here also marks our last in the great State of Michigan and our final goodbye to the Great Lakes. We managed over 6 weeks here in the end, which is more than we had originally hoped, and although we didn’t get around as much as we’d liked (mostly due to Polly’s rehab) we got a really good feel for the area. It’s been an awesome ride MI, but cat-duties call us East and we must say Adieu for now. See you all in the next State.
Useful External Links:
- Visit Traverse City – Official visitors site HERE
- Traverse Area Wine Maps – Click HERE for a map of wineries along Old Mission Point and HERE for the wineries on Leelanau Peninsula
- Traverse City Breweries – Click HERE for a list of breweries and HERE for the Ale Trail
- Old Mission Point Lighthouse – Click HERE for info and hours
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