The Grand Traverse Bay Area is a region in Northern Michigan, known for its lakes and lakeshores, for its cherries and grapes and mushrooms, and for its boating and downhill skiing. Technically, the name refers to the shoreline bordering the West Arm and East Arm of the Grand Traverse Bay, but more generally the name is used to refer to all of Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties and at least the northern part of Benzie County; western Antrim County, which also borders the bay, may be included as well. Traverse City makes an excellent base for exploring the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas to the north, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to the west.
Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA), 3233 Cass Road, 231-941-2355, . Operates 6:10 am to 6:40 pm Monday through Friday, and 8:10 am to 5:40 pm on Saturday; no service on Sundays. Fixed-route service within Traverse City, and an advance-reservation curb-to-curb service in rural Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties. Fares $1.
Cherry Bowl Drive In, 9812 Honor Highway in Honor, 231-325-3413, . 1 screen. Open May through September; movies begin at dusk. Open since 1953, still featuring the original vacuum tube motiograph amplifier sound system to provide a nostalgic experience. Double-feature nightly, plus introduction film and intermission with vintage cartoons. On-site 1950s-style mini-golf putt-putt course, hula hoops, frisbee, volleyball, and the Cherry Bowl Diner with the original 1953 popcorn popper. Admission $7.50.
Interlochen Center for the Arts, 4000 Highway M-137 in Interlochen, 231-276-7200, . A fine arts school established in 1928, offering over 600 arts presentations each year by students, faculty and world-renowned guest artists.
Dennos Museum Center, at the Northwestern Michigan College, 1701 E Front Street, Traverse City, MI 49684, 231-995-1055, . The Dennos Museum Center seeks to engage, entertain and enlighten its audiences through the collection of art and the presentation of exhibitions and programs in the visual arts, sciences and performing arts. The museum offers a wide variety of programs in the visual and performing arts and holds one of the largest and most historically complete collections of Inuit Art in the United States.
During the summer, fresh cherries are abundant and can be found at U-Pick orchards around Traverse City.
With the Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan, and numerous lakes and rivers in the region, water sports are highly popular during the summer.
Riverside Canoe Trips, 5042 Scenic Highway in Honor, 231-325-5622 (summer) or 231-882-4072 (winter), . The best family river trips in Michigan. Trips down the calm Lower Platte (2 hours) and fast Upper Platte River (4 hours) in canoes, kayaks, rafts, tubes, motorboats or rowboats. You'll need to leave your car in a parking lot by the Platte River Point on Lake Michigan, where the trips end, so bring money for parking ($3 for the parking lot alone, or $10 for a permit to all of Sleeping Bear Dunes). Lower Platte $10 - $48 (rafts $95 - $150), Upper Platte $14 - $45.
A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort, 627 A-Ga-Ming Drive in Kewadin, 231-264-5081 or 800-678-0122, . 36 holes of world-class golf. Golf school and lodging packages available. $20 - $74.
Champion Hill Golf Course, 510 N Marshall Road in Beaulah, 231-882-9200, . 18 holes, par 72. Cross-country skiing available. $9 - $45.
Interlochen Golf Club, 10586 US-31 S in Interlochen, 231-275-7311 or 877-480-7311, . 18 holes, par 71. Rated one of the top 100 best value courses in America, with one of the most scenic and lush courses in the region. Complete dining room service, driving range, practice green, complete pro shop. $12 - $39.
Mistwood Golf Course, 7568 Ole White Drive in Lake Ann, 231-275-5500, . 27 holes of championship golf and 9 holes of par 3 fun. Rated 4 stars by Golf Digest Readers in 2004 "Places To Play" and voted "Best Pro Am" by Northern Michigan PGA. Driving range, practice sand trap, and two spacious practice greens. Fully-stocked pro shop, on-site Sunset Bar & Grill and Bogey's Snack Bar. Adjacent rental units. $15 - $95.
Pinecroft Golf, 8260 Henry Road in Beaulah, 231-882-9100, . 18 holes, par 72. Rated 4 stars by Golf Digest Readers in "Places To Play". $9 - $45.
Skiing is a popular wintertime activity; there are three main ski areas in the region, one of which is in Traverse City.
Crystal Mountain Ski and Golf, 12500 Crystal Mountain Drive in Thompsonville, 800-968-7686, . Voted #1 Resort in the Midwest by Ski magazine. Downhill and cross-country skiing, ice skating and ice hockey, sleigh rides, snowshoe and moonlight hikes. Two golf courses with 36 holes, and over 90 golf schools, lessons and clinics. Equipment rental and tuning, snowsports school, kids' programs and lessons available. Therapeutic massage, fitness center, indoor pool, hot tub, arcade room. Lift tickets $15 - $79, golf rates $30 - $85.
Shanty Creek Resort & Club, 1 Shanty Creek Road in Bellaire, 231-533-8621 or 800-678-4111, . 43 ski runs, sleigh rides, tubing. Four championship golf courses. Fitness center, spa, four on-site restaurants. Skiing and golf clinics and lessons available. Ski lift tickets $12 - $46, golf rates $12 - $99.
Traverse City cherries: tart (left) and sweet light (right)
Cherries are, of course, the predominant local specialty; when they're in season, you can find them fresh in the stores, at roadside stands, and at U-Pick farms throughout the area, particularly along the Old Mission Peninsula. If you want to try them, be sure to visit the area during the last two weeks in July or the first two weeks in August. In May, the wild morel mushroom season commences. Locals flock to the woods in search of "the truffles of the North", while restaurants celebrate the harvest with a variety of morel dishes.
The Grand Traverse Bay Area — specifically, the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas — is Michigan's premiere winemaking region, located as it is along the 45th parallel, which is home to other world-famous wine regions like Bordeaux in France, Tuscany in Italy, and Oregon (not to mention New Zealand, in the southern hemisphere). Over 50 varieties of wine grapes are grown in Michigan, including Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Gewurtztraminer, Vignoles, Chambourcin, and Seyval Blanc. Local specialties include cherry wine (of course) and the rare ice wine, in which the grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine and then pressed while still frozen, giving the wine a delicate and very sweet flavor.