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48 Hours In Traverse City With Kids

Traverse City, Michigan, is the kind of lakeside town that will have you planning your return visit before you even leave. My family visited for two days during our epic Michigan road trip. We were reluctant to move on when it was time. Blame the lakefront view from our balcony. Blame the proximity to gorgeous parks. Blame MOOmers.

Disclosure: My visit was hosted by Traverse City Tourism. All thoughts, opinions, and typos are my own.

Family-friendly things to do in Traverse City, Michigan USA

What to do in Traverse City with kids

Traverse City isn’t a very large city, but it packs in quite a few city offerings. It blends familiar convenience:

– Costco and Walgreens near our hotel

– Local specialties, like microbreweries, charming locally-owned stores, and the famous MOOmers Homemade Ice Cream

– And natural beauty. Not only is it near Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, the city itself is on the West Traverse Bay, with a river passing through it.

Cherry Tree Inn & Suites, a Traverse City hotel with a view
My daughter enjoying the view from our balcony at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City, Michigan.

So, what’s a family to do? Our kids are 6 and 8 so we were beyond playing in the sand at the hotel. Though between you and me, they sure did enjoy the playground at our hotel, Cherry Tree Inn & Suites.

Pirate ship playground at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City
Cherry Tree Inn & Suites has a pirate ship playground on its private beach.

Anyway. Away from the playground, the most memorable outing was about a 30-minute drive from Traverse City, actually – Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

The view from a sand dune at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
There’s a 450-foot sand dune at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, and some people thought it would be wise to run down it. The climb back up takes a few hours.

It’s a picturesque area run by the National Park Service. Be prepared to climb some sand dunes. Also, do take the time to do the scenic drive, and do not skip the scenic drive and stops No. 9 and No. 10. The views are stunning.

Scenic overlook at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore in MIchigan
We stopped at a few of the lookouts as we drove the scenic route around Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. Talk about cruising in style – we drove the 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD during the road trip.

Be warned: There are people who run down the 450-foot sand dune at the Lake Michigan overlook and spend hours crawling their way back up. Your kids will want to do this, too. Don’t let them.

Also, note that while it is a lakeshore, there isn’t much swimming going on at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. My kids were disappointed. Luckily, there are a few beach options nearby.

Sandy beach at Glen Haven Beach in northern Michigan
Glen Haven Beach is picturesque but when we visited, the water was freezing cold and the waves were surprisingly strong.

We tried swimming nearby at Glen Haven Lake. The water was frigid for June. And check out the waves in the picture. For a lake, it had quite the possible rip tide.

Back in Traverse City, there were better lake swimming opportunities. Clinch Park seemed to be the most popular. We checked out the private beach of our hotel, Cherry Tree Inn & Suites, but decided the outdoor pool and hot tub were more of our liking. The lake had a bit of a seaweed thing going on that my kids didn’t deal with well.

The private beach at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City, Michigan
The kids were excited about staying at a hotel with its own beach. Problem was, the water was super cold and there were weeds that clung to the kids’ feet.

There is quite a trail system in Traverse City, so we decided to rent some bikes from Einstein Cycles, which was within walking distance of our hotel. We took the T.A.R.T. toward downtown Traverse City, stopping for lunch at The Filling Station Microbrewery before turning back around. The trails do cross some streets, and if you’re kids aren’t confident with stopping and starting, it may be nerve-wracking.

Bike riding on the T.A.R.T. in Traverse City
We biked along the T.A.R.T. in Traverse City. There’s a great, family-friendly brewery known for its pizza on the route called The Filling Station.

Our hotel had some watercraft rentals available, but were a bit out of our price range. Just know that people could boat, jet ski, kayak and SUP out on the water.

Where to stay in Traverse City with kids

Hotels line the bay of Traverse City, and the lucky ones who have the water-facing rooms are in for a treat. We stayed at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites, and the view at sunrise was worth waking early for, and sunset drew every guest out on to the beach each night.

Pretty sunset at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City
Sunset at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City, Michigan.

While you’d think having a lake at your back door was enough, the kids were excited that the hotel had both an indoor and outdoor pool/hot tub area.

Cherry Tree Inn & Suites outdoor pool
The Cherry Tree Inn & Suites’ outdoor pool and hot tub had a nice view of the bay. My kids preferred it to the indoor pool.

There are different room options at the hotel (I think they said 25 types), and we were in a room with two queen beds, water-facing balcony, and a mini kitchenette. It was just the right size.

It’s conveniently near a pharmacy and within walking distance to putt putt golf and bike rentals. The hotel will also offer free shuttle service, which is helpful if you feel like trying one of the many microbreweries.

Where to eat in Traverse City with kids

Near the strip of hotels, you’ll mostly find chain restaurants with a local restaurant or two hidden among them. Our happiest dining experiences were far from that. Try heading into the downtown area around Front Street for food. Our first dinner in town was at 7 Monks Taproom, which has a kids menu and what my husband swears is one of the top 5 hamburgers he has ever tried. The Bacon Jam Burger may be $16 but he wanted to return the next night to have it again.

Lunch at The Filling Station Microbrewery was also wonderful, and right on the T.A.R.T. Trail, so a lot of biking families were there. Small kids can play in sandboxes while you wait. They mostly serve flatbread pizza and salads, and the beer is excellent.

Outdoor bar at Filling Station in Traverse City, Michigan
Food and drinks were ordered at the Filling Station’s outdoor bar. The family-friendly brewery/restaurant was located along the T.A.R.T. Trail in Traverse City.

I heard a lot of talk about Moomers, whose ice cream was ranked as some of the best in the nation in recent years. So, we had to go, right? It’s a working dairy farm outside of the city, and apparently, everyone makes the drive. We went on a Monday night and there was a line for scoops. This place is efficient, though, and we had our ice cream in no time. The view is worth the drive, too.

Moomers ice cream in Traverse City
You can enjoy Moomers ice cream while looking at dairy cows in the distance.

We had a miss or two on meals, and our breakfast was complimentary at the hotel, so I have no recommendations for that.

Plan a Traverse City vacation

Planning a family vacation to Traverse City, Michigan? Here are kid-friendly things to do, places to eat and a tip on where to stay if you want a private beach. #puremichigan #familytravel

I started planning this vacation in the form of a bucket list. Check out the Traverse City Bucket List to begin your plans.

Read more about some of the things we did in upcoming posts:

Staying On The Lake in Traverse City

Taking Kids to Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore (TBD)

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