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Five of Our Favorite Summer Activities in Traverse City

This month marks our twelfth in Traverse City. We’ve now been here for four full seasons, and while we’ve loved aspects of each season (yes, even winter), summer is undoubtedly our favorite.

Sugar sand beaches, BBQs with friends and family, long days of bright sunshine, cold beer and wine – there’s no better place to enjoy summer’s simple pleasures. That being said, I do have a bone to pick about the endless days – how are you supposed to get little kids to bed at a reasonable hour when it stays light until 10 p.m.? I, for one, am looking forward to June 22.

We are getting set to kick off our summer in earnest with a “school’s out!” trip to the Upper Peninsula with the kids in an Airstream trailer (the exclamation point signifying equal parts excitement, fear and trepidation). And we can’t wait to engage in some fun summer activities in Traverse City.

Here are five of our favorites. To learn more about the best food, fun and family activities that Traverse City has to offer, visit our Field Guides page and download our comprehensive guides on what’s happening Up North this summer.

1. Biking and Paddle Boarding

Before moving to Traverse City we biked very little. In fact, last summer I still was riding (probably two or three times a year) the same 23-year old Trek mountain bike that I had when I was a teenager. Some of the first purchases that Heather and I made upon arriving here were new bikes at the City Bike shop on Union Street.

We now ride our bikes almost every day during spring, summer and fall – especially in the summer.

Not only is Traverse City a great biking town, but the traffic congestion gets very heavy in the summer months, and so we can often make the one mile trip downtown faster on our bikes than in our car.

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We also love riding the TART Trail, which is easily accessible from our house. The trail up the Leelanau Peninsula is a beautiful ride through rolling hills, farms and orchards, with stop-off points at vineyards along the way. It ends in Suttons Bay, which is 17 miles from downtown Traverse City. If you’re looking to do a ride to Suttons Bay (or Glen Arbor) and grab lunch/dinner and a drink, you can load your bike and yourself onto one of the buses that run back to Traverse City – here’s the Bike-n-Ride schedule.

While I re-discovered my love for biking upon moving to Traverse City, I also discovered a new hobby – paddle boarding. Late last summer Heather bought me a paddle board for my birthday. Fortunately the weather was amazing last fall and so I had the opportunity to paddle quite a bit. There’s nothing like paddling on the clear, calm waters of the West Bay early in the morning. I can’t wait to get back out there.

2. Cooking with Fresh Produce from the Farmers’ Market and CSA

I love cooking but hate grocery shopping. It’s no fun to make a big list and then hunt for products up and down endless aisles under bright florescent lights. Shopping at fresh food markets, however, is something special. Perusing the beautiful produce displayed by local farmers and food artisans is a delight to the senses.

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We typically head to the market with no meal agenda in mind – we simply pick out the freshest stuff we can find and build our meal prep around it. On a recent Saturday morning at the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market we picked up lake trout filets caught the day prior in Lake Michigan, freshly harvested asparagus, yukon gold potatoes, and bibb lettuce paired with smoked mozzarella cheese from Boss Mouse Cheese for a simple, delicious salad.

We grilled the trout with sliced lemon and fresh herbs from our garden, sauteed the asparagus, cooked up the potatoes along with garlic, onions and morel mushrooms we found in our yard, and mixed up a nice balsamic vinaigrette with more fresh herbs for the salad.

We are also excited to be participating in the northwest Michigan vegetable CSA share program this summer. CSA stands for “community supported agriculture” and participants are entitled to a weekly “share” subscriptions of vegetables from a particular farm during the summer growing months. We will be getting a share from Providence Farms. Each week we will receive a box of 6-16 in-season veggies and herbs fresh from the farm.

3. Live Music

We’ve mentioned our love of live music before, and there are endless opportunities to enjoy great performers in outdoor settings in Traverse City. There are the big events – the Cherry Festival featuring country music star Frankie Ballard and 80’s rock icon Billy Idol, The Microbrew and Music Festival in August, and the always excellent and diverse Interlochen summer concert series – and many smaller, more intimate gatherings for live music.

Every Thursday during the summer the Grand Traverse Pavilions host a “Concert on the Lawn” featuring great local acts. We’ll be attending a number of these shows, including the always excellent local trio, The Accidentals, on July 7. Many of the bars in town host musical acts several nights every week. Some of our favorite spots to catch a show featuring artists such as Levi Britton, Mike Moran, Benny Edwards, Brett Mitchell and Jimmy Olson include Rare Bird, 7 Monks, The Parlor and The Little Fleet. There’s also a great show coming up on June 18th in the Open Space featuring Martin Sexton.

Finally, for one of the most unique and fun spots in town to catch a performance, head to Farmer Foot Drums in Cedar where shows are periodically held in a musical instrument manufacturing workshop. A few weeks back we had a great time while watching Hot ‘n Bothered perform at the Shop. Check out Farmer Foot Drums’ website to learn more about the shop shows.

4. Hunting for Treasures

One of our favorite spontaneous family activities in the summer is treasure hunting. No, we’re not combing the landscape using metal detectors, but rather exploring Traverse City’s beaches, woodlands and meadows in search of the region’s natural treasures. It’s a great way to get the kids outdoors, teach them about nature and engage their imaginations.

As for food foraging, spring and early summer is a great time to hunt for delicacies such as morel mushrooms, wild asparagus and leeks. We also spend lots of time on various beaches searching for non-edible treasures such as Petoskey stones, fossils and seashells. We plan to look for arrowheads and other artifacts on our upcoming trip to the Upper Peninsula.

The actual bounty from most of our treasure hunts is pretty poor, but each trip into nature is rich in experiences.

5. U-Pick Farms and Orchards

Shortly after we moved to Traverse City last June we trekked to a U-pick strawberry farm just south of downtown. At the end of our “harvest” the kids were dirty, smeared with strawberries and ecstatic about the experience. Plus, we walked away with over 10 pounds of strawberries, so we had lots of smoothies, milkshakes, cobbler and jam in the weeks following.

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There are tons of U-pick farms and orchards around town that are great for picking a wide range of fruits and vegetables in the summer, including raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, blackberries and, of course, cherries.

These are just a few of our favorite summer activities in northern Michigan. What are yours?

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