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Traverse City, Mich: Do the dunes!

All photos courtesy Traverse City CVB

Traverse City, Mich., is a deceptively tranquil place.

Groups can explore the former logging center’s charming tree-lined downtown at their leisure and take relaxing walks along its beachfront. However, don’t be fooled: Although Traverse City and the surrounding area are great for a laid-back, stress-free visit, there is more than enough to keep a group busy for several days.

The Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau has two suggested one-day itineraries for motorcoach groups that capture the varied charms and attractions of the area, which is situated at the foot of Traverse Bay, the glacier-carved inlet off Lake Michigan in northwestern Michigan that is divided into east and west bays by the slender finger of 18-mile-long Mission Peninsula.

Major attractions include the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, fertile cherry and fruit orchards, wineries, small port towns, beaches, lighthouses and interesting museums.

The national lakeshore, which protects a 35-mile stretch of coastline along Lake Michigan, along with North and South Manitou islands, takes up the first morning, beginning at the visitors center near Empire, Mich.

“Of the things I usually tell groups about, first is the Sleeping Bear Dunes,” said Sarah Barnard, tourism sales manager for the CVB. “They have a short video, which gives a history of the dunes, how they were created, and you can meet with a ranger who can talk with a group about the dunes.”

Groups can also arrange in advance for a ranger or volunteer naturalist to act as a step-on guide for the 8-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, the best way to see the dunes.

“There are 12 lookout points,” said Barnard. “The two most popular are No. 3 and No. 9. No. 3 overlooks Glen Lake and the dunes, and No. 9 overlooks Lake Michigan and North and South Manitou islands. There is Caribbean blue water, and the dunes are not like you are in the middle of a desert. They have vegetation, and trillium grows throughout.”

The thick vegetation of trees and shrubs once gave one of the large dunes a shaggy appearance, which led to the Chippewa Indians calling it Sleeping Bear. That large dune doesn’t look much like a bear anymore; steady erosion over the past century has reduced its height from 234 feet to just over 100 feet.

Park ranger Paul Purifoy, manager of the visitors center, said that although taking the scenic drive is the best way to view the dunes, a little farther north, Dune Climb is the best place to get a feel for the dunes.

“A lot of people want to experience climbing on the dunes, and the place to do that is Dune Climb,” he said. “You can walk along the base and get a feel of sand between your toes or climb up a little way to just get close to the dunes.”

Purifoy also recommended stopping at the restored town of Glen Haven, which was a major lumbering and fruit-canning community in the early 20th century.

“It was a company town owned by D.H. Day,” he said. “There is a general store that is set up as in the 1920s. It has that look and feel, with items similar to what were available around that time. It has long wooden counters with jars of loose penny candy. It just has a really nice feel to it.”
Glen Haven also has a working blacksmith shop, a lifesaving museum and a museum of small boats.

“Glen Haven is right down on the water, so you can also get a feel of walking on the beach,” said Purifoy.

Lunch at Cherry Republic in nearby Glen Arbor is an immersion in the region’s extensive cherry industry. If the morning’s made-from-scratch inventory from the bakery, such as cherry melt brownies, cherry cream-cheese coffeecake and Wonderbars — chocolate, peanut butter, cherry and marshmallow crisp on a cherry stick — are gone, you can still chow down on cherry chicken salad and cherry chili.

“There are three buildings,” said Barnard. “The first is the bakery and cafe; the middle building is the store, where they have all cherry products from cherry salsa to chocolate-covered cherries to cherry lip balm; the third building is the beverage building, where they make cherry soda and wine.”

You can walk off the cherry-filled lunch by exploring downtown Glen Arbor.

“Glen Arbor is a small, quaint little town,” said Barnard, who suggests allowing 90 minutes for groups to walk around the town and shop. “You will not find stores that you will find in a mall. There are gift shops, art galleries and more,” she said.

Back in Traverse City, stop briefly at the Grand Traverse Heritage Center in the 1903 former Carnegie library building for a quick lesson in the town’s history and take a guided two-hour tour of Traverse City with its rich heritage of Native Americans, missionaries, lumberjacks, mariners and farmers.

For evening entertainment, head to the Williamsburg Showcase Dinner Theater, which has a changing series of musical revues. Or you can try your luck at the Turtle Creek Casino in Williamsburg, one of two casinos in the area — the other is the Leelanau Sands Casino in Suttons Bay — that are owned and operated by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

The next day, start out with two of Traverse City’s museums: the Music House Museum and the Dennos Museum Center.

The Music House Museum, 8 miles north of town, has an extensive collection of rare automatic musical instruments from 1870 through 1930. An hourlong tour includes explanations about and demonstrations of the instruments, which include a Belgian dance organ, nickelodeons, music boxes, pipe organs and a Wurlitzer theater organ.

The Dennos Museum Center, located on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College, has changing art exhibits and an extensive permanent collection of sculpture, prints and drawings by Inuit artists of the Canadian Arctic.

Head up the Mission Peninsula for lunch at the Old Mission Tavern, which has an art gallery, and then drive to the tip of the peninsula to see the Old Mission Lighthouse, one of five historic lighthouses in the area.

Although the Old Mission Lighthouse is not open to the public, it is in a park that features beaches, historical exhibits and hiking trails.

Another old-fashioned general store, the Old Mission General Store, offers a midafternoon break before a stop at the Chateau Chantal Winery with its combination of award-winning wine and spectacular views of the area.

“The peninsula we sit on is 18 miles long and 5 miles at its widest,” said Marie-Chantel Dalese, the winery’s marketing director, “and we are at one of its highest points. As you come up the drive, you wind through vineyards and come up to the top, where there is our tasting room with views of both the east and west bays.

“It is very stunning rolling vineyards and farmland, cherry trees and, of course, the water.”
The French chateau-style winery gives tours and tastings. “We start in the tasting room, go down into the winery itself in the cellar and see the equipment and barrels and bottling lines,” said Dalese. “We give an explanation of how we make wine here in northern Michigan.”

A $1.1 million expansion to the winery’s cellar and tasting room and a new outdoor patio are expected to be completed by September.

The winery is also a bed-and-breakfast with 11 units, and it presents special events throughout the year. “In the summer season, we have Tapas Tours, lunchtime small-plate pairings,” said Dalese. “New this year, we will have twice-a-week wine dinners, full six-course meals paired with our wines. All are served here at the winery.

“We also have a number of cooking classes in the off season and wine immersion seminars where you spend the whole day and really get to know how to make wine.”

A Traverse City tasting?

Located on the 45th parallel, Traverse City is home to vintners who grow grapes and bottle wines on the scenic Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas.

The ideal climate, with vineyards protected by winter snows and conditions moderated by proximity to Lake Michigan, has given rise to a wine industry that has been recognized for its quality and variety since the first winery opened there in 1974.

Notable for Rieslings, méthode champenoise sparkling wines, chardonnays and fruit wines, Traverse City area vintners are now also receiving high praise from critics and consumers alike for their red wines, pinot noirs, ice wines and other varieties.

More than 30 wineries are located in the area, with nearly all offering some form of tasting and tours.

For more Traverse City:

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