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12 Terrific Things to do in Traverse City with Kids

12 Terrific Things to do in Traverse City with Kids

Widely known as the “Cherry Capital of the World”, families will be thrilled to discover there several fun things to do in Traverse City with kids besides enjoying this delectable little fruit.

Situated on the northwest coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Traverse City is in the perfect location to access some of the most beautiful beaches, trails, and delicious local food available in the Midwest. Traverse City has plenty of activities to enjoy year round, making it a fun destination for families.

Explore more of the state! Here are our favorite things to do in Michigan with kids.

Things to do in Traverse City with Kids

The Traverse City Beach Scene

Beaches are fun things to do in Traverse CIty with kids

One of the most popular activities in Traverse City with kids is playing in the sand. There are a variety of fantastic beaches in the city as well as the surrounding area.

Traverse City is located along the Grand Traverse Bay which is separated into an East and West by the Old Mission Peninsula. This unique topography offers visitors multiple beach spots to enjoy within earshot of the main city. 

Clinch Park and West End Beach are some of the most popular spots near the heart of downtown with the Traverse Area Recreation Trail (TART) meandering alongside.

Sunset Park Beach sits smack dab in the middle of the bay with similar amenities as the others to its west. It also offers a designated area for families with children.  

For additional family friendly venues, venture over to East Bay or Bryant Park which have nice playgrounds and shallow water depths for the little ones.  

Sleeping Bear Dunes

things to do in Traverse City with kids include visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers 35 miles of coastline and forest adventure catering to a host of outdoor adventures. The name Sleeping Bear derives from a beautiful piece of  Native American folklore about a mother bear and her two cubs.  However, I warn you…the story is a bit heartbreaking, but well worth the read. 

This national park’s claim to fame are its enormous sand dunes that cover four square miles and rise as high as 460 feet. And it is far from a hidden secret as more than 1.7 million visitors traverse this unique lakeshore landscape annually.

To test your mettle, attempt the 284-foot Dune Climb. However, it’s an arduous trek that can take up to two hours so bring plenty of water and dress appropriately if you visit during July or August. 

If the dune hike sounds a little too tiring, you can try the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. It’s a 27-mile, hard-surfaced path with multiple points to park and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

The historic logging village of Glen Haven is only two miles from the Dune Climb. The town offers many activities to learn about the area’s history with a boathouse museum, blacksmith shop, and 1920s-style general store. 

Visit the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes site for more information on bike rental, hiking, and other recreational programs the area has to offer. 

Boardman River

Fishing Boardman River is one of the best things to do in Traverse City with kids
Boardman River by Gabe Popa

After scaling the heights of the dunes, take it easy with some fly fishing along the Boardman River. Complete with trout, steelhead and salmon, your family will have some great entrees to take back to your VRBO at the end of the day. If you are still craving more active adventure, roll down the river on some canoes or kayaks. 

For those that prefer to stroll versus roll, choose the Boardman Lake Loop which includes four miles of trail with a beautiful boardwalk and bridges to take in all the views. 

Visiting Michigan in the autumn? Here are our favorite places to enjoy Michigan fall foliage.

Immerse Yourself in Traverse City’s Cherry Picking History

Things to do in Traverse CIty with kids cherry blossoms

Traverse City is Michigan’s main supplier of delicious cherries. The Michigan cherry farming industry was born out of a missionary’s dream to bring tart cherries to the Old Mission Peninsula. By the 1900s, the area became the nation’s largest producer of tart cherries

Starting in the 1920s, the city began celebrating this sweet crop every year which is now called the National Cherry Festival.  The Festival is held during the first week of July with tons of activities to enjoy. There are three parades throughout the week-long event where you get to celebrate with the Cherry Queen as they pass down with the procession. 

Have your kids compete in various events  such as the Bubble Gum Blow, Family Sand Sculpture  or Cherry Pie eating contest. Ahead of the traditional July 4th fireworks spectacle, you can witness the power of the Blue Angels soaring overhead during two air shows held on the first weekend of the festival. Open Space Park is the main location for many of the festival’s activities. 

Whether you visit during festival or not, make sure to partake in one of the many cherry orchard tours available throughout the area. The prime times for picking are between early June to late July, but you can visit anytime to try and bring home some of the best cherries in the world. 

Head to Cherry Republic

Cherry PIe

Even if your travels do not bring you to Traverse City during the Cherry Festival or cherry season, all things cherry can be found year round at Cherry Republic.

For the ultimate experience visit the Glen Arbor location of Cherry Republic’s tasting room where the whole family can taste test different flavors of cherry flavored soda (or pop as its known around the area), and mom and dad can try out the cherry wine. The kids will also want to sample the cherry ginger ale.

Don’t forget to stop by the store and restaurant for more cherry goodies – cherry chicken salad sandwich, cherry pie, and of course cherry ice cream awaits you.

Experience the Local Fresh Food Scene

Farmers Markte in Traverse City

Traverse City is situated in the perfect location for accessing some of the freshest varieties of fruits and vegetables. One of the best ways to sample this bounty is by visiting the city’s two most popular farmers markets:

Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market

Named after a local philanthropist, the Sara Hardy Farmers Market has grown to be one of the largest within the state of Michigan. The venue offers visitors the chance to sample fresh, direct-from-farm produce from more than 100 growers. The Market is open on Saturday mornings from May to October and also on Wednesdays from June to October. 

The Village Farmers Market

The Farmers Market located at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons offers year round access to delicious produce, dairy products, sweet treats and more. The outdoor market is open from May to October on Monday afternoons from 2pm-6pm. The indoor market is open from November to April on Saturdays from 10 am-2 pm. 

Visit a Lighthouse

Mission Point Lighthouse

Michigan boasts 115 lighthouses, more than any other state, and the Traverse City area does have their fair share of these iconic treasures. For a glimpse into the past a visit to a lighthouse is a must.

Make your way to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, a former lightkeeper’s home that now serves as a museum with artifacts dating from the 1920s. During the summer time, stay after dark with the family and catch a movie.

For more than 60 years, Mission Point Lighthouse served as a beacon for large ships crossing Lake Michigan in the middle of the night. This lighthouse is located halfway between the North Pole and the equator! It now offers beautiful views from May to November giving your family a chance to experience the life of a lightkeeper. 

Visit the Hessler Log Cabin close by the lighthouse to step further back in time. The cabin was built by Joseph and Mary Hessler who  settled on the Old Mission Peninsula in the mid-1850s. If you happen to visit on Log Cabin Day (held on the third Sunday in June), you’ll find “pioneer women” inviting you to a meal by the open fire and an inside tour of the home. 

There are a host of other sites to explore on the Peninsula with an audio tour available to enrich the entire experience. 

Pirates Cove Adventure Golf

Pirates Cove Adventure Golf

While Pirates Cove may be a miniature golf course, it’s more than your average  putt-putt attraction. The course has 18 holes of adventurous fun set in the theme of the 18th century swashbucklers we all know and love.

Your kids will love navigating through mountain caves and over wooden footbridges in pursuit of their perfect game. If that’s not enough fun, they also offer go-karting, bumper boats, and a game room to keep you busy all afternoon long. 

Pirates Cove season goes from the last weekend of April till the 3rd weekend in October. Miniature golfers age four and under play for free. Children must be at least 40” tall in order to participate in go-karts or bumper boats.  

Lucky Jacks

Lucky Jacks Traverse City

When it’s too rainy, too hot or your family just needs some indoor fun, give Lucky Jacks a try. Established as Timber Lanes Bowling Center in the early 60s, Jack and Evelyn Mohrhardt ran it as a family business with their eight children. The venture eventually expanded to 32 lanes, a night club and a billiards (pool tables) room. In 1998, The  Mohrhardts decided to sell the enterprise marking the end of Timber Lanes. 

However, their children felt the community still needed to bowl and later opened a new family fun center naming it Lucky Jacks after their father. In addition to bringing bowling and billiards back (sorry no nightclub), the facility also includes an arcade, bumper cars, laser tag and a laser maze.  

Great Lakes Children’s Museum

Great Lakes Childrens Museum

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is perfect for kids age 10 and under, with a host of interactive exhibits for them to engage in.

The Water Cycle helps little visitors envision how a raindrop goes through the process of evaporation, condensation and precipitation. Jump over to the Waves of Gravity station where they can arrange various tubes to guide a ball the fastest route down the course. Or take on the role of ship captain at the Great Lakes Freighter exhibit driving precious cargo to its final destination. 

Capacity is limited so it’s strongly recommended that you reserve ahead of time, especially on rainy days.

Cotton Creek Farms


Take the 30-minute trip south to Thompsonville where you’ll find a magical farm of not cows, not chickens, but alpacas! Cotton Creek Farms was founded in 2015 by a couple seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. It has since grown into a venture with 50+ alpacas providing yarn and hand crafted products from the fleece of these lovely animals. 

The Farm also provides an hour long, interactive tour where you get to learn all about alpacas as well as feed and pet them. The primary season for visiting is from April to December, but they do offer an opportunity to book by appointment from between January and March. Visit here for the latest information on open hours and ticket pricing.