I was in Traverse City, Michigan, recently for a family reunion. Some of my cousins have long ties to the area, and one of them moved back to that crisp and beautiful part of the country fairly recently.
I had a hellish trip up there, which ended with me driving a rental car from Detroit and arriving about 3:30 a.m. My phone had died, but I remembered my cousin’s address. I had no map.
I saw activity at one all-night business, so I pulled into the parking lot in hopes of getting directions. I approached three young men hanging out in front. They were cheerful, helpful, inquisitive, and even excited when I said that I was from Savannah. While they gave me perfect directions, one of them was busy prepping a tiny joint that he promptly passed to me. I politely declined. Seriously.
And that was my adult introduction to Traverse City, which I had previously visited when I was about 9 years old.
In addition to the various family activities over the long weekend, I spent some time wandering around and getting a sense for the city’s vibe.
The National Cherry Festival was going on the weekend we were there. There was a really cool air show — you can see a few of those shots below. On the Sunday of my stay, there was a stunningly good car show along Union Street. The adjacent craft show was something of a disappointment, however.
The Cherry Festival itself was also somewhat problematic. The cherries from the immediate area weren’t even ripe yet, so I’m not quite sure where the scrumptious fruit came from. The vendors selling cherry-related things were all the way down in Clinch Park along the bayfront, but that’s a pretty dreary spot compared to the rest of the lovely town. The waterfront is regrettably cut off from the rest of town by Grandview Parkway; it’s amazing the bayside has developed as nicely as it has given the unpleasantness of getting across the road. If festival organizers really want to elevate the cherries to the highest possible point of the festival, they need to move the displays and vendors to the other side of the parkway.
Traverse City has only about 15,000 year-round residents, but the gridded network of wide streets and good sidewalks allowed the city to absorb the extra summertime visitors pretty easily. My cousin lives in a relatively walkable, mixed-use neighborhood up the hill in the general corridor of Cass and Union streets. The Walk Score for her house is only 69, but it’s far more walkable than that. I took virtually all these photos of homes and businesses without getting in a car. There were several really notable spots, including the State Theatre, which is owned and operated by the Traverse City Film Festival “as a year-round, community-based, mission-driven, and volunteer-staffed art house movie theater.” Michael Moore is a driving force behind that effort.
Horizon Books was wonderful too. I picked up a copy of Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears.
There were a large number of different types of vehicles on the roads and sidewalks — wheelchairs, strollers, skateboards, bicycles, wagons. Traverse City seems committed to accommodating them — and the city could likely take even more steps that would encourage appropriate commercial development on the fringes of the vibrant downtown area and calm a little of the traffic on key streets.
Traverse City was only founded in the middle of the 19th century, but it sure has some nice old homes. I’m assuming that many in the old town area and elsewhere are the first ones ever built on their lots. The weather was just about perfect during our stay — 70s during the day, 50s at night — but I sure wouldn’t want to live there in the winter.
The narrow Boardman River winds lazily and beautifully through town, creating great spots for fishing or just for enjoying summer’s green. I’ll bet some of those vistas are spectacular as they change with the seasons.
I gather there’s a nice bar and music scene for a city of that size, but I didn’t have a chance to indulge on this trip.
Coming from a city like Savannah, Traverse City’s lack of ethnic and racial diversity really stands out, but that’s just a remnant of history and culture.
We made a trip out to Sleeping Bear Dunes one day, and a few of us drove up to the Mission Point lighthouse too, which is the oldest white settlement in the area.
So here are lots of pics. If you have questions about any of them, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. Some have captions, but most don’t.