Our Booksellers' Guide to Traverse City
Now that the Cherry Festival is over, the busiest time of the year has officially come to a close. Don't get us wrong: Cherry Fest is a really fun time, and it's wonderful to see how many new people it brings to the TC area. But when the carnival has packed up and the parades are over, there's still a ton to do in Traverse City!
To highlight some amazing things that Traverse City has to offer year-round, we asked our booksellers to share their favorite locations, attractions, and pastimes in the area. Check out what they had to say to find some new TC activities — and some fun books to take your Michigan adventures to the next level.
The Botanical Gardens at the Historic Barns Park
So I know this will come as no surprise to anyone who's seen the kinds of articles I often write, but one of my favorite things about Traverse City is the Botanic Garden at the Historic Barns Park. It's small, but lovely, and the Barns Park is also home to the community garden space where I maintained a plot for years before I moved into a house with yard space. It's technically a part of the old State Hospital complex, though it's pretty far out from the Commons (which is also worth a visit!), so it has a different sort of atmosphere. You can also pick up a number of walking trails out behind the barns themselves, and if you get a chance to attend an event inside the Cathedral Barn, you should definitely check it out!
Since I've recommended just about every gardening book on my shelves three or four times over at this point, I'm going to shake things up and recommend a bit of fiction to pair with this lovely locale. Try Viola Shipman's The Heirloom Garden. The author, Wade Rouse, writes under his grandmother's name for stories of family, history, and interconnectedness that make for perfect beach (or garden!) reads. Plus, we're getting bookplates from the author so if you order soon, you can get a signed copy!
Any wooded or swampy trails, including TART trail
If you're a fan of critters scaly or slimy, "herping" could be a very fun way to spend an afternoon. While the name leaves something to be desired, going out into the wilderness on a nature scavenger hunt with a handy book as your guide is one of my favorite ways to pass the time. Amphibians and Reptiles of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan can help you identify cool and unusual creatures that live in Michigan. Just remember to be gentle with and respectful of our cold-blooded companions!
Yes, Lake Michigan is the big, obvious answer but it’s one of my favorite things about living up here. I love swimming and sailing in summers, admiring the ice in winters, and exploring year-round! There are rocks to be rifled through, vistas to be viewed, and fish to be found, although I’m not much of a fisherman myself. And for the information gatherers and the question askers, there’s a lot of history to be learned.
From geological origins to trade and transit, the Great Lakes are full of incredible history. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes provides a great starting point for understanding lakes’ shifting ecologies and the ways that humans have threatened the lakes’ health. The Living Great Lakes is another great introduction to the lakes, blending memoir and history for a more personal angle. For the geologically inclined, Great Lakes Rocks provides an overview of the Great Lakes’ history, formation, and natural features, while Michigan Rocks and Minerals is gives you a hands-on guide for rock identification.
And don’t think I’ve forgotten the lighthouses! Visiting lighthouses can be a great way to learn more about the history (and present) of Lake Michigan. Within an hour drive of Traverse City there are three different lighthouses that you can enter and tour (Grand Traverse, Mission Point, and Point Betsie), and more that you can enjoy from the outside (Charlevoix South Pier, Robert H. Manning, Frankfort Breakwater, and, if you hop on a ferry, South Manitou Island!). For a history of this area’s lighthouses, check out Lighthouses of Northwest Michigan, or for less info and more beautiful visuals, try Michigan Lighthouses: An Aerial Perspective.
So that was a lot, but my point is that there are so many different ways to enjoy the lake: from a beautiful outlook, from the top of a lighthouse, from your favorite ice fishing spot, you name it! And if getting a little bit of history can deepen your understanding and appreciation of this incredible natural resource, then maybe from your favorite reading nook too.
Miller Creek Nature Reserve
Traverse City's best kept secret is actually in neighboring Garfield Township, south of the Grand Traverse Mall.
Miller Creek Nature Reserve is 88 acres of trails that pass through varied ecosystems of Red Pines, meadows, wetlands, Cedar swamps, and Beech forests following Miller Creek, a tributary of the Boardman. It is beautiful, peaceful and natural. Don't tell anyone else about it
Arcade games at the Coin Slot
One of my favorite places in town, anytime of the year, is The Coin Slot. It features old school arcade games and pinball machines (my current favorite is Attack from Mars) along with live music, food, and an impressive drink selection. You can easily spend a few hours there.
If you're interested in the history of arcade games, check out Pinball: A Graphic History of the Silver Ball by Jon Chad.
Natural advenures & hiking
My family spends most of our time together outside — hiking, fishing, kayaking and definitely swimming in the summer. Lake Michigan is magical! We are lucky to live in a beautiful natural area where we have lots of fantastic conservation work happening, with folks maintaining natural spaces for all of us to enjoy. So many new places you can explore, including some right in TC: the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and the Boardman River Nature Center.