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On the road again: Traverse City

Traverse City’s historic State Theatre.

By Steve Ellis

We make it up to Traverse City a few times per year. This past August, I was lucky enough to get up there twice, albeit at opposite ends of the lodging spectrum. The first trip was with a group of old friends, rustic camping on the Boardman River, playing golf and tubing. We had lots of rain and not the perfect camping weekend but still lots of fun. The next visit was in a nice condo in Acme loaned to us by a friend. We had perfect weather and enjoyed bike riding and the bustling downtown.

In the off-season, our lodging of choice is the iconic Park Place Hotel. The original building was built in 1873. The current 10-story hotel was built in 1930 and has been renovated over the years, but retains its original charm. Last winter’s eighth floor corner room with large windows gave us a great view of lake and downtown. The Beacon Lounge, located on the 10th floor, offers live entertainment and a wonderful night view of the city.

Downtown still has the fun look and feel as it did back when we were kids, although most of the stores have changed. The town is full of restaurants, cool stores and microbreweries. Outdoor clothing and gear stores are plentiful. M-22 is one of our favorites. Cherry Republic is a fun experience and we enjoyed some free samples. We noticed many bellying up to the bar to sample their unique spirits and cherry wines.

The town is also blessed with great bookstores. Horizon Books and Brilliant Books on Front Street are well worth a stop. For used and rare books, check out Landmark Books in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

Traverse City has many great restaurant choices. Some of our favorites include: Amical (look for their early bird specials), Apache Trout Grill, Red Ginger, Poppycocks and Mama Lu’s. Be prepared for long waits in the summer months. We sat at the bar at Mama Lu’s to avoid the wait and a had a great chicken nacho plate.

An informal fun place is the historic Sleder’s Family Tavern. Sleder’s is the oldest continually operated restaurant in the state of Michigan. The tavern opened in 1882 and is packed with old photographs and large taxidermy mounts. A popular rite of passage at the tavern is to “Kiss the Moose,” the large moose head hanging towards the back of the restaurant. The Sleder Burger did not disappoint — a ½-pound ground chuck burger was served with fries and homemade coleslaw.

One of the great things to do in Traverse City is to see a movie at the State Theatre. The theatre has been restored to its original glory and is part of the Traverse City Film Festival. The tickets and snacks were surprisingly reasonably priced. A sign in the lobby proudly proclaims: “Voted the #1 Theatre in America!” I’ll give a nod to that! I recalled seeing “Yours Mine and Ours” with Lucille Ball at the theatre back in 1968.

Our favorite breakfast choice is the Omelette Shop on Cass Street, a brightly colored breakfast spot that has been around for years and never disappoints. They have another location east of downtown and one in Grand Rapids. While waiting for a table, be sure to check out My Secret Stash next door, with two floors chock-full of funky gift items and a large selection of Michigan inspired art and home accessories.

With our camping group, we head to the very good Randy’s Diner for breakfast.

One of our favorite locations in TC is The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, located on the historic Traverse City State Hospital Grounds. The hospital once housed over 3,000 residents. Dozens of buildings sat empty for years until a local developer restored the grounds and several of the buildings — repurposing them into condos, restaurants, bakeries and other unique retail stores.

Trattoria Stella’s Restaurant, the Left Foot Charley Winery, Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery, Earthen Ales Brewery and The Underground Cheese Company are just a few of the popular eating and drinking establishments.

On the premises is The Grand Traverse Commons Recreation and Natural Area — a 140-acre park with miles of unpaved trails around wooded hillsides, streams, meadows, and wetlands. We always do a short hike after a visit to the bakery and enjoy seeing the latest graffiti adorning the covered old water cistern at the top of the hill.

The Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails (TART) is one of the best urban trail systems in the state with eight multi-use trails and a crosstown bike trail that we have ridden on previous trips.

If you have not been to Traverse City lately, it is well worth the four-hour trek. You will be thrilled with all that the town has to offer.

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