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Best Activities and Things to Do in Traverse City with Kids

Traverse City with kids is a blast if you’re looking for the best Midwest destination! Nestled on the banks of Lake Michigan, it’s a great place for the whole family to explore year-round.

Proclaimed as the Cherry Capital of the World, Traverse City is known for its stunning cherry orchards and is home to the National Cherry Festival.

It’s also a great place to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities! One of our favorite things to do is visit the beautiful beaches that benefit from the calm waters of the Great Lakes. Nearby, Sleeping Bear Dunes is great for heart-racing climbs and stunning views.

Don’t miss out on the local parks, perfect for picnics and playtime. The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is a must-visit, packed with interactive exhibits. After a full day outdoors, you can cool off with a sweet treat at one of the many local ice cream shops!

Best Things to Do with Kids in Traverse City Michigan - Kids Are A Trip

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You Can Visit Traverse City with Kids Year-Round

Traverse City is a perfect place for family-friendly activities throughout the year. This four-season adventure destination offers plenty of fun things to do throughout the year.

Summer is arguably the prettiest season, with opportunities for water sports like kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding. The great outdoors calls for days spent on the lake and exploring local parks!

The surrounding area offers history and culture, as well as robust dining and craft beverage scenes. Wine lovers won’t want to miss the nearby Mission Peninsula for some kid-friendly wine touring and berry picking in the summer.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Michigan

Fall is a favorite for many, with its stunning foliage rivaling New England’s. Families love visiting the area’s local farms for apple picking, hayrides, and navigating through a corn maze. It’s a perfect place for autumn adventures.

Winter in Traverse City is stunning, drawing snow sports enthusiasts for skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. When the landscape transforms into a winter wonderland, it feels like the North Pole.

Spring weather can be unpredictable, but there are plenty of indoor family-friendly activities. The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is a fantastic option for a rainy day, offering interactive exhibits that engage kids. Or you can get a crash course on local culture by visiting the Music House Museum.

Best Family Things to Do in Traverse City

Explore Downtown Traverse City

Take the Family to Cherry Republic

In my opinion, you can’t visit Traverse City without a stop at Cherry Republic, located in the heart of town. This local soda shop is the best place to find a variety of cherry products!

The Family Tasting Room at Cherry Republic is a hit with kids, offering soda taps and a fun “bartender” experience where children can sample homemade sodas. Parents will appreciate that Cherry Republic’s sodas are made with pure Michigan beet sugar and are caffeine-free.

Downtown Traverse City Michigan
Photo credit: Traverse City Tourism

Aside from sodas, Cherry Republic offers a wide variety of cherry products, from jams and sauces to chocolates, dried cherries, and even wine! Whether you’re a cherry enthusiast or just looking for a unique dining experience, Cherry Republic is a delightful spot to explore the flavors of Traverse City.

Visit a Family-Friendly Restaurant

Downtown Traverse City offers a range of family-friendly dining options with kid-friendly menus and a warm atmosphere. Here are a few of my favorite restaurant options when visiting Traverse City with kids:

  • Rare Bird Brewpub: This spot is known for its casual vibe, a delicious mix of pub fare and fusion dishes, and handcrafted beers. Families can enjoy a casual meal together while trying out unique brews for the adults.
  • Slabtown Burgers: A favorite among locals and visitors alike, Slabtown Burgers serves up mouthwatering burgers made with locally sourced ingredients. Their menu includes options for kids, making it a great choice for families. There’s outdoor seating for mild-weather days.
  • J & S Hamburg South: This family-owned restaurant has been a Traverse City staple for decades. They offer classic diner food, including burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast options, served in a cozy and welcoming environment.

Enjoy a Beach Day at Clinch Park Beach

Clinch Park Beach is located just a bit from the Downtown area, on the West Grand Traverse Bay.  The park boasts grassy lawns, paved walking paths, bike rentals, and a pavilion with restrooms and concessions during the summer. Or you can head to the boat ramp to rent kayaks and canoes.

Clinch Park Beach Traverse City water fountain
Photo credit: Meg Bowen Photography

The beautiful beach at Clinch Park is known for its shallow waters and soft sandbar. There’s also a splash pad for younger kids.

Adjacent to Clinch Park Beach is West End Beach, with its volleyball courts and picnic tables. Or head to the quieter Bryant Park Beach. This smaller beach is great for families, with a playground, shade trees, and free parking.

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

A great thing to do in Traverse City with kids is explore the Grand Traverse Commons. It’s a very unique and fascinating destination in Traverse City, housed in the historic buildings of the former Northern Michigan Asylum!

This beautifully restored area features stunning architecture, expansive grounds, and a variety of activities for visitors of all ages. One of the highlights is the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, where you can explore boutique shops, art galleries, and all kinds of places to eat.

There’s a popular farmers market where you can pick up fresh local produce and handmade goods.

Plus, the Commons hosts regular events throughout the year, like yoga classes, outdoor concerts, festivals, and more! You can take guided tours to learn about the history and architecture of the old asylum buildings.

While you’re here, you can also enjoy a short hike along well-marked trails at the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area. It’s fun to explore the wooded areas and open fields of the Commons, with fun stops like the Hippie Tree!

The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park

Near the Grand Traverse Commons is another site that might interest nature lovers: The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park. The botanical gardens are free to visit and boast 25 acres with different themed gardens, educational programs, and a gift shop.

Don’t miss an opportunity to take free garden tours via a golf cart. Families will love all the kid-friendly things to do here! Keep an eye out for fairy houses and make sure to visit the Traverse City Labyrinth.

If you’re looking for a place to stay nearby, it’s right around the corner from the Great Wolf Lodge! This family-centric Great Wolf Lodge resort is packed with thrilling water slides, an indoor pool for year-round fun, different outdoor pools, and even an adult-only hot tub for the parents.

Moomers Ice Cream

For some of the best ice cream in the USA, take a 15-minute drive outside of Traverse City to Moomers Ice Cream along N Long Lake Road. The iconic ice cream shop is known for its farm-fresh ice cream and delicious treats made right here.

It’s part of a family-owned dairy farm that produces the creamy milk used in their ice cream. Founded in 1998 by the Plummer family, Moomers has become a beloved destination for locals and visitors alike.

When you visit, you can sit inside and enjoy the friendly vibes or head out to the deck to watch cows grazing next door. The ice cream shop makes 150 different flavors, with 20 available daily!

Be sure to try a local favorite, like Cherry Moobilee, made with local black cherries, fudge swirl, and brownie pieces. Or pick up some fresh milk from the Moomers dairy farm next door. Pro tip: look for Moomers ice cream by the half gallon at local grocers.

See the Traverse City Pit Spitters Play

If you’re going to be in Traverse City during the summer and want to experience some local culture, head just south of town to see the Traverse City Pit Spitters play! The Pit Spitters are a collegiate summer baseball team known for their electric games and family-friendly atmosphere. 

You can enjoy the thrill of baseball in a relaxed outdoor setting at the beautiful Turtle Creek Stadium. The team’s mascot, Spike, will keep everyone entertained. And there are always special promotions and kid-friendly activities during each game.

East Grand Traverse Bay

Traverse City State Park

Traverse City State Park is located just east of downtown Traverse City. This beautiful and popular park is ideal if you’re looking for a great outdoor space near the main drag of TC.

If you want to go camping, this is the place. The park features cabin, RV, and tent camping campgrounds, open May 1st through early November. Guests can also enjoy amenities like dumpsters, public washrooms, a playground, and electrical hook-ups (but no water hookups).

Traverse City East Bay sunset

It’s also a convenient location to jump onto the TART trail system and get in some hiking with the kids (more on that below!). The park’s beach on the shores of East Grand Traverse Bay is perfect for a beach day.

Keep in mind that the park and campgrounds are close to the airport, and you will hear planes landing and taking off regularly.

Pirate’s Cove Adventure Park

Next to Traverse City State Park, there’s also the Pirate’s Cove Adventure Park! This pirate-themed park features mini-golf courses, go-karts, bumper boats, and more.

The kids will love exploring the pirate ship playground and testing their skills on the zipline. But the best part is the 2 18-hole putt-putt golf courses that are great for both kids and parents looking for a bit of nostalgia.

Admission to the park is free and you pay per ride or game. For the best time, come during the summer months. While the park is open year-round, some attractions close during the off-season. 

Hike the Traverse Area Recreation Trail

The Traverse Area Recreation Trail, or TART trail system, offers over 10 miles of urban trails through the greater Traverse City area. It stretches from Acme Township to Bates Road in eastern TC.

Families with young children will love the paved and well-maintained paths that make it easy for strollers and smaller bikes. The trail weaves through the region’s lush forests and the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Along the way, there are plenty of spots to stop for a picnic, play in a park, or enjoy the view!

One of the best places to get on the trail in Traverse City is at the Clinch Park trailhead. This trailhead gives you convenient access to the trail and connects to both the Leelanau Trail and Boardman Lake Trail.

Spend the Day in Elk Rapids

While the charming village of Elk Rapids rightly deserves its own visit, it’s also a great day trip from Traverse City with kids! You’ll love the laid-back, beachy vibes of this small town nestled between East Grand Traverse Bay and Elk Lake.

When you visit, start with a stroll along River Street. where you can go into gift shops and check out local cafes.

Elk Rapids sunflowers barn
Photo credit: Meg Bowen Photography

And a visit to the Elk Rapids Day Park is a must for families! You can enjoy a sandy beach, picnic areas, and a wooded area with walking trails. Plus, there’s the Walk of Art Sculpture Park, an outdoor art gallery where you can explore fun art installations.

You can spend the day fishing at Dam Beach & Fishing Park. Or if you love kayaking and canoeing, there’s a great rental shop on River Street (Bayfront Beach and Bike). Just a short walk away, Rotary Park has a canoe launch.

West Grand Traverse Bay

Play at the Great Lakes Children’s Museum

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum, located near Cedar Lake on the West End of Traverse City, is a local favorite for those with kids between 6 months and 10 years old.

This museum offers a variety of interactive exhibits that engage children in hands-on learning about the Great Lakes and their environment. Kids can explore water tables, experiment with boat building, and discover the science behind waves and currents.

With a dedicated toddler area, the Great Lakes Children’s Museum is perfect if you have multiple ages. There are also special programs and activities scheduled throughout the week, including story times and craft sessions that are free with no reservation required!

Visit Suttons Bay

Another adorable village to visit just north of Traverse City is Suttons Bay. It’s a beautiful, friendly place with plenty to see and do.

One of the best things about Suttons Bay is to check out some of the top-notch restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, and cute shops around town! The area is also popular during the summer for its farmers’ market and local wineries and tasting rooms.

Suttons Bay Beach is a highlight for families. The protected beach means you can enjoy shallow, calm water, as well as a picnic area, playgrounds right on the beach, and grassy lawns.

And if you want to jump on the Leelanau Trail, this is a great place to do so, with a trailhead just off downtown Suttons Bay.

Near Traverse City

If you’re willing to drive 30 minutes to an hour outside of Traverse City with kids, here are some more popular Michigan destinations that you don’t want to miss out on:

Visit Historic Fishtown

History lovers will want to plan a visit to historic Fishtown in Leland, on the Leelanau Peninsula. Fishtown is a charming collection of fishing shanties, docks, and smokehouses that date back almost 200 years!

Fishtown Michigan
Photo credit: Megan Renae Studios

Walking through the last non-commercial fishing harbor in Michigan feels like a living history museum. There are gift shops as well as dockside diners where you can try some delicious fresh fish.

If you like to fish, you can also book fishing charters on Lake Michigan through local companies.

Crystal Mountain

About 45 minutes south of Traverse City is Crystal Mountain, a fantastic year-round destination for the entire family!

Crystal-Mountain-Waterpark-Michigan-with-kids

As a top Michigan ski resort, it offers excellent slopes for skiing and snowboarding in the winter. When the snow melts, the fun doesn’t stop—Crystal Mountain transforms into a summer paradise with an outdoor water park, a summer concert series, and plenty of opportunities to hike, golf, and much more.

The resort also features a variety of lodging options, dining, and spa services.

Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Traverse City and Sleeping Bear Dunes have become almost synonymous in recent years. Since it’s only about 30 miles from Traverse City, a day trip to see the breathtaking Sleeping Bear Dunes is a must!

The most popular thing to do at the dunes is climb them, but with bluffs reaching 450 feet, it’s not for the faint of heart! Avid hikers should plan on taking at least a few hours to make the 4-mile out-and-back hike. Leave your shoes in the car and bring water, no matter what time of year you visit.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Traverse City with kids

When you reach the beach on the other side, take some time to search for Petoskey stones on the beach! (Just don’t remove them; it’s illegal)

Even if you don’t hike the dunes, you can drive to a viewpoint at the western end of the park. Or explore the National Lakeshore’s fascinating history, 100 miles of hiking trails, northern forests, inland lakes, and abandoned farmsteads.

Afterward, swing by Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor for a tasty meal! It’s just one of the many kid-friendly restaurants in the area.

Spend the Day at the Mission Point Lighthouse

If you love lighthouses, the Mission Point Lighthouse is a must-visit! With 129 lighthouses, Michigan has the most lighthouses of any state in the US. Only 39 are open to the public, and this is one of them.

Located at the northern tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, the Mission Point Lighthouse is just a short drive from Traverse City. Built between 1860 and 1870, this historic lighthouse once guided ships through the dangerous waters of Grand Traverse Bay.

It stayed lit until 1933 and today functions as a museum that tells the story of the area’s maritime history. And for a small fee, you can also climb the tower for panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding landscape.

Old Mission Point Lighthouse

The Mission Point Lighthouse sits in the middle of Old Mission Point Park. It’s open year-round and features miles of hiking trails that are popular for nature walks, cycling, and treks to the beach.

And if you’re able to walk down a flight of wooden stairs, there’s also the beach at Mission Point Lighthouse. It’s excellent for beachcombing and just enjoying the natural beauty of the Old Mission Peninsula.

There’s a sandy beach with shallow waters for swimming in the summer, as well as a swing set nearby!

See the Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Traverse City sits at the base of two peninsulas: the Leelanau Peninsula and the Old Mission Peninsula. At the very tip of Leelanau Peninsula, within Leelanau State Park, is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. It’s about an hour’s drive from Traverse City.

Built in 1852, the historic lighthouse has been restored as a museum. From the end of March through October, it’s open daily for visitors, while more limited hours are held the rest of the year.

You can take a self-guided tour through the lighthouse’s living quarters, preserved to look as they did when the keeper and his family lived there in the 1800s. A short but steep ladder on the upper level leads to the top for views of the state park at the bay.

There’s a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs or find out about educational activities just for kids that will keep them engaged as you visit the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. And the state park also has campgrounds and a great playground for the kids.

Looking for other Midwest vacations? Don’t miss our Chicago bucket list and French Lick with kids.