“Let’s drive to Traverse City, Michigan this summer for an adventure.” Amanda, my wife, said to me earlier this summer. “My cousin lives there and raves about it. We can stay with them and explore the area.”
I’ll be honest, the minute I heard her idea, I wasn’t too excited. Why? I already live in the Midwest, and I love spending summer at our family lake cabin here in Minnesota. A trip to another Midwest destination interrupting cabin season sounded like a lot of work and money to experience the same mid-west summer lifestyle I’m enjoying here.
But in Amanda’s mind, she saw exciting and romantic fantasies of exploring new places, and seeing family members she really enjoys spending time with. But again, in my mind, I was dealing with a humbug attitude. I saw all of the stress of taking extended time away from work; the cost of traveling 626 miles to get there; and the ten hours in the car it would take us to drive from Minnesota; to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Then we’d have to head north and drive across the entire upper peninsula of Michigan, to get around Lake Michigan, and then finally cross the famous Mackinac Bridge and go south into the lower Michigan Peninsula to Traverse City, MI. Here’s a map showing the route we traveled:
But even though I was dragging my feet with a mopey attitude about going, Amanda acted like a persistent aggressive sales-person who didn’t stop pushing her desire to just jump in the car and go and think about everything later. (I often tell her if she could learn how to sell products as powerfully as she can sell me on her ideas, we’d be millionaires from her commissions in a couple of years! Ha.) She didn’t quit, and she finally convinced me to just shut up, get in the car, and go. A big part of building wealth is learning how to spend your money in healthy, responsible, happiness-bringing ways. You can’t take your money with you when you die, so make sure you find ways to enjoy your money along your journey through life. Personally, Amanda and I both enjoy finding hidden gems while traveling that don’t break our frugal bank.
Our Super Awesome Trip to Traverse City, Michigan.
In the end, we spent a total of 3 days there on a 5 day road trip, and honestly, we absolutely loved it and it really opened my eyes to how beautiful other places in the midwest are. It was like we found a little oasis in Michigan that is totally unique to the rest of the world, and I say “little” in jest, as it’s actually a huge area of interconnected bays, lakes, and sand dune beaches, being about 30 miles long in all, as you can see here:
One of the coolest and most surprising things about our drive there was how the water colors of the Great Lake Michigan changed the further into Michigan we traveled. This is what I mean: Being from Minnesota, and having lived in Wisconsin, I’ve only seen the cold, dark, and rocky personality of the great lakes. Lake Superior and the western side Lake Michigan next to Wisconsin is NOT an inviting place to swim or play in the water at all. But the further we drove into Michigan, the more in awe we were of all the welcoming colors of lake Michigan and the miles of sandy beaches. I was shocked the way the bright blue waters and white sand beaches, created an almost Carribien-turquoise blue in the Lake Michigan water. I’d never seen anything like this in all my years in the Midwest, and this was going to become a repetitive sight as we continued deeper into our trip. This is what I mean:
Another awe-inspiring highlight was finally seeing and crossing the Mackinac Bridge, which is the longest suspension bridge between to land masses in the western hemisphere, and connects the upper and lower Michigan Peninsulas. It’s amazing when you first see it rise above the forests of the upper peninsula and then pay the $4 toll to cross over it. The bridge is 5 miles long!!!! And the actual time you’re on it flies by because you’re so busy looking at the massive architecture and lake scenery around it. We’ll have to come back in future years when we finally own the RV in our dreams and spend a few days on the developed, but car-less Mackinac Island, which you can see from the bridge.
After another 3 hours driving south down the lower peninsula, we finally arrived to the outskirts of Traverse City. We were amazed by all the beautiful hilly vineyards, cherry orchards, and golf courses that we drove past. Being a golfer myself, I kept looking at all the greens and fairways along the highways and orchards, and saying: “I’d love to play that one, and that one, and that one.” By the time we’d passed more golf courses I wanted to play than I could count, I realized that an area so populated by so many beautiful golf courses meant one thing: There’s a large population of people who live here with large amounts of disposable income to spend on luxuries like golf. In short, I realized we were entering a rich person’s oasis in the middle of the mid-west.
We arrived to Amanda’s cousins nice home on the outskirts of Traverse City. They are our age, living similar entrepreneurial lifestyles, so we got along great together. Staying with locals also meant we had the benefit of being able to explore all of the best places and restaurants without having to be disappointed by any duds. I personally am not much of a “foodie” when I am home because I hate the high costs that come with eating out all the time. But the more financially free I become, the more I enjoy a good restaurant from time to time. These are the places we went that I’d highly recommend:
Pearl’s New Orleans Style Kitchen = I’ve never had authentic New Orleans Food before, but I loved it! Yum!
Frenchies Famous = Looks like a total dive on the outside, but on the inside they served one of the best breakfast platters and pastrami sandwiches I’ve ever had.
Hop Lot Brewing Company = One of the coolest outdoor BBQ pit/brew-houses I’ve ever been too. It reminded me of all the fun years I spent partying in concert campgrounds, listening to music around campfires outside. It was just a one of a kind place.
One cool/rainy day, we toured an old government mental asylum which had been de-commissioned in the 1980’s, and the building’s were turned into high-class shopping stores, condominiums, and restaurants now under the name of: The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. It was cool walking through the old mental asylum which looked like an old prison, and seeing pictures on the walls of what the place looked like back when it was a real asylum and also the decades after it was de-commissioned and abandoned.
Visiting the preserved Fish Town in Leland, was also super cool. I’m into history and fishing, so it was cool seeing how an old fishing town looked like and operated. It’s still a commercial fishing village, so you can actually go into shops where the live fish come in through the backdoor, get smoked, and sold out of the front door. While hanging out in Fish Town, I also noticed a bunch of “outdoorsy” looking people carrying backpacks and camping gear. Turns out there’s a ferry that brings hikers out to North and South Manitou Islands, where a lot of backpackers and hikers like to spend a few days totally detached from civilization. Being a former Eagle Scout who did 2 week-long backpacking trips in the mountains of Wyoming and New Mexico, it was something I’d totally like to do one day. Not this trip, but maybe the next.
But the real gem in Traverse City, is all the water, sand, and beaches you’re surrounded by constantly. It seems like you’re always surrounded by the brightest, bluest, most tropical-looking water that exists in the Midwest. It seems like you’re always next to the big, cold water of lake Michigan, or around inland lakes and rivers that create the Traverse City Bay Area. Having these excellent beaches made me want to stay there for at least a month of July and August, and just go lay on the hot sand for hours at a time and listen to the massive waves crash against the shore anytime I wanted. (That’s me in the distance trying to body-surf on the huge lake Michigan waves)
On Saturday morning we finally left, and got dressed up for a friend’s wedding in Green Bay, WI on the way home.
Ultimately, Amanda fell in love with the Traverse City, MI area, and now that we’re home, she’s already begun selling me spending a month or two there in the summer one day. Personally, I’m torn about an extended stay there. On one hand, it had almost everything I love to do: water, golf, biking, hiking, food, and good people. On the other hand, it was lacking the big-city feel I get here at home in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Even though I don’t go downtown often, I do like knowing there is a big city nearby that has all of the best concerts and sporting events constantly coming through town. That’s the one thing you won’t get living in a place like Traverse City full time.
In the end, Traverse City ranks as a very memorable, and very worthwhile place to adventure in and visit. It’s definitely worth your time to experience and see. It’s a hidden gem in the Midwest if you’re traveling through, or looking for a destination to explore. I’ll remember it like a magical dream beach vacation town hidden in the mid-west.
Simply put, it’s worth the trip and I look forward to the day we have our dream RV and can spend a month or two taking in the sounds, sights, flavors, and endless waves that roll off all the turquoise blue waters onto the perfect sandy beaches.
STUFF WE LOVE:
Personal Capital is a net-worth calculating tool that turns your finances into a puzzle that’s fun to solve. It’s free and makes monitoring your money easy.
Bluehost is how we started this blog. Launch yourself onto the internet. Your friends are out there. It’s an easy to start your blog today.