Highlights of the Traverse City Area

A panoramic view of Lake Michigan with the Empire Bluffs and North Bar Lake in the background, taken from the heights of the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Lake Michigan, Empire Bluffs and North Bar Lake from Sleeping Bear Dunes

Traverse City, its surrounding suburbs, and the Grand Traverse region thrive as a resort destination, a haven for retirees and a nurturing environment for small businesses. The population of Traverse City is only 15,479 (2019) but many of the county’s 94,000 residents (2020 estimate) live in subdivisions immediately adjacent to the city limits. Quaint villages abound across the region outside the urban/suburban Traverse City area. The Grand Traverse region includes Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau counties. Some UUCGT members commute up to an hour each way, but most live within 15-30 minutes of the building.

Traverse City is the economic and intellectual hub of northwest Michigan and sits at the base of Grand Traverse Bay, in the heart of the unique blend of fresh water and forested sand dunes that make up the Grand Traverse region. The area includes the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, and fruit and wine producing areas with numerous small resort and agricultural communities.  Politically, our region is conservative like many rural areas, but Traverse City is the liberal hotbed of Northwest Michigan with active support of civil rights for the LGBTQ community and other progressive issues.

Munson Medical Center is Traverse City’s large hospital, serving Northwest Michigan, with a strong presence in the treatment of cancer and cardiac health. In addition there is a strong medical community which attracts talented practitioners drawn to the Grand Traverse lifestyle. The region also boasts ample big box shopping opportunities while the vibrant downtown areas in Traverse City and regional villages include farm to table restaurants, micro breweries, wineries, bookstores and specialty shops. Cherry Capital is the excellent regional airport with connections to many major air transportation hubs.

The area boasts a rich cultural milieu. In fact, the Sept 30, 2020 Traverse Ticker www.traverseticker.com featured this report:

“Traverse City Is The Tenth Most Vibrant Arts City  Sept. 30, 2020

Traverse City has been named the tenth ‘Most Arts Vibrant Middle Size Community’ in the U.S. by SMU DataArts, a national center for arts research at Southern Methodist University. The sixth annual Arts Vibrancy Index ranks more than 900 communities across the country, ….and highlights the top 20 most arts-vibrant large cities in the U.S.

The report notes …. despite being one of the smaller cities in the medium-size category, Traverse City, MI, possesses a well-developed arts scene. The city is best known culturally for the Interlochen Center for the Arts, which hosts the Interlochen Arts Camp where student actors, artists, musicians, and dancers from around the world flock to spend the summer. Notable alumni include Josh Groban and Jewel. Interlochen Center is also home to the Interlochen Arts Festival, as well as some 750 concerts and theatrical productions held throughout the year. Several other theaters and auditoriums dot the landscape throughout the city, boasting a variety of musical and dramatic performances, including specializations in world music, acoustic music, and the blues. Other events include the Downtown Art Walks, the Traverse City Film Festival, and Paint Grand Traverse. Home to the City Opera House, built in 1891 and one of only six historically intact Victorian opera houses in the state. In addition to the performance series throughout the year, the Opera House also hosts the National Writers Series. Traverse City is filled with commercial and public galleries, as well as several museums and arts centers such as Crooked Tree Arts Center and The Dennos Museum, which recently undertook a 15,000-square-foot expansion, holds an extensive Inuit art collection.

The famous Inuit Art print of the Owl, a part of the Dennos collection.
Inuit Art: Owl
An interior view of part of the Inuit Art Collection of the Dennos Museum at NMC.
Dennos Museum Inuit Art Collection

Additionally in 2014 Traverse City established an Arts Commission, where public dollars are allocated annually toward public art programs in the city. In 2019, through a collaboration with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians, an exhibition of 19 murals was installed in a pedestrian tunnel to honor the Anishinabe ancestral connections to the region from an Indigenous perspective. Traverse City is ranked 10th on total compensation paid to arts and culture employees and is in the top 3% of communities for three of the four sub-measures that make up Arts Dollars.”  

The Arts Music Building of the world renown Interlochen Center for the Arts, Interlochen, MI
Interlochen Center for the Arts Music Building

The world renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts brings world class performers to the region for performances and interactions with full year and summer camp students and the local community. The Traverse City Film Festival brings films and filmmakers from around the world to Northern Michigan for the annual festival in late July to early August.  The organization also owns and operates two art theatres open year-around and run mostly by volunteers. There is also a 14 screen Cineplex, the Old Town Playhouse for community theatre,  and the Traverse Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Kevin Rhodes for the last 20 years.  The five-county region is home to many visual and musical artists, featured in numerous galleries, shops, musical entertainment venues and activities. Groups and individual entertainers and lecturers appear at Northwestern Michigan College (Milliken Auditorium) and the City Opera House.

The entrance to the Milliken Auditorium and Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC)
NMC’s Dennos Museum Center and Milliken Auditorium

NMC, the very first community college in the state of Michigan, was established in 1951 by a collaborative group of community volunteers, educators, business leaders, advocates and funders.  NMC provides a college community that adds its own mix of students, teachers and administrators to the fabric of the region.  The International Affairs Forum, founded by retired U.S. State Department diplomats 25 years ago, is closely aligned with NMC and now has its own paid Director.  Experienced and well-known speakers present monthly lectures September – June on a wide variety of timely global issues.

The entrance to Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City
Northwestern Michigan College

There is also a wide variety of quality educational and recreational opportunities available for youth and families. There are many outdoor activities like sailing and boating from area yacht clubs and marinas, kayaking, dirt and paved cycling trails, cross-country and downhill skiing. There is a large YMCA which is used by many in the community. Nearly 1000 Traverse City area youth bicycle to school through the Norte healthy community program.

With 350 small to medium manufacturers, this is an entrepreneurial region, more recently drawing attention as a high-tech hub. A July 2020 news edition of the Traverse Record-Eagle highlighted ways in which area businesses are pivoting during the pandemic and can be

Additional community and business resources of our region can be viewed  Finally recently featured “40 Under 40” young women and men employed in various businesses, who also find time to serve as non-profit volunteers and in area governments.  Their activities depict the many opportunities in this region for involvement.

The Community Gardens at Barns Park, showing the historical barns of the former Traverse City State Hospital.
The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park

The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park is an emerging horticultural and education center. Volunteer gardeners tend the 7-8 distinct gardens, which can be visited free by the public.  There is a gift shop and Docents are available for guided tours.  A paved labyrinth was installed on the property in 2019 and a Native Plant Healing Garden will be established with the help of area indigenous people.

In Spring of 2020 concerned citizens formed the Northwest Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force.  As the group evolves, so has the name to Northwest Michigan E3 – Educate, Elevate, and Engage.  Leaders have sponsored rallies in support of equal justice for BIPOC, are working in partnership with area law enforcement on public safety  improvements, and are providing Anti-Racism Training for White People in collaboration with Title Track. The fourth round of training is currently in session and has attracted hundreds of participants from the general public, law enforcement and other governmental agencies.

The Grand Traverse Region enjoys four distinct seasons, each with its own charm. The orchards contribute their marvelous array of spring blossoms, summer is incredible with its blend of forests, fields and sand dunes, always with the blue of Lake Michigan and hundreds of glacial lakes in the background. The Autumn color season is simply breathtaking. We do have real winter, with plenty of cold and snow and it takes a while to warm up in the spring.

We are blessed with a full four seasons, set amongst the lakes and hills of the Great Lakes country, with orchards and vineyards and forests and rivers and streams.


Looking west along Front Street, Traverse City, springtime with flowering trees
Springtime on Front Street, Downtown Traverse City 
Johnson's Orchard in full spring bloom, Old Mission Peninsula
Old Mission Orchard


A woman harvesting cherries on an Old Mission Peninsula farm.
Harvesting Cherries on Old Mission Peninsula
A Leelanau County vineyard with the Grand Traverse West Bay in the distance.
A Leelanau Vineyard
Dune climbers descending the 400 feet to Lake Michigan, with the Empire Bluffs in the distance.
Sleeping Bear Dune and Climbers on a Summer Day
An iconic view of the Sleeping Bear Dune across Lake Michigan and the Manitou Passage from the Empire Bluffs trail.
The Iconic View of Sleeping Bear from Empire Bluffs
A distant view of the Sleeping Bear Dune from a Lake Michigan beach.
Sleeping Bear Dune and Lake Michigan from Esch Road Beach


Brilliant Fall colors reflected in a secluded small lake in Northern Michigan.
Fall Color Reflections in a secluded lake in the Hiawatha National Forest
A country backroad and colorful birch trees showing brilliant fall colors in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Northwestern Michigan Back Road in Fall


The UUCGT church building after a winter snowfall.
And Yes, We Have Snow: UUCGT after a winter snow
A winter view of beach grass and snow across the largely frozen Good Harbor Bay with Pyramid Point in the distance.
Beech Grass and Snow, Good Harbor Bay, Leelanau County