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  • Writer's pictureDesirae-Haunted Traverse

Visiting During the Cherry Festival

Updated: Apr 19

Plan your visit and explore Traverse City during the National Cherry Festival July 1-8, 2023.

Let's get started planning your vacation during the National Cherry Festival held in Traverse City, Michigan!

Hello! Des here, your local tour guide on the Historical Ghost Tour in Downtown Traverse City. Every year while walking the streets hosting my guests and squeezing in every ounce of spirited fun, I see some observations that visitors to the area could sure use.

So here are my tip, tricks, and things to do during the National Cherry Festival that are a must-see and do! I hope this is helpful when planning your visit during the Cherry Festival week here in Traverse City Michigan.

Tip 1 - Book Your Hotel, Airbnb, or Campsite Now!

It is a busy time for your room providers understandably. When planning your visit to the 97th National Cherry Festival. Plan your stay first. The NCF is hosting some big music acts like Flo Rida, a blazing air show with the Thunderbirds, and family fun events. This amazing entertainment attracts many guests to the area and for good reason!

Tip 2 - Arrive early for the Airshow!

The Air Show is the first weekend of the NCF.No need to worry about what is the best spot, if you make your way down to sit along West Grand Traverse Bay, you are sure to see the planes in action. You can choose to be right on the beach to the west of the Festival's Open Space or be adventurous and lose the big crowd by sitting on the south side of Grandview Parkway in the grassy areas there.

My local tip is to just make sure to give yourself plenty of time to find parking and a spot to sit, pack sunblock, and a cooler full of snacks and refreshments. Also, keep a look out for the Coast Guard Ship parked north of the Open Space Festival Area. This serves as a point of reference for the pilots. Think of the Coast Guard Ship like it is the center stage at a theater only for the airshow instead. The planes use this to line up their flight paths.

If you do have time, walk to the open space (the heart of the festival), grab yourself some food from the local restaurants, grab a beer at the beer tent and give yourself some time to shop at the local vendors as well.

There are food vendors such as pretzels and ice cream that travel along West Grand Traverse Bay along the beach. Keep a sharp eye out for those portable snacks. And of course, the local kids will be out to sell cold soda and water for all the big events during the week. (This is a very affordable option for beverages in Traverse City during the National Cherry Festival:)

"The Cherry Festival has so many lasting memories for me growing up. I wouldn't miss it for the world. My favorite memory is the year my father planned to win us the Guinness Record Largest Cherry Pie. And we did it!" – Desirae, Tour Guide Haunted Traverse Tours

Tip 3 - It's about the Food, am I right?

At the Open Space (the space full of festival activities right off of the shores of West Grand Traverse Bay), you can start out by purchasing a cup of sweet cherries. From there, you can visit the restaurant's booths for a delicious lunch or dinner.

As a local, you will find me grabbing Chinese from China Fair and heading off to the BINGO Tent!

There are some food trucks on site too such as elephant ears and turkey legs..yum!

Downtown has some great sit-down restaurants, if you are looking to keep a little out of the crowds but stay in the vicinity of downtown Traverse City check out the following places.

  • Sleders Restaurant (burgers and fish fryes)

  • Bubbas Burgers (Amazing Fries and a variety of burgers)

  • Two Slices at the Coinslot (Eastern Coast Pizza)

  • Pangeas Pizza (Eat on the Roof with a view of the bay and Open Space)

Tip 4 - Need some Air Conditioning and Rest

Visiting the National Cherry Festival can have you out in the sun for lengthy times. If you need some quiet, rest, and cool down, visit the two theaters in the heart of downtown Traverse City-the State Theater and Bijou by the Bay! Enjoy an affordable movie, cool AC, and delicious popcorn to take a rest in the hottest part of the afternoon. The great part about the Bijou by the Bay is it is just a short walk to the east from the Open Space. The State Theater is located on Front Street pulling you further away from the center of the festivities.

Tip 5 - Parades and Fireworks!

There are two parades. The Consumers Energy Community Royale Parade and the DTE Energy Foundation Cherry Royale Parade. The parade routes can get packed on Front Street by the parades' audiences. If you can only get to one, I would recommend the Cherry Royale Parade held on July 8th. This parade will have the winning floats as determined during the Royale Parade held on July 6th (The Royale Parade is where you are going to see all the local school floats go by).

When picking out a parade spot. Come with a blanket, chairs, sunblock, and cash to buy treats sold along the route. This local would advise you to think further along the parade route and even to the very end of it. Easier to get in and out with your vehicle and pack up and be on your way!

For the Fireworks on July 4th and the Finale Fireworks on July 8, grab a spot similar to what I recommended for viewing the airshow. Traffic can be thick after it concludes, so plan to stick around after and visit the Open Space or Arnold's Amusement Park located right across from the Open Space in the heart of Downtown Traverse City.

Get Ready for Lots of Cherries, Sun, and Fun!

I hope these helpful tips, tricks, and things to do get your planning off to a great start. Here is the website to see the whole list of activities unfolding during this festive week including a volleyball tournament, cornhole tournament, and Ultimate Air Dogs (Fly Fido! Fly!).

So remember, the lowest-cost beverages are sold by the local kids raising money for themselves. Food galore is to be had by all the food trucks and local restaurants found at the Open Space. Give yourself plenty of time to find parking (try to shuttle in if you can) and to find a spot to view the airshows, parades, and fireworks. Be sure to grab that cup of sweet cherries too! And have fun! Thanks for visiting my hometown! Oh and if you want to come out for a tour with me, we can talk about the spirits of Traverse City too! ~Desirae Haunted Traverse Tour Company Owner and Guide.

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