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  • Writer's pictureDesirae-Haunted Traverse

Kid-Friendly Guide of Things To Do This Summer in the Traverse City Area

Updated: Apr 29


Traverse City, sun, and a family on a vacation mission for a perfect destination to accommodate every family member's fun-vacay wishes. If you are bringing your family for a visit to fun-filled Traverse City, Michigan, great decision! Now let Haunted Traverse Tours and myself, Dez a local born and raised, help you plan your visit to Traverse City for your family. Traverse City has many things to do with family up here in Northern Michigan to fill your summertime, sun-soaked days.


Some Kid-Friendly Tour Options


Here are some pre-organized Traverse City things to do with the family in the tour category to help take some burden off of your vacation planning this summer. These tours are all chosen as things to do with kids and family in Traverse City, Michigan.



The Traverse City Beach Scene


Grand Traverse Bay is an arm of Lake Michigan, but the GT Bay is like a bowl, when the winds are just right, the waters stay warmer than if you were to go swimming elsewhere on Lake Michigan.

With a freshwater, interior lake, or river no more than 7 miles from any location in Michigan, it also means that there are many lakes, parks, and beaches to choose from! This is why the State of Michigan and Traverse City are popular summer vacation destinations.


A Kid-Friendly Guide of Things To Do This Summer in the Traverse City Area is helpful for planning your family vacation to the area. Here are my top suggestions as a local for a beach summer activity:


Beach in Traverse City Michigan
Clinch Park West Grand Traverse Bay


West Grand Traverse Bay's Clinch Park: Sand, sun, and within walking distance from downtown Traverse City. Parking is nearby and mostly metered (the meters accept credit cards).


With kids in tow, I would choose the Beach to the East of the Open Space Park, but there is another beach to the west of the Open Space Park as well. In between these two beaches is Clinch Park. This park has a water splash pad, public restrooms, a shallow beach swimming area, and a shop that sells snacks. The hiking and biking TART Trail passes right through it as well.


A boating ramp is located near Clinch Park Beach for easy access to the nautical fun West Grand Traverse Bay has to offer.


If the family wants some pizza, there are two pizza places right in the heart of downtown Traverse City. Milk & Honey ice cream shop located right on Front Street may offer a cool respite from the heat of summer. This ice cream shop is a local favorite. But if you see businesses advertising Moomer's Ice Cream, I would not pass that opportunity up if you and your family are ice cream lovers.


To get to Downtown Traverse City, The family will just need to cross Grandview Parkway, which proves easy with a pedestrian tunnel located underneath the road, and it is a short 5-minute walk to the storefront-lined Front Street.


But this brings me to the downside. Do not expect quiet at this beach. A busy road parallels the beach with some accompanying traffic noise. But if the whole family is busy splashing in the waves on their outdoor adventures, it probably won't even be noticed.






Traverse City State Park Beach: This park and beach is located just a few minutes east of Downtown Traverse City. Parking is right there on site for ease of access. The water is shallow, with a playground, picnic area, and public restrooms.


Vendors find their way to this area as well. We have a sauna business that is set up at this location. A recreation gear rental business is on site. Other recreation rental companies can deliver easily to this site as well. So go ahead and rent a bouncing float or oversized pink flamingo float for some family fun on East Grand Traverse Bay.


The reason why it is a top choice is because it has a children's playground and shallow waters for swimming. This author particularly loves the views of parasailing on East Grand Traverse Bay, a popular mini putt-putt course, Pirates' Cove is within a short drive too! Grill out with the kids in Traverse City or order pizza and use a food delivery service that will have your hot food delivered right to this location.


This beach is next to US-31 so there is some traffic to contend with the serenity of the beach-going experience. But the East Bay arm of Lake Michigan offers incredible blue-green waters, memorable sunsets, and views of the fun unfolding upon its whitecap waters.


East Bay Park: This park and beach is located just a few minutes off of US-31 so the setting is less vehicle traffic and more great views of the boats on East Grand Traverse Bay facing East. The tall Grand Traverse Resort tower can be seen in the distance. Parking is right there on site for ease of access. The water is shallow, with a small play area for children, a picnic area with grills, and public restrooms.


The beach is smaller in size than my other two choices but makes my list for the quiet, views, shade from the tall trees in the area, and amenities found at this beach location. These features are perfect for a beachy-themed thing to do with family while visiting Traverse City.


The reason why it is a top choice is because it has a children's playground and shallow waters for swimming. This author particularly loves the views of the parasailing on East Grand Traverse Bay.


Your local author finds this particular beach to be my personal favorite in the summertime and may suggest that rock hounds visit this beach as Petoskey Stones (our state stone) have been known to be found here. Happy hunting my Rock Hounds! Parents, have the camera ready when your kids find a cherished Petoskey Stone!



This outdoor adventure, in the surrounding area of Traverse City, is less than a 1-hour drive to get to, but it is well worth the drive! And is at the top of my list for a Kid-Friendly Guide of Things To Do This Summer in the Traverse City Area. 


The family will have the opportunity to enjoy outdoor adventures like partaking in short hikes on one of many scenic trails found in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park. The dune climb may be a challenge the kids will want to get an up-close encounter with as they climb and roll back down the dunes.


The Native American legend of how the dunes and the two Manitou Islands formed will appeal to a child's curiosity and sense of wonder. Hint: The Sleeping Bear Dune Legend is about a mother and her two cubs trying to escape a fire in Wisconsin by swimming across Lake Michigan.


The scenic views will appeal to the entire family while providing picture-perfect moments to be captured. The protected landscapes provide up-close encounters with the serenity of nature and wildlife.


Kids can play on the beach, explore the museum in the park, or shop the day away in small villages like Glen Arbor, Suttons Bay, or Northport located on the Leelanau Peninsula. Glen Arbor is the nearest village to the Sleeping Bear Dunes.


This author might suggest concluding the day with an old-fashioned drive-in movie at the nearby Cherry Bowl Drive-in in Grawn, Michigan.




KID-FRIENDLY Summer Movies at the State Theater


Fun things happen at the family-friendly and budget-friendly State Theater and its sister theater, The Bijou. Stop on in if the weather if it gets too hot or rainy for an afternoon movie.


If you have a Saturday morning available on your vacation itinerary, for $.50/ticket, a Children's Matinee movie plays weekly. This is a great, budget-friendly stop on your adventures here in Traverse City.

The TART Trail and Leelanau Trail


The city has paved trails that spread all across Traverse City and into Leelanau County. Perfect for a short hike, renting some bikes, and going on an adventure.


My favorite part of my hikes on these trails is exploring the Solar System planets that are located at a comparable ratio to how they exist in our universe.


Bike on the Trails


There are several bike companies to choose from that can organize your experience. With easy equipment drop off and pick up options. Here are some of my recommendations.


Northern Michigan Mini Golf Putt- Putt Experience: Pirate's Cove


Summer activities should always include some light-hearted competition with family. My family loves the layout of this course. The design and ambiance of Pirates Cove beckons its guests to feel like they are really on a pirate ship. The design and theme of this mini golf course are a lot of family fun!


Zoom! Zoom! on Billy Bones Race Track Go-Carts. Bump your way to treasures with the Bumper Boats. Finish your visit in Blackbeard's Den Game Room.


Explore Fishtown




A non-profit society preserves the historical setting known as Fishtown in Leland, Michigan. This active fishing village is going to provide many opportunities for a family visiting this small village on what life is truly like for fishermen on Lake Michigan.


My favorite part of Fishtown's Historic District is the tiki huts right next to the dam. What a view! And the perfect picture spot for a family.


Pack your swimwear and gear, beaches can be found in the area as well. With some fun, family dining opportunities too. Nearby is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse (There is a small State Park fee to access this lighthouse).


It is a 40-minute drive from Traverse City, but well worth it. Just put in Google Maps, Leland, Michigan, and your adventure begins.



In Northern Michigan, along the stretch of the lakeshores are hundreds of lighthouses. The Mission Point Lighthouse is located on the Old Mission Peninsula. Mission Peninsula is an arm of land that stretches north from Traverse City Michigan into the Grand Traverse Bay. Essentially splitting our Bay into two parts, East and West Grand Traverse Bay. For reference, the locals simplify this to just East and West Bay.


Mission Point Lighthouse rests at the very northern tip of Old Mission Peninsula and just falls short of sitting on the 45th parallel that spans the globe. The same 45th parallel that moves through France and the wine country there. Enlightening our reader on why Northern Michigan is so well known for our wine production as well. We sit in the perfect climate and season for growing tasty grapes, cherries, and apples.


Visiting this lighthouse is a great addition to your summer activities on your vacation. The lighthouse is geared toward families to explore the beaches, climb the lighthouse, and visit the museum and gift shop. The kids will love hearing the local stories of lighthouse keepers of yore and their haunting tales.


The drive out to Mission Point is one of the more scenic drives in the outer areas of Traverse City and offers great scenic pull-offs to capture sunsets and vistas of both West and East Bay. This author may suggest, Dinner at the Jolly Pumpkin. You can ask about Genevieve, the resident spirit, reported to be haunting this location...or get the other kind of spirits here after a long day with the family.


Make a Splash at the Traverse City's Indoor Water Playground: The Great Wolf Lodge


Northern Michigan has a family-friendly water park and hotel located just a few minutes from town. A 38,000 square feet, heated waterpark full of fun for the family. Plus an assortment of family daily events put on by the fun-loving staff. I love watching the kids explore the Magiquest immersive game where they get their wizard on! The waterpark has day passes too which makes The Great Wolf Lodge an easy addition to your vacation itinerary-even if you don't stay at this location.






The Music House Museum is a not-for-profit organization and educational facility and is the perfect attraction for the whole family to enjoy. One of the ten best reasons to visit Michigan's lower Peninsula by Forbes Magazine.


A unique collection of instruments is to be explored on the former site of the Stiffler Farm in Williamsburg (a 20-minute drive east of Traverse City). Guided tours are available but the big draw is the Amaryllis Organ. A musical piece not to be missed during the visit trust me the size alone will make it hard to miss.


Get ready for some childlike wonder at the Butterfly House. The Butterfly House is located in the surrounding area of Traverse City. If you are starting out in the heart of Traverse City, the drive will take you out to Williamsburg, a 20-minute drive from Traverse City.


If you plan your itinerary right, you could visit both the Butterfly House and the Music House Museum in one day. Both are easily accessible, as these two attractions are located only minutes from each other when driving.


The admission rates are sure to meet a family-friendly budget. $12/Adult and $8/child with 3 and under free.



This museum is a hands-on experience with topics geared toward school-aged children and is a perfect thing to do for a family any time of the year, even in summertime.


Kids will explore and learn in this thoughtfully laid out museum that challenges children to invite curiosity. To invite curiosity is to create engagement in a child. This engagement ultimately will have the Great Lakes Children's Museum providing lasting, lifelong memories for the family.


The admission rates are sure to meet a family-friendly budget. $9/person ages 1 and up.


Kid Friendly Restaurants


Camp Critter Bar and Grille at Great Wolf Lodge- Casually family dining with a flare for paw prints on waffles. Open for all meals as dine-in or buffet style.


Bob Evans-Chosen for its vicinity to many hotels on East Grand Traverse Bay and its budge-friendly, American dish menu.


Cracker Barrel- A pick for a family that wants to sit on the porch and play checkers in rocking chairs. Breakfasts are served all day and the family budget won't break the bank here.


Big Boy- A mix of 1950s diner and American dishes. Kids are provided crayons and a coloring book when dining here.


Sleder's Restaurant-It does have a bar, but it is the oldest operating restaurant in the entire State of Michigan. With all the unique decor hanging around, the ambiance of the place is hard to replicate. I love the menu. It has a variety of American dishes and it is not pressing on the budget. Stop on in for the Friday Night Fish Fry!


Kid Friendly Hotels


Traverse City has a variety of hotels, resorts, and spas. I chose some of my favorites as well as some my guests through the years have recommended.


Great Wolf Lodge- Indoor Water Park all year round and family suites. Dining on site and many family events daily.


Cherry Tree Inn & Suites- This property is at a great location in Traverse City. Located on the shore of East Grand Traverse Bay. This author chose it for its price, shoreline access, and indoor pool.


Tamarack Lodge- This property is at a great location right on the shore of East Grand Traverse Bay. This author chose it for its kitchenette, stacked washer/dryer, and small patio.


Dream Palace- My dream stay house rental in Traverse City. If I needed to stay in Traverse City, this is the fully loaded with amenities country home to do it at. It's quiet in the country but close enough to all the action in Traverse City. Comes with a game room, outdoor fireplace and hot tub. Plenty of space for outdoor family fun.


Conclusion


Traverse City provides so many things to do with the family. When you visit all around the area every turn is an adventure waiting to be explored. The Traverse City area is full of nature, water recreation, shopping, and organized fun for the entire family.

With so many summer activities geared toward family, parents may have a hard time choosing which ones to do. But don't worry, just follow this local's suggestions and your vacation will be full of fun, sun soaked memories that last for years to come.


Thank you for coming to visit my hometown in beautiful Northern Michigan. Enjoy your stay!


~Dez

Tour Owner of Haunted Traverse Tours


Frequently Asked Questions


Is the Historical Ghost Lantern Tour children appropriate?


I have been operating my ghost tours for over 7 years now. I have yet to have a parent indicate to me that the tour was too scary for their child. I believe I strike the right mix between spooky and fun.


What is there to do in case of a rainy day?


Great Question: Here is my family's go-to list of things to do, for indoor activities on a summer, rainy day in Traverse City, Michigan.

  • Catch a movie in the heart of downtown Traverse City in an art deco-designed old-fashioned movie theater called the State Theater. The prices will not shock the family budget, especially if you attend the Children's Matinee held every Saturday morning. Tickets start at just $.50.

  • The Dennos Museum may have a family friend exhibition. Always a fun visit even when it's not raining.

  • The Music Museum, The Butterfly House, and The Great Lakes Children's Museum are all indoor attractions.

  • Let's Bowl, Laser Tag, Arcade, and more at two spots in Traverse City.

  • On the east side of Traverse City, I would recommend going to Lucky Jacks.

  • On the west side of Traverse City, I would recommend going to Incredible Mos.


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