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VOL. 129 | NO. 195 | Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Wiedower

Lance Wiedower

Five Reasons to Consider Traverse City

By Lance Wiedower

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Here are a few rules: American beach vacations must take place in Florida, wine getaways in Napa, snow adventures in Colorado, and leaf-viewing excursions in New England.

If that’s what you think, think again. In fact, if you’re looking for a year-round destination that features all of these activities and more, you can find it in and around Traverse City, Mich.

If you’re like me, you might have to look at a map to figure out where Traverse City is located (Northwest Michigan, on Lake Michigan’s gorgeous Grand Traverse Bay). And when I read articles comparing the beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to the picturesque Caribbean, I had a hard time buying it.

But after experiencing Traverse City, I’m on board with the hype. Here, my family and I discovered a beautiful spot to enjoy beach time in the summer – in a place where road signs warn drivers of snow mobile crossings. We found gently rolling hills dotted with cherry trees and vineyards, and the perfect spot for a picturesque autumn drive.

If that’s not enough, there’s a wine and food scene that equals any in the United States. Maybe Traverse City, Mich., isn’t on your radar. But these five reasons might lead you to reconsider:

Food: Traverse City, referred to as the Cherry Capital of the World, is a great foodie destination. It’s been recognized for its great restaurants by numerous publications, from the Chicago Tribune to USA Today. A couple of years ago, Bon Appetit magazine named it one of the top five foodie towns in America. Celebrity chef Mario Batali and his family spend summers in Traverse City, taking in the area’s excellent farm-to-table cuisine. Over the past year I’ve eaten at some fabulous restaurants in places ranging from New Orleans to New York, Puerto Rico to Puerto Vallarta, but I had the best meal of my travels in Traverse City. Just take a stroll along Downtown’s quaint Front Street and pick from its dozens of restaurants and breweries. And walk off the calories shopping at the numerous boutiques and bookstores.

Wine: The Traverse City area sits along the 45th parallel – halfway between the equator and the North Pole – making it an ideal climate for growing grapes. Nearly 40 wineries dot the landscape of the Leelanau and Mission peninsulas, both of which are within easy driving distance of Traverse City. Think Sonoma County and its spread-out family vineyards rather than Napa Valley’s high concentration of wineries. Tastings are relaxed, informal and fun.

Nature: As we drove north of Grand Rapids from Chicago, the landscape morphed to gently rolling hills covered by towering, massive “Christmas trees.” We visited in mid-September, when the leaves were just beginning to display their autumn magic. And we found plenty of ways to get out and enjoy the beauty along miles of hiking trails and dozens of lakes.

Beach: The aqua water that laps at the edge of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore looks like a scene you’d expect to find in the Caribbean or the Florida Keys – not a northern lakeshore. If you can handle the chilly water, you’ll find beaches unrivaled for their beauty. When not enjoying the breezes off Lake Michigan, take the challenge of climbing the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear. Hint: it’s much higher than it looks from the bottom.

Winter: Traverse City is farther north than Green Bay, Wis., and Toronto. But it doesn’t receive that much snow, at least relatively speaking, and is more temperate than locations farther inland. During the winter you can tackle snow-covered hills with a sled, go cross-country skiing or enjoy abundant ice-fishing opportunities.

Getting There: American, Delta and United service Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport. Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids is a scenic two-hour drive south, and Chicago is a five-hour drive if you have time for a road trip.

Managing editor Lance Wiedower’s column appears every other Tuesday in The Daily News and The Memphis News. For more travel inspiration, read his blog at tripsbylance.com or follow him on Twitter at @tripsbylance.

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