10 Things to do in Traverse City During the Holidays

By now, this resort community on the northern coast of Lake Michigan has acquired a lively reputation as a summer beach town with a great food and wine scene.

Many warm-weather visitors, however, have no idea what an attractive place Traverse City can be during the Christmas and New Year’s season—thanks to eclectic shopping opportunities, a plethora of small-town holiday celebrations and an indefatigable atmosphere of Midwestern friendliness.

Looking for suggestions for things to do in Traverse City during the holidays? Here are a few local favorites:

Hear the Angels Sing
Traverse City is a VERY musical place, and that’s never more obvious than during the holiday season. From the Traverse Symphony Orchestra’s December 10–11 “Home for the Holidays” concert (tickets available here) and the delightful Christmas extravaganza put on by the Northport Community Band and Village Voices to the mammoth bring-your-own-music performance of Handel’s “Messiah” at Central United Methodist Church, there are orchestral and choral performances throughout the area all through December.

Do a little Wassailing
Traverse City is in the heart of Michigan’s loveliest wine region, and it’s hard to think of a better way to enjoy the holiday season than taking a wine-tasting jaunt out to the beautiful vineyards of the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas. (Since many wineries have special winter hours, be sure to check ahead—or use the services of one of the area’s many wine tour operators!) Here’s your Up North guide to wine.

Explore “Christmas in the Village” at the Grand Traverse Commons
On December 9-11, the shops and galleries of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons (on the site of Traverse City’s elegant former mental asylum) hold a three-day celebration that culminates in an annual “Santa Lucia Day” celebration: serenaded by an ensemble of flutes, a young girl in a long white robe and a crown of lighted candles wanders the grounds delivering warm sweet rolls to holiday shoppers. There are special sales, horse-drawn carriage rides and other fun. (Take a video tour of Grand Traverse Commons here.)

Wake the Sleeping Beauty
The renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts is one of America’s leading music and performance schools, numbering among its famous alumni such stars as Nora Jones, Tom Hulce and Jewel. Each year, staff and students at Interlochen present a major ballet performance as a holiday treat for the community. This year’s selection, presented December 8-10, is Tschaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty.” (The Center also has a much-anticipated “Sounds of the Season” concert on December 15 with classical holiday music, actors, dancers, jazz and a sing-along of popular carols.)

Enjoy Some Small-Town Merrymaking
Every community in this part of Michigan has its own holiday celebration in December. Get a full list of events here.

Buy Something Nice for Someone you Love
The Traverse City area has become one of Michigan’s most popular holiday shopping destinations—partly because of the wide range of boutiques, galleries and shops scattered around the Grand Traverse area, but also thanks to the many community shopping festivals and events that enrich the “Up North” holiday gifting experience with small-town charm and tradition. Downtown Traverse City hosts a myriad of holiday shopping events each year, including a women’s-only “Ladies’ Night” on December 8 (enjoy a cocktail after shopping at the Whiskey Cheer Mixer!) and a men’s-only night on December 15. In the villages of Glen Arbor and Leland, there are PJ Party sales in the wee hours of the morning where shoppers get special discounts if they show up in their pajamas.

Figgy pudding, anyone?
Famed as a “foodie town,” Traverse City wouldn’t be Traverse City if the holiday season didn’t include some fantastic feasts. One example: the December 9 Harvest Dinner at the Black Star Farms Winery features Michigan-grown chestnuts incorporated into a variety of wine-paired seasonal dishes. (Get tickets here.)

Wonder at a Midnight Clear
The essence of a visit to Traverse City is the great outdoors, and there is no more magical way to experience winter here that by venturing outside on a clear, starry night. Take skis or snowshoes—or just a good pair of walking boots and explore the luminous beauty of it all. (If you’re lucky, and pick a dark spot like the Sleeping Bear Dunes or the Mission Point Lighthouse Park, you may even have a chance to spot the Northern Lights.)

Catch a Little Dickens
Traverse City’s century-old City Opera House presents “A Christmas Carol in Prose,” an out-of-the box adaptation of the classic Dickens story by the Parallel 45 Theatre that’s held December 1-4 and 7-11. The performance uses non-traditional seating, imaginative props, volunteer interaction, “loud sound effects, moments of complete darkness, strobe-like effects, and confetti.”

Watch the Cherry Fall
Ring in the New Year at the Cherry-T Ball Drop, an amazing December 31 street party featuring a massive illuminated cherry that is lowered to signify the coming year! Live music and entertainment are all part of this fun winter party in Downtown Traverse City. And in typical “Up North” fashion, the price of admission is in the form of canned goods that are donated to local food banks and shelters. Find more Up North ball drops here.

Mike Norton is the Media Relations Director at Traverse City Tourism


More Northern Michigan Holiday Fun:

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