Sure, Traverse City is a beautiful summer beach town with an amazing food and drink scene. But thanks to local boutiques, small-town holiday celebrations and plenty of ways to enjoy the snow, it’s also a beautiful winter beach town. (Just trade your swimsuits for ice skates once the bay freezes over.) Keep scrolling to see some of the most festive things to do in Traverse City during the 2020 holidays.

See Santa Claus

Santa will be visiting the neighborhoods of Traverse City in early December. In partnership with the Traverse City Firefighters, the DDA plans to safely spread cheer since Santa will not have a house downtown this year. Wear a mask and keep socially distanced while welcoming Santa and his Firefighter Elves as they ride on an Antique Fire Engine. Firefighters will be collecting letters for Santa along the route. See maps here for exact routes and times. If Santa doesn’t pass your home, feel free to park in a lot along a route.

Hear the Angels Sing

Traverse City is a VERY musical place, and that’s never more obvious than during the holiday season. The Traverse Symphony Orchestra presents “Home for the Holidays,” a free virtual concert, December 19, 2020.

Livestream the Sounds of the Season

Grab your favorite holiday treats and join Interlochen Arts Academy for a free seasonal showcase of artwork and performances by students and faculty from all of the Academy’s artistic disciplines. Seasonal music, dance, theatre, visual art and more will be woven together into an uplifting “holiday postcard.” “Sounds of the Season” will be live-streamed at and on Facebook on December 15, 2020.

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 on Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas. Since some wineries have temporarily closed due to COVID-19, or have special hours and/or curbside service only, make sure you call ahead. Chateau Chantal has outdoor igloos available for reservation and Bonobo has a large outdoor deck.

Shop Local Art and Gifts

Consider shopping local and supporting art this holiday season. For the first time, you can shop the Dennos Museum holiday market online. Visit the store website to meet the talented artists and to shop their wares beginning December 1 from the comfort of your home. Find unique holiday cards, fair-trade ornaments, 2021 calendars and endless art-inspired gifts.

Stroll and See the Lights (Update: Canceled Due to COVID-19)

To safely spread out crowds, Downtown TC is doing the light parade differently this year. On December 12, 2020, 12 locations across downtown will be partnering with 12 different nonprofits to create light displays representing the 12 days of Christmas. This event will run from 5–9 p.m. More information, including the map of locations and nonprofits selected, will be shared soon on the Downtown TC website and Facebook.

Walk In a Window Wonderland

Pair this Traverse City event with the Strolling Light Parade to celebrate downtown shops. From December 11–13, 2020, more than 20 businesses will have hidden “loose bulbs” in their store windows. Find all of them and enter to win a Downtown Shopping Spree. A map of participating locations will be shared soon on the Downtown TC website and Facebook.

Run or Bike a Hybrid Race

Traverse City Track Club has created a unique hybrid virtual race to avoid crowds during the pandemic. Run or bike the 12-mile course at a time that’s convenient for you December 4–6, 2020.

Participate In a Virtual Holiday Auction

This year, you can participate in a holiday auction to benefit businesses that have been negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic. Virtually bid on uniquely curated gift baskets from some of downtown TC’s most popular shops and restaurants. 100% of the proceeds will go directly to the Downtown Relief Fund.

Take a Carriage Ride Through the Grand Traverse Commons

December 12 and 18, the Grand Traverse Commons is hosting Santa’s Village Adventure, in which you can take a carriage ride through the village campus, reserve a private time slot to have a socially distanced visit with Santa, and even walk through the 1885 steam tunnels. $25 of the $200 ticket price will be donated to a local food pantry. It’s by reservation only, so make sure to book your time slot ahead of time.

See an Enchanted Nutcracker

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 on December 12, 2020, is Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” and it will be performed virtually. Tune in to the free webcast to see the holiday classic.

Make Merry in Small Towns

Every community in this part of Michigan has its own special holiday celebrations and shopping events throughout November and December. Discover the best holiday events in 14 communities in MyNorth Holidays (plus tons of local gift ideas!).

Wonder at a Midnight Clear

The essence of Traverse City is the great outdoors, and the most magical way to experience winter here is 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 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or Mission Point Lighthouse Park, you may even have a chance to spot the Northern Lights.

Watch the Cherry Drop

Ring in the New Year with the Cherry-T Ball Drop, an annual New Year’s Eve party featuring a massive illuminated cherry that is lowered to signify the coming year. This year’s ball drop will be a virtual event. You can watch the ball drop live on Facebook. Be sure to pair the experience with your very own bottle of Mawby Ball Drop Bubbly, available at local retailers.

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner