More than Just the Beaches in Traverse City

Traverse City is a great area to visit in the summer if you are looking for an escape from the heat of a Midwestern summer. With cool water, great people, and plenty to do, Northern Michigan should be on your mancation radar. Traverse City CVB writes in to let us know that there is more to TC than just the beach now.

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Until very recently, the most popular summer accommodations in this scenic Northern Michigan community have been – unsurprisingly -- on the beach.

As a rule, visitors to Traverse City could choose between a few waterfront properties on West Grand Traverse Bay – close to downtown shopping and nightlife – or the long stretch of hotels and resorts on East Bay, just outside the city limits. The third option (especially for bargain-conscious travelers) was the city’s Between the Bays district, a boomerang-shaped mile of Munson Avenue at the base of the Old Mission Peninsula.

Located in a modest residential neighborhood near several popular parks and the local community college, the district’s lodging properties were a diverse collection of small mom-and-pop motels and budget chains whose quality ranged from surprisingly good to “take it or leave it.” But that situation has changed dramatically over the years, and today the Between the Bays area is increasingly known as giving good value for money.

“This is an area that’s distinct in itself,” says hotelier Jack Burns, who started the movement more than 30 years ago when he built what’s now the Days Inn & Suites on the site of a dilapidated trailer park on Munson Avenue. Burns’ insistence on marketing the property as a family-style resort hotel, instead of the cheap “side-of-the-highway” motels that were typical of the Days Inn product in those days, made the 179-room Traverse City hotel one of the company’s leading lights. (It has won the Days Inn Chairman’s Award every year since the award’s inception -- the only property in the chain to do so.)

Even more important, its presence in the neighborhood encouraged nearby hoteliers to raise their own standards. (Just this year, in fact, the hotel spent $1 million renovating 112 of its regular guestrooms, a significant investment in a difficult economy.) Of course, it didn’t hurt that the surrounding neighborhood has become a destination in its own right, thanks to the construction of the nearby Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College (one of the finest small art museums in the country) and the development of the Grand Traverse Civic Center as a major venue for athletic events and social gatherings.

Also, the steady diversification of Traverse City’s attractions and its emergence as a four-season culinary and shopping destination means that many visitors are now at least as interested in being near the town’s restaurants and galleries as in finding a spot on the beach. And from that perspective, the Between the Bays area has some distinct advantages.

In 1997, the district saw its next major addition with construction of the 68-room Traverse Victorian Inn. Shortly afterward, in 2001, another significant Between the Bays player emerged when hotelier Alex Mowczan bought the 50-room Best Western Four Seasons motel and its surrounding properties and set to work restoring their lackluster reputation -- implementing such guest-pleasing extras as free room service, specialty pillows from their unique “pillow bar” and complimentary hot soup in the evenings. It’s a concept they call “heroic hospitality,” and it has worked well for them; for the last five years, the property has received the Best Western Chairman’s Award, the hotel chain’s highest honor.

In 2008, Mowczan bought the nearby Traverse Bay Lodge, renovated it extensively, and reopened it as a smoke-free 62-room Comfort Inn. This year the property received a prestigious 2010 Gold Hospitality Award from its franchiser, Choice Hotels International. But his biggest accomplishment was in 2009 when he opened another Choice Hotels franchise, the three-story Cambria Suites, which immediately became one of the town’s most swooned-over properties, thanks to its stylish décor, large guestrooms and amenities. Those three properties, in fact, currently hold the top three Traverse City spots on

Burns and Mowczan are hardly alone; in fact, many of the smaller properties in the neighborhood seem to be taking on new life. In 2007, the aging Fox Haus Motel was closed, painstakingly renovated and reopened as the Travelodge of Traverse City. A year later, Pat and Sara Doud purchased the former Heritage Inn, gave it a major facelift and reopened it as a new property of the venerable Howard Johnson group. And the 35-room Pinecrest Motel, which had been closed for over a year, underwent a major renovation of its own and is now a Knight’s Inn.

Nor are all the improvements taking place at large chain-owned properties. Even the little 20-room Sierra Motel, which once struggled with its reputation, has been painstakingly renovated since it was sold last year. Owners Slim and Cony Duimstra say they’re working hard to convince customers that there have been real changes at the property.

“I think it’s working,” says Slim. “We’ve been getting a lot of repeat business, and that’s what we like to see.”

For more information about lodging, dining and entertainment choices in Traverse City’s “Between the Bays” district – or elsewhere in Michigan’s favorite vacation destination -- contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at or 1-800-TRAVERSE.