Lots of restaurants offer outdoor dining. But in the Traverse City area, dining al fresco is kind of a way of life.
In fact, two blocks in the heart of downtown are closed to traffic this summer so diners can spill into the streets and enjoy one of America’s Most Under-the-Radar Food Towns while out in the fresh air of one of the 10 Best Social Distancing Travel Destinations in the country.
“Outdoor seating is popular everywhere you go, but there is a sense of connection to nature up here that is unique to Michigan, that is unique to the Midwest,” said Harry Burkholder, chief operating officer of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority. “We’re seeing more and more restaurants looking at ways to maximize outdoor space.”
Burkholder is one of the community leaders who teamed up with restaurant owners and other downtown stakeholders to close part of Traverse City’s Front Street to motor vehicles through Labor Day. Instead of cars and trucks passing along Front between Union and Park streets, the pedestrian-only stretch now functions as additional café space for restaurants.
On the one hand, additional outdoor dining space is a low-risk way to increase capacity in restaurants where indoor seating now is limited during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also another way to indulge the public’s appetite for outdoor dining in a beautiful northern Michigan setting along Grand Traverse Bay.
While outdoor dining is bigger than ever this summer in downtown Traverse City, there’s also no shortage of al fresco dining options elsewhere in the Traverse City area. This searchable directory of outdoor dining options includes more than 150 restaurants and over 60 wineries, breweries and distilleries across the region – from the picturesque vineyards and tasting rooms of the Leelanau Peninsula and laid-back taverns of Benzie County to the waterfront restaurants in Antrim County and the eclectic mix of eateries and taprooms downtown.
Whether you’re looking for your morning cup of coffee, your mid-day fuel or a long sit-down dinner, there are plenty of options in the Traverse City area to dine safely outdoors and enjoy the sensory delights of a northern Michigan summer.
“Finding an outdoor dining spot around the Traverse City area is as easy as finding cherries,” said Coryn Briggs, director of digital marketing for Traverse City Tourism. “It’s no surprise since the natural scenery and small-town architecture create the perfect settings for al fresco dining.”
Some people feel more comfortable dining outdoors during the pandemic. But aside from COVID-19, there are other health reasons to make a point of eating outside this summer. For example, just as the CDC advises that outdoor dining is a relatively low-risk summertime activity, it notes that spending time outside can stimulate your body’s production of Vitamin D, which strengthens bones and helps ward off illness and disease. There’s also medical evidence that being out in the fresh air increases energy, strengthens the immune system, helps you relax and improves overall physical and emotional health.
Plus, outdoor dining offers a comprehensive menu of sensory delights where you not only can taste the delicious flavors and smell the soothing scents of your food, but you also get to feel the warm breeze, hear the sounds of summer and see the beautiful sights of the Traverse City area.
“There’s a unique and special element of eating outside, especially in the summer months,” Burkholder said. “We only have so many months of summer in Michigan, and people want to take advantage of it.”