In 2017, the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church moved its annual meeting to Grand Traverse Resort and Spa near Traverse City. It worked out so well that they returned two more times before COVID-19 got in the way and forced them to go virtual. Last year was the group’s first year back in person at the resort, and the conference has plans to return this June.
Why do they keep going back to Traverse City? Because everything they need to feed, house, entertain, and network with the approximately 1,800 members of the Methodist clergy and churches from around Michigan is available in the picturesque northern Lower Michigan community.
Most of the activity is centered on Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, says Nancy Arnold, the conference’s events planner. In addition to lodging on-site, Arnold books room blocks at six to eight other area hotels. For hassle-free transportation, a shuttle conveniently runs between all the properties.
Arnold works closely with Traverse City Tourism, where Director of Meeting Services Sarah Barnard has been a big help from the get-go. Barnard assists with everything from reserving rooms and transportation to running down special requests like finding a room with a wheelchair-accessible shower. “It’s so nice to have a group that’s really invested in our attendance and making sure we [are] successful,” Arnold says.
Where to Stay
Being a tourist destination, Traverse City has hotel rooms galore. In fact, the community is seeing somewhat of a boom when it comes to additional hotel space with about a half-dozen new properties on tap. “We have some events that are larger than any one property can handle, so we call those city-wide events,” says Trevor Tkach, president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism. That means while some properties might serve as headquarters, the lodging, activities, and gatherings can be spread to additional venues.
The Cambria Hotel Traverse City is an all-suites hotel that features two meeting rooms with reception capacity for 100 and theater seating for 60. There is also a 24-hour resort-style swimming pool and fitness center on-site. Its Reflect Bistro serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Delamar Traverse City is a boutique hotel, culinary destination, and waterfront event venue with indoor and outdoor meeting space. It sits adjacent to downtown on West Grand Traverse Bay. Dining opportunities include the Bistro Cafe and Coffee Bar, seasonal outdoor service on the patio, poolside drinks and snacks on the pool deck, and casual fine dining at Artisan Waterfront Restaurant & Tavern. Other amenities include outdoor and indoor pools, a hot tub and sauna, and a fitness center.
About 50 minutes from Traverse City is the full-service Crystal Mountain resort. The facility is home to 260-plus lodging units, the 6,500-square-foot Crystal Center with room for up to 400, and multiple other spaces for meetings and banquets. It also offers fine-dining establishments, a pizza and sub shop, downhill and cross-country skiing, two championship 18-hole golf courses, a spa, an alpine slide, an outdoor pool and water playground, and more.
Located on 900 acres in Acme, the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa can accommodate groups of up to 2,500 between its indoor and outdoor spaces. The property includes 54 holes of championship golf, a beach, spa, indoor water playground, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, four dining venues, and shopping. The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians owns this resort as well as the Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel in Williamsburg and Leelanau Sands Casino & Lodge in Peshawbestown.
The Great Wolf Lodge is a full-service destination designed to accommodate businesses and other groups with its 8,000 square feet of meeting space that consists of 10 breakout rooms, expansive outdoor space, and a large bonfire area. Its largest event facility can host up to 300 people banquet-style. The 40,000-square-foot indoor water park will appeal to families who come along for the trip and those who are young at heart.
Other highlights include themed restaurants, a 24-hour arcade, an 18-hole minigolf course, and a rock-climbing wall. “Event spaces also offer in-house [audiovisual] capabilities, separate entrances from water park guests, and customizable catering options,” says Allen Headley, general manager.
The Hotel Indigo Traverse City is in the Warehouse District, a waterfront neighborhood. Its Warehouse kiTChen + Cork is a full-service restaurant and lounge, with its rooftop bar, H&L Social, offering views of the bay.
The Park Place Hotel & Conference Center is the tallest building—and only convention center—in downtown Traverse City. Minervas Restaurant and Bar operates on the main level and The Beacon Lounge on the 10th floor offers panoramic views of the city and Grand Traverse Bay.
Alongside these full-service properties, there are other venues around the area that are also available for group events. The Hagerty Center at Northwestern Michigan College is just blocks from downtown and can accommodate groups up to 300. Wineries are a big attraction here with trails to tour on both Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas; several offer team-building opportunities and have gathering spaces including rentable barns. For example, Chateau Chantal’s tasting room facilities can be used by groups of up to 50, while its 2,000-square-foot Hospitality Room can comfortably accommodate larger gatherings.
Step Into the Great Outdoors
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the top destinations in the region and is known for its towering sand dunes, freshwater beaches, multiuse pathway, and miles of hiking trails. The national lakeshore is a 40-minute drive from Traverse City.
“The south end of Sleeping Bear Dunes creeps into Benzie County,” Tkach says. “There are tens of thousands of acres of conservancy land and trail systems in Benzie County.” Additionally, there are beaches all over—from downtown Traverse City to local or state parks that dot the shoreline from Northport to Elk Rapids. Taryn Miracle, director of sales and marketing at the Delamar Traverse City, notes both the Tall Ship Manitou and the Nauti-Cat offer group-friendly boat rides on West Grand Traverse Bay. Several spots rent Jet Skis, boats, and water trampolines.
The Traverse Area Recreational Trail runs 10.5 miles from Acme in the east through Traverse City in the west, continuing another 17 miles to Suttons Bay. There’s also a scenic 4-mile loop around Boardman Lake in town.
When it comes to golf, designer courses from legends like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are nestled throughout the region’s forests and lakes. “We’ve got some of the best golf in America,” Tkach says. “Our courses are ranked in the top in the country. All our member properties have spectacular courses that have been rated in a variety of different publications.”
The Dennos Museum Center with its Inuit prints and sculptures and other permanent and rotating exhibitions is a must-see. Miracle recommends the Great Lakes Children’s Museum for a rainy day (“or any day,” she adds). Or, Handz on Art offers the chance to paint your own pottery.
Eats & Libations
The region is also known for its vibrant craft beer, spirits, and wine scene; culinary, farm-to-table excellence; and eclectic downtown experiences in Traverse City and surrounding communities including Suttons Bay, Northport, Elk Rapids, Alden, and Glen Arbor.
“Our downtown is vibrant day and night with boutique shopping, award-winning restaurants, and nightlife,” says Miracle. “And The Village at Grand Traverse Commons just west of downtown is one of the nation’s largest historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects [and] is in full swing with dozens of the buildings from the former state hospital being renovated into unique storefronts, restaurants, breweries, and tasting rooms. If groups prefer a guided experience, they can also take historical tours and explore the underground tunnels.”