Hands down, the best way to explore a destination is with a local guide who knows the city inside and out.

That’s why we reached out to Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Cab, an independent business that employs only local drivers, to see if their cabbies would give us some insider tips on what to see and do while we drove around town.

We figured the people who make their living navigating the city’s streets would know all the best places to visit. We were right.

Some of our drivers had lived in Traverse City as long as 40 years and their knowledge proved more valuable than anything we could pick up from a guidebook. We discovered some great restaurants, thanks to their tips, and also learned a lot about the region. (Did you know Madonna’s family has a winery nearby?!)

Here are our cab drivers’ tips on where the locals go to eat, drink and play in Traverse City.

What’s your top tip for first time visitors to Traverse City?

Megan – “Go through downtown. There are many neat stores and shops downtown. Also, I wouldn’t leave without going for a drive on the Leelanau Peninsula.”

downtown traverse city at night

Downtown Traverse City on a Saturday night.

John – “If you have just one day you have to golf. We have some of the finest golf in the world here.”

Bill – “It really depends on their interests. I remember picking up people who flew here from California. They were in the mental health field and they came to see the old Traverse City asylum. The whole story from its origination to its current state is fascinating. They were interested in the history of the architecture and how it was salvaged. No matter what someone’s interests are, they’ll find something here that fascinates them.”

Traverse Commons mental asylum

The striking facade of Grand Traverse Commons, a former mental asylum turned entertainment district.

What’s your favorite restaurant and bar?

Oakley – “The U and I Lounge has some really good Greek food. And Union Street Station is the number one bar in Traverse City.”

John – “Restaurant Stella will change your life. [Editor’s note: that’s where we ate brains!] I’m also a real big fan of the Firefly, there’s always a fun bunch of people there. The U and I Lounge keeps the kitchen open till 1 am every night. Their chicken Greek salad is phenomenal and their homemade dressing is incredible. For drinks, Mawby vineyards on the Leelanau Peninsula makes only sparkling wine. If you like sparkling wine you have to check out Mawby.”

Megan – “I like Red Ginger, North Peak Brewing, and Firefly. If you want fish, go to Apache Trout Grill. Union Street Station is a really popular bar.”

North Peak Brewing Traverse City

North Peak Brewing was a top choice among our cab drivers.

What’s your best local’s-only secret?

Oakley – “Catch a sunset on West End Beach, it’s a very popular spot in Traverse City. Going to a bonfire on a beach is also a lot of fun.”

John – “Christmas Cove in Northport is one of our top secret beaches. It’s out at the tip of Leelanau Peninsula so it’s surrounded by Lake Michigan.”

Megan – “There are a lot of celebrities here. A friend of mine got her nails done with Demi Moore. Madonna’s family has a winery on the Leelanau Peninsula called Ciccone Vineyard. Kid Rock has a place on Torch Lake. Michael Moore lives here. So does Tim Allen.”

What’s the best thing about living in Traverse City?

Oakley – “There’s good people, good food, good alcohol, and no crime. The economy is strong. There’s always something going on. There are festivals all the time.”

Megan – “The beauty. It’s not a huge city, but it’s just big enough. There’s always something to do, from microbrew festivals to film festivals.”

John – “It’s a little piece of heaven. We have beautiful weather and wonderful people.”

Bill – “I haven’t heard an angry horn honk this year. It’s really easygoing here. We are a little isolated. A lot of people realize that and fully appreciate it. Frankly you’re not going to make it any better by publicizing this place.”

(Sorry Bill.)

Traverse City beach at sunset

Sunset on the beaches near downtown Traverse City.

Cherry City Cab company can be reached at 231-941-TAXI. Our rides were complimentary in exchange for the interviews. That said, we wouldn’t recommend the service if we didn’t think it was a good fit for readers. That’s not how we roll.

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