As Go Girls, we listen to the sound of the open road. It’s what calls us to our next destination; entices us to our next adventure. And although I would hesitate to say it’s a lonely one (as travelers, we always manage to find our way into the heart of the places we visit) we do often walk it by ourselves.
I think that’s the reason why I find particular beauty in small towns. I am captivated by the cozy, comforting feel of a place where everyone knows everyone else; where no one is a stranger. On a recent visit to Traverse City, Michigan, what I really loved — more than the rolling hills of wineries, more than the cute bistros and cross-country skiers — was the warmth of the community, which seemed to incubate the small town through its cold, long winters.
If you’re driving coast-to-coast or looking for an alternative to Napa, consider making a stop through a town that I myself have fallen in love with. Whether or not you travel alone, here are five places you’ll be sure to find family when you arrive:
1. Inside an apartment or room rental like Flipkey.
The great thing about home-sharing sites is you can have privacy — or you can be one of the family. After FlipKey offered the Go Girl team an opportunity to test out one of their Traverse City homes, we settled on an adorable and sustainable green house just across the street from the bay, in the home of two gracious hosts. Though we ended up having the place to ourselves, many of the rental options included private rooms or attached apartments, which encourage you to interact with the family that lives there.
2. In the nail salon at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.
Have you ever gotten a manicure while traveling? Many consider it a regular activity. I’m not one of those people. But after having an early morning mani-pedi gifted to me by Grand Traverse I figured I’d give it a try.
Here’s what I realized that will come as a shock to some of you, and to others not at all. When you get a manicure, you are not only paying for a little pampering — you’re also given exclusive time with a local. In 30 minutes, Sandra and I talked about how we both adore Derek from “Dancing with the Stars”, what her family does in Traverse City during the winter, what her favorite restaurants are and where all the newest ones are opening up, where she gets the best deals on groceries, and why she’s never wanted to leave TC after growing up in the area. If you want to become one of the locals fast, book an early appointment at the nearest spa and ask them yourself. And sure enough, you’ll find yourself dining among families and friends.
3. The community table at the Park Street location of the Grand Traverse Pie Company.
One of now 15 locations around Michigan and Indiana, the Park St. location of the Grand Traverse Pie Company donates its profits to local community organizations doing great things in Traverse City.
When the Go Girl team met the owner, Mike, for pie at its “community table”, which encourages visitors to interact with one another, we were joined by a man and his grandmother who came for a pie date and warmed our hearts. I’m not above saying that a few of us shed a couple of tears when seeing a grandson take his grandmother out for pie on a snowy day in February. And if we weren’t already married or in relationships, he would have ended up with a whole lot of numbers. And if you really want to warm up your winter, check out their Valentine’s Day special — cherry pie with chocolate ganache. You’re welcome.
4. Among family and friends at Bowers Harbor Vineyard.
If you haven’t seen Connie and Rachel, the mother-daughter duo at Bowers Harbor Vineyard, in action, you’re missing out big-time. Watch them teach you about the wines of the region while simultaneously sharing stories about their adventurous trips with Rachel’s grandmother. If Brix, the resident Bernese Mountain Dog, comes by to say hello, you’ll know you’ve really found family.
5. At the Jolly Pumpkin, the local microbrewery and distillery in Traverse City.
With microbrews starting to get a name for themselves in the TC area, the Jolly Pumpkin is simultaneously a source of history (located inside a beautiful mansion still allegedly haunted by its original owner, Genevive Stickney) and cutting-edge beverage culture. Yet the real treat is meeting co-owner and master brewer Mike Hall and his family, who have dedicated their lives to the rich art of brewing. Check out the brand-new company, “The Brewer’s Wife“, recently launched by (you guessed it) Mike’s wife, Morgan, which makes body products from nature. And try not to be taken away by how cute their daughter, Dyllan, is. We already asked if we could take her home with us.
When you’re far from home, nothing beats traveling to a small town whose families and friends will suddenly feel like your own. And if you don’t know what we’re talking about, take a visit to Traverse City and see what we mean.