The Ultimate Guide To The Traverse City Cherry Festival

by | May 31, 2024 | Family Adventures, Midwest, USA

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No one can ever say that Traverse City is the pits. Even though every summer since 1925, the Cherry Capital of the World turns into a hub of family-friendly fun, attracting over 500,000 visitors to the National Cherry Festival celebrating the region’s rich cherry heritage.

My three boys look forward to the annual festival, which features over 150 events and activities. 

 

Our family loves to stroll through the Cherry Farm Market, savoring the aroma of ripe, sun-warmed tart cherries while, overhead, the Blue Angels perform acrobatics under a cerulean sky.

 

Whether enjoying a slice of warm cherry pie, running in the half marathon, cheering on the dogs at the Ultimate Air Dogs show, or exploring the orchard tours, the Traverse City Cherry Festival satisfies everyone’s tastes.

This guide reveals why this festival—held in 2024 from June 29th to July 6th—is a Michigan must, the not-to-miss popular events (many of which are free and happening at beautiful Clinch Park Marina), and all of the unique festival features.

P.S. Make sure to scroll to the end for Lavender & Macaron’s easy-peasy Chocolate Baked Oatmeal with Cherries recipe! Not only is it delicious, but it’s good for you!

 

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17 of the Sweetest Cherry Festival Attractions

Cherry Pie Eating Contest

Think you have a sweet tooth? Compete or just watch kids and adults try to devour cherry pies the fastest at the Cherry Pie Eating Contest. It’s glorious fun for everyone! There’s nothing better than watching my boys cram pies into their mouths. Of course, we may love seeing their faces turn into cherry-bombed messes, but cleaning their cherry-stained garments the next day might not be so much fun! But, it’s worth it! 

 

Cherry Pit Spitting Contest

Well, they had to do something with the pits! My boys are too young to participate in this 18-and-over pit spitting contest, but my husband isn’t! He’s trying to break the world record of spitting a pit over 95 feet to be crowned the Cherry Pit Spit Champion. He hasn’t done it yet, but sometimes I let him practice in the backyard. But he has to promise to clean up!

Set next to the orchards and West Grand Traverse Bay, this event is a hoot for everyone in the family.

 

Bubble Gum Blowing Contest

Where my kids have my husband beat is in the Bubble Gum Blowing Contest. Open to kids 12 and under, in three age categories, kids are encouraged not only to chomp their gum but blow it into bubbles as big as they can to be celebrated for their smacking skills. My 12-year-old is particularly good at this.

 

boy blowing bubble gum bubble

We do require our boys to practice for the bubble gum bubble blowing contest weekly. We are firm believers in practice makes perfect! @Shutterstock

 

Diaper Derby & Totter Trot

The smallest members of the family can earn their bragging rights by scooting right past the other diaper-clad jocks in the crawl or the century! Line your toddler up to waddle across the finish line, or set your chariot of fire to scoot past all the other crackers to win the title of Festival’s Fastest Cherry Sprout! We actually made the last part up. They didn’t create a title for the winner. But there is a baby crawling and toddler shuffling contest!

 

baby crawling toward lake

Watch that tush! Photo by Kahar Erbol on Unsplash

 

Ultimate Air Dogs

Dogs leap into the water, trying to catch toys mid-air at the Ultimate Air Dogs show—it’s as entertaining as it sounds and perfect for all ages. These talented canines will leave your family amazed with their agility and enthusiasm. 

We are working on getting our corgi, Rudolph, to bring my husband the remote control so maybe next year he’ll be ready for this.

 

corgi sleeping on his back

All this training is leaving this poor guy beat. @Shutterstock

 

Blessing of the Blossoms

The Blessing of the Blossoms is a beautiful tradition at St. Joseph’s Parish that happens in mid-May. Locals bless the cherry blossoms for a fruitful harvest. It’s a must-see for its cultural significance and picturesque scenery. It’s a serene and heartwarming event that highlights the community spirit. Can’t make it that early? No worries; you can stream the blessing online. 

 

row of cherry trees

When the petals fall, it looks like snow. @Shutterstock

 

Blue Angels Air Show

Nearly every year, the Blue Angels or the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform at the festival. This year, visitors will see the Blue Angels perform aerial acrobatics on July 4th. Prepare to be wowed by these skilled pilots. It’s a highlight of the festival! The roar of the jets and the stunning maneuvers will leave families breathless.

It really is a little overwhelming to see these men and women perform their feats. Makes us proud to have such talented people fighting for our country.

 

blue angels

Feeling the need. The need for… @ Shutterstock

 

Orchard Tours

Take a scenic tour of the local orchards. It’s a great way to see where those delicious cherries come from and learn about the agricultural process. Plus, the views are simply gorgeous.

 

Kids’ Pet Show

A hit with the little ones, this “show” features kids ages 3-12 showing off their adorable, costumed family pets. While most are home-trained, keep in mind that shenanigans ensue as none of the participants are professionals! It’s part petting zoo, part costume contest, and part comedy show, but it’s free to register.

My then-12-year-old tried to dress up my then-8-year-old for the contest one year. ‘Nough said.

With the exception of this event, do keep in mind that this city festival only allows service animals.

 

Pickleball Tournaments

Whether you’re a seasoned player or new to the game, these pickleball tournaments are fun to watch or join. Pickleball is easy to pick up and a blast to play, making it a great activity for the whole family.

 

Cherry Farm Market

Stock up on fresh cherries, cherry jams, and all things cherry at this bustling cherry farm market. We love to walk around and sample all the sweet and savory concoctions! There’s a variety of cherry products that make perfect souvenirs and tasty treats.

 

cherries falling on a laughing girl

It’s raining cherries! Bring your safety glasses. @Shutterstock

 

Beer Tent

Adults can unwind with a cold brew and sample local beers in a relaxed setting. We’ll get together with friends in the beer tent while our older kids run around the festival. The tent has a great selection of craft beers and is a perfect spot to relax and catch up with parent-friends while taking a quick break from the festival atmosphere.

 

West Grand Traverse Bay

iI the beer tent is not your family’s idea of downtime, take it by the nearby West Grand Traverse Bay. Enjoy sandy beaches and carpets of green trees with options to play in the water with water toy rentals. The bay is a beautiful spot to relax and take in the natural beauty of the area.

 

aerial view of lake michigan's shore

It’s this gorgeous backdrop that makes the festival the perfect summer getaway. @Shutterstock

 

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The Parades

Colorful floats, marching bands, and performers make their way through downtown on the parade routes, creating a vibrant atmosphere. The parades are filled with energy and creativity, making them a highlight for many festival-goers. We’ll set up our chairs as soon as we arrive so when we come back, we have the perfect spots to watch all the action!

 

Kids Cherry Teddy Bear Tea

Save the date! On June 30th the Traverse Area District Library puts on a delightful afternoon tea party for little ones and their teddy bears. The event includes stories, crafts, snacks, and tea, of course. Even my boys love attending. Or at least they did when they were younger. We’re sad that they might be too old for it this year.

 

teddy bear and kids at a picnic

My best advice as a mom of teens and tweens to a mom of littles – never skip an invite to a Teddy Bear Picnic. @Shutterstock

 

Ferris Wheel

My boys always head straight for the Ferris Wheel, just like I did if there was one around when I was a kid! This classic ride has the most thrilling views of the festival and Traverse City. As long as there are no daredevil stunts or pushing, the Ferris wheel is a must-do, offering stunning views and a bit of nostalgia.

 

Royal Fashion Show and Cherry Luncheon

This stylish event on July 3rd celebrates fashion, food, and cherry-themed fun. Find your best girlfriends and your favorite cherry red lipstick because this is one event you won’t want to miss. 

 

Whether you’re a local or visiting for the first time, the Traverse City Cherry Festival offers a delightful mix of family-friendly activities, delicious food, and beautiful sights. It’s the perfect summer getaway that promises fun and memories for everyone. So pack your bags, grab your loved ones, and get ready to make this summer the best one yet!

 

 

When You Go

 

 

How to Get To Traverse City From Los Angeles

Traverse City is accessible via Cherry Capital Airport, which has connecting flights from several major cities. The shortest one-stop flights from Los Angeles are just over six hours. Once you land, it’s about a ten-minute drive to the heart of downtown and the festival grounds. Rent a car at the airport for convenience. Easy peasy! 

An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!

 

Where to Stay: The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa offers everything your entire family needs for a comfortable and even luxurious experience. 

Besides the spacious rooms with stunning views of Northern Michigan, guests can enjoy the three championship golf courses and a full-service spa for ultimate relaxation.

 

hotel room at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

The hotel rooms were spacious and comfortable when we stayed, but our favorite part was the view. The hotel towers over the city and lake. @Shutterstock

 

Families will love the indoor water playground, arcade room, and basketball courts. The resort also offers various activities and programs for kids. In addition, there are nine on-site restaurants and bars! 

Plus, with its proximity to the festival, families can easily pop back to their room to rest and recharge before diving back into the fun. It’s the perfect home base for your cherry festival adventure.

 

boy holding giant lollipop in Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa hosted me and my son during our stay. There is a candy shop in the lobby! That Dum Dum is really as big as his head! © Steffy McCourt

 

Our 4 Favorite Local Restaurants in Traverse City

Union Street Station

This cozy spot offers a casual dining experience. The menu features local favorites, such as turkey legs and fresh cherry salad. The laid-back atmosphere makes it a great place to unwind and enjoy a hearty meal.

 

The Little Fleet

A trendy food truck park offering diverse cuisines. We recommend the BBQ brisket and the vegan cherry cheesecake. The vibrant and eclectic vibe makes it a fun place to explore different food options.

 

North Peak Brewing Company

A family-friendly brewpub with hearty dishes. The cherry chicken salad and their signature beers are a must-try. The rustic decor and friendly staff add to the welcoming atmosphere.

 

Hotel Indigo’s Rooftop Bar

Enjoy panoramic views of Traverse City while sipping on craft cocktails. Their small plates, like cherry bruschetta, are perfect for sharing. It’s a chic and stylish spot to enjoy a sunset and some delicious bites.

 

plate of cherry pie

Summer is sweet when an al fresco meal ends with cherry pie. @Shutterstock

 

Bonus! Traverse City Cherries: The Super Fruit

Cherries are not only delicious but also packed with health benefits. They are rich in antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and promote overall health. Studies have shown that cherries can help improve sleep quality, thanks to their natural melatonin content. They are also known to support heart health and reduce muscle soreness after exercise.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cherries are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and they provide dietary fiber, which aids in digestion. Consuming cherries can also help manage weight, as they are low in calories but high in essential nutrients.

 

spoonful of cooked cherries

Does anything smell sweeter than simmering cherries? @Shutterstock

 

Cherry-Inspired Breakfast Recipe from Lavender & Macarons

To get you in the Cherry Festival Spirit, here’s a simple and delicious cherry-inspired recipe from my best friend, Iryna, that you can try at home: Chocolate Baked Oatmeal with Cherries. Not only is it delicious, but it’s good for you—sugar-free and vegan!

 

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Steffy McCourt is a mom to three active and awesome boys, two budgies, one cockatiel, and a mischievous corgi. Currently an ELA Teacher in Plymouth, Michigan, she also writes for parenting magazines and education websites. She just recently launched her own travel website, www.mifamilytravel.com; a tribute to the state of Michigan. She has an MS in Educational Leadership from Butler University and a BA in English from Indiana University.