A brief guide to northern Michigan bookstores: Traverse City

As I’ve already shared, J and I recently returned from a lovely week-long vacation in northern Michigan, specifically the Traverse City region. While we made sure to hit up all the important sites – namely, lots of wineries and breweries – I also made a point to visit as many independent bookstores as I could. While it sometimes feels like I have to drive all over town to find a great, welcoming indie here in Metro Detroit, one can’t go a few feet Up North without stumbling across some great book shop, all of which are incredibly different and special.

Obviously, we didn’t go to EVERY bookstore in the Traverse City region (remember: wineries and the beach were calling), but here’s a brief guide to the ones we revisited, as well as the ones we discovered for the first time.

Horizons Books

photo 4

This is the place it seems every book lover visits in Traverse City, not surprising considering it’s on Front Street in the heart of historic downtown Traverse City. Horizons was the biggest indie I visited, with three floors of books and coffee accessible on two of those levels. I think this place can feel a little sterile sometimes, but I absolutely adore its collection of bargain books in the basement – we ended up buying three great titles for less than $15. Plus, the place is big enough to hold readings and book clubs, and is always hopping.

Brilliant Books

This was a new one for me, which is surprising considering it’s also on Front Street in Traverse City. I think this is one of my favorite new bookstores. The shop is in an older building with a charming front window display, and so it wins the cute factor. It’s not huge, but it’s well laid out and with plenty of browsing space. But what I loved most was how well curated the space was; it felt like the employees have taken great care to create meaningful displays, highlighting great titles rarely seen in big box bookstores. I definitely want to return.

Leelanau Books

The other little town we hit up while we were north was Leland, MI on a particularly nasty and rainy day. I didn’t know this shop existed (didn’t see on the visitors’ map, that is) until we were forced to duck inside to escape the gale. It’s very small, but completely charming. It’s in a long, narrow space, so it’s a little cramped making your way from front to back, but they had a great section on northern Michigan history and nature guides. Remind me to buy a book on wildflowers sometime – how adorable would it be to learn the names of your local wildflowers? I have to do it.

Good Old Books

photo 5 (1)Good Old Books, however, wins – hands down – for my favorite bookstore of the trip, and perhaps one of my favorite bookstores ever. We kept seeing signs for this place while we were exploring Leland, and so once the rain died down, we hiked a block outside downtown, following signs until it led to…a random house? Well, there were arrows saying the “Books” were this way, so we kept going until we found ourselves in the back room of master bookseller George Ball’s house, where he has amassed a huge collection of used books. He specializes in signed copies, rare books, and the Rivers of America series – Ball said he may have one of the largest complete collection of this series in the country. His books were unfortunately a tad too expensive for me, though it was awesome browsing his shelves. Of course, the space is small so you can’t escape a conversation with Mr. Ball, though why would you want to? The man is fascinating and full of stories, and even taught this English major/future librarian/former bookseller/all around book nerd a fact or two.

And those were the spots we hit up this trip. I’m sure there are some that we missed and I’d love to hear about them! What other great indies are Up North, in the Traverse City region or elsewhere? Because really, there’s no tourism like book tourism.


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