Looking for the best places to visit in Michigan? Explore this exciting and diverse state with this insider’s guide to the best things to do in Michigan by a local. Michigan is a favorite vacation destination for nature lovers, photographers, adventurers, extreme sports enthusiasts, and anyone looking for an unforgettable experience.
The Great Lake State attracts visitors from around America and Canada. From the north shore of Lake Michigan to the Motown and Motor City heritage of Detroit, there are many reasons to visit Michigan.
Best Places to Visit in Michigan
These are the very best places to visit in Michigan as recommended by Michigander Sherry Trautman who was born and raised locally. If you are looking for road trip ideas, add these places in Michigan to your trip. This post has been updated by The Planet D for 2023.
You cannot have a list of the best things to do in Michigan and not include the Motor City of Detroit. Detroit is Michigan’s largest city and has a lot more to offer than just cars and Motown (although those are pretty cool too). Detroit has a cool art scene with the Detroit Institute Of Arts Museum and the Heidelberg Project just to name a few.
If you do visit Detroit you do not want to miss the museums. From the Motown Museum and the Detroit Historical Museum to the Henry Ford Museum, you can learn all about what Detroit was like in its heyday and a visit to Corktown and the East MArket will give a great look into the city’s culture.
If you want to learn more about all the great things to do in Detroit, make sure to check out our in-depth article here. Read more: Best Things to Do in Detroit Michigan
Where to Stay in Detroit
- The Marriott at the Renaissance Center is located directly on the People Mover making it a good central location. Located in one of the 7 towers of the Renaissance Centre, this is a great location in Detroit.
- Doubletree Suites by Hilton – We enjoyed our stay here in Fort Shelby, a historical district at the train station. The Fox Theatre and Detroit Opera House are nearby, and some of the area’s notable landmarks include Masonic Temple and Ambassador Bridge.
Did you know you can see your own little slice of Hobbiton in Michigan? Charlevoix is not only a great place to make a base in Northern Michigan, but it is also home to the unique mushroom houses designed by renowned architect, Earl Young.
Located four hours north of Detroit, a visit to Charlevoix was one of our favorite things to do in the lower peninsula. Its picturesque setting makes it one of the best romantic getaways in Michigan.
Start by taking a guided tour of the beautiful homes that resemble mushrooms, search for Petosky stones at Fisherman’s Island State Park and Lake Michigan Beach, and take a tour of Castle Farms, one of Michigan’s premier historic attractions. This castle was built in 1918 by then Sears, Roebuck & Co-president, and offers a little slice of Europe in the heart of Michigan. There is an intricate model railroad and hedge maze. This is a beautiful stop on any visit to Michigan. Read more: Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix – All Hobbits Welcome to Michigan!
- Note: You can even book a vacation rental in several of the mushroom houses. Check prices on TripAdvisor
3. Relax on Mackinac Island
There’s a reason why Mackinac Island tops our best places to visit in Michigan. It is such an idyllic island destination for adventurers, dreamers, and lovers.
No cars are allowed on the island and since horse-drawn carriages, walking, and bicycles are the only modes of transportation on the island, you’ll feel your body and mind slowly relax. A great idea is to go horseback riding on the island.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the soothing sounds of waves lapping against the rocks, the soft “clop, clop” sound of horse-drawn carriages slowly passing by, and the warmth of the sun on your face.
Situated between the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula of Michigan in the Straits of Mackinac, Mackinac Island is home to beautiful sunsets, art shows, and endless opportunities for water activities. It is like an island escape on the mighty Lake Huron. Before taking the ferry over to the Island, stop in at Bridge View Park to take a photo of the iconic Mackinac Bridge. It is the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world. Check out 8 Reasons You Must Visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Where to Stay on Mackinac island
A great place to stay is The Grand Hotel. This historic grand hotel has been welcoming guests since 1887 and has been named the best hotel by the likes of Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure. See reviews on TripAdvisor
Things to do
- Rent a bicycle as the island is eight miles in circumference
- Climb the 207 stairs up Castle Rock (yes, I counted!) to see the famous Arch Rock and stunning views of Lake Michigan.
- Learn about the island’s history while touring Fort Mackinac (and if you are lucky, you might get to fire the cannon!)
- Visit the beautiful Butterfly House
- Rent a kayak to enjoy exquisite, seldom-seen views of the island and the Straits of Mackinac.
- Indulge your sweet tooth on creamy Mackinac Island Fudge.
- Tour the iconic Grand Hotel and its majestic gardens.
4. Grand Rapids
If you are into microbrews or beer in general Grand Rapids is a place you don’t want to miss. Located on the banks of the Grand River not far from Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids has more than 80 Craft Breweries and numerous awards and you will soon find out why they have nicknamed Grand Rapids “Beer City USA”.
If beer is not your thing Grand Rapids also has some fantastic art galleries and shopping. You don’t want to miss the Grand Rapids Art Museum or the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, both deserve a visit on your next trip to Michigan. Kids won’t be left out either with a visit to the John Ball Zoo.
If you are looking for outdoor activities, make sure to paddle along the Grand River Heritage Trail, the 41-mile waterway is an outdoor lover’s playground. And history buffs will enjoy The Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.
For a fun day with the whole family, head out to Michigan’s Adventure, the state’s largest amusement park with roller coasters, water parks, and family-friendly rides.
5. Traverse City
Traverse City is ripe (pun intended) for excellent wine tasting, kayaking, biking, exploring, and indulging in all things cherry. The largest city in northwest Michigan, Traverse City is located at the southern tip of Grand Traverse Bay and is a must-stop on a Northern Michigan road trip.
The Cherry Capital of the World and its five surrounding counties produce forty percent of the annual tart cherry crop in the United States. While visiting Traverse City, snap a fun photo in front of the World’s Largest Cherry Pie Pan, enjoy an ice cream flight at Moomers, and embark on a tall ship adventure. If you visit in July, the National Cherry Festival will be in full swing. This fun Michigan festival draws over 500,000 visitors annually! Traverse City’s cherry blossoms bloom in May, offering excellent photography opportunities while tasting wine on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas.
Tours and Where to Stay
Discover the spooky side of the city by touring the abandoned state mental facility and steam tunnels at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, one of the largest historic preservation and adaptive reuse redevelopments in the country. This 1.5 hour ghost tour let’s you explore traverse city at night as you stop at some of the popular attractions.
- This condo in Traverse City has two bedrooms, two baths and sleeps 6. There is parking, and it is walking distance of downtown Traverse City, with all the delightful restaurants and shops. Check it out on VRBO
- Sugar Beach Resort Hotel located directly on the beach of East Grand Traverse Bay.
Cool Fact: In 2009 TripAdvisor named Traverse City the #2 small town travel destination in the US and it has been named one of the Top 10 Places to retire in the country.
6. Discover Shipwrecks and Fossils in Alpena
Alpena sits on the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. Did you know there are over 200 shipwrecks in this sanctuary? While visiting Alpena, be sure to take an exhilarating glass-bottom boat tour to view several sunken wrecks throughout Thunder Bay. It’s an unforgettable experience!
The Alpena region also offers outstanding hiking, beautiful biking trails, exploring, and kayaking opportunities at Island Park, Besser Natural Area, and Rockport State Park. Read more at Fun and Unique Things to do in Northern Michigan
7. Frankenmuth – Fried Chicken and Christmas Wonderland
As a word of warning, Frankenmuth, Michigan, can easily steal your heart. This charming Bavarian-themed town is home to the famous Holz Bruke-covered bridge, horse-drawn carriage rides, and tantalizing sausage, taffy, and fudge shops. For a unique experience, book a pretzel rolling class at the Bavarian Inn or embark on a riverboat excursion on the family-owned Bavarian Belle.
Frankenmuth is one of Michigan’s top tourist attractions and part of the six communities that make up the Great Lakes Bay region. A Hallmark movie or two has even been filmed in Frankenmuth thanks to its christmas theme.
Your trip to Frankenmuth isn’t complete until you’ve treated yourself to Zehnder’s famous fried chicken or shopped for handmade ornaments at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store. And make sure to stop at the Frankenmuth Historical Museum to learn about the fascinating history of the area. You won’t leave the seven-acre store empty-handed as 50,000 trims and gifts will tempt you at every turn!
8. Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a busy park with excellent waterfalls. One looks like a mini Niagara Falls. I could see us sticking around for a day or two for hiking, swimming and simply enjoying the scenery. There were a lot of people visiting the Falls. There are two entrances, an upper and lower falls.
This stop on our best places to visit in Michigan was a part of our scenic drive through the Lake Superior Circle Tour – Ultimate Two Week Itinerary. We drove from the Canadan border through Whitefish Point and Grand Marais.
The upper is the larger and more beautiful of the two, but the lower had an option to take a boat or go for hikes so they are both a must-stop. Three are 40 miles of scenic trails to go hiking through so spend a day and enjoy the great outdoors.
Grand Marais makes for a great base to explore Tahquamenon Falls and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. More on that below.
9. Rockport State Park
If you are feeling adventurous, spend a couple of hours at Rockport State Park searching for the expansive rock quarry and fascinating bat hibernaculum. You can also find and bring home rare Devonian fossils dating back 400 million years!
Located just north of Alpena, Rockport State Parks spans 4,237 on the shores of Lake Huron. Go hiking to find the series of sinkholes and keep an eye out for the Devonian Period fossils. This is a great park for hiking and cycling. Plus it is known for its dark skies.
10. Photograph Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the most picturesque places to visit in Michigan. Located on the south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula it is a summer and winter playground. Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing in the winter, hiking, and kayaking in the summer offer breathtaking views of the majestic sandstone cliffs and untouched beaches.
There are approximately 100 miles of hiking trails to explore to enjoy a peaceful commune with nature. In the winter this is a popular spot for cross-country skiing.
If you visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore during the winter season, several frozen waterfalls are worth hiking or snowshoeing several miles. You can even go ice climbing as pictured rocks have some of the best ice climbing in the country. You can also explore the breathtaking Eben Ice Caves located in Eben Junction, just 20 miles southwest of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
11. Sand Dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a must-see while visiting Michigan. Located in Michigan’s lower peninsula on the shores of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is just 30 miles from Traverse City. The dunes themselves rise over 150 feet above the shores of Lake Michigan and climbing to the top is definitely worth it. Perhaps one of the most scenic and diverse views of the dunes is Pierce Stocking Drive located near Empire, Michigan.
You will have the opportunity to photograph vast sweeping dunes, climb an incredibly steep dune and embark on scenic hikes, including the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, which follows the shoreline of Lake Michigan and offers some stunning panoramas. While you are visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore and the surrounding area, consider driving south on M-22 to see Point Betsie, one of Michigan’s most beautiful lighthouses.
Where to Stay
- To explore sleeping bear dunes, this vacation rental is located just tone blog from Empire Beach on Lake Michigan in the historical small town of Empire. See it on VRBO.
- Sleeping Bear is also located just 40 minutes from Traverse City. A good place to stay in Traverse City at Sugar Beach Resort Hotel located directly on the beach of East Grand Traverse Bay.
- This condo in Traverse City has two bedrooms, and two baths, and sleeps 6. There is parking, and it is walking distance of downtown Traverse City, with all the delightful restaurants and shops. Check it out on VRBO
12. Rafting Adventure in East Jordan
Rafting, tubing, and kayaking fans will love the clear, fast-moving rapids of the East Jordan river. Views of the towering pine trees are breathtaking with each turn and bend in the river. Rafting down the river with Jordan River Outfitters after a fresh snowfall is a chilly yet beautiful and exhilarating winter experience.
The Jordan River is located on the northwestern part of the lower peninsula and takes you through the untamed wilderness where you may spot beavers, otters, white-tailed deer, and perhaps the elusive bald eagle.
13. Sand Dunes of Silver Lake
If heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping action is your idea of a fantastic vacation, consider adding a dune buggy adventure in Silver Lake to your Michigan vacation itinerary. Upon arriving, you will notice the town feels alive, almost vibrating with energy and excitement.
Adrenalin fans can rent jeeps or buggies to crest and rush down the towering dunes overlooking sparkling Silver Lake. For a shorter, family-friendly dune experience, embark on an exhilarating dune ride with a local tour company.
14. Midland’s Record-Breaking Canopy Walk
For a unique Michigan experience, visit the Nation’s Longest Canopy Walk in the Great Lakes Bay Region of Michigan. Located at Dow Gardens and Whiting Forest in Midland, this 1400-foot-long canopy walk weaves through a red pine forest.
Open year-round, discover what it’s like to wander among the treetops and walk suspended 40 feet above the ground. While visiting Midland, cheer on the Loons during a rousing baseball game or explore the Tridge, a three-way wooden footbridge offering a bird’s eye view of the Chippewa and Tittabawassee rivers.
It’s located 30-minutes northwest of Saginaw and two hours from Detroit.
15. Relax and Explore East Tawas
Tawas Point State Park is a fantastic place to visit during all four of Michigan’s seasons. The warmer weather months offer opportunities to kayak, paddleboard, bike, camp, relax on the beach or meander along the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail. During winter, clamp some crampons onto the sole of your boots and explore the Sandy Hook Nature Trail paralleling Lake Huron. Tawas Point Lighthouse’s bright red brick is also a striking contrast against sparkling white snow.
Downtown East Tawas offers excellent boutique shopping and dining on Newman Street. Wander the boardwalk around the nearby marina for views of luxurious boats bobbing in the water and waves cresting on Lake Huron. As you stroll, grab a Pronto Pup, a surprisingly crispy corn dog on a stick for a fun afternoon snack.
16. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
One of the best places to visit in Michigan if you want a more remote trip is the Upper Peninsula’s Porcupine Mountains. Located on the western tip of this area of Michigan, the Porcupine Mountains is the outdoor adventurer’s destination of choice.
With over 60,000 acres of wilderness you can tackle hiking trails that take you to beautiful waterfalls and overlooks and if you visit in the winter snow shoeing and cross country skiing are on the menu.
Whichever way you decide to explore the Porcupine mountains, hiking, hopping on the biking brails, or paddling you will be sure to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you in this part of Michigan. Make sure you don’t miss the Lake of the Clouds, it was our favorite part of the Porcupine Mountains.
One thing you will find when you are looking at the best places to visit in Michigan is that a lot of them are Quirky little towns. Holland definitely fits this description.
Located not far from Grand Rapids, Holland was founded by Duch Americans and is nicknamed the “Tulip City”. Holland definitely celebrates its Dutch heritage. You will feel like you have stepped back in time with Duch-inspired architecture and even a 250-year-old windmill (DeZwaan) that has been imported from the Netherlands in The Duch Village.
No visit to Holland would be complete without vising the Windmill Island Gardens. Strolling through the beautiful gardens is especially memorable if you are there in the spring during the Tulip Time Festival when over 100,000 tulips are in bloom throughout the garden. It is quite a sight to see. We have done this in Ottawa at the World’s Largest Tulip Festival
18. Isle Royale National Park
For a truly off-the-beaten-path experience in the far north of the Upper Peninsula, make your way to the isolated Isle Royale National Park.
Located in Lake Superior, Isle Royal National Park is only accessible by boat or floatplane and offers backcountry hiking and camping through its north woods forest. It is the largest island in Lake Superior with plenty of outdoor recreation and nature activities. Isle Royal, there are plenty of outdoor activities for hikers, kayakers, and canoeists and there is scuba diving here as well.
19. Ann Arbor
The heart of Ann Arbor is its charming downtown area, filled with boutique shops, delicious restaurants, and lively bars. The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is an interactive museum that is perfect for families with kids, as it offers hands-on exhibits and activities that teach visitors about science, technology, and more.
It’s also home to the University of Michigan. Thanks to the student population. The list of recreational activities here is endless. Take a tour of the beautiful campus and check out the museums and galleries, including the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
Ann Arbor is home to a thriving craft beer scene, with numerous breweries and taprooms to choose from. Take a tour of a brewery or visit a taproom to sample some of the best beers in the region. The Kerrytown District is the historic Market district that is perfect for shopping in boutiques. The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is a popular destination in Kerrytown for locals and tourists alike. The market features a wide variety of fresh produce, baked goods, and other products from local farmers and artisans.
Explore vineyards, enjoy performing arts, dance the night away in the many nightclubw. If you’re lucky you get to watch sports events at the Michigan stadium, one of the biggest in the state.
A visit to Michigan would not be complete without a visit to its capital, Lansing. Warm weather and breathtaking view of the great lakes await. Visit the Michigan State Capital building. This National Historic Landmark was is one of the first capital buildings in the US to feature a cast iron dome.
Lansing feels very diverse and dynamic thanks to its huge student population. The city has something for everyone both old and young. Start by exploring the capital building or learn more about the history of Michigan at the Michigan History Center, a museum dedicated the early European explorers.
The R.E. Olds Transportation Museum is dedicated to Old American modes of transportation from an old steam engine to classic cars.
Kalamazoo has more to offer than its ancient name might suggest. The city is home to Western Michigan University and offers endless opportunities for adventure seekers. Popular attractions for visitors here include the Kalamazoo Valley Museum which is full of interesting exhibitions on science, technology, and history. Its hands-on exhibits make it a unique experience for the whole family.
A stop at The Nature Center The center is well-maintained and with lots of flowers. A stroll through the garden is very calming experience thanks to the sounds of singing birds and water flowing.
Visit the Kalamazoo Insitute of Arts. The institute boasts an impressive collection of thought-provoking pieces by American artists and around the world.
23. Bay City
Bay City is a picturesque town located on Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron. It is one of the six communities that make up the Great Lakes Bay Region. We visited during the tall ships festival and we highly recommend it. But there are plenty of things to do in Bay city from touring the USS Edson. This battle ship is docked full time in the harbor. Even if you are not a history buff, the tour is interesting because of the guides.
A visit to the historic Regent Theater is a must and make sure to go sailing to explore the beautiful coast.
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Michigan
Fall in love with Michigan
So there you have it. These are my favorite places to visit in Michigan. If you are visiting Michigan, be sure to get out of Detroit and see all the cool attractions that the Great Lake State has to offer.
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