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Ready to discover the REAL Michigan? It might take some time, but it will be fun! Want to cheer on the Wolverines with thousands of fans in the Big House? Or, perhaps you’d like to slide down sand dunes? Got a taste for craft beer? Michigan’s got over 350 breweries to explore. If you’re ready to immerse yourself in history, go shopping, eat at farm to table restaurants, surround yourself in cars or remove them all together, then check out Michigan’s top vacation spots.
As a Michigan native, I’m here to tell you that no matter what time of year you visit, Michigan is always ready to serve you up a Detroit-style pizza, craft beer ’round a campfire or an all-around amazing adventure. If you’ve never driven with the windows down just to take in the amazing smell of cedar mixed with pine or jumped cannonball style into a freezing cold lake in the middle of summer, then it’s about time you take a trip to my “totally unbiased” favorite Midwest state.
The type of vacation you want will determine where in Michigan you visit. The Upper Peninsula (Michiganders call it the UP) is where you’ll head for outdoor activities like kayaking and snowmobiling. There are plenty of things to do in Northern Michigan including winery tours and island fun. Visit West Michigan for craft beers and beach time, Mid-Michigan and the Tri-Cities for museums and attractions, and Southeast Michigan for shopping, amazing food and all-around family fun. Keep in mind that some of those will overlap here and there.
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Since it’s pretty common to arrive in Michigan via the DTW airport, we will start our adventure in Detroit. But you should know, the city’s changing every day. Visit Detroit once, and then plan to return the following year because it’s always evolving and changing.
Fun Things to Do in Detroit
1. Support the local economy by shopping with farm, craft and small business vendors at the Eastern Market. While you’re there explore the colorful graffiti brightening up the buildings or sample some local eats.
2. Head out to a Detroit Tigers baseball game at Comerica Park and don’t forget to take a ride on the tiger carousel & Ferris wheel. If you attend a game on a Sunday, kids 14 and under ride free.
3. Visit Detroit’s iconic family-friendly tourist attractions like the Detroit Zoo, Motown Museum and the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.
4. Head to Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park located within the Detroit River, and experience the Belle Isle Aquarium, Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, public beach and the James Scott Memorial Fountain. The best part about these attractions? They’re mostly all free, just be sure to have a recreational passport (a sticker from the DNR required for vehicle entry into state parks) on your vehicle to drive in and park. However, if you bike in or take public transportation, you don’t need a recreational passport.
5. Visit the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center to explore all of the Michigan outdoor adventures while staying indoors. Great for winter fun!
Ann Arbor is an artistic college town and the place you want to be if you enjoy craft shows, art festivals and trying (or learning) something new.
Fun Things to Do in Ann Arbor
1. Search for fairy doors around the city. Shh…they’re hidden in magical spots but you can find a map of them here.
2. Take a guided tour of “The Big House” on the campus of the University of Michigan.
3. Take a short road trip over to Ypsilanti to visit the Yankee Air Museum. Here you can book a ride aboard one of their five historic aircraft for a bird’s-eye-view of the local area. You might even get to see what The Big House looks like from above!
Flint and Tri-Cities Michigan
Drive into Frankenmuth and enter Michigan’s Little Bavaria. This always-bustling city is like a small slice of Germany with its uniquely designed buildings, authentic culinary options and fun year-round festivals.
Fun Things to Do in Frankenmuth
1. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city or set sail on a riverboat cruise aboard the Bavarian Belle Riverboat.
2. Eat a wiener schnitzel at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant or try the family-style chicken dinner at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth.
3. Shop the downtown boutiques and stop for a cupcake at SugarHigh Bakery.
4. Visit a working historical farm at Grandpa Tiny’s Farm. You’ll probably even get to pet some cute animals.
5. Book a stay at one of the two local indoor waterparks: the Bavarian Inn Lodge or Zehnder’s Splash Village.
6. Shop for all things Christmas at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland – the world’s largest Christmas store.
Fun Things to Do in Flint
1. Ride aboard the Huckleberry Railroad and walk the streets of Crossroads Village.
2. Explore For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum and their barrier-free treehouse (temporarily closed due to social distancing restrictions).
3. Wander the Flint Institute of Arts.
4. Take in a show at the Longway Planetarium.
Home to the Michigan State Capitol building and Michigan State University, this area full of fun things to do. If you’re looking for an academic adventure that’s fun for the whole family, this is your place! Hungry? Grab some food from Meat BBQ or the Lansing Brewery.
Fun Things to Do in Lansing
1. Dive into science as a family at the Impression 5 Science Center.
2. Spend time at the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden.
3. Head over to the Potter Park Zoo.
4. Take a tour of the Michigan State Capitol. Visit their website for open tour dates and times.
5. Enjoy freshly made ice cream and cheese from the Michigan State University Dairy Store and then take a tour of the dairy plant to see how it’s made.
Midland is a great location for those seeking outdoor adventure, without leaving the grid. There are many opportunities to explore nature, hike or ride your bike along trails.
Fun Things to Do in Midland
1. Wander the treetop canopy at the Dow Gardens and then stop to take in the smell of the 110 acres of botanical gardens. One of the most beautiful places my family has ever been.
2. Walk across the Tridge – a three-legged bride. Seems like there should be a joke in there somewhere.
3. Peddle bike the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail, a 22-mile long stretch available to cyclists, in-line skaters and hikers.
For years people have been heading to the west coast of Michigan to spend their summers in the beautiful lakeside towns there. South Haven is a beach town through and through.
Fun Things to Do in South Haven
1. Visit the South Haven Lighthouse and Beach.
2. Take in a $4 matinee movie at the historic Michigan Theatre (Moore Theatres) in South Haven.
3. Visit one of their many wineries.
4. Explore the Michigan Maritime Museum.
Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, this lakeside destination is a cultural habitat of entertainment, discovery and relaxation. With roots in the Dutch heritage, Holland prides itself on its Dutch architecture, cuisine and attractions.
Fun Things to Do in Holland
1. Check out Tunnel Park.
2. Walk Your wooden shoes around Windmill Island.
3. Visit the Veldheer Tulip Gardens.
4. Eat and drink at the downtown breweries.
Grand Rapids is a social hub of entertainment, arts and cuisine! This busy downtown area is one of my favorites because there is always something to do or see.
Fun Things to Do in Grand Rapids
1. Relax and enjoy the beauty in the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.
2. Visit Stella’s Lounge for an award-winning giant stuffed burger (plus their Chronic Fries are amazing!).
3. Take in a comedy show at The B.O.B.
4. Check out the culture and art downtown.
In the southwest corner of Michigan sits a cluster of small towns that together make an amazing destination for summer days spent relaxing in the sun. This area, part of the Michigan wine tour, has numerous wineries, eateries, casinos and beachfront properties.
Fun Things to Do in New Buffalo
1. Walk the New Buffalo public beach.
2. Kayak the Galien River Basin.
3. Relax on the deck at the Harbor Grand Hotel and watch the ships in the harbor.
Fun Things to Do in Grand Haven
1. Enjoy the view and grab a few pictures at the Grand Haven Lighthouse and Pier.
2. Walk the sandy beaches and Grand Haven boardwalk.
3. Take a day trip up (only about a 20-minute drive) to Michigan’s Adventure amusement park in Muskegon.
4. Take your bike for a ride with over 100 miles of bike paths in the area.
5. Head over to the Grand Haven Skatepark – it’s got 13,000 square feet with a full-sized bowl, stair rails, quarter pipe and more.
6. Shop the downtown area stores and boutiques.
Mackinac Island is a must-visit place like no other because when you step off the boat taking you to the island, you step into a world without motor vehicles – a world with breathtaking natural sights, horse-drawn carriage rides and a bustling downtown area infused with the smell of freshly made fudge.
Fun Things to Do in Mackinac
1. Visit Arch Rock and snap a selfie.
2. Take a carriage ride around the island with a stop at the Butterfly House.
3. Take a self-guided walking tour of Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes. Watch reenactments and live cannon firings within the fort.
4. Spend 60-90 minutes biking around the 8.2-mile vehicle-free highway that surrounds the island. It’s a beautiful ride with the best views of Lake Huron. Be sure to watch out for horse poo!
5. Follow the hiking trails on the island in search of historic markers, like Skull Cave.
6. Sample and buy fudge to take home with you.
Directly across the water from Mackinac Island is Mackinaw City – another Michigan town with its own rights to popularity. With a fort, vibrant downtown, peaceful campgrounds and spectacular view of the bridge, this quaint city deserves its own stop on the tour.
Fun Things to Do in Mackinaw City
1. Watch a lumberjack show.
2. Eat at Mama Mia’s Pizza – you can also visit their museum upstairs.
3. Visit Colonial Michilimackinac.
4. Check out the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum.
5. Shop Mackinaw Crossings.
If you’re looking for a place that has it all – shoreline beaches, shopping, culinary expertise, outdoor sporting, breathtaking sights, art and culture and nighttime entertainment – Traverse City is the place to go.
Fun Things to Do in Traverse City
1. See the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and lakeshore.
2. Shop the downtown area.
3. Take a day trip over to see the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, Michigan (about a 30-minute drive from Traverse City).
4. Golf at one of the many breathtaking courses.
5. Buy and eat some locally grown cherries!
Petoskey is another Michigan lakeside city with tons to offer visitors looking to relax and have a great time. With beautiful views, fun shopping and naturally beautiful sites, this destination definitely deserves a spot on our “Best Michigan Vacation Spots for Families” list.
Fun Things to Do in Petoskey
1. Search for Petoskey Stones.
2. Enjoy the beauty of Lake Michigan and visit the Lighthouse.
3. Shop and eat downtown. One of our favorite restaurants is Roast & Toast Cafe.
4. Check out the vibrant colors and street art in downtown Petoskey.
Head up to the top of Michigan and you’ll find beautiful outdoor adventures along the Lake Superior coast and Keweenaw Peninsula. The UP is a breathtaking display of natural wonders and is perfect for an adventurous family summer vacation.
Fun Things to Do in Saint Ignace
1. Climb to the top of Castle Rock, all 207 steps. The view is worth it!
2. Grab a diner burger at Clyde’s Drive-In.
3. Immediately after crossing the Mackinac Bridge from the lower peninsula, pull into Bridge View Park for an amazing photo opportunity with the bridge in the background. It’s a super spot to snap a pic.
Fun Things to Do in Munising
1. Camp out under the stars or go RVing at one of the many drive-in campgrounds.
2. Take a Pictured Rocks Cruise to gaze at cliffs and sea caves while boating around the pristine beaches of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
3. Head out on a kayak tour of the natural wonders of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Looking for more places to travel as a family around the Midwest? Check out these 30+ additional Midwest road trip ideas.