While many know Michigan as the birthplace of the auto industry in the U.S., both locals and visitors appreciate its other claim to fame as a water wonderland. Michigan borders four of the five Great Lakes providing the longest freshwater coastline in the nation, and boasts over 11,000 inland lakes which means that anywhere you go in Michigan, you are never more than six miles away from a body of water. That makes it easy for families to get out and appreciate the natural beauty of the state as well as the friendly, welcoming personalities of Michiganders. From cozy towns like Marquette (our sponsor) in the Upper Peninsula, nestled on the edge of Lake Superior, down to the bustling metropolitan area of Detroit, Michigan is packed with adventure and exploration for all ages. Come see our top 10 Michigan for family travel and fun!
10. Get a bright idea…visit a lighthouse!
The Great Lakes are full of boating and shipping activity which means that you’ll be able to visit something you might only otherwise see at the ocean coasts: lighthouses! There are 115 lighthouses in Michigan, ranging from simple metal structures on a shore to historical museums with visitor centers, such as the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. Climb the tallest lighthouse on the Great Lakes open to the public at the New Presque Isle Lighthouse!
9. Visit a big city with heart!
While most Americans associate Detroit with the heart of the auto industry, we’re here to tell you that Detroit has a big heart of its own and stands ready to share its history and fun with your family! Set on 125 acres with tons of hands-on activities and interactive animal displays, the Detroit Zoo is one of Michigan’s top visitor attractions. To get a glimpse of a different sort of Tiger, take your family to Comerica Park where Sundays are “Kids Days;” enjoy a this baseball park that also boasts a theme park and baseball museum! Not far away, the Michigan Science Center is a top attraction for hands-on science activities and fun.
Check out more Detroit attractions.
8. Explore family-friendly towns with big personality
Michigan’s diverse, fun atmosphere is best expressed in its mid-sized towns with BIG personality, such as Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo. Ann Arbor is noted worldwide for its art and “foodie” culture. It hosts a variety of events throughout the year: the Summer Festival, Ann Arbor Art Fair, Film Festival, Restaurant Week, and more! It also boasts one of the state’s most popular children’s museums, and a beautiful, walkable downtown where you’ll find some fantastic art fairs and enchanting sights for kids of all ages, such as the two dozen fairy doors liberally sprinkled through town, the Dexter Cider Mill, and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, to name a few. Grand Rapids exudes family togetherness with outdoor activities at the Frederik Meijer Gardens, the John Ball Zoo, and the Rosa Parks Circle Ice Rink. Kalamazoo is the proud hometown of the Air Zoo aviation museum and indoor amusement park, voted “best place to take out-of-towners” and “best place to spend a day with your family” three years in a row! Towns like these cultivate family-friendly parks and host festivals year-round to celebrate seasons, local history, and unique interests.
7. Learn about the “motors” of our country
No visit to the Detroit area is complete without taking in over nine acres of “America’s Greatest History Destination” at The Henry Ford complex, consisting of The Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge factory tour, and IMAX theater. The impressive museum and historical site highlight the achievements of not only Henry Ford, but also the hard work of ordinary Americans who built this country. The displays at these sites are widely varied and impressive, including Wilbur and Orville Wright’s bicycle shop, Thomas Edison’s laboratory, the Rosa Parks bus, a presidential limousine, and dozens of other amazing American historical artifacts, famous homes, and machinery.
Has this piqued your curiosity? Explore our Top 10 Living History Museums.
6. Traverse City
The “Cherry Capital of the World,” has been voted a “Top Ten Tourist Town” by Parents Magazine and one of “America’s 10 Best Small Towns” by Fodor’s. In the northwest part of the lower peninsula, cozily nestled between the arms of Grand Traverse Bay, it has a unique character all its own with activities, “foodie”-pleasing restaurants, and scenery sure to wow the entire family. The unique geography of the area leaves the waters protected, offering long stretches of beaches for water play including swimming, fishing, sailing, and paddling. Every year in early July, Traverse City pulls out all the stops to celebrate all things cherry at the National Cherry Festival in East Bay Park. Head north of Traverse City out on Mission Point to view sprawling orchards, visit roadside fruit stands, sample local juices, and find the state’s best wineries. Visit the village of Old Mission, founded in 1839, the eclectic Old Mission General Store, the village schoolhouse, Old Mission Inn, and Old Mission Lighthouse at the very end of Mission Point.
5. Visit another country!
Michigan has a rich history of immigrant settlements. As a result, it also has quite a few small towns steeped in culture from places such as Holland, Germany, and Finland, to name a few. The Old Dutch attractions found in Holland, Michigan are always fun and family-friendly. Explore Nelis’ Dutch Village for hands-on learning and the Windmill Island Gardens to climb to the top of DeZwaan, the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the U.S. The highlight of Holland’s Dutch celebration begins in early May at the Tulip Time Festival, where you’ll find parades, concerts, Dutch food, dancing, and tons of cultural displays through town. Frankenmuth is Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” and is the most popular place to visit in the state, despite its small size. Celebrate Bavarian culture at one of the several festivals held in the town throughout the year or discover delicious German foods at one of their many restaurants.
Getting hungry? Here are more restaurants in Frankenmuth.
4. Just dune it!
With all the water in Michigan, you’ll find a beautiful assortment of beaches and dunes in which to bury your toes and build sand castles while you admire your view of the lake. Voted the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore includes a breathtaking 64-mile curve of beaches, coves, islands, and dunes worthy of exploration. Visit Michigan’s #1 state park, Grand Haven State Park, to take in the beach that was voted one of the “best secret beaches on earth” by Travel & Leisure Magazine in 2012. While you’re there, be sure to visit the unique Musical Fountain. Near Sawyer, Michigan, Warren Dunes State Park provides another beautiful stretch of sand dunes that rise 260 feet above the lake for hiking or settling in to relax at the water’s edge.
3. Go wild in the Upper Peninsula!
Many Americans don’t realize that the state of Michigan is divided into two parts where the Mackinac Bridge connects the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula (U.P.). Though the U.P. has nearly 1/3 of the land of Michigan, just 3% of the population lives here. What that means for locals and visitors is mile after mile of unspoiled natural beauty! Wilderness, secluded beaches, amazing rock formations, animal encounters, and over 324 waterfalls make the U.P. a natural playground for bikers, hikers, snowmobilers, geocachers, bird-watchers, and other lovers of the outdoors. The U.P. is also one of the few places in the lower 49 states where you have a good chance of viewing the Aurora Borealis (“Northern Lights”) if you don’t mind staying up late! The hub of the U.P. resides in the family-friendly town of Marquette, which is not only a beautiful port town on Lake Superior with numerous summer festivals, parks, restaurants, and the U.P.’s only children’s museum, it is the perfect launching point for exploration of the “wild side” of Michigan!
2. Go back in time!
Mackinac Island is one of those “must see” unique locations that should be on every family’s bucket list for Michigan. Take a 30-minute ferry to the island from either Mackinac City on the south side of the Mackinac Bridge or St. Ignace in the U.P. and prepare to travel back in time as you explore the island by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle, or on foot, as there are no cars allowed on the island! Historic Fort Mackinac allows visitors to experience the uniquely austere conditions the fort’s soldiers and families experienced in the 1800′s, all from an amazing hillside vista that peers out over Lakes Michigan and Huron. Of course, no trip to Mackinac Island is complete without enjoying their iconic, freshly-made fudge! Make it a day trip or, better yet, overnight at one of the island’s historic hotels or B&B’s to fully experience its rich history.
1. Jump in a lake!
There’s a good reason why Michigan is called the “Great Lakes State” – lakes are unavoidable with shoreline on four of the Great Lakes (Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior) and thousands of other inland lakes scattered throughout the state. So, do as the locals and dive right in!
Take a glass-bottom boat tour to discover the shipwrecks in Lake Superior near Munising, and view the breathtaking rock formations at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Grand Island. Not too far away, you can learn more about lost vessels and other Great Lakes shipwrecks, such as the Edmund Fitzgerald, at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point. A bit further to the east, the Soo Locks are a fascinating mechanical wonder that can be explored from boat or from land in Sault Ste. Marie. How about a submarine? The U.S.S. Silversides, moored near Muskegon, is a place where kids and families can learn about World War II and submarine life through hands-on experience. Visit the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven and plan a pirate adventure on the sloop Friends Good Will, a replica of the only Tall Ship to sail the Great Lakes. It is a state-of-the-art, interactive, floating classroom! Similarly, the Appledore Tall Ships provide public sails and dinner cruises from Bay City, near Saginaw, and the Tall Ship Manitou does the same from Traverse City. As you can see, there is no limit to the adventure, learning, and family fun to be had on and around Michigan’s lakes!
We’re dying to know – what’s your favorite way to spend time on the water? Share the scoop.
Many thanks to the Marquette County CVB for sponsoring this Top Ten Article!
Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Marquette is the ideal stomping grounds for those looking for adventure or for those looking for a tamer experience. No matter what your idea of fun is, Marquette is the perfect year-round destination. From kid-friendly winter activities of tubing, downhill and cross-country skiing, to classic summer fun of pristine beach-going, biking, and hiking, Marquette is an ideal first stop and launching-point to the greater U.P!