Exploring Pure Michigan: The Top 10 Places You Must Visit


Why Visit Michigan, Anyway? Two Words: Pure Michigan!

So, maybe you've seen them? The Pure Michigan ads, that is. The immensely beautiful and outright intriguing commercials are narrated by none other than Tim Allen, a fellow Michigander. They depict the state’s breathtaking yet underrated natural splendor that rivals anything you may see on the Discovery Channel. The Pure Michigan advertisement campaign was started in 2006 by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in order to attract more tourists to the region. And its success has made Pure Michigan both a motto and a saving grace for the state. After the economic turmoil Michigan has experienced in the past decades, tourism has taken a larger role in recent years.

But still the question remains, why visit Michigan? In two words: diverse beauty. Michigan’s extraordinarily beautiful places range from beaches and sand dunes, to forests and farm lands, to tens of thousands of lakes, some of which contain islands where horses and bicycles are the only means of transportation. In fact, in Michigan, you are never more than a few hours from a Great Lake, of which the state has four. Apple trees, blueberry farms, and cherry festivals are notorious in Michigan. And, part of Michigan runs through the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, a latitude that put a place called Bordeaux, France on the map. Here, like Bordeaux, Michigan also has several wineries that make some impressive blends, and you don't even have to leave the country to sample some of the best wines around!

Now that I've whet your appetite, let me give you a few specific places in Michigan that you'll absolutely want to go visit. Whether you've been to Michigan before or are thinking about taking a trip for the first time, you won't want to miss these incredible spots.

#10 Lansing

Since I spent four years of my life in Lansing while attending Michigan State University (MSU), I couldn't resist putting this on the list. You could say that I am partial to this city. As the capitol of Michigan, Lansing has much to offer to families and young people alike. There are delicious restaurants that have seemed to withstand the test of time, always drawing large crowds. These include places like Emil's, Clara's, and the Golden Harvest Restaurant, to name a few.

Then, there is the university. Founded in 1855 as the pioneering land-grant institution in the US, the MSU campus is situated in East Lansing. East Lansing undoubtedly has more in the way of night life and hipster restaurants that appeal to the college crowd. Be sure to try out the Peanut Barrel, Lou and Harry's, and Crunchy's. At the MSU Dairy Store, you can get cheeses and ice cream produced on campus by students majoring in a variety of health science fields. The campus itself is beautiful, comprised of a wide array of buildings and facilities spanning over 5,200 acres and serving nearly 50,000 students that attend the University. It is certainly worth a stop, if only on your way to another destination.

Beaumont Tower on the MSU campus

Beaumont Tower on the MSU campus

#9 Frankenmuth

Home to the largest Christmas store in the world, Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, Frankenmuth is a quaint town that has been around for more than a century and a half. Its name is German, and likewise, most of the town's original residents were German. There is still a large population of German people in Frankenmuth, and because of this, the town has been termed "Michigan's Little Bavaria."

Frankenmuth is located on the east side of the state within what's known as the thumb region, which means that it is near many larger cities such as Saginaw, Flint, and Bay City, which sits on Lake Huron. One of the largest cities in Michigan, Detroit, is only 90 miles away. Due in part to its proximity to these larger metropolitan areas, Frankenmuth is an ideal day trip and in fact, has been voted the top day trip destination by readers of The Detroit News.

So, what to do in Frankenmuth? I have already mentioned Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, which is truly a feat of ingenuity. You must go here if you visit Frankenmuth, whether or not it is the holiday season. Of the many additional attractions, a meal at Zehnder's restaurant downtown is a must. Famous for their family-style chicken dinners, Zehnder's has been in operation nearly as long as Frankenmuth has been a city, and is currently the country's largest family restaurant with seating for nearly 1,500 guests at a time. The restaurant even claims that they serve more than 1,000,000 customers each year—and this is all from one location! If that many people eat there, it must be good.

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland has all of the decorations imaginable year-round

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland has all of the decorations imaginable year-round

Zehnder's is a famous dinner spot, serving over one million customers a year

Zehnder's is a famous dinner spot, serving over one million customers a year

#8 Muskegon

As the largest city on the western shores of Lake Michigan, Muskegon consists of 26 miles of sandy beach. Like many of the cities that border the Great Lakes, the Muskegon area has numerous historical lighthouses, many of which are tourist attractions and draw crowds throughout the year. The area is also home to a couple of state parks, including P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, which offers recreational activities such as camping, hiking, cross-country skiing in the winter, and dune climbing.

Off of the sand and in other parts of the city, there are many museums and other historical attractions. These include the Hackley & Hume Historic site, comprised of restored mansions built by some of Michigan's most prominent lumber moguls of the past. In addition, from fall through spring, the Frauenthal Theater plays host to traveling Broadway productions and symphonies. Lastly, Michigan's largest amusement park, Michigan's Adventure, is found just a few miles outside of Muskegon and features more than 53 rides including roller coasters, go karts, mini golf, and WildWater Adventure, a water park featuring slides, raft rides, wave pools, and children's play areas.

The Thunderhawk roller coaster at Michigan's Adventure

The Thunderhawk roller coaster at Michigan's Adventure

Heritage Landing at the Muskegon lake shore

Heritage Landing at the Muskegon lake shore

#7 Kalamazoo

Yes, there really is a place called Kalamazoo! Located roughly halfway between Detroit and Chicago, Kalamazoo is home to a wide array of cultural activities, a vibrant night life, and arts and entertainment of all sorts. The first Friday of each month, the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo hosts an Art Hop, where patrons circulate among downtown businesses while viewing installations. The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts is a museum that often hosts popular traveling exhibits. In addition, just south of Kalamazoo, in Portage, is the Air Zoo, which displays a variety of aircraft, from historical planes and jets to more modern aircraft.

For outdoor enthusiasts, the Kalamazoo-Portage area has many parks with walking and biking trails, playgrounds for children, and outdoor venues for entertainment and family gatherings. Kayaking and canoeing are also available at some parks where creeks and rivers are found. The city of Portage has also created the Portage Bikeway, a system comprised of over 55 miles of pathways and bike lanes utilizing the roadways already created in the area. This is a great way to move about the town and see some of the local attractions.

Kalamazoo is also known for its restaurants, breweries, and wineries, all of which feature locally made products with unique twists. Night life venues abound in the downtown area, highlighting local musicians and bands on nearly a daily basis. And with a university nearby (Western Michigan University), it is no wonder this area is known for its eccentricities and cultural diversity.

Downtown Kalamazoo

Downtown Kalamazoo

#6 South Haven

South Haven is a sleepy beach town on Lake Michigan just about an hour west of Kalamazoo. In South Haven you will find small eateries, bed and breakfasts, a hotel or two, a yacht and sailing club, and lots of rental properties. In addition to what you will find, South Haven takes pride in what you will not: big name businesses, restaurants, or shopping malls. There is somewhat of an outdoor mall, if you will, but it’s entirely made up of quaint specialty shops and gift stores unique to South Haven. Located on the main street downtown, these shops stretch for several blocks. Check out The Blueberry Store, Decadent Dogs, and Props for a unique shopping experience!

After shopping, grab a bite to eat at the popular downtown restaurant, Clementines, or take a walk down North or South Beach and visit the century-old lighthouse on South Pier. You'll enjoy every minute of it!

South Beach looking out at the South Pier lighthouse

South Beach looking out at the South Pier lighthouse

Clementine's restaurant downtown

Clementine's restaurant downtown

#5 Detroit

It's safe to say that you are probably already somewhat familiar with Detroit, the largest city in Michigan and the 10th largest city in the US. Founded in 1701, Detroit has been given numerous nicknames, including the Renaissance City, the Motor City, Hockeytown, and, more simply, the D. The city has activities for almost anybody—sports teams, casinos, museums, entertainment, and many other attractions. What's more, most who live in Detroit will tell you that the economy seems to be improving in the area. Slowly, but surely.

Detroit gave us the automobile and Motown, and it is still a hub of innovation and forward thinking. Sitting on the eastern border of Michigan, the city is one of only a few spots where one can take a short trip and cross into Canada. And in Dearborn just outside of Detroit lies the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, both of which take visitors back to an earlier time. Anyone interested in the automobile industry should also make a point to tour the Ford Rouge Factory, just down the road from the Museum and Village.

Satellite image of Detroit

Satellite image of Detroit

Looking toward Ford Field the night of Super Bowl XL in Detroit

Looking toward Ford Field the night of Super Bowl XL in Detroit

#4 Isle Royale

The largest island in Lake Superior and the second largest belonging to the state of Michigan, Isle Royale and its nearly 450 smaller surrounding islands have been designated a National Park since the 1930s. With no permanent residents living on the island, Isle Royale comprises just over 200 square miles of forest, crystal clear water, and a diverse array of wildlife. In fact, the relationship between the moose and wolves found on the island has been studied in great detail by ecologists for many years. Beyond this, there are many species of fish, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians that define the island.

To visit the island, one must take a ferry, seaplane, or other means, as it is inaccessible by roadways. The park itself is open to the public during only the warmer months, usually from April through October. While visiting, you could go hiking, fishing, boating, kayaking, or simply nature watching. Camping is also available in designated locations throughout the island.

Beach at Huginnin Cove camp area on Isle Royale

Beach at Huginnin Cove camp area on Isle Royale

Moose with calf on Isle Royale

Moose with calf on Isle Royale

#3 Petoskey

Sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay in the northwestern region of the state, Petoskey has long been known for its beauty and spectacular views. Named a "coastal dream town" by Coastal Living Magazine, the city has much to offer tourists and residents alike. Petoskey, along with its neighbor, Bay View, have amazing architecture in the form of Victorian-style cottages. The Victorian homes are so incredibly preserved that Bay View has been deemed a National Historic Landmark. Petoskey is also the namesake for Michigan's state stone, which can be found in droves along the coastline.

Petoskey has long been thought of as a resort town; much of this city has been developed to cater to tourists. As with many of the locations I've highlighted, Petoskey is full of quaint shops owned by locals, gourmet restaurants, and one-of-a-kind attractions. Just outside the city, there are world-class golf courses, ski resorts, and snowmobiling trails. What's more, each August, the city holds a Festival on the Bay with music, children's activities, competitive games, and a promenade featuring vendors from local eateries. However, if you aren't able to visit in August, plan to visit the marina and waterfront anyway, as the sunsets are spectacular year round.

Downtown Petoskey looking towards Little Traverse Bay

Downtown Petoskey looking towards Little Traverse Bay

#2 Traverse City

Traverse City could very well be called the cherry capital of the world. For anyone who loves cherries, this town is a must-see. But Traverse City has much more than just produce. Just north of the city are two peninsulas, both of which cross the 45th parallel (which, if you remember from earlier, is conducive to great wine production). It is here that you will find nearly 30 different wineries, many of which, such as Chateau Grand Traverse, are well-known throughout the Midwest and surrounding areas. Not to worry, just down the road there are also several excellent distilleries and breweries for beer lovers to try!

Traverse City is also a hub of arts and entertainment, and plays host to a number of festivals that spotlight a variety of interests. For example, each summer brings the Traverse City Film Festival, a six-day event founded by Michael Moore that highlights independent films, documentaries, and the people who work to create them. Also in July is the National Cherry Festival, which attracts an estimated 500,000 visitors each year. Clearly, this would be something to see!

Of course, Traverse City offers the typical attractions that I have so often mentioned throughout this piece. Shopping, dining, nightlife, outdoor recreation, and children's activities are just a few. Be sure to stop by Moomer's, a small, family-run ice cream shop just five miles outside of downtown, which overlooks the dairy farm where its products are made and offers a one-of-a-kind experience for patrons. Regardless of your interests or tastes, there is something for everyone to love about Traverse City.

Cherry trees in Traverse City

Cherry trees in Traverse City

Vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula

Vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula

A view of the Grand Traverse Bay during the National Cherry Festival

A view of the Grand Traverse Bay during the National Cherry Festival

#1 Mackinac Island

And finally, last, but certainly not least: Mackinac Island, the little slice of heaven that embodies all that is Michigan. The Pure Michigan campaign that I mentioned earlier deems Mackinac the only truly "all natural" theme park in America. This is primarily because there are no cars allowed on the island; transportation consists of horses and buggies, bicycles, and your own two feet. Even fire trucks, emergency responders, and street sweepers are pulled by horses! Inevitably, one will feel a level of nostalgia when visiting Mackinac Island, as it appears as though the island itself has somehow managed to escape the pervasive changes that so often accompany the passage of time.

Officially designated a National Historical Landmark, Mackinac Island has been an exercise in preservation and restoration. More than 80% of the 3.8-square-mile island is part of the Mackinac Island State Park, which consists of historical landmarks, hiking, and biking trails. In all, there are only about 500 permanent residents on Mackinac Island, some even living on the state park. However, thousands more will set up temporary residence as seasonal employees at hotels, restaurants, and gift shops.

While visiting Mackinac, be sure to try a bike ride around the island. Along the way, you will encounter interesting rock formations, landmarks, picnic sites, trail heads, rocky beaches, and roads leading to the interior of the island. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can try biking or hiking on a few of the trails on the interior. You should also take some time to walk along the main street downtown, visiting shops and picking up some fudge. Mackinac is famous for its fudge, and many local vendors will even hand out free samples. But most importantly, be sure to take some time and relax on your trip to Mackinac. Soak up all that the island has to offer, and breathe a sigh of relief that you have escaped the stress of everyday life.

Main Street on Mackinac Island

Main Street on Mackinac Island

Birds eye view of Mackinac Island harbor

Birds eye view of Mackinac Island harbor

Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island

Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island


Mike Hardy from Caseville, Michigan on October 19, 2018:

Well I've hit 9 out of 10. Great read.

citiesandplaces.com on August 01, 2018:

Useful article. I love Michigan and want to go again. Thanks for sharing.

Cheryl on April 30, 2018:

We want to take a road trip in June around the Lake Michigan coast and up to Macinaw. Must we have hotel reservations since we don't know how long we will want to stay in any one of the towns or cities?

Essie from Southern California on October 10, 2015:

Your hub was filled with so many fascinating details! My husband and I have a dream vacation to visit/tour all (or a good portion of) lighthouses. Michigan has the most lighthouses in the US, so probably doubtful we can hit them all.

Enjoyed your photos and videos. Especially enjoyed the street in Mackinac Island, and the video on Mackinac.

Migena Alikaj on September 02, 2015:

The beautiful city of Ann Arbor is definitely worth visiting as well. It offers simply a spectacular view with its architecture, not to mention that University of Michigan is there. GO BLUE!

susanjsmith on September 01, 2015:

Here's my blog post about Pure Michigan. Love my state!


Rami Sabeer from Egypt on August 04, 2015:

Great article, you inspired me for my next vacation thank you so much

Readmikenow on July 29, 2015:

A very nice article. The North Country Trail in Michigan's Central Upper Peninsula is also good to see. A lot of beautiful woodland areas there.

Jean on July 23, 2015:

I thought this was a very nice article, however you are missing one of Michigand greatest gems: Grand Rapids! Some of the best art, beer, and coffee in the world truly make it a destination.

Lulu on July 20, 2015:

thank you i love this so much!!!

Melanie Palen from Midwest, USA on July 14, 2015:

I love this! The Pure Michigan sign in your photo is about a mile from my house. (Mile marker 1 on 94.)

Awesome hub!

Alex on May 18, 2015:

I love Michigan, I live in it, I love the Detroit Red Wings and I love the view :)

Natalie on December 26, 2014:

love michigan i live in it going to macina in may

Brenda Lin on October 15, 2014:

We live in southwest Michigan and I have to agree it is a beautiful place to live. We never get tired of going to Mackinaw, we have vacationed in Traverse City many times, its one of the best places in Michigan. Weather its the U.P., Port Huron, Kalamazoo, you will find kind people and beautiful sights anywhere in Michigan.

Shelly Wyatt from Maryland on August 21, 2014:

I have been to Michigan on several occasions and I love the state. It's so beautiful and has so much to offer the traveler. As a matter of fact we visited Mackinac Island just this summer. Loved it! Great hub voted up

Kiersten on July 08, 2014:

Referencing the third paragraph, I feel inspired to share that Michigan does, in fact, have waterfalls - about 200, actually! Almost all of them are in the UP. I recently visited the largest one, Tahquamenon Falls, which has rust-colored water. It's also the 3rd most voluminous falls east of the Mississippi, and it's pretty cool to see up close. I recommend it if you're doing nature sightseeing up there in the summertime!

Rachel on May 29, 2014:

Don't forget the great less-tourist-filled areas like the Leelanau peninsula (north of Sleeping Bear Dunes), Port Austin, Munising, Charlevoix...I could keep going for hours. :)

Amanda from Michigan, United States on April 27, 2014:

Considering I live in Michigan I've sadly been to very few of these places! Though of course I've heard of them. Thanks for highlighting our beautiful state in your hub. Voted up.

Dave Cobb on April 08, 2014:

I also have lived in Michigan all my life and I would have to say I never get tired of the of the sights of the Mackinac Bridge to the north , Detroit and the Tigers to the south , Traverse City and Leelanau Co to the north west , Caseville and the beaches and fishing to the east .And the best State park system in the country. I can really say If you vist our state you will not be disappointed there is something for everyone at just about any budget .

PK on April 08, 2014:

Michigan is wonderful and we've lived here all our lives except a 3 year time away for schooling. I have also had the privilege of living on Mackinac Island for almost 12 years year round. Please come up here as the island is a great place to visit and stay! But, you may see some vehicles though. We do have a firetruck, an ambulance and some other maintenance trucks (don't want to get picky with the author, but wanted to clarify). The street sweeper is horse drawn. These do take away anything from the atmosphere and won't be an issue. Those of us that live here are glad for these emergency vehicles.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on May 25, 2013:

I undertand your fondness for your home state. A lot of people do not perceive my home state of New Mexico as being beautiful, but I retain a fondness of it even though I live in California. Your writing is very professional.

Jr88roy on May 24, 2013:

Great article ! I was elated to see that you included the "sleepy beach town" of South Haven, partially because this is where i live. It really is a great state with its vast number of beaches and outdoor activities to a vast number of ethnic eateries. Beautiful year round, Pure Michigan is the place to be.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on May 10, 2013:

I have a special affinity for Michigan. I like its universities and their competitive spirit, suburbs of Detroit with ethnic cuisine, its lakes, its wolf population that has been targeted by anti-wolf lobby, Detroit Red Wings, Isle Royale and Mackinac Island. Besides, when I visit Lake Huron in Ontario, I find 70% boaters are from Michigan.

You have give information about some other beautiful destinations that I am sure my family and I will be off to this summer.

Thank you for writing a travel hub on a less visited state. Voted up and rated 'Awesome'!

yoginijoy from Mid-Atlantic, USA on June 19, 2012:

Wow! I had no idea that Michigan is so beautiful and full of great destinations. I shall have to check it out now. Thanks for this wonderful descriptive hub. Voting up and useful.

Shirley on June 19, 2012:

Nice job!

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