There are so many fun things to do in Michigan for all interests. This list of the best of the best includes fantastic scenery, National Park Service sites, urban parks, fascinating history, and a little bit of culture. No matter what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find something you love. If you find yourself wondering where to go in Michigan, pick a few places from this list and plan an itinerary around them.
What makes these the best things to do in Michigan?
I chose these because I think they represent the most amazing and unique things to do in Michigan. There were certainly plenty of options to choose from – I agonized for quite a while over what to cut and what to include. I eventually made my rankings for the best places to visit in Michigan based on my travel here and to other states – I’ve been to 47 as of this publish date so I’ve seen a lot – and which things stand out the most.
Step back in time on Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is the absolute must-do out of all the places to go in Michigan. This little island is located in Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas practically in the shadows of the Mackinac Bridge. Cars have been banned here for over 100 years, and combined with the Victorian architecture many of the buildings, hotels, and houses feature, and the prevalence of horse-drawn carriages, a visit feels like stepping back into history.
Most visitors arrive via ferry boat, though there is a tiny airport on the island and a harbor for docking. Riding bikes around the 8-mile loop road that circles the edge of the island is one of the most popular activities, or you could take a carriage tour for a chance to see some of the sights without the workout. The famous Grand Hotel is an attraction in its own right, with its massive front porch and beautiful gardens. Don’t miss the island’s legendary fudge – but beware, once you have Mackinac Island fudge, you won’t like it from anywhere else.
See the dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
If you’re looking for things to do in Michigan, its Great Lakes shores have to rank near the top. Once named as America’s most beautiful beach, Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the most unique landscapes I’ve found in the United States. Sand dunes tower more than 400 feet above Lake Michigan’s sparkling blue waters in parts of the park. In others, visitors can go for a swim or play in the sand.
Spend a few hours on the Pierce-Stocking Scenic drive winding through forested hills before emerging out to an overlook with views of rolling dunes and North and South Manitou islands in the distance. The highlight is the Lake Michigan Overlook where you can walk out onto a wooden deck that allows you to look nearly straight down to the lake more than 400 feet below you. Other parts of the park preserve historic farms, buildings, and an old Coast Guard station where you can learn about the way shipwreck rescues were conducted in the past.
Sail to the cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Located on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers a different experience than Sleeping Bear. Along the shore here, you’ll find cliffs sculpted by centuries of erosion from water crashing against them. The colorful rock layers exposed by the waves give them a unique and captivating look. You can take a scenic drive through the park, but the best viewing is from the water. Kayak tours and commercial boat rides are the two most popular ways to view the cliffs if you don’t have your own boat to launch.
Miners Castle and Miners Beach are two of the most popular areas as they’re the most easily accessible from the Munising side of the park where most visitors head. At the east end of the national lakeshore, you’ll find dramatic overlooks of Lake Superior. The park contains miles of hiking trails and several waterfalls and beaches. One of the most famous waterfalls, Spray Falls, drops off a 70-foot cliff right into the lake close to a shipwreck from the 1800s, which is very Lake Superior. The best viewing is from the water, and Pictured Rocks boat tours depart regularly from Munising.
Take a city break on Belle Isle
Located in the Detroit River between the United States and Canada, Belle Isle is a dreamy getaway from the tall buildings of downtown and traffic-filled roads in and out of the city. Larger than New York’s famous Central Park, it offers skyline views of Detroit, Windsor, and the Ambassador Bridge connecting them, picnic areas, a beach, sports fields, a Coast Guard station, and more. The island is only accessible from the Michigan side and has a bridge connecting it to the mainland.
A state park pass is required for visitors driving to the island, but pedestrians and cyclists can visit for free. Once you’re on the island, you’ll find numerous different attractions that are included in your admission. Visit the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory – the oldest in the United States – for beautiful indoor gardens. Right next door, you’ll find the Belle Isle Aquarium, which first opened in 1904. The Dossin Great Lakes Museum covers the history of Great Lakes shipping and features mementos of the famous shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Catch a glimpse of local wildlife at the Belle Isle Nature Center. You can also spend your time at the beach, which is surprisingly calm for being in a river.
Immerse yourself in history at the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village
Located just outside of Detroit, this combination of indoor and outdoor museums are some of the best I’ve visited anywhere and certainly rank among the top things to do in Michigan. The Henry Ford Museum has collections of historic artifacts and hands on experiences for kids. Some of the highlights include a variety of presidential limousines, including the vehicle in which President Kennedy was riding when he was assassinated. You’ll also find huge exhibits about train and air transportation. My favorite item on display is the Rosa Parks bus where she sat the day her actions kicked off the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Greenfield Village is located on the same campus and can be visited separately or with a combo ticket. Out here, you’ll find a collection of historic buildings that were relocated from their original sites and arranged in the village. The most notable one for me is the Wright Brothers’ original bicycle store that served as their workshop, transported from Dayton, Ohio. You can also walk through Thomas Edison’s workshop and poet Robert Frost’s house. For a truly unique experience (and an extra fee) you can take a ride in a real Model T. Shops with an old timey vibe sell candy or hats, which add to the historic atmosphere. Restaurants on site serve up hearty American fare.
Truly get away from it all at Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale, Michigan’s only National Park, is located way up in Lake Superior. The island is actually closer to Minnesota and Ontario than mainland Michigan, but it belongs to the Mitten State. As it’s a remote island, visitors must arrive by boat or seaplane from either state. Once you’ve arrived at the park, you have a chance to explore the pristine wilderness. Its remote location makes it one of the least visited national parks each year, but don’t let the logistics discourage you from adding it to your list of things to do in Michigan.
There are miles of hiking trails available for visitors, perfect for day hikes or longer overnight trips. Getting out on the water is another great way to explore and kayak and canoe rentals are offered as well as scenic guided boat tours. Adventurous visitors can go scuba diving in one of the many shipwrecks within the national park boundaries. If you stay overnight in one of the campgrounds or the lodge, you’ll be treated to a seemingly endless array of stars twinkling from some of the darkest skies you’ll find. It’s one of the best places to really get away from it all anywhere.
See the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts
Located in Detroit’s Midtown cultural center, the Detroit Institute of Arts – known as the DIA locally – has one of the best art collections in the United States. It’s home to more than 65,000 works of art, which are housed in a building that’s just as beautiful as the artwork that adorns its walls. The museum’s most famous exhibit is Diego Rivera’s famous Detroit Industry murals, with all four walls covered in frescoes depicting the city’s manufacturing workers. It’s a can’t miss stop on your visit.
Elsewhere in the museum, you’ll find paintings, sculptures, and other creations from around the world. The DIA is also home to one of the largest collections of African-American art in the country. One of the highlights is Officer of the Hussars, which is impossible to miss due to its prominent location and captivating image. In the European gallery, you’ll find one of Van Gogh’s self portraits, which was the first of his paintings to be displayed in a public museum in the US.
Enjoy the Dutch culture at Holland’s Windmill Island
The small town of Holland is located on the west side of the lower peninsula and is is full of fun things to do. It’s famous for its Dutch heritage, which is on full display at the Windmill Island gardens. The highlight of the large garden is the DeZwaan windmill, the only authentic Dutch windmill located in the United States. It’s actually still used to grind wheat into flour. You can also tour the inside of the windmill and head to an upper level for great views of the surrounding gardens, dikes, and more.
Around the windmill, you’ll be able to stroll through the park’s 36 acres of gardens. Costumed guides provide atmosphere and you’ll find other Dutch style buildings as well as a hand-painted Dutch carousel. For a few short weeks in late April and early May, you’ll be treated to the sight of over 100,000 tulips blooming. An annual festival called Tulip Time is also held during this period, with parades, events, and more all celebrating Holland’s Dutch heritage.
View the waterfalls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Michigan’s finest state park, Tahquamenon Falls is located in the eastern Upper Peninsula and features a pair of waterfalls, including one of the largest east of the Mississippi River. Upper Tahquamenon Falls is the more famous of the two, and it’s one of the most recognizable places to visit in Michigan. Approximately 200 feet wide and 50 feet tall, quite a bit of water tumbles over the ledge every minute, especially during the spring snowmelt. It’s noticeable for the brownish tinge to the water, which is caused by tannin leached from the tree roots in the areas the river drains. It gives the water a unique root beer float-like appearance.
A few miles downstream, Lower Tahquamenon Falls is actually a series of smaller cascades that send the river water tumbling over low ledges. In this area, visitors can rent rowboats to head across to a small island in the river or wade into the water near the shore. The park also features campgrounds, miles of hiking trails, a beach on the shore of Lake Superior, and a brewery.
Visit the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Located in Detroit’s Midtown cultural center just a short walk from the previously mentioned DIA, you’ll find the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History which houses largest permanent exhibition dedicated to African-American culture in the country. And Still We Rise is the main exhibition and focus of most visits. The initial rooms of this extensive gallery take visitors to Africa and the human race’s roots there and then to forts where slave trading happened and out onto the deck of a slave ship. You descend into the lower decks of the ship to see mannequins packed onto rows of bunks in one of the most moving sections.
After exiting the ship, the gallery turns to document slaves’ lives in the United States after arrival, from sales in cities to plantation labor to escapees and the Underground Railroad. It continues on to celebrate African-American culture and influence in music, theater, and other aspects of life. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions that are continually changing so it’s worth repeat visits. Live performances and other events are routinely held in its striking central rotunda.
Sail through the Soo Locks
Shipping is still an essential part of life on the Great Lakes, but there was one major barrier in the early days – Lake Superior and Lake Huron sit at different elevations. In order to allow boat traffic to move between the two lakes, the Soo Locks (named after the city of Sault Sainte Marie – pronounced “Soo”) were built in the St. Mary’s River that flows between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Ontario. The locks allow ships to be raised or lowered to the correct water level so that they can sail through the otherwise impassible area. Freighters up to 1000 feet long can pass through the locks and they remain hugely important for commerce in the region.
In addition to vital shipping, they’re also a fascinating draw for tourists. A park next to the locks features a viewing deck where you can sit and watch the ships being raised and lowered as they pass through headed for ports on Lake Superior or out to the Atlantic Ocean. Soo Locks boat tours are also offered, which allow you to actually ride through the locks on a tour boat so you can really experience the wonders of engineering.
Get a taste of Germany in Frankenmuth
Frankenmuth is a little town located between Flint and Saginaw is a little taste of Bavaria right in Michigan. The city loves to celebrate its German heritage and many of the buildings in its downtown area are built with Bavarian-style architecture. Two rival restaurants – Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s – serve up nearly identical chicken dinners that are famous throughout Michigan. The Bavarian Inn Lodge is a family favorite with multiple pools, waterslides, an indoor mini golf course, and a huge arcade.
One of the town’s most famous attractions is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. This massive Christmas store is famous throughout the region and has a mind-blowingly large assortment of décor, ornaments, trees, lawn statues, and everything else you could possibly imagine for Christmas. It’s huge enough that you practically need a map to not get lost. Not many stores are an attraction in and of themselves, but many families make annual visits here, decked out in Christmas-themed outfits. It’s open year round, but understandably sees its biggest crowds in November and December.
Stroll through the Meijer Gardens
Spanning 158 acres, this huge botanical garden in Grand Rapids is a huge draw for locals and visitors. You can spend hours strolling through the gardens dotted with flowers and trees or enjoy the many outdoor sculptures that are part of the collection here. There is also an indoor conservatory with a variety of tropical plants, including ones from other continents. Plan on spending most of the day at the Meijer Gardens if you really want to see everything.
In the outdoor gardens, one of the first things you’ll encounter is a fun, interactive children’s garden. In another area, you’ll find beautiful Japanese style gardens around a small pond. In the Michigan Farm Garden area, veggies, fruit, and sculpted animals give an idea of what an early 1900s farm looked like. It even includes a 100-year-old barn. The Sculpture Garden is one of the most notable highlights with a long path leading you to a variety of artwork. A larger than life horse is one of the favorites, especially for photography, and brightly colored abstract works stand out as well.
See a show at the glitzy Fox Theatre
No building epitomizes the grandeur of the Roaring Twenties in Detroit more than the Fox Theatre. Opened in 1928 to screen movies – can you imagine seeing a movie in a gilded palace like this? – it was the second largest theater in the world at the time. In the years since, it’s hosted performances by many of the country’s top performers.
Its majestic lobby takes up half a block along iconic Woodward Avenue and rises six stories. The décor is elaborate and you have to watch the clock to make sure you drag yourself away from the glitz and glamor to find your seat in time for the start of the show. Over the years, performers like Shirley Temple, Elvis, The Supremes, Frank Sinatra, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Kanye West, and more have headlined shows on its historic stage. Check the performance schedule to see what’ll be on stage during your visit to the area and you might just be lucky enough to catch a show.
Try fowling in Hamtramck
Out of all of the activities on this list, fowling (pronounced like bowling but with an f) is probably the most unique to the state. Developed in an old warehouse in Hamtramck – a small city completely surrounded by Detroit – this game combines bowling and football into a team sport that’s an absolute blast. I’m from the area and this is the top thing I take visitors to do when they come to town. Fowling Warehouse locations can be found at the original site in Hamtramck and Grand Rapids.
To play the game, teams line up at opposite sides of the “lane” with full racks of bowling pins arranged in front of them. You take turns tossing a football at your opponents’ pins to knock as many over as possible. The first team to knock down all ten pins at the other end of the lane wins. It sounds simple, but it’s more of a challenge than you’d expect and is an absolute blast. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Michigan, this should be one of your top stops. Find out more about the game here.
Runners up for the list of top things to do in Michigan
Remember how I said that I had an impossible time narrowing this post down to just the 15 places to visit in Michigan included here? Well, I couldn’t leave them off entirely, so I’ve added some quick notes about my other favorites that just missed the cut.
- Michigan Stadium aka The Big House – Catch a Michigan Wolverines game at the largest stadium in the United States with over 100,000 of your closest friends (or rivals) or take a guided tour.
- Michigan’s Adventure – This family friendly amusement park/water park combo in Muskegon features roller coasters, a kiddie area, and a full water park with your admission.
- Kitch-iti-Kipi – This freshwater spring in the Upper Peninsula’s Palms Book State Park is 40 feet deep and has such clear water that you can see straight to the bottom from the wooden raft that takes visitors out into the center.
- Detroit Zoo – One of the top rated zoos in the United States, the zoo is known for its state-of-the-art penguinarium and Arctic Circle exhibits in addition to numerous other animals.
- Headlands International Dark Sky Park – This park near Mackinaw City is internationally certified for having some of the darkest skies possible, making it an excellent spot for stargazing and even occasional glimpses of the Northern Lights.
- Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum – Located at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula, this museum features historical information and artifacts about maritime history in the Great Lakes.