Touching four of the Great Lakes, Michigan is enveloped in stunning scenery in every direction you look. Its beautiful coastline is lined with white sand beaches, giant dunes, and colorful sandstone cliffs where historic lighthouses stand after decades.
In the warmer months, you can explore from Detroit to South Haven, discovering fascinating history along the way. From Henry Ford to Motown, there’s no shortage of historical and cultural things to do in Michigan.
When temperatures drop, experience lush fall foliage and snowy landscapes as Michigan’s small towns grow ever more charming.
16. Michigan State Capitol (Lansing)
Designed by Elijah Myers and constructed in 1879, the striking Michigan State Capitol remains a place of governance and one that’s well worth a tour.
In 1992, after a thorough renovation, the Michigan State Capitol became a National Historic Landmark. The building has one distinctive feature that separates it from the majority of other capitol buildings. That being its outstanding cast-iron dome, best appreciated by the spacious grounds.
Today, you can explore the prominent building or sign up for a fascinated guided tour that takes you behind the scenes in one of the most important buildings in the state.
15. Holland State Park Beach
Overlooking the picturesque Lake Michigan, the Holland State Park Beach is the place to be in summer. Just out of Holland, enjoy a seemingly endless lakefront where you’ll have ample space to laze under the sun and cool off in the lake.
Throw around the football and play cornhole on the sand or make use of the boat ramp to get out on the lake. Fishing is also permitted within the state park. If you’re after more dry land adventures, then enjoy the many trails that skirt the lake’s edge.
If you can’t bring yourself to leave at the end of the day, head to one of the park’s two campgrounds.
14. Historic Gaslight District (Petoskey)
For over a century, the Historic Gaslight District in Petoskey has been a prominent gathering place for locals. Today, it’s brimming with independent boutique stores, fine arts galleries and plenty of up-scale dining.
On arrival, grab yourself a to-go coffee, as it’s a glorious area to walk around on foot and explore on a whim. Be sure to stop by Symons General Store for their famed Michigan candy and Mclean & Eakin, a cozy long-time bookstore.
The district is particularly beautiful at night when the old gas lights turn on and you can enjoy star-lit views of Little Traverse Bay.
13. Kal Haven Trail
Running for over 30 miles along an old railroad bed, the Kal haven Trail links South Haven to the city of Kalamazoo. The Pure Michigan Trail helps you to explore Michigan’s history while walking (or riding) through some of the state’s most charming small towns.
Along the trek, you’ll wander through beautiful meadows and open farmlands before crossing through forest and along Lake Michigan. The trail is hard-packed and not paved, although there are several accessible sections. In the winter, you can complete the trail on cross-country skis or on a snowmobile when the snow base is four inches or more.
12. Motown Museum (Detroit)
In downtown Detroit, the Motown Museum was established in 1985 and celebrates the city in which the genre was born. Inside an original studio, the museum explores the story of Motown from humble beginnings to its most famous tunes.
Explore a variety of exhibits showcases historic artifacts, apparel and memorabilia from some of Motown’s biggest stars. Motown has recently expanded so it can not only preserve the past but promote the future. The museum now helps to cultivate musical opportunities through training and its many live events.
11. South Haven Lighthouse
Built at the turn of the 20th century, the South Haven Lighthouse has long had a mystical aura that has captivated travelers. At night, the red lighthouse shines under its beacon at the end of a lamp post laden elevated catwalk. Whether the stars sparkle above, or the sky is gloomy, it promises to be an awe-inspiring sight.
The lighthouse is made from cast iron, strong enough to handle the burly swell of Lake Michigan for over a century. The major reason the elevated walkway was installed was so that the keeper could still make his way to the lighthouse in a storm.
Visitors can park in downtown South Haven and embark on the Maritime District Harborwalk. The path showcases town history along the way before delivering you to the historic lighthouse.
10. Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Along a secluded section of Lake Michigan, Saugatuck Dunes State Park combines beautiful coastline, enormous dunes, and lush forests. While it’s common for visitors to kick back on the pristine beach under the warm summer sun, there’s much to explore.
Along the park’s 2.5-mile shoreline, you’ll discover dunes that have grown to be over 200 feet tall. There are 13 miles of hiking trails through Saugatuck Dunes that also showcase the dense forests where birds flock during the warmer months.
In the winter, the hiking trails make for memorable afternoons of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, with the dunes now blanketed in powder.
9. Front Street (Traverse City)
Running through the center of Traverse City, Front Street is a dining, retail, and entertainment hub. The street is home to over 150 merchants, housed in 19th-century buildings alongside the charming brick sidewalks.
Front Street is a happening place to be at any time of year, with endless events to enjoy. In the spring, the street is lined with leafy trees and white blossoms that stick around through the summer months. In the fall, the spectacular foliage makes a superb partner as you sip on your coffee and watch the world go by. As the snow falls in the winter, the street is covered with twinkling lights to celebrate a magical time of year.
8. Isle Royale National Park
Remote and car-free, Isle Royale National Park is an unspoiled natural world and a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve. The park comprises a number of islands all found around the central Isle Royale. The only way to embark on your adventures here is by first arriving via ferry or flying in on a seaplane.
With your feet back on dry land, you can explore the Isle Royale National Park along several trails. Each showcase a land shaped by the Ice Age, with ample lakes, rivers and dense forests teaming with wildlife. Common sightings include otters, moose and wolves, along with a range of predatory birds.
It’s a remote wilderness experience, one that isn’t usually found so close to civilization.
7. Detroit RiverFront
A great way to explore Detroit while getting your steps in is to make your way to the Detroit RiverFront. Featuring the 3.5-mile RiverWalk, stroll along the Detroit River while enjoying beautiful views of the city skyline.
The paved walkway is easy on the legs and great for those on a bike. The western end of the trail begins on the RiverFront’s Renaissance Center, home to the headquarters of GM. Have access to shopping, entertainment and dining along with the Cullen Family Carousel.
Meander along the river, passing the Eastern Market. The farmers’ market covers six blocks and is open year-round. The trail finishes at Milliken State Park when you can enjoy a picnic and explore the lighthouse.
6. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
On the southern shores of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks is named after the mix of oxidized sandstone cliffs that create a mesmerizing coastline. In the summer and early fall, get out on the lake and paddle along the 42-mile national lakeshore.
As you make your way along the coast, admire the natural art, with the variety of iron oxidization creating a wide range of colors. Being sandstone, the cliffs have also been shaped by the lake, with several natural landmarks, including Miners Castle and the popular Chapel Rock.
Blanketing the top of the cliffs is a wooded forest coursing with walking and mountain biking trails. Grab your camping gear for a night on the coast and under the stars.
5. The Henry Ford (Dearborn)
In the Detroit suburb of Dearbon, the Henry Ford is one of the most impressive car museums you’ll get to see. Covering indoor and outdoor areas, the experience comprises three different attractions, all of which combine to tell the story of the world in which Henry Ford weaved his magic.
The first is the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Explore the stories and the motivation behind some of the most important inventions and moments, not just in American history, but in the world. The museum’s exhibits cover prominent past figures from the Wright brothers to Rosa Parks.
At Greenfield Village, you can take a journey back to the 19th century, and wander by farms with period actors, restaurants serving the food of the time, and an old train depot. From where you can ride a historic locomotive. Finish up at the Ford Rouge Factory, built by Henry Ford and features classic vehicles from years past.
4. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Established in 1995, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park combines an extensive botanical garden with an array of public art. Combining a cultural experience with time in nature has made it a popular experience for locals and visitors alike. In fact, it’s the second most-visited attraction in Michigan.
You can find the park in Grand Rapids. Where, just blocks away from the rows of breweries, you can enjoy a peaceful experience wandering through breathtaking indoor and outdoor gardens. Some highlights of the serene experience will be the Japanese garden and the Iron Tree Sculpture, the latter designed by the one and only Ai Weiwei.
Regular events are held throughout the year to allow visitors to enjoy up-close experiences with whatever is blooming. However, park’s summer concerts help take a memorable day to a whole different level.
3. Detroit Institute of Arts
One of the top art museums in the United States can be found in Detroit. With a significant collection of over 65,000 pieces spread across a hundred galleries, the Detroit Institute of Arts is a rare look into arts and culture through the centuries.
With a worldwide focus, the institute harbors art from the four corners of the globe. Split into the appropriate halls, experience fine arts from Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the captivating collection of Native American art and the contemporary arts hall dedicated to African-American artists.
The Detroit Institute of Arts also runs an exciting calendar of events, making use of their workshop space and two theaters. Whenever you need a break, you’ll also have access to two on-site restaurants.
2. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Alaska aside, Michigan has the unique distinction of having the longest shoreline of any state in the U.S. A key part of this expansive coast is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Established in 1970 to protect the inspiring but fragile coastline, the lakeshore features 450ft bluffs across its 35 miles.
Once rated as the most beautiful place in the United States, Sleeping Bear Dunes can be explored in several ways. Behind the dunes and soaring bluffs are hiking paths such as the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail that snakes through the dense forest on its way to spectacular viewpoints.
You can further explore out on the water, either on Lake Michigan or Loon Lake. Take in a new perspective of the unique environment before paddling around the South Manitou Island Lighthouse.
1. Mackinac Island
There is something special about the clip-clopping of horseshoes on the historic pavement of Mackinac Island. The home of the Odawa people, later a fur trading post and a colonial military base, Mackinac Island has developed into a must-see destination while remaining car-free.
On the beautiful Lake Huron, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the Cape Cod of the Midwest on a horse-drawn carriage. Make your way through the Old Town where you’ll discover streets lined with Victorian-era architecture, now home to delightful cafes and romantic restaurants.
An experience built for couples if there ever was one, Mackinac Island has several boutique BnBs, from which you can enjoy beautiful fall foliage hikes, and try the island’s famous fudge. Later venture out onto the lake for a sunset cruise or visit Fort Mackinac.