United States

20 unique places to visit in Michigan

by Paul Joseph  |  Published July 26, 2020

Renowned for its great lakes, enchanting forests and sugar-sand beaches, Michigan is a nature enthusiast’s paradise. Indeed, the state’s richly diverse natural landscapes are matched only by the dozens of vibrant, eclectic towns and cities that can be found here, each one exuding their own inimitable charm, character and appeal.

Lake Michigan sunset at Holland State Park (Photo: Rachel Kramer via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

As you’ll discover by opening any Michigan-themed guide book, there are a vast number of amazing things to see and do across the state. Whether it’s enjoying the great outdoors amid stunning scenery or getting under the skin of one of Michigan’s myriad towns or cities, there’ll always be something to do and somewhere to go, whatever your tastes. If you’d like to discover the quirkier side of Michigan, you’ll also find plenty of interest among our list of 20 of the most unique places to be found here.

Escape the car fumes on an pedestrianised island

There’s nothing to sour the sense of getting away from it all quite like revving engines and noxious fumes. Mackinac Island, perched in Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas, solves this problem by banning motor vehicles, meaning that visitors and locals alike can enjoy its beautiful beaches, waterfront views, charming inns, fudge shops, and enticing restaurants untainted by traffic, with people instead traversing the island by foot, bicycle, or even horse. An officially designated National Historic Landmark, popular island activities include carriage tours, kayaking and several scenic walking paths, and be sure to make time to visit Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch and one of the island’s most recognisable landmarks

A sailing boat seen though Arch Rock on Mackinac Island (Photo: trialsanderrors via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Take in a world class botanic & sculpture experience

Located in Grand Rapids Township in central Michigan, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a mecca for green fingered types and fans of sculptural art. Spread across some 158 acres, the botanical garden, art museum and sculpture park is widely considered one of the most significant venues of its kind anywhere in the world. Among its highlights are Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory, one of the most extensive children’s gardens in the country, Victorian gardens dotted with bronze sculptures, a carnivorous plant house, and a 1900-seat outdoor amphitheatre where acclaimed musicians perform each summer.

LOCATION 1000 East Beltline Avenue Northeast, Grand Rapids HOURS Mon-Sat 9am-5pm Sun 11am-5pm

Art pieces on display at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park (Photo: Leonora (Ellie) Enking via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Soak up a magnificent Michigan sunset on a sugar-sand beach

Best known for its stunning beaches, beautiful sunsets and views of the “Big Red” lighthouse – notable as being one of the region’s most distinctive landmarks – Holland State Park is a veritable outdoor paradise. Extending over 142 acres in Ottawa County, just west of the city of Holland, the park attracts large numbers of visitors every year who come to enjoy such diverse activities as paddle boarding, metal detecting, swimming, biking, hiking and boating. For overnight stays, there are two well-equipped campgrounds, too.

LOCATION 2215 Ottawa Beach Road

A beautiful sunset in Holland State Park Beach (Photo: vxlaFollow via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Visit a delightful city with a prestigious seat of learning

With picture-postcard scenery and array of chic bars and restaurants, Ann Arbor is one of Michigan’s most charming cities. Its beating heart is the venerable University of Michigan, which is the city’s cultural and academic epicentre and a tourist attraction in and of itself, boasting several distinguished museums within its vast campus. One of the best is the University of Michigan Museum of Art, which all art enthusiasts visiting Michigan will be keen to add to their itinerary. One of the oldest and largest university art museums in America, the venue in was originally built as a Civil War memorial but today houses more than 21,000 works of art spanning cultures and eras. The museum hosts several special exhibitions each year, while its permanent collection features world renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and Andy Warhol. In addition to its visual art, the museum also stages regular performing arts events, plus lectures, film screenings, and readings.

LOCATION 525 South State Street, Ann Arbor

Explore the Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes

Perched along the eastern shores of Michigan, Port Huron invites visitors to immerse themselves in the state’s rich maritime heritage by visiting the oldest working lighthouse on the Great Lakes and other notable landmarks. The places of interest extend inland too, where you’ll find a historic downtown district dotted with grand brick storefronts, quaint specialty shops and enriching art galleries. Among the attractions here is The Raven Café, which is set in a charming and atmospheric Civil War era building and boasts an illustrious past, having been inspired by the iconic American writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe. Featuring a façade complete with beautifully detailed hardwood and an interior packed full of eye-catching local art, rustic antiques and other adornments, the café is visually arresting both inside and out. As for the food and beverage offerings, the venue serves up a vast selection of coffee drinks, pita pizzas, sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts, and cocktails, with many of the items having been furnished with a themed name that pays homage to Allen Poe. The café also hosts regular events including trivia, movies and quiz nights, and live music.

An exterior shot of Raven Café (Photo: Stu Davis)

Get back to nature in a town surrounded by forest

Nestled in the Upper Peninsula of northern Michigan, deep in the heart of the vast Lake Superior State Forest, the idyllic town of Newberry attracts large numbers of summer tourists while retaining its inimitable charm. Pristinely maintained and inexpensive to visit, the town is home to a wide array of both natural and man-made attractions from picturesque lakes, streams, woods, wetlands and abundant wildlife to a large number of exceptional museums.

Visit the birthplace of Motown

The music genre of Motown has a long and illustrious history and there are few places in the world more closely entwined with its heritage than the Motown Museum in Detroit. The original headquarters of Motown Record Corporation, every year the museum attracts thousands of pilgrims from around the world keen to visit what is widely considered the birthplace of the genre and observe artwork, costumes, photographs, and other historic memorabilia. There’s also the chance to enter the actual studio where musical icons including the Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes all recorded their work.

LOCATION 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-6pm Closed Sun-Mon

An exterior shot of the original headquarters of Motown Record Corporation (Photo: soupstance via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Get creative in the heart of Detroit

Detroit has vibrant artistic community that can be seen in the numerous galleries and studios sprinkled throughout the city. At the heart of this creative scene is the Russell Industrial Centre, the largest arts community in the midwest and a major hub of artistic expression. Spread across a vast campus in Detroit where it hosts hundreds of artists and craftspeople in their creative endeavours, the venue itself is one of the most striking in the city, with its architectural design in keeping with the work that goes on inside its imposing confines. Whether you’re an architect, clothing designer, glass blower, wood craftsmen, graphic designer, painter, or metal sculptor, this is the place to come to hone your skills and craft your creative wares in a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere and surrounded by like-minded artisans. Office space can be rented at affordable rates.

LOCATION 1600 Clay Street, Detroit HOURS Mon-Fri 9am-5pm Closed Sat-Sun

An art-filled corridor at the Russell Industrial Centre (Photo: Russell Industrial Centre)

Stroll around an artsy town before hitting the sand dunes

Situated on Michigan’s western coastline, Saugatuck is pretty much a constant fixture on lists of the state’s most charming towns – and for good reason. Originally a lumber town and port on the Kalamazoo river, it underwent a dramatic reinvention in recent decades and is today a haven for tourists and artistic types thanks to its galleries, boutiques and one of the region’s finest beaches. The idyllic lakeside town also plays host to a number of popular art and music festivals each year. Or for a more adrenaline-pumping activity in Saugatuck, how about embarking on a thrilling sand dune ride? During these high-speed buggy rides, you traverse the sandy landscape, as well as beautiful woods and other scenery while hearing fascinating facts and tales from your tour guide about the history of the area.

A dune ride truck in Saugatuck (Photo: Angie Six via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Observe iconic objects from America’s history

Named after the eponymous American industrialist and business magnate, The Henry Ford Museum complex is an officially designated National Historic Landmark and is home to some of the most important artefacts in U.S. history. Among them are the presidential Limo JFK was assassinated in, the bus Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on and the chair President Lincoln was assassinated in, representing a treasure trove of significant items that help tell the story of 18th and 19th-century America.

LOCATION 20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn HOURS Mon-Sun 9.30am-5pm

A classic car on show at The Henry Ford Museum (Photo: HarshLight via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Discover a city with its own medieval-style castle

Set among the tree lined streets of neatly landscaped lawns is the community of Owosso in central Michigan, where you’ll find fun festivals and events, art galleries, historic homes, great restaurants and shopping, and even an authentic castle. Built in the style of a medieval fortress, Curwood Castle was once the writing studio of American adventure author James Oliver Curwood. Here he penned his acclaimed novels from the highest turret surrounded by dense woodland and overlooking the Shiawassee River, with the dramatic setting serving as inspiration for many of his stories. Today the distinctive yellow castle is a popular museum that attracts visitors from far and wide.

The Medieval-style Curwood Castle (Photo: Jan Davis Ruthig via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Catch some tunes at an legendary jazz club

Open since 1934, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is thought to be the world’s oldest operating jazz club. The Detroit venue has hosted a number of major jazz acts down the years, including Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Fats Waller, whose dulcet tunes have been augmented by Italian tile which helps delivers exceptional acoustics. A seven-foot Steinway piano together with a trademark piano-shaped bar with mock keys swirling around its edges add to its reputation as one of Americas most legendary live music haunts.

LOCATION 20510 Livernois, Detroit DATES Tues-Thurs 11am-12am Fri-Sat 4pm-12am Sun 1pm-12am Closed Mon

Watch bears roaming free

Nestled in the small town of Newberry, two dozen rescued American black bears roam free at Oswald’s Bear Ranch, the largest bear ranch in the US. Residing in large enclosed habitats that visitors can observe from viewing platforms, the cubs have plenty of space to enjoy as well as a waterfall to play in. The ranch opened to the public in 1997 and quickly became one of Michigan’s most unique wildlife destinations and a must-visit for all fans of these impressive carnivorous mammals.

LOCATION 13814 Co Road 407, Newberry HOURS Mon-Sun 9.30am-5pm

A big papa bear at Oswald’s Bear Ranch (Photo: Rachel Kramer via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Navigate the subterranean tunnels of a former mental hospital

Offering an array of outdoor activities, from biking and hiking to kayaking and paddle boarding, Traverse City is one of Michigan’s most desirable small towns. It is also known as something of a gastronomic mecca thanks to its numerous microbreweries, wineries and eateries. But perhaps its most unique landmark is The Traverse City State Hospital, which served as a home for the mentally ill for over 100 years. Today the site is being renovated into a housing and commercial development, but amid the regeneration work is a network of underground tunnel system that once connected the hospital’s various buildings and can now be explored by visitors seeking an eerie glimpse into the facility’s past.

Check out a charming beach town

Situated within both Van Buren County and Allegan County on Michigan’s western coast, the charming beach town of South Haven is a popular summer destination for those seeking great dining, antique shopping, museums, galleries, markets, wineries, and more. The town has a total of seven beaches, each offering stunning views of South Haven’s 100-year-old lighthouse, while the water-based setting allows for recreational activities include boating, cruising and fishing.

The sun sits dramatically behind South Haven’s 100-year-old lighthouse (Photo: Rachel Kramer via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Observe the remnants of sunken ships

Shipwrecks have always held a unique place in our imagination and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum gives visitors the chance to see restored remnants of a number of sunken vessels. The flagship exhibit at the lighthouse and museum is the reclaimed bell of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which met its gruesome fate during a powerful storm over Lake Superior in 1975, leading to the tragic death of its captain and crew of 28 men.

LOCATION 18335 North Whitefish Point Road, Paradise HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-6pm

An exhibit at Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (Photo: Rachel Kramer via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Peruse a globally acclaimed art collection

Featuring one of the largest and most significant art collections in America, the Detroit Institute of Arts is among Michigan’s most distinguished cultural institutions. Situated in downtown Detroit, the institute was founded way back in 1885 and is home to 100-plus galleries showcasing art spanning from ancient to modern times, including French Impressionist, German Expressionist, American and Flemish paintings.

LOCATION 5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit HOURS Tues-Thur 9am-4pm Fri 9am-10pm Sat-Sun 10am-5pm

An eye-catching sculpture at the Detroit Institute of Arts (Photo: Mike Steele via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Admire kaleidoscopic cliffs and stunning rock formations

Hugging the south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the state’s true natural wonders. Renowned for its picture-postcard multi-coloured cliffs and unusual sandstone formations, the site is a major tourist attraction during the summer months thanks to these outstanding features, as well as its 12 miles of beautiful beaches, enormous sand dunes, remote lakes and forests, waterfalls, and lighthouses.


A scenic view of Mosquito Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Photo: NOAA Photo Library via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Encompassing a 60 kilometre stretch of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of Michigan’s finest natural attractions. Abundant with forests, beaches, huge scalable dune formations, and ancient glacial phenomena, the area attracts a steady stream of swimmers, hikers and other adventure-seekers all year round. As well as its natural features, there are also several notable manmade landmarks and places of interest including a 19th-century lighthouse and a historical rural farm district.

LOCATION Leelanau & Benzie counties

The misty water of Otter Lake at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Photo: Jim Sorbie via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Look around a pretty city and its intriguing museums

Located about 25 miles northeast of Detroit, the city of Mount Clemens is a popular stop off with visitors to the region. Intersected by the Clinton River which passes through the city as it makes its way to nearby Lake St. Clair, where exceptional fishing opportunities can be found, there are also several notable museums here, including the Crocker House Museum, which provides a fascinating insight into what home-life was like over 140 years ago, and the more macabre Anatomy Of Death Museum. Dedicated to all things mortality-related, the museum is home to a wide assortment of tools, props and other artefacts, many dating back to the early 19th-century. There are ceremonial masks, embalming tools, disfigured bones, Civil War amputation kits, and many more medical and funeral curios, all of which can be perused against the backdrop of eerie music. Photos are allowed.