8 Michigan Day Trips Perfect for A Quick Getaway
You don't need weeks to explore the best of Michigan. Many highlights of the city and region favorites can be covered in a perfect day—if you plan well.
1. Find Lesser Known Attractions in Lake Huron Bay
Spin a Michigan day trip around a series of bayfront communities, also known as the Great Lakes Bay region, which are all easily accessed by I-75 and wrap in some of the state's best—and lesser-known attractions. One lesser known attraction and maybe the best deal in the state, is the narrated history tours offered most days mid-summer in Bay City on the Islander boat operated by Bay City Boat Lines. Local organizations sponsor the trips down the Saginaw River. Then head to Delta College, where the planetarium offers night sky viewing any time of day.
Frankenmuth is a must-visit, for their ubiquitous chicken dinners, for one. But that's not the only reason to go. Get on the water, again, on a river tour or wine and chocolate tasting cruise above electric-powered Frankenmuth FunShips boats. Or travel by horse. Two companies offer horse-drawn rides around the charming Bavarian streetscapes.
A little Christmas in July (or any month) is offered at Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, where it may even snow on you—indoors. Nearby Midland offers a relaxing stroll around Dow Gardens and its 110 acres of beauty and more zen at the Japanese Cultural Center and Tea House, which holds traditional ceremonies inside the only authentic tea house in the Midwest.
2. Experience Wine and Scenic Views in Traverse City
Take M-22 to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula to start a day trip themed around lighthouses, wine, galleries and more. The Leelanau Peninsula is home to two dozen wineries that feature varietals like Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. You’ll pass a few—and their scenic vineyards too—as you hug Grand Traverse Bay en route to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. Leave time for a hike through wooded trails to a hidden beach on Cathead Bay. You can climb the tower, too, for a lofty Lake Michigan view.
On summer Saturdays, you can tour a new shipwreck exhibition and hear the fog horn waft. Visit The Happy Woman in quaint Suttons Bay for browsing the pastel-painted buildings along St. Joseph Street and checking out creative science and toy shops, boutiques like whimsical and galleries like The Painted Bird. For lunch, 9 Bean Rows Restaurant grows all its own vegetables and even makes its bread from local wheat.
Stretch your legs with a rental from Suttons Bay Bikes; the town is situated on the shady, paved Leelanau Trail. Then craft your own afternoon wine tour from the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. L. Mawby Vineyards is the place for sparkling wine, which is their specialty.
At nearby Shady Lane Cellars, where buildings are all made of stone, you'll taste on a massive outdoor patio, and Willow Vineyards, just off M-22, is where you can pick up great wine and also take your prized trip photo with vineyards and bay as backdrop.
3. Explore Historic Sault Ste. Marie
When visiting the state's oldest permanent European settlement of Sault Ste. Marie, which at 350 years old has 50 years on the historic city of New Orleans, you can't leave out the history stops, nor will you want to. The city makes it easy with a joint ticket to its collection of history stops including the Museum Ship Valley Camp, a freighter-turned-museum that floats in the St. Marys River and houses a movie display of a broken lifeboat from the famed shipwreck, The Edmund Fitzgerald.
Center the day around the two-hour Soo Locks Boat Tours & Dinner Cruises, which lets you “lock through” the busiest lock system in the world alongside ships carrying iron ore, grain and food to the world and actually feel the force of the movement as you're lifted the 21-foot difference between Lake Huron and Lake Superior.
The Soo Locks Visitor Center offers displays and a light board that marks location of nearby freighters, and new Birds Eye Outfitters offer paddling trips including one that lets you glide through the Canadian Locks. Leave time to browse the many shops and galleries on Ashmun Street, across from the locks. There are traditional gift shops, but also stores themed around oils and balsamic vinegars with clever names like the Edmund Fig-gerald, repurposed beach finds and French crepes.
4. Adventure off the Beaten Path in Marquette
Get a bike for at least part of a day in Marquette, or at least walk the stretch of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (it runs 17 miles from Marquette to Ishpeming) to take in the view of Lake Superior and the harbor and read the interpretive panels about the way the iron ore industry brought the city to life—and created its striking red sandstone downtown.
For another active adventure, make the climb to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, one of the most popular scenic overlooks on the Upper Peninsula—a 3,200 foot trail with stairs to a summit 470 feet over Lake Superior. There's fun in town, too.
One must stop is The Flying Moose, a new-style general store where you'll find local organic food, kombucha on tap and homemade (spelt) cupcakes and mugs for your coffee hand thrown by a local potter. The Landmark Inn is a favorite for a stay or meal or drink with a view. Famous former guests include Amelia Earhart, Abbot and Costello, Duke Ellington and Mays Angelou.
Newer draws include Blackrocks Brewery, one of a growing number of Upper Peninsula microbreweries, and the Delft Bistro. The historic Delft theater is now a restaurant, where films run on the walls as you eat creative cuisine that often includes a nod (at least with the cooking on iron skillets) to the area's iron history.
If you've brought the young ones, check out The Children's Museum, which shares history through play with a mining truck and full model town. All ages love Wattson and Wattson Jewelers, where the in-store mine was inspired by a Walt Disney saying “Make it fun and they will come,” and the collection includes a “Superior” line of pendants like the Upper Peninsula, loons and sailboats.
5. Observe Lake Michigan Beauty and History in Charlevoix
The Lake Michigan beauty, Charlevoix, that Forbes named one of America's Prettiest Towns has been a tourism hotspot since 1881 and it shows no sign of slowing. Center the day around lively Bridge Street and the picture-perfect marina on Round Lake. Concerts and festivals make a regular showing at the marina park, but any day, you can spend an afternoon browsing shops dedicated to clothing, fudge or foraged fruits made into upscale jar goods. Don't miss North Seas Gallery, featuring works by Dutch masters, or Bier Art Gallery just south of town for the work of some 100 local artists.
Hemingway history is hot, and you'll find one of the author's marriage certificates in the Harsha House museum and much more in a quick side trip around Lake Charlevoix to Horton Bay, where the Horton Bay General Store displays photos and memorabilia and many spots appear in the author's Up in Michigan stories.
Golfers can tee off at the Belvedere Club and play one of Michigan's oldest courses, dating back to 1925. After-golf snacks are fresh from the bay at John Cross Fisheries, famed for their Three Fish Dip and third generation ownership. History's framed on the walls of the Bridge Street Tap Room, Michigan represented in the microbrew, wine, cider and root beer, and the views of the water hard to beat.
6. Indulge in Art and Treats in Ann Arbor
With dozens of galleries and 30 independent bookstores, it's not hard to find a way to spend a day in downtown Ann Arbor. You'll want to check those out, but to leave time for other stops. The University of Michigan Museum of Art is the number-one ranked public university art museum in the United States, and you'll find African, Asian, Western, contemporary art and much more. Plus, entrance is free. The culinary scene is getting such buzz that you'll want to mix it up, like with a Walking Food Tour by “By the Sidewalk,” which covers fun facts about architecture and lore as you taste your way through downtown and Kerrytown Market Shops.
For more food immersion, visit Zingerman's Southside, home to the famed deli's coffee company, creamery, bakehouse, candy manufacturing area and ZingTrain classes. Walk off the sampling with a stroll through the extensive themed gardens of Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Dinner's at popular Frita Batidos or the Central European-themed Amadeus. After, stroll downtown and catch a movie at the State Theater, an art deco cinema built in 1942 or concert at The Ark, a mecca for folk music fans.
7. Getaway to West Michigan in Grand Rapids
This West Michigan city perched along the Grand River was built on the craft furniture industry, and the sense of design—in both art and food scenes—still permeates the culture. Tour the Grand Rapids Public Museum along the riverfront to learn about furniture-making tradition and more and to ride the restored 1928 carousel visible through the large windows. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a short walk and might be the nation's most entertaining presidential museum in the way it lets you “attend” a White House Dinner and eavesdrop on a day in the Oval Office.
Find both food and design at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, a 125-acre botanic garden and sculpture park featuring Michigan's largest tropical conservatory. One of the world's “top 30 must-see museums” includes 100 sculptural works and a recreation of a 1930s working Michigan farm garden. Your lunch at the Taste of the Gardens Cafe uses vegetables harvested from the farm. Dinner, later, can be on board the Grand Lady Riverboat with a narrated cruise pointing out historic land sites—and more.
8. Enjoy a College Day in East Lansing
Going back (or ahead) to college is fun at any age, so make that your loose theme for a day trip to East Lansing, home to Michigan State University. Science class is the Michigan State University Museum, where this Smithsonian affiliate's three floors and 15 galleries include skeletons of two Jurassic dinosaurs. For more hands-on science, hold some creepy crawlers at the MSU Bug House. Astronomy lessons come with star shows at Abrams Planetarium, where there's a special show for families on Sundays.
And you can combine a lesson in agriculture and lunch (and dessert) at the Michigan State University - Dairy Complex, Food Processing Plant, and Dairy Store. There, choose from 32 extra creamy ice cream flavors like Big 10 Buckeye Blitz or Maize-n-Berry. You can also tour its creamery and buy cheese made from on-farm cows, even more intriguing after a self-guided tour of campus barns and the cow nursery. For your night out, students and alums love the Harrison Roadhouse or Beggar's Banquet, and beer—way better than most college days—is the focus at Hopcat East Lansing.