11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Bay City, MI

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Updated Mar 24, 2023

Author Meagan Drillinger visited Bay City in the fall of 2022 while on assignment for PlanetWare.

Perched on the banks of Lake Huron and the Saginaw River, Bay City, Michigan, is one of those quintessential Michigan lake towns that packs a punch of character and history. The city can trace its roots back to the early 19th-century lumber, milling, and shipbuilding industries, but today, Bay City is a thriving modern Michigan hot spot with many interesting things to do.

Downtown Bay City, Michigan
Downtown Bay City, Michigan | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Downtown Bay City is where visitors can come get in touch with the destination's historic roots, particularly in the Center Avenue Historic District. A stroll downtown will also bring visitors up to speed with 21st-century Bay City, thanks to its many funky coffee shops, restaurants, and stores.

Venturing away from downtown brings the natural beauty of Bay City to the forefront. Bay City State Park, for example, is one of the area's most beloved preserved natural areas.

If you're ready to discover the best places to visit in this historic city on Saginaw Bay, read our list of the top things to do in Bay City, Michigan.

1. Learn about the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum

Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum
Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Climb aboard the USS Edson, a retired United States Navy destroyer, and step inside what is now the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum. Now a popular tourist attraction, the permanently docked ship is dedicated to preserving and chronicling the history of the U.S. Navy.

USS Edson was put into commission in 1958 and was in operation for three decades before being decommissioned in 1988. Its military history is impressive. While in operation it was used in both the Vietnam War and Cold War. To make sure that her history would never be forgotten, the navy gave the okay for the vessel to become the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum in 2012.

You can always visit the vessel as a day trip, but for a unique visit to the museum, consider one of its overnight stays. During these overnight visits, guests have the opportunity to walk the decks and sleep in the same bunks as the sailors who once served on the trip. A minimum number of four people is required for an overnight reservation.

Address: 1680 Martin Street, Bay City, Michigan

2. Wander the Riverwalk Pier

Riverwalk Pier
Riverwalk Pier | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

One of the prettiest places to visit and drink in the views of Bay City is the Riverwalk. This scenic path wanders along the Saginaw River and is a popular spot for locals and residents to meander along, whether on foot, rollerblades, or a bicycle.

While cruising the riverfront, the path passes through the Veterans Memorial Park, Kantzler Arboretum, and the Fitness Park.

A series of overwater walkways are also part of the riverwalk, which extend out over the water and give a unique vantage point to the city. Be sure to visit the gazebo at the end of one of the piers, which is a lovely spot for stepping out and snapping pictures of the river and surrounding area.

The Riverwalk extends up towards Veterans Memorial Park, which is a sprawling 97 acres overlooking the Saginaw River.

If you enjoy green space, you can also access the nine-acre Bigelow Park from the Riverwalk. It is connected via a pedestrian bridge that takes you to Middleground Island, which is in the middle of the Saginaw River.

3. Explore the Bay City State Park

Bay City State Park
Bay City State Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Speaking of outdoor space, you cannot mention Bay City without talking about Bay City State Park. Bay City has a fortunate location perched on Saginaw Bay, and Bay City State Park takes full advantage of the natural beauty of this part of Michigan.

The state park spans 2,389 acres and features one of the largest freshwater wetlands on the Great Lakes.

The park dates back to 1922 and has been a haven for outdoor recreation and conservation in the Bay City area ever since. Today the park is known for its 2,000 acres of wetlands, a mile of beach, towering oak groves, marshes, and abundance of wildlife.

The park overlooks Saginaw Bay and has miles of trails to walk and explore, as well. Be sure to spend some time exploring the Tobico Marsh, which is a registered National Natural Landmark thanks to the quality of its preservation.

If you're interested in camping, Bay City State Park is equipped with nearly two hundred electric service sites. It also has mini cabins, an amphitheater, and a playground.

Address: 3582 State Park Drive, Bay City, Michigan

4. Learn at Center Avenue Historic District

Center Avenue Historic District
Center Avenue Historic District | Roberto Galan / Shutterstock.com

Bay City is one of Michigan's most historic cities — with settlement roots dating back to the 1830s — and you can get up close and personal with that history at the Center Avenue Historic District.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Bay City historic district features more than 875 structures that best exemplify the city's most famous architectural styles, from Gothic Revival and Italianate to Tudor Revival and Georgian.

The historic district runs along Center, Fifth, and Sixth Avenues between Monroe and Green Avenues, though parts of the historic district can also be found around Carroll Park and other parts of the city. The earliest construction is in the western part of the city. Many of the buildings in the historic district are residential, though several public buildings are also available to view.

Among the most impressive works of architecture include the Bay City Masonic Temple, the Bay City Public Library, the Trinity Episcopal Church, The Benjamin Burbridge Residence, and the Charles Eddy Residence.

Of course, when exploring downtown, you'll notice many of the historic buildings have been turned into modern-day shops, too. Pop into Populace Coffee to see a great example of a gorgeous historic building-turned-modern-day hangout.

5. Stroll around Wenonah Park

Wenonah Park
Wenonah Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Downtown Bay City is a great place to get acquainted with the town. A first stop when hitting the pavement should be Wenonah Park, which sits right in the heart of downtown Bay City.

This six-acre park is a hive of activity for residents and visitors, who come to people-watch, wander the pathways, catch a performance, and take in views of the river.

Overlooking the Saginaw River, the city center green space is a popular meeting point for festivals and events and live music held at the city amphitheater, otherwise known as the World Friendship Shell. The amphitheater is marked by the large oval sculpture and water fountain, which have become symbols of the city.

The park opened in 1908 and has been a key part of the community ever since, operating year-round with things for the community to see and do. The Nickless Family Community Pavilion is a popular gathering point for concerts and events in summer, like the Bay City Fireworks Festival, while in the winter, the pavilion is used for ice-skating.

Address: 111 Center Ave, Bay City, Michigan

6. Gaze at the Stars at the Delta College Planetarium & Learning Center

Delta College Planetarium & Learning Center
Delta College Planetarium & Learning Center | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

If you're wandering around downtown Bay City, you may notice a bright orange cylindrical structure that doesn't exactly blend in with the historic architecture. This futuristic building is none other than the Delta College Planetarium & Learning Center.

The design fuses together nature and technology, with the bright orange color representing the color of the sun outside the atmosphere and the shape resembling a rocket booster.

Directly across from Wenonah Park, the 50-foot domed planetarium has 140 seats and is known for its Dome360 screen, which shows films and hosts programs that take visitors out of their seats and into the stars. Its themed, immersive shows range from discovering the night sky and space exploration, to the more chill and meditative "music under the stars" series.

An observation deck has telescopes, which have been used for viewing eclipses, meteors, planets, and the moon. The planetarium is also a lecture hall for the resident Delta College.

Address: 100 Center Ave, Bay City, Michigan

7. Browse the Bay City Antiques Center

Bay City Antique Center
Bay City Antiques Center | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Antiquing becomes a state sport with a visit to the Bay City Antiques Center. The sprawling, 60,000-square-foot antique shop rises three floors and spans an entire city block and is known as Michigan's largest antique store.

Within the palatial antique paradise are stalls for more than 100 dealers selling everything from books and furniture to collectibles, clothing, ornaments, comic books, lamps, jewelry, home decor, military memorabilia, and so much more.

The building was originally a hardware store and sold hardware to the residents of Bay City for more than 100 years. The building was purchased in 1990 and was transformed to create the Bay City Antiques Center.

It's an absolute gold mine for treasure hunters and lovers of history. Even if you're not interested in the antiques themselves, a stroll around the sprawling historic structure is certainly worth the experience.

And if by chance the Antiques Center is not enough antiquing for you, Bay City has several other smaller antique shops that may satisfy your quota.

Address: 1020 N Water Street, Bay City, Michigan

8. Explore the Alice & Jack Wirt Public Library

Alice and Jack Wirt Public Library
Alice and Jack Wirt Public Library | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

One of the prides of Bay City is the Alice and Jack Wirt Public Library. It's the main library of the Bay County Library System and a beloved, warm space for people to come and cozy up with a book.

The library has the largest collection of materials in the Bay County Library System and even has a local history and genealogy room, making it more of a museum and house of local history than just a library.

But visitors can (and do) take books and read them in the outdoor garden during the warmer months. More than just a place to check out books, the Alice and Jack Wirt Public Library has become a cultural center for the community.

The Bay County Library System is made up of four libraries and one bookmobile. If you're interested in historic architecture, the Sage Library lives in a building that dates back to 1884. The building is designed as a revival version of French Chateauesque architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its collection features more than 100,000 volumes.

Address: 500 Center Ave, Bay City, Michigan

9. Enjoy Carroll Park

Carroll Park
Carroll Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

One of the most picturesque corners of Bay City is Carroll Park. Spanning nearly 14 acres, the park is tranquil and beautifully designed with a duck pond, historic bridge, and groves of maple and oak trees.

Carroll Park is the oldest park in the city, established in 1875. Visitors can stroll along the Riverwalk/Railtrail Loop and look out over the historic homes that wreath the borders of the park. In fact, the homes that surround Carroll Park are considered to be part of the HIstoric District.

Facilities within the park include grills, pavilions, a pickleball court, playground, tennis court, and picnic areas.

10. Explore Downtown Bay City

Downtown Bay City
Downtown Bay City | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

When it comes to appreciating Bay City, its heart and soul can be found in its bustling, charming downtown.

Bay City overlooks the shores of Lake Huron and is one of the most historic towns in Michigan. The first settler arrived in 1831 and by 1865, the area was established as a city. Today it is a thriving hub of activity and the best spot to soak in the history of Bay City.

Downtown Bay City today is considered to be between Madison Avenue and the Saginaw River. The area is packed with historic buildings, many of which have been transformed into modern-day boutiques, cafés, coffee shops, and galleries.

It's also home to attractions like Wenonah Park, the planetarium, and the impressive antiques center. On any given weekend, you can find the streets of downtown humming with life, as residents and visitors come together to experience its lively atmosphere.

Downtown is where many of the city's festivals and events are held, too, like the Bay City Fireworks Festival, which erupts over the Saginaw River from Wenonah Park.

The Bay County Historical Museum can be found downtown, as well and has many exhibits about the history of Bay City.

11. See a Performance at the Bay City State Theatre

Bay City State Theatre
Bay City State Theatre | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Step inside the historic Bay City State Theatre for a glimpse into its glamorous past. Built in 1908, the State Theatre was originally called the Bijou and was the main stage for many vaudeville and burlesque acts.

By the 1920s, film had become the leading source of entertainment, and so the theater was renamed the Orpheum and transformed into a movie house.

In 2000, the theater was renovated and restored with floors, a new stage, curtains, and a brand-new paint job. By 2008, it became the first single-screen theater with a digital projector in the United States.

Address: 913 Washington Ave, Bay City, Michigan

Map of Things to Do in Bay City, MI

Bay City, MI - Climate Chart

Average minimum and maximum temperatures for Bay City, MI in °C
-2 -10 -1 -9 4 -4 12 2 19 9 25 14 28 16 26 16 22 11 15 5 7 0 1 -6
Average monthly precipitation totals for Bay City, MI in mm.
41 32 51 78 79 76 59 86 115 67 67 45
Average minimum and maximum temperatures for Bay City, MI in °F
28 14 31 16 40 24 54 36 67 48 77 57 82 61 79 60 71 52 59 41 45 32 33 21
Average monthly precipitation totals for Bay City, MI in inches.
1.6 1.3 2.0 3.1 3.1 3.0 2.3 3.4 4.5 2.7 2.7 1.8