11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Lansing, MI
Author Meagan Drillinger visited Lansing in the fall of 2022 while on assignment for PlanetWare.
Welcome to the capital of Michigan State. Lansing is one of the most important cosmopolitan hubs in the state of Michigan, as well as in the country. It also happens to be one of the most historically and culturally rich, with plenty of opportunities to experience art, nature, architecture, and sporting events.
Home to Michigan State University, a vibrant Old Town, nature preserves, museums, and the Michigan State Capitol, it's difficult to run out of things to do in Lansing.
The city's settled period dates back to the late 18th century. By the 19th century, the plans of a mapped city were put into place. The Lansing we know today began when the Olds Motor Vehicle Company opened in 1897, and Ransom E. Olds is still considered to be a founding figure of the city.
Today Lansing is a diverse and vibrant place to visit with plenty of attractions, no matter your interests. Read on to discover the best things to do in Lansing, Michigan.
1. Visit Potter Park Zoo
For all the history and political importance of Lansing, the number one thing to do in town is to visit the Potter Park Zoo. The beloved zoo sits on 80 acres of landscaped grounds, tucked within an oak forest on the banks of the Red Cedar River. It sets the tone for a beautiful day of befriending creatures from around the world.
Potter Park Zoo has more than 350 animals across 60 species. Among the animals you can meet at the zoo are everything from kangaroos and black rhinos to anteaters, meerkats, tortoises, and much more. The zoo has a petting zoo portion and offers camel rides in season, as well.
Visitors can sign up for educational tours at the zoo to take their experience to the next level. Learn about how animals prepare themselves for winter, how exhibits are designed, or how animals survive and adapt in different climates.
Address: 1301 S Pennsylvania Ave, Lansing, Michigan
2. Tour the Michigan State Capitol
Lansing is the capital of the state, so no visit is complete without a stop at the historic capitol building. The stately and impressive capitol building dates back to the Victorian era and was designed and built during the second half of the 19th century.
Over the history of the state of Michigan, it has had three capitols. The first was in Detroit and was a territorial courthouse. The second was built in Lansing and was constructed of wood. Finally, the current capitol building was dedicated in 1879 and was one of the first to take its design inspiration from the capitol in Washington, D.C.
Since its construction, the capitol building has housed the legislative branch of government for Michigan state, as well as the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor. Today it is a National Historic Landmark. The impressive structure has more than nine acres of hand-painted surfaces within its walls.
Guided and self-guided tours are available free of charge at the capitol building.
Address: 100 N Capitol Ave, Lansing, Michigan
3. Learn at the Michigan History Center
Right in the heart of downtown Lansing is a haven for history buffs. The Michigan History Center is the main hub to come to learn about the history of the state. It includes both the Archives of Michigan and the Michigan History Museum. It is also the flagship of the Michigan History Museum System, which includes 12 sites throughout the state.
The Michigan History Center has 25 galleries of exhibits, as well as a topographical map of the state that reaches three stories. Lansing's Michigan History Center takes visitors from the time of the state's earliest people through the end of the 20th century.
Exhibits include everything from interactive exhibits to audio-visual presentations and hands-on experiences. Learn about the Anishinaabe culture, visit a UP copper mine, and stroll around a 1950s auto show. The Michigan History Center will open visitors' eyes to everything that makes the state unique.
Address: 702 W Kalamazoo Street, Lansing, Michigan
4. Visit the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum
A visit to Michigan is incomplete without a nod to its historic automobile industry. While visiting Lansing, car aficionados can get their fix at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum.
R.E. Olds stands for Ransom Eli Olds, the man behind the very first Oldsmobile, which was built in 1897. In fact, it was R.E. Olds who helped put modern day Lansing on the map.
You can see this historic Oldsmobile, along with other antique REOs, memorabilia, and decades-old advertising at the museum's exhibits. The museum has thousands of historic items, as well as more than 80 vehicles that date back from 1886.
The vehicle showcase includes a 1953 NASCAR Race Car, a 1906 Mama & Baby REO, and the Curved Dash Oldsmobile. You can also see the historic collection of Michigan license plates, as well as a working 1950s traffic signal. For car lovers, this is definitely a must of a museum.
Address: 240 Museum Drive, Lansing, Michigan
5. Sail the Michigan Princess
Just because Lansing does not have a Great Lakes coastline does not mean that it doesn't have an active life on the water. Riverboat history is a vital part of the history of Lansing.
The Michigan Princess riverboat is a gorgeous, stately vessel that harkens back to the days of the 19th-century steamboat cruising. While the Michigan Princess herself is a replica, passengers will feel as though they're cruising back in time along the Grand River.
The Michigan Princess is docked in Grand River Park and is open year-round. Sailing season is between March and December, but the boat is still open in the off season for events. While on board, guests can marvel at the glittering chandeliers, grand staircases, three dining rooms, two dance floors, and the lovely outer deck with views over the Grand River.
Among the events that the Michigan Princess hosts are murder mystery cruises, leaf peeping cruises, holiday cruises, and dinner cruises. The vessel has room for 350 passengers, as well.
Address: Grand River Park, Lansing, Michigan
6. Explore Hawk Island Park
One of the great parts of all Michigan cities is that they are dedicated to promoting outdoor activities and green space. Hawk Island Park is Lansing's answer to fighting urban overdevelopment.
Spread out over 100 acres, Hawk Island Park is one of the newest parks in Lansing. The family-friendly park has something for people of all ages, making it one of the most popular parks in the capital city.
Among the many things to do at Hawk Island Park include a beach and swimming area, a summer splash pad, a playground, pathways, fishing, and boat rental.
Come the colder months, Hawk Island has a hill that is primed and ready for snow tubing. Lanes are sculpted as wide as 16 feet and run for as long as 600 feet down a snow-blanketed slope. The park even has a snow-making machine that makes tubing possible all winter long.
Address: 1601 E Cavanaugh Road, Lansing, Michigan
7. Catch a Game at Jackson Field
Minor league baseball is a big deal in Lansing. That's because the city is the hometown of the minor league team, the Lansing Lugnuts, who call Jackson Field their home. The stadium is in downtown Lansing and is a major center of entertainment for the residents of the city.
In addition to Lansing Lugnut home games, the arena is also host to the Michigan State Spartans college baseball team. But you can also find Jackson Field being used for ice-skating, outdoor movies, haunted houses, and a concert venue.
The stadium features seating for more than 12,000 people and is peppered with amenities like luxury suites, concessions, professional-grade sound, and electronic scoreboard displays. The stadium even has free Wi-Fi, and pets are allowed.
The stadium originally opened in 1996 as Oldsmobile Park and was later renamed as the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Stadium. It took the name Jackson Field in 2020.
Address: 505 E Michigan Ave, Lansing, Michigan
8. Ride the Lansing River Trail
One of the best ways to get the lay of the land in Lansing is to get out on the Lansing River Trail. Running for a total of 20 miles, this outdoor stretch has been designated a National Recreation Trail.
The Lansing River Trail runs along both the Grand and Red Cedar Rivers from Waverly Road to Old Town, running through Potter Park all the way to Michigan State University.
In addition to being a popular spot for walking, running, or cycling, it is also host to several special events throughout the year, like the Capital City River Run and the Common Ground Music Festival.
What's Nearby? While traveling the trail, visitors will pass some of the notable tourist attractions in Lansing, like the Turner-Dodge House, the Potter Park Zoo, and the Louis F. Adado Riverfront Park. You don't have to do the entire trail in a day, but breaking it up into sections can be a great way to see the city in pieces while experiencing the beauty of the outdoors in Lansing.
9. Wander around Old Town
Lansing became the capital of Michigan in 1847 and grew from a one-log cabin settlement to a thriving town. By the 1870s, the energy was thoroughly hopping along Franklin Street, which is now Grand River Avenue.
Back in the late 19th century, Franklin Street abounded with shops, mills, a railroad station, grocery stores, and other businesses. Today that area is preserved as the North Lansing Historic Commercial District, also known as Old Town.
Old Town consists of 44 buildings in a one-block radius, all of which were added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s, exactly a century from the start of its heyday. It has become a revitalized neighborhood for art galleries, boutiques, coffee shops, and other creative spaces.
Things to Do: Today visitors come to Old Town to experience its many festivals, art walks, and farmers markets. It is a thoroughly eclectic, bohemian, design-forward space that has harnessed its history and transformed it into something that fits snugly in the 21st century.
10. Visit the Turner-Dodge House & Heritage Center
Not only is the Turner-Dodge House & Heritage Center a gorgeous example of Classical Revival architecture, it also happens to be a center that keeps history alive in Lansing, which is a good thing considering there is so much of it.
Built in 1858 by James and Marion Turner, the home acts as a Cultural Heritage Center and sits on the National Register of Historic Places.
John and Marion Turner were two of the founders of Lansing who helped to bring the railroads to the city in the middle of the 19th century. The house was renovated in the 1990s and 2000s, and it was turned into a museum and a venue for events.
Visitors come to admire the brick facade, columned two-story porch, and its beautiful fireplaces and windows.
Address: 100 E North Street, Lansing, Michigan
11. Stroll around the Carl G. Fenner Nature Center
Getting outside is one of the great pastimes in Michigan. In Lansing, residents and visitors love to experience nature at the Fenner Nature Center. This 134-acre space includes four miles of trials, maple groves, glacial eskers, and tons of wildlife.
One of the highlights of the nature center is its Monarch House, which is home to monarch butterflies at every stage of life, from caterpillars to chrysalises, or fully hatched and blossomed butterflies. It's a beautiful, unique spot to see the cycle of nature at work, and it's a great place to visit for families.
The Fenner Nature Center hosts many festivals throughout the year, as well, from the Maple Syrup Festivals to the Earth Day Extravaganza.
Address: 2020 E Mt Hope Ave, Lansing, Michigan
Best Time to Visit Lansing, MI - Historical Climate Averages
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