17 Top-Rated Things to Do in Michigan

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Feb 21, 2023

Author Meagan Drillinger enjoyed an extensive trip through Michigan in the fall of 2022, visiting towns, cities, and other popular destinations.

Those who know Michigan are absolutely devoted to it. Whether it's lifelong locals or visitors who make the trip every year, it's easy to see why people love Michigan.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Smack dab in the center of the country, surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan is a popular place to visit in the Midwest. Michigan is fascinating, with things to do in every season, including hundreds of parks, miles of hiking trails, rivers, lakeshore beaches, and more. It also has an impressive network of natural sand dunes.

Visitors to Michigan thoroughly enjoy exploring its charming cities and towns, with their fabulous restaurants, shopping, and art galleries. The state truly has something for everyone. Get ready to explore the very best places to visit in the state with our list of the top things to do in Michigan.

1. Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts

Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts

When it comes to art and culture in Michigan, the Detroit Institute of Arts takes the lead. Not only is it the most impressive art institution in the state, it is one of the leading art houses in the entire country.

The DIA features more than 65,000 historic works of art, making it one of the most diverse collections in the country. In fact, DIA is among the top six art collections in the nation. Believe it or not, it was the first American museum to ever purchase a painting by Vincent Van Gogh.

The permanent collection is spread across 100 exhibits and includes art from Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas, America before 1950, ancient Middle East, Asia, Europe, sculpture, Ancient Greece and Rome, and much more.

The museum also includes a puppet exhibit, prints, drawings, and photographs. It even has a mural from Diego Rivera, which is one of the most visited pieces in the entire space.

Address: 5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan

Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Detroit

2. Explore the Upper Peninsula

Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Michigan's Upper Peninsula | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Michigan is often called "the Mitten" because of its distinct mitten shape. But that's just its lower peninsula. An upper peninsula that juts off the northeastern corner of Wisconsin is just as much a part of Michigan as the mitten.

The Upper Peninsula's two coastlines run along Lake Superior to the north and both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron to the south. Visitors access the island via ferry or the Mackinac Bridge, which crosses over the Straits of Mackinac from Mackinaw City on the mainland to St. Ignace.

Across the entire peninsula is a slew of quaint, rustic small towns; historic 19th-century cities; state parks; lake views; and hundreds of acres of wilderness.

Speaking of wilderness, the Upper Peninsula has nearly 30 percent of the landmass of Michigan, but less than five percent of its population. It's truly a place to get lost and experience nature when exploring Michigan.

For city action, the main cities are Marquette, Sault Ste. Marie, Escanaba, Menominee, Houghton, and Iron Mountain, but the peninsula has plenty of small, charming towns, as well.

If you're looking for scenic drives, the Upper Peninsula has plenty. U.S. 2, for example, hugs the shoreline of Lake Michigan, while the Curtis Lewis Memorial Highway runs along Lake Superior's Whitefish Bay and passes through the Hiawatha National Forest.

3. Stop by the Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Village at Grand Traverse Commons
Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Sitting on 480 acres of gorgeous, sprawling parkland is one of the largest historic rehabilitation and reuse development projects in the country. The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is one of the great successes in combating the issues of urban sprawl in the United States.

Designed from the redevelopment of dozens of historic buildings, today The Village features paths and arboretums, walkways, parkland, trails, and historic Victorian architecture.

What was once the Northern Michigan Asylum and later the Traverse City State Hospital is today a collection of shops, galleries, boutiques, and restaurants that live within beautiful castle-like architecture. Discover quaint coffee shops and gourmet restaurants, all surrounded by hundreds of acres of beautiful woodlands and wildlife.

The Village is also the scene for many of the top events and gatherings in Traverse City. It hosts festivals, farmers markets, concerts, and many more events throughout the year.

Address: 1200 W Eleventh Street, Traverse City, Michigan

4. Stroll Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

One of the highlights of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is one of the country's most beautiful botanic gardens and sculpture parks. The park covers 158 acres, and features an art museum, outdoor sculpture area, and botanical garden, as well as an eight-acre Japanese garden. It draws more than 700,000 visitors every year.

The park opened in 1995. In addition to its outdoor gardens, carnivorous plant house, and gardens with Degas and Rodin sculptures, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park also has a permanent collection that includes pieces by Moore, Serra, Plensa, and others. Galleries include pieces from Picasso, Calder, and Dine.

It is one of the most highly concentrated areas of A-list artists in the country, and one of the 100 most-visited art museums in the world.

Address: 1000 E Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan

5. See a Game at Michigan Stadium

Michigan Stadium
Michigan Stadium | Susan Montgomery / Shutterstock.com

Oh, how Michiganders do love their football. It's true. Football, whether professional or college, is one of the major pastimes in the state of Michigan. If you're going to catch one college game while visiting Michigan, better make it a game at Michigan Stadium.

Known as "The Big House," Michigan Stadium is the football stadium for the University of Michigan, and it is considered to be a house of worship for football fans. It is the largest stadium in the United States and the third largest stadium in the world, with a capacity for more than 107,000 people.

If you can't make it for a game, you can certainly make it for a tour. Guided tours are held on weekdays and must be made at least two weeks in advance. Drop-ins are not allowed, and the stadium is not open to the public for exercising. It's sacred ground, after all.

Address: 1201 S Main Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Ann Arbor, MI

6. Explore Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Saugatuck Dunes State Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Michigan has some impressive natural sand dunes all along the coast of Lake Michigan. But if you make it to only one area of protected dunes, better make it the Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

This gorgeous protected area has 2.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, home to dunes, forest, trails, and the Patty Birkholz Natural Area.

The 300-acre Patty Birkholz Natural Area is the highlight of the park, which has the coastal dune system and a variety of the endangered plant species that grow along the coastline. Visitors can also explore the 13 miles of trails that lead up and over the sandy area to overlook Lake Michigan.

The park is a beautiful space to get to know the Lake Michigan shoreline and the many beautiful natural dunes for which this coast is known.

Address: 6575 138th Ave, Holland, Michigan

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Holland, MI

7. Visit The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford | Fsendek / Shutterstock.com

What is a visit to Michigan without paying respect to the state's iconic automotive history? No place in Michigan is better to learn about the history of Michigan's automobiles than at The Henry Ford. The sprawling museum complex is in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn and is an actual treasure trove for automobile connoisseurs and aficionados.

The largest indoor-outdoor museum in the United States, The Henry Ford is visited by nearly two million people each year. It spans more than 523,000 square feet and was named for none other than Henry Ford.

The building itself is originally known as the Edison Institute and was dedicated to Thomas Edison on the 50th anniversary of the first light bulb — 1929. It became a museum to the Ford Motor Company in 1933.

It started as a collection of Henry Ford's personal objects and today has grown to include thousands of items that range from antique machinery to automobiles, locomotives, and other items. You'll even find an original Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, as well as the 1961 Lincoln Continental that carried President John F. Kennedy the day he was assassinated.

Address: 20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, Michigan

8. Explore the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

One can't-miss tourist attraction in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Featuring gorgeously colored, striated limestone cliffs; beautiful beaches; waterfalls; lakes; and rock formations, this is one of the most naturally beautiful places to visit in Michigan.

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore runs along the coast of Lake Superior. It has nearly 10- miles of hiking trails, quiet beaches, and thick forests, all of which are beautiful to visit in any season.

Among the top things to do in the park are hiking, boating, camping, cross-country skiing, and even ice fishing.

Address: N8391 Sand Point Road, Munising, Michigan

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Munising, MI

9. Visit Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island

A visit to Mackinac Island is like escaping to another world. The island off the coast of Mackinaw City and the Upper Peninsula is a unique spot, and a National Landmark, that Michiganders are incredibly proud of.

Known for its natural beauty and lack of cars, Mackinac Island is a great getaway in Michigan.

A trip to Mackinac Island is, in many ways, a trip back in time. No cars are permitted on the island. Instead, visitors will hear the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages riding through the streets.

Mackinac Island does not allow for any chain hotels, either. Instead it has unique boutique hotels, great shopping, and, of course, the famous Mackinac Island fudge.

To get to Mackinac Island, visitors can take one of the many passenger ferries. The island sits between the two peninsulas, so visitors can leave from either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, which are the cities at either end of the Mackinac Bridge.

10. Hit the Beaches of Lake Michigan

Oval Beach, Lake Michigan
Oval Beach, Lake Michigan | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Believe it or not, some of the best beaches in the country are in Michigan State, and no they are not on any ocean.

These are the beaches of Lake Michigan, which are known for their white, powder-soft sand; rolling sand dunes; bright blue-colored waves; and plenty of activities.

You'll find miles of protected beachfront that run all the way down the Lake Michigan coast. Lake Michigan is the fifth largest lake in the world, so you can bet you'll have a lot of ground to cover with its 1,000 miles of freshwater coastline.

All along the coastline, from Sawyer and New Buffalo up to the Mackinac Bridge, and then along the Upper Peninsula from St. Ignace to Escanaba, the coastline is peppered with charming beach towns, state parks, beach hiking trails, concession stands, and many other ways to enjoy the beach.

Among the top beach towns to visit include St. Joseph, South Haven, Saugatuck, Holland, Grand Haven, and Ludington.

11. Visit the Motown Museum

Motown Museum in Detroit
Motown Museum in Detroit | alisafarov / Shutterstock.com

Cars are not the only thing Detroit is known for. Detroit has always been a city with musical roots, and the music it moves to is called Motown.

Motown music was born in Detroit, pushing out world-class stars like The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and so many more. Visitors to Detroit can walk through the history of Motown with a visit to the Motown Museum.

Also called "Hitsville USA," the museum lives in the famous Studio A., where so many Motown stars recorded over the years. The tour is jam-packed with great music, iconic memorabilia, and lots of stories about how the greats came to be. It's a must for any music lover visiting Michigan.

Address: 2648 Berry Gordy Jr. Boulevard, 2648 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, Michigan

12. Drive the Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Visiting the Upper Peninsula is worth the trip, but getting there is also a big part of the Michigan experience. Driving the Mackinac Bridge over the Straits of Mackinac is one of the coolest things to do when visiting Michigan.

The Mackinac Bridge is a beautifully designed suspension bridge that spans nearly five miles over the Straits. It is the longest suspension bridge between anchorages in the Western Hemisphere.

The bridge opened in 1957, offering an alternative to the ferry service that previously linked the peninsulas. The height of the bridge at its center is 200 feet above water, and the bridge has the capability to move as much as 35 feet in either direction in high winds. It's one of Michigan's crown jewels and a feat of engineering.

Driving over the Mackinac Bridge is one of the most interesting ways to get between the two peninsulas.

13. Explore Presque Isle State Park

Presque Isle State Park
Presque Isle State Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

When visiting the Upper Peninsula, be sure to make a stop in Marquette. Marquette is one of the largest cities on the Upper Peninsula, and enjoys a beautiful perch overlooking Lake Superior. One of the best things to do in Marquette is to take a walk or a drive through Presque Isle State Park.

The 323-acre park sits on its own peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior. It is known for its craggy sandstone cliffs and rocky outcrops that feature sweeping lake views.

One of the best ways to see the park is to travel the Peter White Drive, which hugs the perimeter of the park. It's a two-mile pathway that can be walked, biked, or driven, and gives way to pullouts where you can stop and have a look at the views.

Within the park are miles of hiking trails through the forest. Visitors can be on the lookout for the many species of plants, animals, and migrating birds.

Address: Peter White Drive, Marquette, Michigan

14. Tour the Lighthouses

Marquette Harbor Lighthouse
Marquette Harbor Lighthouse | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

If there is one thing that Michigan has an abundance of, it's lighthouses. Michigan is rich with maritime history, and the lake shipping culture is an integral part of Michigan's identity. As such, its large collection of historic lighthouses all up and down its 3,200 miles of coast are among its most prized possessions.

Each lighthouse in Michigan is unique, from the short and squat lighthouses to the ones that tower over their lakefront perches.

Approximately 140 lighthouses have been built throughout Michigan's history, which is more than any other state. Today there are more than 120 of them, all across the four Great Lakes that touch Michigan, as well as its many rivers.

15. Celebrate Christmas Year-Round in Frankenmuth

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth
Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

If you were dropped down in Frankenmuth, you may be able to convince yourself that you've wandered into a small Bavarian village. But no — you're in Frankenmuth, one of the best small towns in Michigan. The Bavarian-themed village pulls visitors in from all over the country to marvel at its traditional Bavarian architecture, Bavarian culture and cuisine, and, of course, its year-round Christmas emporium.

Frankenmuth is home to the world-famous Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, the largest Christmas store in the world, with more than seven acres of space dedicated to selling all things Christmas. A step into the sprawling shop reveals everything from twinkle lights and ornaments to life-size Christmas characters, wreaths, trees, and so much more.

Outside the shop is a replica of the Silent Night Chapel in Austria, which is where the Silent Night hymn was performed for the very first time. Today, the hymn is on a constant loop, and visitors come to look at the lovely manger scenes out front.

16. Wander the Petoskey Gaslight District

Petoskey Gaslight District
Petoskey Gaslight District | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Petoskey, Michigan, sits in the crook of Little Traverse Bay, along the northern coast of Lake Michigan. The historic, charming town has been a tourist destination for decades for its lakefront location and charming downtown.

Downtown Petoskey is one of the most picturesque downtowns in the United States, with more than 170 shops and restaurants in the Gaslight Shopping District. The Gaslight District is the most historic part of the city and is known for the lovely gaslights that twinkle up and down the streets.

17. Explore the Great Lakes Bay Region

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

Michigan's east coast is where you'll find the famous Great Lakes Bay Region. Made up of six cities, the Bay Region is known for its outdoor activities, historic downtown cores, and access to Lake Huron

The cities that make up the Bay Region include Bay City, Birch Run, Chesaning, Frankenmuth, Midland, and Saginaw. These riverfront towns are brimming with boutique shops and restaurants, charming inns and bed and breakfasts, thriving art scenes, theaters, and historic architecture.

It's also a region that is packed with protected natural space. Rivers and hiking trails are what connect these cities, making it an area with an endless amount of things to do in the great outdoors.