A Perfect Michigan Spot for Every Type of Traveler

No matter your interest, the Great Lakes state has got you covered.

Detroit, Michigan

Video by Smithsonian, Getty Images

Michigan is packed with bustling urban centers, charming small towns, and gorgeous natural landscapes—making it an excellent destination for any kind of visitor. Whether you’re looking for a place to get outdoors, a new foodie hot spot, or an arts and culture hub, the Great Lakes state has something for you.

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The Paddler

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula boasts stunning landscapes, lush forests, and clear waters, which makes it the perfect spot for an epic paddling trip. Kayaking along the shoreline of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a popular adventure—and for good reason: the rock formations are unique and Instagram-worthy. But if you're looking for an equally stunning, but lesser-known experience, head just a bit west of the lakeshore to Hiawatha National Forest’s Grand Island. Around the island, paddlers can spot colorful cliffs, historic lighthouses, and sandy beaches. Plus, if you take the trip in early fall, you’ll see the colorful red and orange tones of the island’s sandstone matched by the changing leaves of the shore’s many trees.

The Small-Town Charmer

The Great Lakes state is made for road trips, with its automotive history and miles of fresh-water shoreline. There are plenty of options for a tour, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one more lovely than a voyage through the charming small towns along the northwestern coast of the state.

Begin in Traverse City, where you can jump into the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay from the Traverse City State Park and eat at Little Fleet, a community space featuring seasonal food trucks and colorful picnic tables. Stop at Short’s Brewing Company’s production facility in Elk Rapids for a tour and a taste of their creatively named beers, like Space Rock and Huma Lupa Licious.

Continue on to Charlevoix, which sits between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix, and visit That French Place for local-made ice cream and buckwheat crepes. From there, venture to the town of Petoskey to search for stones with the same name. You’ll probably have the most luck finding this state stone, which is actually a rock containing fossilized coral, at the city’s breakwall.

The Beer Drinker

Michigan has become a hub for craft breweries, with locations across the state earning national accolades and local respect. While pint-seeking visitors will be happy nearly anywhere, head west to find the perfect blend of better-known and up-and-coming spots.

In Kalamazoo, Bell’s Brewery is famous for their summertime specialty, Oberon, but they create distinctive brews for every season. The Best Brown Ale, made every fall, will warm you up with its caramel and cocoa tones, and the Winter White Ale is a light barley and wheat malt meant to help you embrace, not escape, the snowy season—just like a true Michigander.

Bell’s isn’t the only player in town though. While you’re in the city, be sure to visit One Well Brewing, where community is just as important as the beer, and Arcadia Ales, where British-inspired drinks are served in a solar-powered beer garden on the Kalamazoo River.

The Sand Seeker

The Sleeping Bear Dunes got their name from a grand Native American legend about a mother bear and her two cubs. The trio attempted to cross the lake after a forest fire, but only the mother made it to shore. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs were lost and the massive dune on shore where the mother bear lay waiting for them. Today, the dunes are just as epic as the tale that inspired their moniker.

Visitors have plenty of options for exploring the National Lakeshore site. Experience the family-friendly Dune Climb just north of Empire, Michigan. Run, walk, or bike the 27-mile Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. Or paddle down the Platte River or Crystal River to the dunes’ Lake Michigan shore. Whatever way you decide to experience the sandy giants, take plenty of water and and a pair of shoes—it can get hot on those hills.

The Musician

The Wheatland Music Festival, which occurs every September on a 160-acre site in Remus, Michigan, is all about community. Its first organizers were members of a food co-op who played shows to fund the endeavor. By 1975, the festival offered camping and started to shape into what it is today—a weekend focused on the preservation of traditional music and arts. Families are welcome, and musicians include both Michigan-based and national groups.

The festival is just an hour outside Grand Rapids, which is a natural inclusion to your music-centered trip. The city, the largest in western Michigan, is home to over 100 live venues. Find one that suits your taste—there’s guaranteed to be one—along the Grand Rapids Music Trail, and curate the soundtrack of your adventure.

The Artist

The Detroit Institute of Arts houses over 65,000 works of art, one of the largest in the country. There are more than 100 galleries in the building, but Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals are perhaps the most loved by locals. Painted on the walls of the covered courtyard, the 37 panels show Rivera’s interpretations of the Ford Motor Company and the coinciding industrialization of the world.

As impressive as the collection at the Institute is, the heart of the Detroit art scene can be found outside its walls. With the city’s resurgence, street art is growing and thriving. You can discover beautiful, thoughtful murals at Eastern Market, along the Dequindre Cut Greenway, and inside The Z Parking Garage.

If ceramic arts are more your style, stop by the Pewabic pottery studio, a National Historic Landmark founded in 1903 and dedicated “to enriching the human spirit through clay.” If you take a tour, you’ll get the chance to shape a bit of Detroit for yourself and take home a personalized clay tile.

The Driver

If you’re crazy about cars, there’s no better destination than Detroit. Head to the city in late August for the Woodward Dream Cruise, when participants drive around 40,000 classic and custom cars down historic Woodward Avenue to show off for over one million visitors. What began as a fundraiser for a soccer field in 1995 has grown into an iconic Detroit event. If you plan to join the crowds, start early. Locals set up their seats far ahead of time along the 16-mile route, but the party starts right away, so you won’t be bored while you wait.

You can continue your trek through automotive history by heading west from the Dream Cruise to visit The Henry Ford, a massive museum complex home to The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and the Ford Rouge Plant Tour. At the first, you'll find exhibits focused on American invention, culture, history—like the bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a replica of the Wright brothers' 1903 plane, and interactive exhibits on Ford's assembly line and Model T manufacturing. At the second, you'll tour through Ford's historic automotive plant and see how the company's F-150s are made today.

The Foodie

There are plenty of ways to experience the burgeoning food scene in Detroit. You could organize it by type, stopping by Slows Bar BQ and Red Smoke Barbeque to enjoy all the slow-cooked meats you can handle, for instance. Or you could tackle it by neighborhood, heading to Dearborn for Middle Eastern cuisine at Al-Ameer's or a burger and shake at Brome Modern Eatery. But perhaps the most interesting approach to eating your way through Metro Detroit is by moving along the area’s famed Woodward Avenue, getting a mix of it all. Be warned: this may take all weekend.

Start downtown by visiting either American or Lafayette Coney Island, just a block from Woodward. If you’re brave, visit them both and then share your opinion with a local about which one you like more. After that, head up the road to Hop Cat for a Michigan brew, Crack Fries, and a Bar Zee burger. Then venture to Ferndale for your next stop—Imperial, where they serve family-style tacos, deep-fried hotdogs, and refreshing margaritas. Finish the tour at Buddy’s Pizza, which has been serving original Detroit-style pizza since 1946. Your pie will come out square, in a deep-dish pan, and with plenty of toppings between the crunchy crust and thick layer of cheese.

The Hippie at Heart

Ann Arbor has long been known as a haven for social-minded citizens, art lovers, and freethinking academics. If you’d like to add a little love and whimsy to your trip, plan a stop in the city to catch a folk concert at The Ark, search for the tiny fairy doors hidden downtown, or attend the renowned Ann Arbor Street Art Fair.

A visit to the area is excellent any time of year, but University of Michigan students bring with them an air of excitement and energy each fall when the new school year begins. While you’re there, wander the school's Museum of Art, have a picnic in the Gothic-style law quad, and lounge in the Wave Field—a natural memorial that mimics Sine waves and was imagined by Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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The Donut Obsessed

You can find apples and cider in other states, but no one does a cider mill quite like Michigan. Most significantly, at a Michigan mill, the pressed, unpasteurized apple drink always shares the stage with fresh-made cider mill donuts.

On a fall afternoon, head down the dirt-road portion of 14 mile or through the small downtown of Franklin to Franklin Cider Mill. The barn-like building will be bustling, but take a moment to watch the staff press the cider before you buy a hot cup to enjoy, a gallon of cold cider for later, and a bag of donuts to share. After you’re done inside, wander down to the stream, find a comfortable looking rock, and feed the ducks while you enjoy your treats.

The Outdoor Enthusiast

Spend a week in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park to experience the beauty of the Upper Peninsula and test your backcountry camping skills. Michigan’s largest state park contains miles of rivers, plenty of secluded lakes, and acres of towering forests. The region is nearly unchanged from its establishment in 1945, so be sure to follow Leave No Trace ethics to support its continued preservation.

During your hikes, find one of the many waterfalls in the mountain range and head to the coast for an epic view of Lake Superior. And visiting in the fall means you’ll get perfect views of the autumn colors in the trees, while avoiding the heat of the summer and chill of the winter. Be sure to book a backcountry camping permit ahead of time and then report in-person when you arrive.

The Wine Taster

The Old Mission Peninsula, which extends into the Grand Traverse Bay north of Traverse City, offers 22-miles of excellent wineries, vineyards, and orchards. You can discovery them all by driving up Highway M-37, called Center Road by locals. Either choose a designated driver for your group or book a bus to charter you between tasting rooms at stops like Black Star Farms, Peninsula Cellars, and Mari Vineyards. As you make your way up the peninsula, you’ll take in gorgeous views of the green fields and blue waters of the bay while you enjoy a variety of award-winning wines and ciders.

The History Buff

The oldest city in Michigan, Sault Ste. Marie was home to a thriving Native American community thousands of years before French missionaries and fur traders ventured to the area in the 1660s. The location was strategic for both indigenous and European traders, and its significance continued to grow as trading capacity increased.

For decades, boaters had to portage their canoes and cargo and trek around the rapids to continue on their trade routes. With all the business that moved through the narrow passage, a need for an easier approach arose. In 1855, the first lock was built, and now the Soo Locks—which rise and fall 21 feet—have helped massive ships move between Lake Huron and Lake Superior for over 160 years. You can learn about the historic site by climbing an observation platform, visiting the Soo Locks Visitors Center, and enjoying the Soo Locks Park.

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