11 Best Places to Visit in Michigan in 2023-- From Someone Who Lives in the State
Well, my awesome readers, 2023 is one day away! For my final article of 2022, I wish to honor my home state by presenting my personal curated list of the 11 best places for you to visit in Michigan in 2023!
I was born and raised in southeastern Michigan and resided in various cities in the state until I was 26. At age 31, I moved back to Michigan, and, at the time of this writing, am currently living near Detroit.
There are two characteristics of Michigan that make it unique in comparison to any other state in the midwest.
The first unique feature of Michigan is that the state is surrounded by four lakes. Those four lakes are Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie.
As a result of being in the middle of these four bodies of water, Michigan outshines other states in the midwest by having some of the region's most beautiful natural sights.
The second feature that makes Michigan unique is that the state is divided into two peninsulas: the lower peninsula and the upper peninsula.
The shape of the lower peninsula is rather iconic: it looks like a right-handed mitten with the palm facing you. Michiganders will often point to their hand when referencing where a city or town is located in the state!
The lower peninsula is where a majority of the best places, such as Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Traverse City, in Michigan are located.
The upper peninsula is a region for any traveler especially drawn to gorgeous natural scenery.
After completing the first half of my "visit all 50 states" journey, I became more aware of the travel-worthy (for lack of a better word!) spots in Michigan.
For a thorough exploration of the United States, do not omit Michigan from the list! Here is my personal list of the 11 best places in Michigan!
In 2023, here are the 11 best places to visit in Michigan...
01 // Frankenmuth
I wanted to start off my list of the 11 best places to visit in Michigan with a town that pretty much only a real native Michigander would know of!
Those who reside outside Michigan and who are really into rock music may have heard of this quaint Michigan town before. The rock band, Greta Van Fleet, is from Frankenmuth.
Frankenmuth is no ordinary Michigan town!
The first characteristic anyone will notice upon entering Frankenmuth is its German architecture-- in particular-- from the German state of Bavaria. Just like Bavaria is located in southeastern Germany, Frankenmuth is located in southeastern Michigan-- about 90 minutes northwest from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.
Regarding food, this charming German small town is very well-known for its fried chicken! The chicken is so well seasoned and cooked, it could make vegetarians go "Ah, what the hell! I'll have some!"
Two restaurants-- Zehnder's and Bavarian Inn-- serve this mouth-watering chicken. As to which restaurant is better? They serve essentially the same menu so I personally wouldn't vouch for one establishment over the other. Anyone with a strong preference of one restaurant over the other is just really nitpicky.
This is important: I highly advise you make a reservation at least one day in advance to either Zehnder's or Bavarian Inn. If you don't and just show up expecting to be seated right away, the waittime will likely be hours long!
When you go to either restaurant, I suggest you order the "family style" chicken. It's like a buffet, except you don't have to get up! You just keep getting served more chicken, noodles, and other dishes until you're full!
After an incredible meal, you can head downstairs to purchase some iconic Mackinac Island fudge (a delicacy to Michiganders!) and some Michigan souvenirs like shot glasses, magnets, and shirts.
Another major attraction in Frankenmuth is Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland. The all-capitalization of "Christ" in 'Christmas' is not mine-- it's the store placing the emphasis. I suppose they want to remind people who Christmas is really about-- even though Christmas is not technically a Christian holiday once you do your research buuuut... that's not the point of this article!
Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland is open all year round. It is allegedly the world's largest Christmas store. Even if someone pointed out it's not technically the largest, like... who cares? The store and its campus are damn large and it's impossible to miss.
One more attraction in Frankenmuth is Birch Run Outlet. Okay, technically, this shopping center is not located in Frankenmuth, but it's so close that I'm lumping it together anyway! My blog, my rules! It's only a 5-10 minute drive from Frankenmuth.
Birch Run is sort of like an outdoor mall. You can choose to walk it, if you'd like! Some of the stores included in the outlet include Polo Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, American Eagle, and North Face.
02 // Ann Arbor
Recently, I learned that famous New Yorker and morning talk-show host, Kelly Ripa, is really fond of Ann Arbor. I love New York City so the fact someone from my dream city speaks so highly of Ann Arbor means something to me!
And you know what? I agree with Kelly Ripa! I even spent two great years of my early 20's residing in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor has a lot going for it!
Much of Ann Arbor's clout is garnered from the fact that it's home to the University of Michigan. The University of Ann Arbor is often regarded as a "public Ivy", as many of its undergraduate and graduate programs rank in the U.S News top 10.
As a result of being homebase to one of the finest non-Ivy League universities in the country, Ann Arbor has the aura of a very intellectual city. It reminds me a lot of Boston, in that regard.
However, one slight drawback to Ann Arbor's maize-and-blue pride is that some people feel the city can be a bit pretentious. There's a phrase called 'Ann Arbor Arrogrant' that's often thrown around to describe the city. While a small percentage of Ann Arbor inhabits may act snooty, the town overall is still wonderful and absolutely worth visiting!
Ann Arbor's restaurant scene is incredible. While I recently wrote that my hometown has a really culturally diverse selection of restaurants, Ann Arbor has even more variety when it comes to food! For instance, ever have Ethopian food? Go to Blue Nile!
Not only is Ann Arbor great to visit-- in fact, it's one of the best places in Michigan to visit in the fall-- but it's also a really great place to live! Ann Arbor is frequently touted to be one of the best cities to live-- not only in Michigan-- but in the entire country!
One more fact about Ann Arbor-- it has a very famous music venue called the Blind Pig. Many famous musicians and bands performed at this venue when they were still rather unknown. For instance, Nirvana performed at the Blind Pig in 1989-- two years before they released their classic album Nevermind. In fact, the band even stated during an MTV interview that their favorite venue to perform at was... the Blind Pig!
Ann Arbor is a city rich in art, music, food, culture, academics, and athletics. It's a place no Michigan traveler can bypass.
I suggest you check out my article for a more in-depth guide of the best things to do in Ann Arbor.
03 // Detroit
I have a soft spot for Detroit because for most of my life, Detroit was really dangerous. It had a terrible reputation and was a place many didn't go to unless they absolutely had to, for whatever reason. It was a real shame that I grew up to a big city-- always having been drawn to big cities-- and yet, didn't get to experience what makes the city so enticing until adulthood.
For the past decade or so, Detroit has been on a path to revival. Today, Detroit ranks as one of my top 5 cities in the U.S.
For sports fans, we have all four major US sports here-- the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Lions, the Detroit Red Wings, and the Detroit Pistons. Even though I am hardly a sports fan, I marvel at how beautiful Comerica Park-- where the Detroit Tigers play-- is.
What makes Detroit really distinctive is the city's influence on the automobile industry. Detroit is hailed as the city who put the world on wheels. The most beautiful skyscraper in downtown-- called the Renaissance Center-- belongs to General Motors.
If you especially have a fondness for cars and wish to visit Detroit, then you must attend the Detroit International Auto Show. This annual event is so reverred that president Joe Biden attended it in 2022.
Do you have an electric vehicle? Assuming completion in 2023, Detroit will be the first city in the world to have an electric vehicle charging road. It's a testament to the Motor City's continuous role in automobile innovation!
One more recommendation for the car lovers: go to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. While technically not in Detroit proper, it is in a Detroit suburb called Dearborn, which is very close. Besides, if you enjoy cars, you won't mind the drive there!
Another attribute that makes Detroit really stand out as a city is you can see Canada from across the water! Being able to see a totally different country from a near distance is an experience not many U.S cities have! If you want to venture into Canada during your Michigan trip, I have a whole article on the different ways one can enter Canada through Detroit and Michigan.
For a new attraction I have not seen many travel bloggers talk about (yet) is Monroe Street Midway! Hence-- an advantage of being a local!
Monroe Street Midway is a mostly free attraction in downtown Detroit. During the winter months, the campus hosts winter-themed activities, such as bumper cars-- on ice, going down the 20 foot high 80 foot long Arctic Slide, and a variation of putt-putt golf but with a hockey puck!
Love pizza? Yeah, who doesn't, right? Detroit has its own style of pizza, not surprisingly called 'Detroit-style pizza'! It is similar to Chicago-style in that it is deep dish. For eating Detroit-style pizza in Detroit, the place I would vouch for the most is Michigan & Trumbull.
Detroit is a city with a rich history in popular music. At the time of this writing, the Motown Museum is closed due to construction until January 31, 2023. Assuming it resumes tours in early 2023, one of the coolest attractions on the museum tour is the opportunity to tour an actual recording studio. Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder are two very famous musicians who recorded at the studio.
What I personally cherish most about Detroit are the public art sculptures around the city. Near the Renaissance Center, be sure to check out 'The Fist' and 'The Spirit of Detroit'!
Last, our airport-- Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, aka DTW, is one of the most beautiful and highly rated airports in the country! It is my personal favorite airport, with Portland International Airport (PDX) being a close second.
For more information on how to have the best time in Detroit in 2023, I have an entire article on the best things to do in Detroit.
04 // Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is a beloved spot for Michiganders to visit. Its corresponding city, Mackinac City, is located at the tip-top of the lower peninsula. To reach the island, visitors take a ferry. It takes around 10 minutes to arrive at the island.
By the way, pro-tip: if you take the ferry in the summer and sit on the upper deck, it can still feel really good! When I last visited in spring 2021, it was about 75° F outside, but on the upper deck of the ferry, the temperature felt like it was halved. If you get cold easily, sit on the lower deck!
Like Frankenmuth, Mackinac Island has a distinct vintage look to it. Its architecture styles include Victorian, gothic, Native American, military, and colonial.
Albeit Detroit being famous for the auto industry, Mackinac Island is unique for not allowing cars on the island. This is why it really pissed me off (as well as many Michiganders!!) when former vice president, Mike Pence, insisted on bringing automobiles onto the island when he visited in 2019.
Such disrespect for the island's tradition. Ironic, considering that Republicans claim to honor tradition...
To get around on Mackinac Island, you either bike (see all those bikes in my photo?), walk, or take a horse-driven carriage. Most visitors opt to rent bicycles, as biking around the entire island is one of the most fun things to do when visiting Mackinac Island!
Don't make the mistake my friend and I did and try to walk the whole island! It's about 8 miles. Much easier-- and quicker-- to rent a bicycle!
Be sure to try some Mackinac fudge! There are so many fudge restaurants on the island-- I can't say if one establishment is the best or not. I don't have enough discernment in my tastes for sweets to give that advice. The stuff can be really sweet-- overwhelmingly sweet if you're like me and don't have much of a sweettooth.
Two landmarks on the island you should definitely not miss checking out when you visit Mackinac Island is the Grand Hotel and the Michigan Governor's Summer Residence. I suppose the Grand Hotel lives up to its name because, to stay there, you may very well be spending a grand!
05 // Holland
Just like how Frankenmuth honors its German heritage, the city of Holland is proud of its Dutch origins!
To see Holland's Dutch pride in full spirit, then head to Nelis' Dutch Village. It is a 10-acre theme park/village with a Dutch decor. I suggest you do the 'Dutch Dance Lessons' and get some Dutch chocolate fudge at The Fudge Shop.
The peculiar thing about Holland is that the best time to visit the city is in a narrow window of time. The biggest draw of Holland is 'tulip season', which is roughly from late April to mid May of any given year.
If you want to attend the Tulip Festival (which you should!), then the time narrows down even more to a week in early May, ending in mid May. For example, the Tulip Festival in 2022 was hosted from May 7-15.
What's really nice though is that the tulips are all around the city-- not just in downtown! If you're not as fond of crowds, then you might prefer to explore sections of the city such as Windmill Island Gardens or Riverview Park.
06 // Traverse City
Traverse City is one of the smallest cities in Michigan (only a population of a little over 15,000 as of 2021) but is nonetheless one of its most beautiful cities.
For Michiganders, taking a trip to a city or town with a great view of one of the Great Lakes is a popular choice during the summer. My family, for instance, visited Ludington for a week every summer for a while.
Traverse City has a glorious view of Lake Michigan and is located in the northwestern part of the lower peninsula.
Sure, you can go to Traverse City State Park Beach for a day in the sun, but what makes Traverse City great is that, well, frankly, there's more to do than just go to the beach! There are several biking and hiking trails in the city as well as vineyards!
The biking and hiking (hey, those rhyme!) trails look especially breathtaking during autumn, hence why Traverse City is one of the best places to visit in Michigan in the fall.
Visit the Chateau Chantal Winery & Tasting Room for an aesthetic wine tour! You'll feel like a million bucks sipping wine, as you're on an estate on top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the water.
For a city dweller like myself, go down to Front Street for a downtown Traverse City experience. Musicians often perform live on the streets and there are plenty of cute locally owned businesses to take a gander at. One that particularly caught my attention was Natural Candy Store-- a store that sells dye-free and gluten-free candy.
The next item on the list is really close to Traverse City...
07 // Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Two of the items on my list of the 11 best places to visit in Michigan are on islands: Mackinac Island being the first and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore being the second!
For a full immersion of nature traveling while in Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a place you can't afford to miss! Visitors here will love the stunning beaches overlooking the blue waters of Lake Michigan, the dense forests, and trails to hike & bike.
Keep a sharp eye out for poison ivy while hiking, as, unlike other hiking trails, they are not marked here. "Leaves of three, let them be" is the best adage to spotting and avoiding poison ivy! Like Mackinac Island, you need to take a ferry to reach the island. The ferry service is in Leland and is a family-run business called Manitou Island Transit.
08 // Lansing
Lansing is the capitol city of Michigan.
Honestly, Michigan's capitol is often overlooked-- even by Michiganders-- when it comes to recommending places for others to visit! Lansing's downtown is vibrant, sporting a slew of dining, shopping, nightlife, and museum options.
In addition to all the downtown action, there are several beautiful public parks around downtown as well to freely explore.
09 // Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan.
It is located in the southwestern portion of the lower peninsula, about 2 hours away from Detroit's airport. Speaking of airports, Grand Rapids has its own international airport-- the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
One of the best fun things to do in Grand Rapids that will take you all around the city is the 'Rad Women A-Z Initiative'. There are 27 artistically painted electrical boxes throughout Grand Rapids-- each box commemorating an influential woman in history.
For example, the letter 'A'? Dedicated to political activist Angela Davis.
"But wait... 27!? There are only 26 letters in the alphabet!! I think Michael made a typo!"
Nice catch! Yes, you're correct there are 26 letters in the alphabet and I'm also correct there are 27 electrical boxes. Nope-- none of the letters are repeated. The 27th box just tells you about the art project!
Those who appreciate art should visit the Grand Rapids Museum of Art and the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
Compared to Detroit, Grand Rapids is a quieter and more conservative city. Especially on Sunday mornings! The city is practically dead before 11:00 a.m on a Sunday.
10 // Upper Peninsula
Culturally, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan feels very different from the rest of Michigan-- almost like it's an entirely different state!
Honestly, without the Upper Peninsula, there is no way I'd brag that hard about Michigan's natural scenery-- and this is including Michigan's many beach towns, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and even Mackinac Island.
Yes-- those places are attractive, but it's really the Upper Peninsula that propels Michigan to the top of the midwestern states when it comes to the beauty of the outdoors.
Exploring the Upper Peninsula could be an article on its own (and one I should probably get around to writing...), but, to keep this article compact, I am just going to list some places to check out:
Waterfalls? Check out Tahquamenon Falls, Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park, Bond Falls, and Presque Isle River Waterfalls Loop.
Cities/towns? Houghton, Munising, and Sault Ste. Marie.
Lighthouses-- there are several throughout the peninsula.
11 // Plymouth
I'm wrapping up my list of the 11 best places to visit in Michigan with another destination I harbor a soft spot for-- Plymouth.
First off, I'll be honest-- it's downtown is pretty small and if you're visiting, this is a place you would, at most, make one day of. Luckily, downtown Plymouth is located right in between Detroit and Ann Arbor, so it's a great place to insert into your itinerary if you knock out Detroit and Ann Arbor in the same trip.
As small as Plymouth's downtown is, it sees more action that other cities' downtowns of larger size! Nearly every hour of the day, people in downtown Plymouth enjoy the city's excellent restaurants, charming small-town yet swanky aesthetic, it's signature local cafe (The Plymouth Coffee Beanery), and the high-volume seasonal events, such as the Fall Festival and Ice Festival.
For two stellar restaurant recommendations in downtown Plymouth, go to Nico & Vali Italian Eatery for some top-tier Italian food and Pakwaan for some amazing Indian food.
One of the first articles I ever wrote for this blog was a comprehensive list of all the fun things to do in Plymouth.
Compared to the rest of the states in the midwest, Michigan is unrivaled in natural beauty. Furthermore, if you're like me and love big cities, Detroit is, year by year, returning to its former glory and is a contender for being one of the best cities in the midwest.
Add Michigan to your list of states to thoroughly explore in 2023-- and use this guide of the 11 best places to visit in Michigan as you plan your trip!