The Top 10 Destinations in Michigan

Go straight to the heart of 20th century American industry and see some of Michigan's more charming sides too with a visit to its top 10 tourist destinations.

Hopper Editors - Oct. 26, 2017

Situated in the Great Lakes region of the northern United States, Michigan combines famous cities with an eventful history and a rugged natural world. Towns like Detroit were at the heart of the American automobile industry, and pioneered production methods that helped catapult the US into the position of world superpower. But they have also been the site of simmering class and racial tensions - as well as of vibrant cultural movements such as Motown. Beyond this human history stretches a glorious natural world, composed of national parks, forests, and miles of lakeside shoreline. And bridging the two is a vibrant agricultural industry based on cherries, blueberries, peaches, apples and wine.

10. Explore the different sides of the American Dream in Flint

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Famous as the birthplace of General Motors and as a town that drifted with the death of industry into crime and simmering social tension, Flint is a fascinating - if not entirely relaxing - city to visit. The superb Sloan Museum does a terrific job of exploring all the sides to this history, as well as considering Flint’s role in the growth of the American labor movement. And there are a handful of more straightforward attractions, including the Crossroads Village outdoor museum, a planetarium, the Flint Institute of the Arts, and an excellent children’s museum.

9. Relax in picturesque Bay City

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Spread across the banks of the Saginaw River, Bay City’s two halves are joined by a series of four drawbridges, enabling ships to pass easily up and down the river. This picturesque setting is a chief attraction in itself, and a pleasant riverwalk pier runs along the banks of the Saginaw, flanked by green lawns, gardens, artwork and softball fields. Beyond that, visitors can walk out to the Bay City State Recreation Area, on the shores of Lake Huron, with a beach, campground, playground, and plentiful wildlife, including deer and migrating warblers. Within the town are a cluster of interesting museums, on naval history, toys, and regional history.

8. Step into the eventful history of Battle Creek

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Battle Creek is the site of an exceptionally eventful and varied history, all of which has left its mark on the town. During the Civil War, it was a key stop on the Underground Railroad and became the hometown of Sojourner Truth, who escaped in 1826 and became a leading abolition activist. The town was also the birthplace of the Seventh Day Adventists, whose heritage can be contemplated in the Dr. John Harvey Kellogg Discovery Center. In the 20th century, Battle Creek became known as Cereal City as both Kellogg's and Post established their businesses there. These days it has hit harder times, but strolling its streets remains a fascinating experience, and there is a great little zoo, a waterpark, and the nearby Fort Custer State Park, centered on Eagle Lake.

7. Experience modern-day Michigan in rapidly growing Ypsilanti

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Named after a hero in the Greek War of Independence, Ypsilanti was established as a fur trading post and gradually evolved into a permanent settlement on the east bank of the Huron River. Part of the same western Detroit metropolitan area as Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti is a rougher and rawer neighborhood, with a thriving underground arts and music scene populated by artists driven out of Ann Arbor by rapidly rising prices. This scene comes to the surface biannually at the Shadow Art Fair, held at the Corner Brewery, and can also be glimpsed in established venues such as the Riverside Arts Center. The town also hosts several solid American eateries, centered in the Depot Town district, such as the Sidewalk Tavern.

6. Explore one of 20th century America's greatest cities, Detroit

Detroit has been at the epicenter of US life and culture in the twentieth century, from the birth of the automobile industry - explored in the sprawling Henry Ford Museum - to the music of Motown, catalogued in the low-key but immersive Motown Museum. But the city isn’t just about its past, or about its nosedive into neglect; Detroit is alive and buzzing again, from the clubs and restaurants of its renascent Greektown, to the cultured hordes treading Woodward Avenue’s theater district.

5. Sojourn among the cafes and bookshops of cultured Ann Arbor

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Home to the University of Michigan and so tribes of chin-stroking students, Ann Arbor is a picturesque town with a creative and cultural soul, most evident in the University of Michigan Museum of Art and at a small community of local theaters. But perhaps the town’s best attribute is its informal culture, spread across its attractive and walkable downtown. Visitors can explore more than 30 independent bookstores, some generalist and some focused on specific genres, then head to one of the many sidewalk cafes to delve into their purchases over a cup of excellent coffee.

4. Shop 'til you drop in Kalamazoo

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Kalamazoo burst onto the scene in 1959, when it acquired the first downtown pedestrian mall in America and lured tourists from far and wide with its nickname Mall City. This consumer heritage remains strong today, and people still travel to the southern Michigan town to visit its various shopping centers - Crossroads Mall, Southland Mall, Maple Hill Pavilion and South Westnedge Shopping District. Alongside bright-eyed consumerism, the town is also renowned as a center of innovation, packed with research institutions such as Western Michigan University and several major industrial and pharmaceutical corporations. The fruits of this focus are showcased in unique attractions such as the Air Zoo, with restored historic aircraft and a flight simulator, and the Michigan Space Science Center, with a wide range of exhibits, including rocks from the moon, that will enthrall anyone with an interest in astronomy.

3. Taste the wine and cherries of Traverse City

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This small and scenic city perched on the edge of Grand Traverse Bay is famous for two renowned Michigan delicacies: cherries and wine. It is the largest producer of tart cherries in the US, and holds a weeklong cherry festival every July. Close by, two rugged, windswept peninsulas jut out into the Bay, laced with vineyards producing the most sought-after wine in Michigan. And Traverse City is also a top destination for those who enjoy the great outdoors. They can roam the region’s forests on foot or mountain bike, hike among the sand dunes of the Sleeping Dunes National Lakeshore, and hit the slopes of a handful of downhill skiing areas.

2. Visit laid-back and vibrant Grand Rapids

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Once known as the furniture capital of the world and subsequently a victim of the decline that struck many of the manufacturing cities around the Great Lakes, Grand Rapids has quietly grown into one of America’s top tourist cities. Laid-back, inexpensive, and easily accessible, it has both a vibrant urban life, a range of unique attractions, and close proximity to a glorious natural world. Check out the city’s thriving cultural life at a handful of theaters - the Civic, the Circle, the Actors’ and the Dog Story - clustered alongside the Grand Rapids Art Museum and an Urban Institute of Contemporary Art. Then drive 20 kilometers out of town to the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan, where you can swim, paddle, sunbathe and surf.

1. Enjoy the food, fudge, nature and upmarket resorts of Mackinac Island

Located in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island was settled in the 1600s and played a significant role in the governing of the region following the War of 1812. Its political importance declined as other cities grew up around the fringe of the Great Lakes, but by the end of the 19th century, as the US settled into a period of internal peace and prosperity, it had a grown into a popular tourist destination. It remains so today, host to a range of attractions. There’s an upmarket resort centered around the opulent Grand Hotel, an 1884 summer palace. There’s the central village, lined with late Victorian architecture and studded with at least one famous fudge shop. By the shoreline beyond the town, visitors will find plentiful opportunities for cycling, horse-riding, kayaking and hiking.

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