My Michigan Bucket List

This summer, I’m planning a road trip through Michigan. I’ve researched books, travel brochures, blogs and Instagram, as well as picked the brains of friends, to gather a bucket list of stops. This Michigan bucket list contains natural wonders, quirky pitstops, historic landmarks, and must-see restaurants – more than I can visit on this single trip.

My Michigan Bucket List - Quirky pitstops, iconic landmarks, must-visit restaurants and more things to do in Michigan. #Michigan #Midwest #Adventures #Vacation

Explore Mackinac Island

This island inspired the entire trip. Mackinac Island is car-free, so the only way to get around is by bike, horse, or walking. There’s the Grand Hotel to see, fudge to be eaten, and carriage rides to be taken.

Horse-drawn carriage on Mackinac Island
Transportation on Mackinac Island is limited to horse (or horse-drawn carriage), bike or foot. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Ride the rides at Michigan Adventure

This big theme park is probably on every vacationing family’s list. My kids are starting to turn into thrill junkies so I know they’d love it there (I’m secretly glad they fall below the height limits for some rides that make my stomach turn just looking at their photos).

Rollercoaster at Michigan's Adventure
Michigan’s Adventure is located in Muskegon, Mich. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Quick stop on the Alpine Slide

I’ve never done one of these things before, but have seen them in Colorado. This alpine slide like a fun pitstop along the way between Grand Rapids and Traverse City.

See a castle & Enchanted Garden

This gem in Charlevoix would appeal to my Sofia the First loving daughter and my son who loves castles and dragons. Castle Farms has hedge mazes, an outdoor model train, and an Enchanted Garden. 

Find a Petoskey Stone

Have you heard of these? You can find the state rock, which is actually a fossil, around beaches near Charlevoix and Petoskey. They’re pretty distinctive looking things and sound like a fun, free, outdoor activity for us. 

Stack of Petoskey stones
The Michigan state stone, Petoskey stones, are actually fossils. Photo courtesy Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

Go to “Europe”

Two towns in Michigan have European-esque appearances: Holland and Frankenmuth. I’d love to go to both, not just for the photo opps of a windmill or German beer hall, but because they sound utterly charming.

If we make it to Frankenmuth, I’d like to stop at Bavarian Inn Restaurant, where you can sign up to be a German baker (briefly) and learn how to roll a pretzel. Then you, of course, get to eat your handy work. (I found out about this from Just Me Regina.)

And not European, but fun to say, there’s a town called Hell. I’d like to go to Hell and back someday.

The Frankenmuth Cheese Haus in Michigan
Frankenmuth, Michigan, is also known as Little Bavaria. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Play in the trees

You can bet with large forests, Michigan has some amazing tree adventures. Two that caught my eye include Wildwood Rush near Boyne City and the John Ball Park Zoo in Grand Rapids (it’s on my Grand Rapids Bucket List, naturally). Both have ziplines and ropes courses.

If you’re curious about the Grand Rapids’ ropes course, we tried it out and I talked about what the kids thought of it here.

Tree canopy at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
You can walk in the tree canopy at John Ball Zoo. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Find the pasty

I’ve been told I need to seek out and try a pasty while I’m in Michigan. These things, so I’m told, have a flaky crust with meat filling and is a favorite in the Upper Peninsula. Sounds good to me.

Drive something unique

Want to drive a Model T? The Gilmore Car Museum has a Model T Driving School. How about a horse carriage? You can on Mackinac Island. I’m not sure which I’m more confident in driving, so I might just leave it up to the pros and take a tour.

If you’d rather be a passenger, both modes of transportation have options: You can ride Model T cars at Greenfield Village near Detroit and there are plenty of carriage options on Mackinac Island where you’re just the passenger.

Another option? Driving a sand-buggy. You can drive one in the Silver Lake Sand Dunes with Silver Lake Buggys.

Dune buggy ride at Silver Lakes Sand Dunes
A dune buggy ride at Silver Lakes Sand Dunes. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Chase Michigan waterfalls

I want to ignore TLC’s advice and go looking for waterfalls in Michigan, particularly seek some out in the Upper Peninsula. Fun fact: Estimates differ regarding the number of waterfalls in that region, but most pin the number between 150 to 300.

Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan, a Michigan bucket list item to see
Tahquamenon Falls is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There are more than 150 waterfalls in Michigan. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Dine waterside

I’m a sucker for a meal with a view, and waterfront is my absolute favorite. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a lakeside restaurants – in Michigan, you’re never more than 6 miles from an inland lake (and no more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes).

I’ve been scouring this post about incredible waterfront restaurants in Michigan for inspiration.

Swim in a Great Lake

There’s a reason why Michigan is called the Great Lake State. Four of the five Great Lakes touch Michigan shores – Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. There’s a good chance I’ll be dipping a toe in at least one.

Shore of Lake Michigan
If you have a goal of swimming in Great Lake, you’ll find many opportunities in Michigan. Four of the five Great Lakes touch Michigan. Lake Michigan is pictured here. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Linger at breakfast

Breakfast is my thing (see this post about memorable Midwest breakfasts). I’ve been scouting out some options for our Michigan trip, and I’ve found some great ones.

There’s J.W. Filmore’s Family Restaurant in Petoskey (thanks for the tip to try the french toast, Annie!) and the Windmill Restaurant in Holland (again, thanks to Annie, mentioned above, I know to order the cinnamon roll early).

Sample local brews

You guys, Michigan has more breweries than I know what to do with. Frankenmuth is like the Munich of the United States. I’ve been browsing lists of family-friendly breweries so I can sample local beers and not feel weird about having the kids along.

There are quite a few that are spacious, welcoming, and have kids activities to keep the kids entertained (with kids menus to boot). Grand Rapids has quite a few to choose from, and along the Western coast of Michigan, there’s one with a dog theme and a lakeside view (Old Boys’ Brewhouse). We found a family-friendly brewery (Grand Rapids Brewing Co.), and I wrote about it here.

Founders Brewing Co. interior
Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich., is known to be welcoming to families. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Eat all the ice cream

I can’t resist ice cream, especially when on a summer road trip. Here are some spots on my radar: Moomers Homemade Ice Cream (Traverse City), which has more than 100 flavors on a dairy farm, and the 1950s-themed restaurant House of Flavors (Ludington).

And then there’s the ultimate Michigan flavor I’ll have to try: Superman Ice Cream.

See a lighthouse

This shouldn’t be hard to do. Michigan has 142 lighthouses.

Lighthouse in Grand Haven, Michigan
There are 142 lighthouses in Michigan, including this one in Grand Haven. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Visit Sleeping Bear

I hear one of the best ways to experience this massive park for the first time is to take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. I hear No. 9 on the route is a good stopping point for a scenic view of Lake Michigan. The kids could do the National Park Service Junior Ranger program there if we have time.

Sunset at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is on the Sunset Coast of Michigan. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

See the Grand Haven Musical Fountain

I posed the question to my Facebook readers on some of the not-to-miss things in Michigan, and this nightly summer fountain show came up.

Have a cherry or two

Michigan is known for its cherries. Traverse City is home to the National Cherry Festival starting every July. Alas, our timing is off and we won’t be there for the huge festival. So, we might just have to sample a cherry pie or two…just because.

I’ve been told to go to Cherry Republic and Grand Traverse Pie Co. for the best cherry products.

Cups of cherries
The National Cherry Festival is held each year in Traverse City, Mich.

Hit the open water in a boat

I like the idea of renting a boat, but since we have zero boating experience, I think it will remain just an idea. Instead, we could sail in a sloop from the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven.

If we make it to the Upper Peninsula, there are several boat options for seeing Pictured Rocks National Seashore, including one with a glass bottom. More simple of a ride is the Saugatuck Chain Ferry, which is a five-minute hand-crank ferry float.

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Ultimate wish list of things to do in Michigan - Dream places to visit in Michigan, Michigan restaurant to dine at and adventures to have in Michigan. #Michigan #BucketList #Midwest

25 thoughts on “My Michigan Bucket List”

  1. Oh man Michigan is such a gorgeous place. We’ve visited there almost every summer for the past 20 years so we have a lot of good memories in Michigan. I’ve only been to about half of your list so I still have some exploring to do!

  2. These all sound like so much fun!! My grandparents live in Michigan so I’ve definitely gone Petoskey stone hunting with my mom, and I’ve been to the cherry festival in Traverse City (would totally love to go again someday!)

  3. I live in Michigan and haven’t visited all the places you’ve mentioned yet. If you get to the U.P., I highly recommend visiting Marquette and Munising. It was recently announced that there will be pirate cruises along the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore this summer. My daughter is so excited to sail on a pirate ship.

  4. Great list!!!! When in Charlevoix, be sure to cruise by a couple of the Mushroom Houses there. They are so neat to see in person! Also, I didn’t see a Pictured Rocks Boat Tour on your list but that should be on everyone’s Michigan bucketlist. (P. S. If you find any Petoskey Stones, they are surprisingly easy to polish by hand yourself. That makes for an awesome souvenir!)

  5. Michigan born and raised, you have a pretty good list going but don’t forget about the Detroit area! I know you mentioned the Model T rides at Greenfield Village in Dearborn but Detroit has so much to offer! Number 1 I would reccomend is the riverwalk, which just so happens to have Atwater Brewery right on it, I recommend the Dirty Blonde from there! Being a breakfast junkie, near Frankenmuth in Birch Run (same exit) there is a restaurant called Tony’s, they serve up some amazing breakfast but make sure you’re hungry because they don’t do small portions! Another breakfast stop to not miss is Shakers in Houghton Lake, I dream about their pineapple upside-down pancakes, I’ve also heard that the house dressing is excellent but I haven’t made it past the pancakes! Hope you have an amazing time and come back to see us all again!

  6. My wife and I have recently returned (to the UK) from our latest USA road trip. We started (and finished) in Chicago – driving through Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. Although we had a great time in every state we visited, Michigan is definitely our favourite state now and is somewhere we would love to visit again.

  7. This list is pretty good! The thumb of Michigan is commonly missed in planning vacations; mostly because a big chunk of it is flat farm land, which isn’t to exciting to most people. But there are a few gems! If you go to the tip of the thumb to a little town called port Austin you can rent kayaks and kyak in Lake Huron out to a really cool spot where you can see turnip rock. It’s not as exciting as pictured rock, but it is a neat lower peninusula sight! If you take the lake view up to port Austin, the best roadside stop is called white rock. It’s small, but it has a little, and I do mean little, walk through in a wooded area and a walk down to get close to the water. Not many people stop here, so it’s usually not crowded and it is the prettiest of all the roadside stops.

    • I love your insider tips, especially for Port Austin! I had so much trouble narrowing down my road trip stops for last summer, that I’ve already begun started thinking about the next Michigan road trip.

  8. We love Silver Lake. My boys have a blast on the dunes and going tubing! They also have an amazing ice cream place!


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