My Detroit Bucket List

The more I read about Detroit, the more I realize a weekend isn’t long enough to see everything I’d like to see. Metro Detroit is huge! It spans 1,967.1 square miles. I’ve got a big Detroit bucket list of things to do, places to see, and a lot of food to eat. Why? My family will be there for three days this summer at the end of a long Michigan road trip (I’ve got a BIG bucket list for Michigan, too).

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Planning a trip to Detroit, Michigan? Here's a bucket list of things to do in Detroit, including restaurants to visit, places to shop and attractions to see. This covers a ton of great must-see Detroit gems. #Detroit #Michigan #USA #USATravel #MidwestIsBest #MotorCity

Eat all the Detroit food

There are so many restaurants I want to go to in Detroit! I’m guessing we ought to try the city’s famous square pizza. Samantha Brown shared two of the original places to find it, so I guess I should go with the oldest, Buddy’s.

And then there’s the Coney Dogs, which turns out to be a Detroit thing. There’s simply unique Traffic Jam & Snug, where everything is made in-house, and it happens to be Michigan’s first brew pub.

For burgers, I feel like I should go to Motz’s Hamburgers, one of the country’s oldest continuously-operated family-owned burger joints. It’s been around since 1929, so they must be doing something right.

I am wondering where we should eat in Greektown – should we get the saganaki at Pegasus Taverna or Santorini Estiatorio. And while in Greektown, I want to get a treat from Astoria Pastry Shop.

There are a few Greektown restaurants in Detroit to add to any list: Pegasus Taverna, Santorini Estiatorio and Astroria Pastry Shop are on this bucket list.
Photo courtesy Vito Palmisano

Shop the Eastern Market

Keeping with the food theme, there’s Eastern Market. It’s a year-round market for food and Michigan-made products.

I’ve read recommendations for Germack Coffee Roasting Coffee, and it is in Eastern Market. I also want to try a Lemon Buttah Pie sold by Lush Yummies Pie Co., also sold at Eastern Market.

Places to shop in Detroit - Eastern Market
Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

See a game in Detroit

My family is a soccer family, so I wish I could say our visit times out to see Detroit FC play. However, the timing doesn’t work. There are plenty of other pro teams, though, to add to the list: Detroit Lions, Tigers and Red Wings come to mind.

Walk under polar bears

The Detroit Zoo has a 70-foot-long Polar Passage, where you can walk through a clear tunnel that gives you a wide view of the zoo’s polar bear exhibit.

Things to do in Detroit - Visit the Detroit Zoo
Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Enjoy the Detroit music scene

There are a ton of festivals in Detroit that I’d love to go to none more than Detroit Jazz Festival, the world’s largest free jazz festival. It’s held Labor Day weekend. Another one that sounds like fun is the Stars and Stripes Festival from June 28-July 1. It has music and monster truck rides.

I’ve been playing Jackson 5 and Smokey Robinson for my kids in anticipation of this summer. Detroit is home to the Motown Museum, AKA Hitsville USA. It’s under major renovation in 2019, so check to see if any part is closed before visiting.

Being a family that loves music, Third Man Records is a store for us, complete with a stage, record booth and a viewing window of its vinyl pressing plant. Plus it’s got a Jack White connection. 

When it’s just me and Mr. Wonderful traveling, concerts are usually a must for a trip. One venue in Detroit, Cliff Bell’s, sounds great. It’s a restored art-deco jazz club.

Detroit bucket list destination: Motown Museum
Photo courtesy Visit Detroit

Dive into Detroit’s automobile history

Initially, my plan was to “visit The Henry Ford” because I’d heard a lot about it from other Midwest travel bloggers. Guess what? There’s more than one place.

So, if I had unlimited time, I’d visit all three attractions: Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation™, Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour™.

But, top on my list would be to visit Greenfield Village. This 1929 historic landmark is an open-air museum that immerses visitors in 300 years of America life (think living history), and includes extras like riding in a Model T, and on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer, there’s an old-fashioned baseball game. 

Photo courtesy Gary Malerba

Tea time in Detroit

On the topic of Greenfield Village, Wading in Big Shoes tipped me off to some great experiences at Greenfield Village and I want to do them all. Of course, I can’t. But, the one that caught my attention out of all of them is Tea at Cotswold Cottage.  I think my daughter and I would love it! . From the sound of things, it’s an American take on the English tradition, which I’m fine with.

Second only to tea (and pastries), is the chance to make my own brass candlestick or glass flower at Liberty Craftworks Historic District. My kids are old enough to make a candlestick (must be 6+), but not old enough to do the glass workshop (14+). Both are extras on top of admission.

Photo courtesy The Henry Ford

Try fowling

Not a typo, my friends. Somewhere in Detroit, there is a warehouse with fowling courts (pronounced foe-ling). It’s like bowling but with a football. I’d be terrible at it.

Go indoors for the outdoors

I’m planning a big road trip around Michigan to explore the great outdoors extensively, but, in case we don’t get our fill of outdoor adventures, I’ve got the Outdoor Adventure Center on my radar.

Kids can walk behind a waterfall, pretend to ride a snowmobile, and try out archery.

See the Guardian Building

Of all the gorgeous buildings in Detroit, the Guardian Building seems to have more than its fair share of mentions and pictures, and it’s on architectural tours like this one.

I need to see this thing in real life. While we’re in the area, we can snap a picture with the Spirit of Detroit.

Guardian Building in Detroit
Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Ride the People Mover

It’s not just a way to get from Point A to Point B. My kids live for rides, and riding an elevated train would probably entertain them to no end.

The People Mover has been moving people around downtown Detroit for decades.

See the isle

There’s something lovely and inviting about Belle Isle State Park. I’d love to explore it with my family, visiting the nation’s oldest aquarium, stroll the grounds, and just enjoy a little escape in the big city.

There’s also the 114-year-old Anna Scripps Whicomb Conservatory and a little zoo (FREE admission) to explore.

Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

See some fireworks shows

There are lots of fireworks displays held from mid-June 22 and early July, including one of the state’s largest fireworks displays, held during Rochester Festival of the Hills.

Plus, select Detroit Tigers games on Friday nights end with fireworks.

The Ford Fireworks display are well known, occurring around the Fourth of July each year.
Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

See a different side of Detroit

There are kayak tours taking beginner and experienced paddlers through canals and to islands.

For a more leisurely water experience, there are also sightseeing boat tours.

Photo courtesy Vito Palmisano

Build a sand castle

Part of Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit becomes a giant urban sandbox in the summer. About 400,000 pounds of sand is dumped there each summer.

Campus Martius Park is an annual summer sandbox in urban Detroit
Photo courtesy Lynn Powell

Visit Detroit Museums

I’m a sucker for science centers, so the Michigan Science Center is on my radar (especially since we get in free with our Omaha Children’s Museum membership).

While we’re at DIA, I’d love to catch a glimpse of the famous Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals.

The Detroit Institute of Art is home to the Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals.
Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Other unique-to-Detroit museums include Dabl’s African Bead Museum and Arab American National Museum, which has an interesting performance series on select Fridays called Global Fridays. The series features a variety of traditional performing arts from Latin pop to DJs from Beirut.

Related post: Guide to Detroit Museums For Families

Ride the carousel

While I’m a sucker for science centers, the my youngest cannot resist the allure of a carousel. There’s one at Rivard Plaza with a river theme; not surprising, since it’s on the riverfront.

Also along the riverfront, you’ll find a splash garden and butterfly gardens at Gabriel Richard Park.

Detroit Bucket List - The ultimate collection of things to do in Detroit, restaurants to try and experiences to have in the Motor City. #Michigan #Detroit #bucketlist #USA #Midwest

* * * * *

Need more ideas? Start at the Visit Detroit! Or check out some of these awesome tours and activities in Detroit:

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My Traverse City Bucket List

beach near Traverse City

This summer, my family is visiting Michigan for the first time for an amazing road trip. I’ve already started my epic Michigan bucket list. We’ll stay a few nights in the beautiful coastal community, Traverse City, exploring the area, and of course, getting some beach time in. I’m starting to dream up all the things to do in Traverse City with my kids!

Use this awesome bucket list to plan a vacation to Traverse City, Michigan! This post includes must-try restaurants in Traverse City, outdoor adventures, and unique tours. #Michigan #TraverseCity #USA #USATravel

Some people know Traverse City for its proximity to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Shore, but it turns out, this little city is a cultural destination. USA Today named Traverse City one of the top 10 great places to combine “big-city art and small town feel,” and it was the only Michigan city to rank in a study by the National Center for Arts Research about the U.S.’s “most art-loving cities.”

I’ve started dreaming up what all we could do in Traverse City (and nearby) if time and money were unlimited. So, here’s my Traverse City Bucket List:

Cruise on two wheels

I’m working getting the kids steadier on their bikes, so we could rent some bikes in Traverse City. There are several trails to check out, especially some easy, paved trails for families.

The Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trail is in-town, while the Little Traverse Wheelway links Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs, with pretty views of the gorgeous Lake Michigan.

Things to do outdoors in Traverse City - Ride bikes on the TART
The trails around Traverse City wind through cherry blossom orchards, which bloom in May and are harvested in July. Photo courtesy Traverse City Tourism

Hit the beach

There are six city beaches to choose from in Traverse City, as well as a ton of others nearby. I wish we could try them all. If we’re staying downtown, there’s even a beach there (Clinch Park).

Hit the dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is technically not in Traverse City, but it’s close enough you’d better visit while you’re in the area. These incredible dunes and gorgeous blue water defy the visions of what others must think the Midwest looks like.

If we ever return to the area in the winter, there’s the option of snowshoeing the park’s trails.

Bucket list for a Traverse City family vacation - Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
The view from Empire Bluff at Sleeping Bear National Seashore. Photo courtesy Traverse City Tourism

Try something with cherries in it

If there’s one fruit I’ve come to associate with Michigan, it’s the cherry. Traverse City seems to their cherries. Most likely, I’ll just have a cherry pie or some sort of dessert.

If I feel crazy, there’s the TC Cherry Burger at Slabtown Burgers, some sort of magical burger with cherries and blue cheese on top. Traverse City is also home to the National Cherry Festival, held each year in at the end of June and early July.

Foods to try in Traverse City - Cherries, especially during the National Cherry Festival
The National Cherry Festival is held in Traverse City, Mich, every June and July. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Eat all the foods

Beyond cherries, though, there’s a ton of food to try there. Traverse City is one of those places that I sorta, kinda, really wish I was visiting without the kids. There are so many wonderful farm-to-table, European-inspired eateries in Traverse City and nearby. And I know my kids will not enjoy them.

I’ve heard marvelous things about Martha’s Leelanau Table, Alliance, Boathouse, The Cooks’ House and Trattoria Stella. And the views some of the have! These will probably wait until my kids are older and tolerate longer meals. We may have to try The Little Fleet, where there are food trucks to suit most any taste.

I’ve heard there are good kids menus at Sleder’s Family Tavern, one of Michigan’s oldest, continuously-operated taverns since 1882, and Jolly Pumpkin, a restaurant and brewery. There’s even a burger stand that has carhops: Don’s Drive-In, which dates back to 1938.

Traverse City restaurants wish list - Visit The Little Fleet
The Little Fleet is a collection of food trucks in Traverse City. Photo courtesy Traverse City Tourism

Have a maritime adventure

My son has a vast knowledge of ships. Like startlingly vast. No doubt a sailing experience would be epic for him.

We could try sailing (and even hoisting the sails) on the 114-foot replica double-masted schooner, Manitou. The cruise is offered by Traverse Tall Ship Co., who has a float bed and breakfast as well that sounds perfect for a couple’s getaway.

Things to do on the water in Traverse City - Take a cruise with Traverse Tall Ship Co.
Traverse Tall Ship Co. offers sailing excursions on the double-masted schooner, Manitou. Photo courtesy Traverse City Tourism

Try the Riesling

There are more than 50 wineries in the area, and is considered by many to be the “signature grape” of the Traverse Wine Coast. The winery that’s been around for decades, Chateau Grand Traverse, sells a lot of it. Side note for future trips sans kids: Chateau Grand Traverse was named one of the best coastal wine vacations!

See the Traverse City Film Festival

If it were just Mr. Wonderful and I, and we were in Traverse City at the end of the summer, we’d definitely attend a screening during the Traverse City Film Festival.

The State Theatre, connected to the festival, has been named one of the top 10 movie theaters in the world by Motion Picture Association of America. The restored 1918 building looks beautiful inside. And, bonus, it has 25-cent weekly kids and classic matinee shows.

Travese City events to attend - Traverse City Film Festival, connected with the State Theatre
State Theatre is a restored, state-of-the-art cinema in Traverse City and ranked one of the best in the world. Photo courtesy Traverse City Tourism

Night ski

Skiing in the moonlight has a charming ring to it, doesn’t it? Of course, first, I need to learn to cross-country ski, but then, once I do that, I can try it out at one of the ski resorts near Traverse City.

Try one of the world’s best vodkas

How could you resist a vodka that’s ranked among the Top 6 in the world. True North Vodka can be found at Grand Traverse Distillery. My husband’s partial to whiskey, he can try one of the whiskey varieties.

Traverse City vodka - True North Vodka at Grand Traverse Distillery
Grand Traverse Distillery has a variety of whiskeys as well as one of the top ranked vodkas in the world. Photo courtesy Traverse City Tourism

More Traverse City bucket list inspiration

Need more ideas? Start at the Traverse City Visitors Bureau.

Then check out these posts I’ve written about Traverse City:

48 Hours In Traverse City With Kids

Where To Stay On The Lake in Traverse City

Bucket List of things to do in Traverse City, Michigan - A guide to the ultimate vacation to Traverse City, including restaurants to try, outdoor adventures and events to attend. #Michigan #USA #travel

Get more Michigan road trip ideas that are great for families on my Pinterest board:

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My Grand Rapids Bucket List

bucket list of things to do in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been on my radar for some time because of its thriving craft beer scene (it’s not called Beer City USA for nothin’). Over the years, I started a Grand Rapids Bucket List, and finally, it has come in handy for an upcoming trip.

This is the first stop in an epic Michigan road trip – and you bet there is a Michigan Bucket List for it. But as a mom planning a family vacation to the city this summer, my dream itinerary for the Grand Rapids has changed (though I will be ordering local beer when I’m there).

There are adventures to be had in Grand Rapids, Michigan! Here's my Grand Rapids Bucket List - a wish list of all the things I want to do, food I want to try, and beaches I want to visit. #GrandRapids #Michigan #VisitGrandRapids #FamilyTravel

So I’ve been thinking of all the things we’d do in Grand Rapids if time and money were endless: We’d eat like kings, visit some world-class museums, and definitely have some outdoor adventures (zip lines, dune buggies, and canoeing are all possibilities).

There’s a good reason why New York Times named Grand Rapids one of the 52 Places To Go To In 2016. Read on for more of my Grand Rapids bucket list:

Eat all the food in Grand Rapids

If you’ve read any of my bucket lists, you know food plays a big part. And Grand Rapids has an amazing food scene.

I wish I could eat at all the places that caught my eye: The Electric Cheetah (which I found on this great Grand Rapids foodie list); Licari’s Sicilian Pizza Kitchen (which apparently was recognized as the state’s best pizza at one point and they rubbed elbows with my man, Bobby Flay).

And here’s a burger for all to try: The peanut butter and jelly burger at Grand Rapids Brewing Co. (at least one person says it’s one of the state’s best).

Interior of Yesterdog, a classic restaurant in Grand Rapids, Mich. You might recognize it from "American Pie."
Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Try an old-school Grand Rapids lunch

Yesterdog is a Grand Rapids institution since 1976 serving up tasty hot dogs in what sounds to me like a very eclectic, quirky setting. The classic Yesterdog is topped with chili, onion, mustard, pickles, and ketchup.

See why it’s called Beer City

I love sampling local brews while on vacation, but going to a brewery can be dicey with kids. There are more than 40 local brewers in Grand Rapids (hence the name Beer City, USA), and luckily, I stumbled across this list of family-friendly breweries in Grand Rapids!

Both Founders Brewing Co. and Harmony Brewing Co. sound like places spacious enough, and friendly enough (Harmony haves books and games), for us to visit while on vacation. Founders has been ranked among the best IN THE WORLD. By the way, there are a TON of brewery tours in Grand Rapids.

Look over this list of tours at Experience Grand Rapids. Brewery tours aren’t something I’d do with my kids, but I’m putting it on your radar in case you’re traveling without kids.

Grand Rapids, Mich., is known as Beer City USA. One of the breweries in Grand Rapids, Founders Brewing Co., is known to be welcoming to families.
Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Eat somewhere special

I’d love to try The Cellar Private Chef’s Table Experience at Noto’s Old World Italian Dining, with farm-to-table Italian food paired with Italian wines. Yum. I fully admit this will never happen if we’re vacationing with young kids. However, a mom can dream. Another restaurant that stands out simply because the building is unfo

rgettable is Chez Olga. I’ve never seen anything like it. And since its Caribbean fare was recommended on Chowhound, I kinda really want to dine there.

Chez Olga was in Eastown in Grand Rapids. The restaurant serves Caribbean food.

Update: We made it to Chez Olga! See the enchanting exterior of the restaurant in this family-friendly Grand Rapids itinerary post.

Visit a children’s garden in Grand Rapids

Lena Meijer Children’s Garden (located in Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park) – No doubt my kids will never want to leave this space.

I think the Great Lakes Garden alone will keep my kids entertained for an hour, but then there’s also the Rock Quarry and Treehouse Village and so many other things to see there. Obviously, beyond the children’s garden, there would be a ton more to see. 

The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is home to Lena Meijer Children's Garden.
Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Yoga with cats

Yoga with cats is a thing, and I’ve found it in Grand Rapids at the Happy Cat Cafe (the city’s first cat cafe). I don’t think I can get my husband on board with taking the whole family to it (and it probably isn’t even going on while we’re there), but a cat lover can dream.

See why Grand Rapids Public Museum is special

The 1928 Spillman Carousel is reason enough to bring my kids here, but the entire museum looks pretty interesting. There are three stories of exhibits to see there. 

The 1928 Spillman Carousel inside Grand Rapids Public Museum. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Update: We went to the Grand Rapids Public Museum and, yes, we rode the carousel. However, it was not even close to the coolest thing we saw there. Read my post about this amazing museum here.

Zipline at a zoo

John Ball Park Zoo looks like a fun zoo with experiences taking you beyond expectations. My whole family would love doing the zip line or ropes course, or have a ride on the funicular.

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

There are animal encounters, too, that would be a hit, especially for my bird-loving youngest, like feeding budgies and the Realm of Flight Bird Show. 

Take a safari ride in Michigan

Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park, located in nearby Alto, is a hands-on wildlife park that isn’t quite a zoo, but you can expect to see exotic animals and reptiles. The safari ride is included with admission and the only way to see larger herds of animals. 

See a live show in Grand Rapids

I love checking theater listings before visiting a new city. The Grand Rapids Civic Theatre has a fantastic lineup, but unfortunately, no shows are on stage while we’re there. We will just miss catching “Shrek The Musical” there! 

Play at the children’s museum

Given my day job, you bet I love visiting children’s museums wherever we go on vacation. My kids do, too! Here’s the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum website.

Standing inside a bubble at Grand Rapids Children's Museum
Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Stay in a historic hotel

I love hotels with unique architecture and history, but they often don’t have the amenities that traveling with kids requires (AKA, a pool). But check out the gorgeous Amway Grand Plaza, which has a pool, folks.

I also like its location and proximity to a lot of things on this list. My kids are going to love the place.

Related post: Staying at the Amway Grand Plaza With Kids.

See the Ford Presidential Museum

I feel like since his birthplace is in Omaha, maybe we ought to visit his museum, right? The fascinating Grand Rapids Fish Ladder is within walking distance from Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, so maybe I can kill two birds with one stone in that visit.

Exterior of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Catch THE festival

Alas, this will have to stay on my bucket list for another visit. You can’t read about Grand Rapids without reading about ArtPrize. This is a huge festival in Grand Rapids starting in September and running for a few weeks – and it’s FREE.

Beach time!

Grand Rapids is near some gorgeous beaches, including Oval Beach in Saugatuck, which is ranked one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Condé Nast Traveler and one of the top two freshwater beaches in the USA by National Geographic Traveler.

A little closer is Millennium Park, which has a beach and a splash pad…say no more.

Grand Rapids is near beautiful beaches, including this one along Lake Michigan.
Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Get out in nature

It looks like there are a variety of places to hike with kids even within the city. The Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve has trails and a butterfly home that would be pretty to see. Another option is the Blandford Nature Center near the zoo. Look for more kid-friendly trails here.

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Need more ideas? There’s so much more to see in Grand Rapids! Start at Experience Grand Rapids.

Then read up on our two-day adventure in Grand Rapids turned out – there were ziplines, a ropes course, soaring eagles, and one incredible hotel!

If Grand Rapids isn’t your only stop in Michigan, check out this Pinterest board with Michigan Road Trip ideas for families:

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Planning a trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan? Here's a bucket list of things to do, see, and play in Grand Rapids. Must-see Grand Rapids attractions | Where to eat in Grand Rapids | Grand Rapids restaurants |  Best things to do in Grand Rapids #Michigan #GrandRapids #BucketList #Midwest

My Mackinac Island Bucket List

Mackinac Island has been on my wish list to visit for about a decade now, ever since I read “Best of the Midwest: Rediscovering America’s Heartland.” There’s something about an island that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles that draws me to it. It sounds like a throwback to yesteryear. This summer, I’m finally going to Mackinac Island! The visit inspired an entire Michigan road trip, actually (here’s my bucket list for ALL of Michigan).

Side note: I learned it’s pronounced mack-in-naw.

Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron, between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. Most motorized vehicles are not allowed except for emergency vehicles.
Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

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Mackinac Island is the vacation destination of 2018, by the way. According to TripAdvisor, it was the No. 1 vacation destination in 2018, beating out Martha’s Vineyard and Jackson Hole. 

I’ve been dreaming up all the things to do on Mackinac Island, if time and money were not an issue. So go ahead and make your own Mackinac Island bucket list!

Why Mackinac Island? Imagine arriving by ferry, then taking a horse-drawn carriage to your hotel. Your main mode of transportation during your stay will involve a horse or two wheels, or if you’re motivated, your own two feet. To me, it’s unlike any place I’ve ever been to.

Here’s everything I wish I could do during our very brief, 24-hour stay there this summer:

Take a hike on the island

There are trails throughout Mackinaw State Historic Park, which covers 80% of the island. Arch Rock looks like a particularly beautiful sight to see, and is accessible by foot, bike or horse-drawn carriage.

Things to see on Mackinac Island - Arch Rock is one of the most iconic natural wonders on Mackinac Island.
Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Have a “Grand” vacation

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island looks majestic – and no two guest rooms are alike. You probably recognize it if you’ve seen the movie “Somewhere in Time.”

It’s also remarkably family-friendly. It’s one of the Top 10 kid-friendliest resorts in the U.S. and Canada according to Travel + Leisure Family magazine. I’ve got plans to stay night; those without accommodations can visit for a day fee.

Places to stay on Mackinac Island - The most famous hotel on the Michigan island is the Grand Hotel. Grand Hotel has been open since 1887. The Mackinac Island hotel is a National Historic Landmark.
Photo courtesy Don Johnston

UPDATE: We stayed at the Grand Hotel! Read about our experience in this post, Family Guide To Staying At The Grand Hotel.

Eat all the food

It wouldn’t be an Oh My! Omaha bucket list without a lengthy list of food I want to eat. For a small island, I’ve found a good list of restaurants to visit.

I started with this list of 10 Foods To Try On Mackinac Island, from which I’ve decided I’ve got to try the famous smoked whitefish dip from Round Island Bar and Grill; breakfast at The Chuckwagon; and High Tea at The Grand Hotel.

For drinks, I hear a rumrunner hits the spot The Thrillist’s designated as the Most Iconic Bar in Michigan: The Pink Pony.

Try the famous fudge

Mackinac Island is known for its fudge shops, as I’m discovering while planning for this trip. Which is the best? Who knows? It might be my job to find out.

Side note: I found out the islanders call tourists “fudgies.” I will be one of them. 

Beyond fudge, I’ve read on a couple blogs that the dessert of choice (after fudge) on the island is the famous pecan balls at the Grand Hotel. But then, reading Deb’s Mackinac Island tips on her blog Just Short of Crazy, I learned there was one more to add to my snack list: Popcorn balls at Stonecliff Hotel. Duly noted.

Food to try on Mackinac Island - The island is known for fudge.
Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Kayak around the island

If the kids were a little older, I think it would be fun to take them kayaking through the Straits of Mackinac. You can get a pretty unique view of Arch Rock from the water. Maybe on a future visit, we could hit the water with the kids. 

Kayaking near Arch Rock on Mackinac Island.
Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

History up-close

My son is a big history buff, so we like indulging him on vacation. The National Historic Landmark Fort Mackinac would be great for him. There are people in period costumes and the kids (and, let’s be honest, I) could dress up as soldiers and learn marching drills.

You can also sign up early to fire a cannon, which I am definitely going to do when we’re there.

Related post: 5 Things To Do With Kids At Fort Mackinac State Park

Living history on Mackinac Island is found at Fort Mackinac. Mackinac State Historic Parks includes the historic Fort Mackinac, where people are dressed in period costumes and there are a variety of interactions. One visitor each day can sign up to shoot the cannon at the fort, too.
Photo courtesy Mackinac State Historic Parks

Take a carriage ride

Since cars aren’t allowed on the island, there only a few ways to get around. My kids aren’t the steadiest on bikes yet, so carriage rides will suit us nicely.

You can do a tour by carriage, or use it to go from Point A to Point B.

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

It’s interesting that since no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, even the UPS guy has to deliver by horse-drawn carriage. Check out this photo Tim from he Walking Tourists shared with me from their visit to Mackinac Island. Yep, that’s the delivery guy.

Deliveries on Mackinac Island are made by horse-drawn carriages. Since most motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, even deliveries are made by carriage.
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Dinner at Woods Restaurant

Speaking of carriage rides, my ideal ride would be in the evening to Woods Restaurant, which is styled to look like a Bavarian mansion in the woods (and happens to have a duck pin bowling alley). Read about it here.

The Woods Restaurant bowling alley. The Woods Restaurant on Mackinac Island is designed to look like a Bavarian lodge, and has a duckpin bowling alley.
Photo courtesy Grand Hotel

Ride around the island by bike

I’d love to see this whole island by bike – which is super manageable since there are no cars to contend with (though I guess there are carriages to watch out for). We might attempt a ride with the kids since they are now fairly steady on bikes.

Wish us luck.

Here are some of the things we might encounter on a ride around the island.

See the Butterfly House

This beauty keeps popping up on bloggers’ reviews of Mackinac Island, so I’m beginning to think I ought to have it on this list. I have nothing against butterflies, it’s just that we have an exceptional one at Omaha’s zoo.

Anyone have any strong opinions in favor of The Butterfly House?

What Should Be Add To This Mackinac Island Bucket List?

What’s missing from this list? Where should we dine when we’re there? What should we skip, what should we not skip? Leave me a comment with your tips!

Whether you spend a day or a weekend on Michigan's Mackinac Island, you'll never be bored. Here's a bucket list of amazing things to do, things to see, and yummy food to try on this unique island. Why is it unique? It's one of the only car-free islands in the U.S.

Start pinning Michigan travel ideas with me! I’ve started gathering all the family-friendly, foodie and adventurous travel posts about Michigan onto my Michigan Road Trip With Kids board. Happy pinning!

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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