Exploring the Mitten: 30 Places in Michigan to See with Kids Before they Graduate

Michigan is home to tons of fun places to explore with kids before they grow up. Here are 30 must-see destinations in the Mitten State.

It’s Michigan, it’s winter and you’re sitting at home wondering where to take your kids as they roam around the house, antsy to get their hands into something. You pull up the Metro Parent guide of 30 fun places in Michigan to take your kids after they graduate — and all problems have been solved.

In the mitten, there are several destinations that are just waiting to be discovered by you, and your kids. Here are some of the top 30 places, in no particular order, that are a must-see before the young ones are off to college.

The Upper Peninsula Hidden Waterfalls

A person climbing a frozen waterfall in michigan
Photo of Tahquamenon Falls courtesy of Pure Michigan

Known for: Also known as the “Yellow Dog” waterfalls, the Upper Peninsula contains these hidden treasures hooked in between about a half of a mile from Marquette Country’s Big Bay.  Here, you can not only hike to see the falls themselves but take a dip after a long day.  

While you are there: It is also worth checking out Tahquamenon Falls and Bond Falls, but you can also find nearly 200 other falls to explore with the click of a Google Search. You can also find the exciting glass bottom shipwreck tours, hiking trails, restaurants and things to see nearby. With a mix of adventure and variety, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Upper Peninsula.

The Harbor Springs’ Tunnel of Trees

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Known for: If you thought the neighborhood scenery was enough for the taste of your eyes, well, think again. The Tunnel of Trees located off of M-119, spanning from Harbor Springs to Cross Village, is a hit. In the fall especially, the tunnel shows a great variety of color from the beautiful leaves that hang low over the windy road.

While you are there: Seek out the fabulous to-go sandwiches and other goodies found around the end of the tunnel of trees in Downtown Harbor Springs. Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop which is known for the train wreck sandwich, or Turkey’s Cafe and Pizzeria. For the most wholesome experience, stop by the Pond Hill Farm which has fresh produce and homemade preserves like hot garlic pepper jelly.

Eastern Market: Adventures

Historic Eastern Market in Detroit

Known for:  Located in the heart of Detroit, Eastern Market is a perfect weekend activity for the whole family. Stop inside at some of the covered market’s vendor setups and enjoy a coffee, snacks or gifts for your loved ones. Surprisingly enough, there is a selection of unique and colorful flowers that are sold weekly. Enjoy multicolored roses and exceptional plants of all sorts to start your day with some fresh flowers.

While you are there: After you finish your tacos and grab vegetables for some home-cooked meals, rock out with some live jazz music alongside the streets of the market. The Eastern Market Brewing Company is a must as it has just about every kind of food you want inside, with a series of vendors inside the building. Can’t forget about the artwork! Make sure you stop around and hunt for the murals that line the buildings of Detroit — and don’t forget to take pictures!

Top Golf: Auburn Hills

Known For: As a beginning golf amatuer, golf is the perfect sport for any family with a range of skill levels. Simple yet entertaining, the activity comes easy at a location like this. Sign up for a hour-long session under the covered, outdoor area at TopGolf and enjoy the experience. With an exceptional menu and heated outdoor seating, the game of golf takes a hit on the to-do list.

While you are there: In the fall, take a trip to Yates Cider Mill which holds the freshest donuts and cider on the block. Get outside and venture to the Stony Creek Metropark where the kids can let loose and have fun on the playground. Or, pack a picnic and lay out on the Bald Mountain State Recreation Area that is open to the public.

Selfie Museum at Twelve Oaks

Known for:  Say Cheese! At Twelve Oaks Mall they have an exhibit- JUST for your selfies. With kids and their phones these days, nothing captures a picture-perfect moment like some great photos. Explore around the mall and stop in the exhibit for a great photo at multiple locations.  The exhibition is located on the upper level of the mall near Nordstrom.

While you are there: Shop around Twelve Oaks Mall and visit some of your favorite stores.  Plan an adventurous night at the Tree Runner Adventure park in West Bloomfield or settle down with a movie at Emagine Theater.

Creative Arts Studios Pottery Painting, Royal Oak

Known for: From pottery to projects, there are all kinds of things you can paint at the Creative Arts Studio in Royal Oak. If you bring your kids, you can both work on a painting project while enjoying the sights and sounds of downtown. With an array of colors and paintable options, one will never limit their creative expression here.

While you are there: Plan ahead and visit the Detroit Zoo nearby to see some of your favorite animals from the picture books come to life. Try out an escape room in Royal Oak to work together with the family to escape with ease. The Royal Oak Farmers Market sells fresh foods that Michigan farmers grow themselves.

Franklin Cider Mill, Bloomfield Hills

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Photo credit: iStock

Known for: The Franklin Cider Mill was established as a gristmill in 1837 when Michigan first became a state. It was converted to a cider mill in 1949 which holds true to its value today as being a great family-friendly place. 

While you are there: Located on the corner of healthy and wholesome, the franklin cider mill is for sure a go-to location in the fall. You can not only enjoy the quality cider but watch the apples being made right there on the spot. Explore around the mill and even feed some ducks when you get the chance. Also, take home with you a bag of apples or baked goods to make the goodness last longer. 

Outdoor Movie Night at Franklin

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Photo credit: iStock/ollo

Known for: During the summer, Franklin holds movie nights for local friends and family. Come by and roll out and blanket and experience the sensations of the Franklin community. Not only are the movie nights FREE but each session is a different film. By the end of the summer you can cross multiple movies off of your to-do list!

While you are there: Stop in some of the small business shops located in Downtown Franklin. From ice cream to clothing to bars and restaurants, Franklin has your shopping list covered.  Even pop in the local library to grab a quick read or play a game of catch at the baseball field.  Your kids won’t be able to say no to the park and large field that is located right in front of the Franklin church!

Greenfield Village Historical Museum

Cannon demonstration at the Civil War Remembrance event in Greenfield Village

Known for: Located in Dearborn, the Greenfield Village Museum is an immersive experience.  Start by going to Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, then see an old-time baseball game, ride a steam engine or Model T. Afterwards, the kids can venture into Orville and Wilbur Wright’s bike shop where they can also see the first home in the United States that was wired with electricity. Especially during the holidays, this historical site is a go-to spot for the family.

While you are there: Pick from a variety of attractions that will be fun for the kids. The Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, and Giant Green experience are all of some of the American favorites. The Ford Rouge Factory tour shows how vehicles are built here in Michigan. Visit all four of these destinations for only $18.75 as a member, or each for less than $30 a piece.

Little Caesars Arena

Photo credit: 313Presents/Disney on Ice

Known for: Calling all hockey fans! The Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit serves the home of the Detroit Red Wings who bring the entertainment consistently throughout the season.  Grab a seat and a popcorn and enjoy the competitive game as the Red Wings bring the entertainment.

While you are there:  Explore around the new arena that contains everything from new technology to the best halftime snacks. Afterwards, grab a coney dog at the American (or Lafayette!) Coney Island, which are both nearby. Try out some of the virtual reality attractions located inside of the building that will keep the kids entertained before and after the game.

Detroit Institute of Arts 

museum-memberships-in-metro-detroit-and-ann-arbor-istock-smontgom65
Photo credit: iStock/Smontgom65

Known for: Its beautiful art and historical paintings that are located right in the heart of Detroit.  The sole purpose of the DIA is to fulfill its mission of single artist projects, organizing exhibitions, and collecting in-depth work of artists from the 1960’s and the 1970’s. 

While you are there: Take about three hours to thoroughly walk through the entire museum or pick and choose the exhibits that you prefer to visit. Besides seeing the wall-to-wall art from the historic past, plan a day where you can visit some of the family-friendly events. For example; Friday Night Live: Every Friday, Drawing in the galleries, Poetry workshops, and more. Lastly, stop at the cafe that resides in the center of the exhibitions.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Known for: More than a million visitors flock to the dunes each year to see what the sand is all about. Not only that, but the town itself has a handful of things to do, too. Explore the vibrantly colored waters, forested hiking trails, beaches and outdoor activities.  

While you are there: Start with the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive which is a 7 and a half-mile drive that takes you through the landscapes and along the dunes to overlook the notable points of the park. After, you can explore the other trails or get in the water in a kayak, canoe, or even scuba suit as you explore the environment formed by ancient glaciers.

Mackinac Island

Horse-drawn carriage on Main Street at Mackinac Island
Photo credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau’s Facebook page

Known for: Mackinac Island brings a time in history that you can’t find anywhere else: think horse-drawn carriages and Victorian buildings. The island banned cars back in 1898, so tourists can only access the island by ferry boat. Once you are there, the fine dining, exciting nightlife and unique tastries will get you through the vacation.  

While you are there: Once you are there, shop around and try the various flavors of fudge that are homemade in the store fronts. Also, stroll through the state park that covers more than 80% of the whole entire island. The U.S. News ranks Mackinac Island as the #1 “Best Places to Visit in Michigan,” which is why it is the perfect destination for a family adventure.  

On their website you can navigate between a series of fun things to do while you are there: rent bikes, play golf, hike, go to museums, take tours of the historic buildings, or even hit the spa.

Go night fishing in the Pere Marquette River

Woman and child fishing on a dock

Known for: The Pere Marquette River is where the brown trout was discovered by French explorer Jacques Marquette, and is one of the best places in the Great Lakes to fish for salmon.  The Marquette River flows 64 miles all the way into the Great Lake Michigan.

While you are there: Visit some of the access points to bring out your fishing rod and shoot for salmon, brown trout or even steelhead fish. During your stay, you can either go fly fishing or try night fishing with the family. Late-May through early-July is usually the perfect time for dry fly fishing. After, take a swim in the river as its clean water quality comes from two of its other tributes, Kinney Creek and Waldon Creek.

Traverse City

Photo credit: Traverse City Tourism

Known for:  Traverse City holds year-round activities that are perfect for the family — and  it’s wholesome enough to keep you coming back for more. Especially during the Winter season, outdoor activities are largely popular among tourists. While you are there, you can combine your stay with a trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes which shares the same Lake Michigan.

While you are there: One might want to hike, fish, golf, swim, sail or just wander among the trails as they explore the small city. There are endless activities for the family in the winter season. Fat bike, snowshoe, downhill ski, snowboard, tube, ice skate, ice fish, and tube across the snow. And, there’s a four-season calendar of races and competitions that you can attend. 

Boyne Mountain Resort

Known for: 12 Lifts, 412 Skiable acres, 60 trails, and 50 vertical feet… Boyne Mountain Resort has it all. The Boyne Mountain Resort is a great place for skiing especially in the Upper Peninsula. During the winter season, it is a great getaway to experience the ski and waterpark resort while spending lodge time with your family.

While you are there:  Book your stay at the resort and spend time not only outside on the slopes, but inside at one of the best waterparks in Michigan. There are many lodging options to choose from including Chalet Edelweiss, Mountain Grand Lodge And Spa, Clock Tower Lodge, Boynehof and just about a hundred more. Book your stay amongst a time of some of the best events of the year: the Ski Racing Competition, Kid’s Festival weekend, Adgate Trophy Race, and lots of others throughout the season.

Belle Isle Park

Known for: Belle Isle is the perfect family-friendly place to visit when you are just itching to get out of the house. With a mix of adventure and history, the kids will never get bored. Known for the memorials and some relaxing, yet exciting scenery, this will be a hit adventure.

While you are there: Stop by the Anna Scripps Conservatory, which is located on the center of the island and contains all of the greenery you can imagine. The conservatory is divided into six sections: the Vestibule, the Palm House, the Tropical House, the Cactus House, the Fernery and the Show House, which includes an outdoor lily pond.  

There is also the Belle Isle Aquarium, which is home to more than 1,000 fish and 118 species of sea life. Also, you can’t miss the Belle Isle Nature Zoo which holds more than 19 species of Michigan wildlife. The kids will also be able to feed and learn about deer during the hours of The Deer Encounter.

University of Michigan

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Photo credit: iStock/Davel5957

Known for: One of the best higher education institutions in the midwest. In Ann Arbor there is a series of historical and cultural events that you can attend. From its eccentric shopping scene to the big house stadium, you can find so many things to do during your stay.

While you are there:  During the sports seasons, it is highly recommended that you visit either a football or basketball game (amongst other sports). With The Big House stadium being the largest in the country, it is hard to go wrong during the fall season. On Saturday and Wednesday mornings, visit The Ann Arbor Farmers Market to buy some local foods or meals from the series of vendors. Tell the kids about the hidden fairy doors located around the State Street shops, too. 

Frankenmuth

The Bavarian Belle on the Cass River
Photo courtesy of the Bavarian Inn Lodge

Known for: If you have heard of Frankenmuth then you have probably heard about the world famous chicken dinner. In fact, the two famous restaurants Zhender’s and Bavarian Inn of Frankenmuth serve more than two million chicken dinners a year! Frankenmuth, the hidden German town of Michigan, has everything you need from local tours to good eats to indoor waterparks and lots of adventure.

While you are there: First, make the largest Christmas store, Bronner’s, a go-to destination — especially around Christmas time. In the warmer months, you can rent kayaks or an AquaCycle to take a journey down the Cass River. Take a carriage ride, visit the aerial park, corn maze, farmer’s market, golf course, or even the castle museum when you visit this little town. 

Northern Lights at Lake Superior Upper Peninsula

Photo credit: Pexels/Visit Greenland

Known for: The magical Northern Lights that stretch across the sky with an array of colors. Although there are many places to see these colorful lights, Michigan provides one of the best viewpoints due to the latitude and relatively low light pollution. March is one of the best months to see the Northern lights because of the long, dark nights.

While you are there: You can plan a camping trip that travels all around the great Lake Superior. If you follow the Lake Superior Circle Tour, you can pick and choose which of the eight natural treasures you have time to explore on your road trip. Isle Royale, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Sleeping Giant, Pukaskwa and Porcupine Mountains all are some of the top spots to visit on your vacation. So, take the time to pack those bags and get camping along Lake Superior for some sight-worthy places you won’t want to miss out on.

Michigan Renaissance Festival

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Known for: Need a day where you can just dress up, and take on a historic role with the kids?  The Michigan Renaissance Festival has got you, and the fun times, covered. Bring your family to Holly, Michigan where you can simply reenact the times of the 16th century European village.

While you are there: Take some time to enjoy a performance at one of the eighteen stages of musicians, jugglers, magicians, and mimes. The festival is loaded with marketplaces and handcrafted goods perfect for a shopping day. Kids can enjoy a real-life experience with the European characters walking around and communicating with their patrons. In advance, one should plan a stay at the festival around a time of one of their themed events for a true, European experience.

Port Austin Kayak

kayaking-in-macomb-county-unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash/Filip Mroz

Known for:  Calling all adventure lovers! Explore the stunning shoreline of Lake Huron via kayak or paddleboard. Take a lunch and grab a few drinks and settle in around one of the mini hideaways that the shoreline has to offer. The stacked rocks, clear blue water and town near the water are perfect reasons to bring the whole family together.

While you are there: The famous “Turnip Rock” is one of Michigan’s natural wonders.  The seven-mile trip consists of a kayaking adventure around the rocks that embellish the great Lake Huron. After, dry off and head to the Pak’s Restaurant and Beer Garden where you can grab a bite to eat after your water adventure. You can also rent a bike and trek down some of the country and dirt road trails at the nearby state parks. Water, food, and fun- what a day in Port Austin!

Motown Museum

A vintage megaphone in front of the Detroit River and skyline

Known for: A enrapturing of the Motown spirit here in the center of the city of Detroit. Visitors come from every corner to learn about the early beginnings of the Motown music that shaped the culture of the city.  

While you are there: Explore around the exhibits and learn more about the culture, historic stories, and feel the generations of inspiration that are encompassed in the artwork. This is a perfect opportunity for kids to learn more about the spirit of their state and have a hands-on cultural experience in the process. If you are still iffy about an in-person tour or the museum is too far, try the online virtual tours.

The Heidelberg Project

An image of one of the houses in the Heidelberg Project
Photo via the Heidelberg Project on Facebook

Known for: Ever heard the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” The Heidelberg Project holds true to this belief. You’ll get an eerie but creative feeling from the old items that are glued together to create art in this neighborhood. 

While you are there: First things first: Book a tour or venture yourself down the Heidelberg Road. The project is located in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood on Detroit’s Eastside. The visitation can be done quickly via car or outside where you can walk and interact with the art.

Michigan’s Adventure

Michigans-adventure-guide
Photo credit: Michigan’s Adventure

Known for: Thrill lovers for all ages! Michigan’s Adventure is considered the largest waterpark and amusement park in the state of Michigan. From the larger thrills of Shivering Timbers and Thunderhawk to the little thrills of Camp Snoopy, Michigan’s Adventure has something for everyone.

While you are there: Both the waterpark and the amusement park are fun destinations in Muskegon, Michigan. You can also visit Pere Marquette Park, which has sugar sand beaches, paddleboarding, hiking trails, lighthouse views, a hopping bar and restaurant, and windsurfing.  There is also the USS LST 393 and other historic museums and sites that are located here.

Greektown

Comerica park scoreboard

Known for: The best location for hang out times before a Comerica Park baseball game or a play at the theater nearby. Greektown brings all the spirit and enthusiasm with a great selection of restaurants and nearby attractions that bring the whole family into Detroit.

While you are there: The Detroit Riverfront is close by and great for a sunset picture and stroll. The Candy Bar is a delicious sweet shop destination after a great Greektown meal. With some more time, one can visit Escape the Room Detroit where the whole family gets involved in solving the riddle to break out of the locked room. Lastly, Campus Martius Markets are one of the best attractions in Detroit and hold all of the goods and fine eats that one can imagine.

Lafayette (or American) Coney Island

Coney Island style chili from 3-step slow cooker book

Known for: It’s fabolous – and traditional – hotdogs that MetroDetroit families can’t seem to get enough of.  The 1970’s diner is still up and running to this day, and even produces the same dish that makes families enjoy their experience.

While you are there: Stop by the old-fashioned diner and grab a taste of not only the traditional diner atmosphere but the well known crunch hot dogs. Lafayette Coney Island offers plump beef hot dogs with everything from chili, onions, mustard and cheese ingredients loaded on top. Make it a real Detroit experience and try American Coney Island while you’re visiting, too. 

Holland Michigan

A sailboat goes past a red lighthouse on Lake Michigan
Photo of Holland State Park from Michigan DNR

Known for: Holland holds the beauty of the two lakes Michigan and Macatawa, and everything in between.  Dutch heritage enriches the culture of the city which is pieced together with a beautiful historic downtown, and a well-known tulip festival.

While you are there: Visit the 251-year-old windmill De-Swan that is surrounded by 100,000 tulips come the month of May.  While near the windmill, stop by the Dutch Village and enjoy the sounds of the street organ, visit the wooden shoes factory, play with the live animals at the zoo, or take a flight on the Zweefmolen, a fun Dutch swing ride.  

Lansing

Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau/Tom Genarra

Known for: Its educational value right in the capital of Michigan.  Book a trip filled with fun and knowledgeable moments as you tour along the state capitol building, visit the science center, and even the Historical Museum. 

While you are there: The fun doesn’t stop with the learning.  In the warmer seasons you can do some of the outdoor activities such as stopping by Lansing’s numerous parks, gardens, and nature centers.  Lansing has a roster of nearby attractions like the River trail, Potter Park Zoo, and downtown stores that make the district perfect for a weekend getaway.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Known for:  The array of sandstone cliffs, beaches, waterfalls, deep forest trails, and wildlife are brought by the power of Lake Superior’s natural beauty.  Especially during the Winter seasons, this destination holds so many family exploration activities.

While you are there: It’s Michigan.  It’s the Winter.  You’re sitting at home wondering where to take your kids as they roam around the house, antsy to get their hands into something.  You pull up the MetroParent guide for 50 fun places in Michigan to take your kids after they graduate.  All problems have been solved.

In the mitten, there are several destinations that are just waiting to be discovered by you, and your kids.  Here are some of the top 50 places, in no particular order, that are a must-see before the young ones are off to college.

Isle Royale National Park

Known for: Considered a little getaway island that is only accessible by ferry or seaplane, Isle Royale is a hidden treasure destination for family adventure.  The island is an archipelago, a group of islands, with over 400 in the national park. When it is open from April 15th-on, one can visit Isle Royale and all of the surrounding islands by traveling about Lake Superior. 

While you are there: Consider camping with your family on the grounds of the park. Book a permit and pack your bags for a tech-free weekend with your loved ones. The Pete Edisen Fishery is a national history museum. Passage Island and Rock Island Lighthouse are two peak points that stand tall with a historic lighthouse at the top. Visit the walking trails, caves, and scattered natural beauties that surround the island.


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