5 Fun Michigan Cities to Visit This Summer

Five midsize Michigan cities -- Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Ann Arbor, Marquette and Lansing -- each deliver a unique urban flavor perfect for summer getaways. Check out our don't-miss attractions, restaurants, events and tours.

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Grand Rapids

The state's second-largest city has developed a big reputation when it comes to culture and cuisine. A main driver is the city's focus on the arts, which culminates each year in ArtPrize, a 19-day festival featuring more than 1,500 pieces. Every fall, roughly 400,000 people show up to cast a vote for their favorite among the works displayed at more than 160 venues, indoors and out.

Top-rated restaurants and the innovative Grand Rapids Downtown Market celebrate the local foods that are a key draw in this part of western Michigan. "Beer City USA" -- a title Grand Rapids won in national polls -- is home to more than 40 breweries along the Ale Trail.

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More Don't-Miss Stops in Grand Rapids

  • The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum honors the city's native son and 38th president of the United States
  • Art-lovers will want to tour the Grand Rapids Art Museum collections, ranging from Renaissance to modern.
  • Rosa Parks Circle -- designed by Maya Lin to be an art piece and arts venue -- presents concerts, dance lessons and other performances.
  • Paths at the 158-acre Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park take visitors by more than 200 works from masters such as Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas and Anish Kapoor.
  • DeVos Performance Hall is home to a symphony, opera, ballet and Broadway company.
  • Ride the 1928 carousel for only $1 at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
  • The 1892 Blue Bridge connects pedestrians to attractions on both sides of the Grand River.
  • Enjoy one of many tours to craft breweries, such as B.O.B.'s. downtown, HopCat and Grand Rapids Brewing Company.

Traverse City

Few places combine scenery, food and arts like this town at the base of Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay. Downtown runs right up to Clinch Park Beach -- an ideal spot to play in the bay's waters.

The restaurant lineup supplies a solid two weeks of great meals with little repetition, and driving tours on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas lead to dozens of wineries. In the evening, the marquee lights up at the State Theatre, a restored venue for indie films (and 25-cent kids' movies on Saturdays). The nearby Bijou by the Bay presents another film option each night next to Clinch Park Beach. If you visit on a rainy day, stop into Horizon Books for a cup of coffee and three floors of shelves to browse.

More Don't-Miss Stops in Traverse City

  • There's no better way to get acquainted with Traverse City than a paddleboard or kayak tour; get set up with one of the outfitters on Clinch Park Beach. They'll drop you on the Boardman River and let you drift down to town and out onto Grand Traverse Bay at your pace.
  • For a unique tour of local breweries, join Grand Traverse Bike Tours.
  • Just north of town on the Old Mission Peninsula, visit Chateau Chantal Winery for tours, tasting classes and sweeping vineyard and water views.
  • Be sure to see Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, about 25 miles west of Traverse City. Hikes like the one to Pyramid Point cut through forests and climb to stunning Lake Michigan views.
  • For casual eats and a great social scene, head to The Little Fleet on the eastern edge of downtown; eight food trucks gather in the courtyard of this indoor-outdoor bar.

Ann Arbor

With more restaurants per capita than New York City, the University of Michigan's home can satisfy just about any craving. The local classic: smoky pastrami sandwiches at Zingerman's Deli (a "nosher" is hearty, a "fresser" is enormous). For an upscale night out, try the locally sourced five-course tasting menus at Grange Kitchen and Bar.

Shopping in the Kerrytown Market and Shops complex reveals kids' delights at Mudpuddles Toys, eclectic hand-crafted objects and art at 16 Hands, and museum-worthy decorative papers at Hollander's. From the historical neighborhood, it's a quick and charming stroll through downtown. Victorian houses converted to shops dance cheek to cheek with sleek modern buildings.

More Don't-Miss Stops in Ann Arbor

  • Catch a classic or independent movie, the symphony or a popular concert at the lovingly restored Michigan Theater, which features the 1927 Barton Theatre pipe organ. Before or after an event, walk a block to Nickels Arcade (a covered street full of local shops) for cutting-edge fashion at Mix and superb espresso at Comet Coffee.
  • On the university's elegant quad, peek at beautifully ornate ceilings and huge leaded-glass windows inside the Law Library.
  • Summertime celebrations include the Cinetopia Film Festival and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, featuring live music, dance, theater and outdoor interactive events.
  • The outdoor food court Mark's Carts provides a freewheeling world culinary tour, including MeiMei's Chinese dumplings, the crispy-creamy-spicy Indian mash-ups at Hut-K and the Mexican street food of El Manantial.
  • A pumpkin-flavored artisan ale from the Jolly Pumpkin cools down a revved-up palate, as do the award-winning beers at the Blue Tractor BBQ and Brewery. Grange Kitchen and Bar's menus change with the seasons to showcase the sparkling flavors of jewel-toned produce.

Marquette

Hogback Mountain's bare, humplike peak provides panoramic views of the Upper Peninsula's largest city (home to Northern Michigan University). In the downtown district, independent shops, microbreweries and eateries sit blocks from beaches, lakefront paths and a lighthouse.

Located between the Porcupine Mountains and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Marquette sidles up to Lake Superior's southern coast. At Presque Isle Park -- a trail-lined woodland of craggy cliffs and bogs --visitors jump from Black Rocks cliffs into the crisp water before warming up on the pebble beach.

More Don't-Miss Stops in Marquette

  • Rosewood Park Walkway, a former rail trestle, connects the waterfront to downtown's inventive craft beer and gastro scene, as well as art galleries, shops and historical sites. 
  • At Marquette Mountain south of town, mountain bikers race over trails; throughout the surrounding forests, hikers seek out nearly 80 waterfalls and climb wooden steps up Sugarloaf Mountain for seemingly endless lake views.
  • Outfitters at Uncle Ducky Outdoors give guided kayak tours and Down Wind Sports directs adventurers to top spots for hiking, paddling, climbing and biking, including the Noquemanon Trail single-track system (one of 16 U.S. trails named Epic Rides by the International Mountain Biking Association).
  • Marquette Regional History Center tells the area's story from prehistoric to modern times; the collection includes tools made from stone, copper necklaces and a reconstructed cabin.
  • The Marquette Maritime Museum and Lighthouse -- along with old ore docks and waterfront parks -- entice visitors to explore Lake Superior's shore.
  • An old-timey soda fountain and chocolate shop -- where sweets-lovers peer through windows to watch candymakers at work -- complement all-day diner fare at Donckers.
  • Craft brews at The Vierling pair perfectly with Lake Superior whitefish in a saloon setting.

Lansing

On the scenic Grand River, Lansing manages to project a feeling that is equal parts state capital and openhearted small town. Anchoring it all is the neoclassical Capitol. Dedicated in 1879, the National Historic Landmark was meticulously restored in 1992. Though Michigan's legislature uses the building year-round, daily free tours introduce visitors to extraordinary examples of Victorian decorative arts, such as when artisans painted pine to appear like gleaming walnut and made cast iron look like refined marble.

Outside, the Lansing River Trail runs alongside the Grand River, giving pedestrians and peddlers the best view of the sparkling waterway as it ribbons through the city and highlighting new breweries, eateries and boutiques along the way. Neighboring East Lansing is home to Michigan State University, meaning visitors get access to numerous Big Ten sporting events and must-see arts venues.

More Don't-Miss Stops in Lansing

  • Steps from the Capitol, the Michigan Historical Museum and R.E. Olds Transportation Center celebrate an enterprising past.
  • One mile north on the Lansing River Trail, Old Town's eateries and shops include the quirky Lamb's Gate Antiques, upscale Grace filled with cocktail dresses, and artsy Katalyst.
  • A fireman-turned-baker creates specialty donuts like the crème brûlée at Glazed and Confused.
  • Midtown Brewing Co. and Lansing Brewing Company tempt with house brews and outdoor seating. American Fifth Spirits, Lansing's first distillery, uses signature spirits for cocktails.

 

For more details and ideas on Michigan vacations, visit michigan.org.

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