Top 10 Family-Friendly Michigan Vacation Ideas Not To Miss

Keri Baugh Avatar

From the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan to the scenic forests in the Upper Peninsula, there are plenty of fun places to explore in this great state of Michigan. And don’t forget about the amazing food! From authentic Coney Island hot dogs (Surprise! They’re not from New York) to fresh-caught fish from Lake Michigan, you will definitely enjoy sampling all that Michigan has to offer. Here are 10 Michigan vacation ideas to get you started.

Whether your Midwest getaway involves exploring the city of Detroit, enjoying the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan or exploring a car-free island, you’ll find plenty to do at an affordable price in Michigan.

Read More: Best Michigan Resorts for Family Fun

Traverse City Cherries Michigan
Traverse City is home to the National Cherry Festival and is a large producer of tart cherries. Photo credit: Shrirampatki | Megapixl.com

Traverse City

Traverse City is a beautiful town located in the heart of Michigan’s scenic Lower Peninsula. This town is a popular tourist destination for visitors from all over the country, for good reason.

Some of the most popular things to do in Traverse City include visiting the local wineries, exploring the beaches, parks and lighthouses along Lake Michigan, hiking the trails in the nearby national forests and sampling the delicious food at local restaurants. In addition, Traverse City is also home to a variety of festivals and events throughout the year, including the National Cherry Festival in July and the Traverse City Film Festival in August.

Highlights of Traverse City

  • Explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and climb the sand dunes, which SheBuysTravel contributor Melody Pitman calls “the most beautiful stretch of sand dunes in the world.”
  • Discover the local wineries.
  • Shop and explore the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a former mental hospital whose castle-like buildings have been transformed into shops, restaurants and wineries.
  • Spend a day on Lake Michigan boating, kayaking or building sand castles on the beach.
  • Stay at Great Wolf Lodge and enjoy the kid-friendly amenities and indoor water park.
  • Visit the Great Lakes Children’s Museum.
  • Ride an Alpine Slide at Crystal Mountain.
Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park
The Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park is great for strolling.
Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids is home to a number of must-see attractions, including the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, the John Ball Zoo and the Van Andel Arena. The city has been known as Beer City USA for the past 10 years, with over 40 craft breweries within 30 minutes.

Don’t miss the unique festivals that Grand Rapids offers, from LaughFest every March, with a hilarious lineup of comedians and other funny events, to Festival of the Arts in June, which offers 3 days of music, street food and performing arts performances. Every other September, the city comes alive with art during ArtPrize, where any restaurant, shop, cafe or bar can become a venue hosting art of all kinds.

Grand Rapids is also located in the heart of Michigan’s scenic Lower Peninsula, making it the perfect base camp for exploring all that this beautiful part of the country has to offer. Some of the most popular things to do in the Lower Peninsula include visiting the beaches and parks along Lake Michigan, hiking the trails in the nearby national forests and discovering some unique and special museums.

Highlights of Grand Rapids

  • Get up close and personal with four-legged friends like pigs, cows, camels and more at Deer Tracks Junction or visit more exotic wild creatures at Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park.
  • Meet the animal inhabitants of the John Ball Zoo.
  • Take a step back in time, enjoy a “White House Dinner” and step inside the Oval Office at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
  • Wander through the gardens at the Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park.
  • Take a beach walk or boat ride, go paddle boarding or kayaking on Lake Michigan.
One of the cool things to do in Northern Michigan is to take a tour of beautiful Mackinac Island.
Getting around by horse and buggy is the popular way to see Mackinac Island. Photo by Melody Pittman

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is a car-free island reachable only by ferry. This Northern Michigan island is well-known for its beautiful scenery, including the Mackinac Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac.

This beautiful Midwest island is home to Fort Mackinac, the Biddle House and the Richard & Jane Manoogian Art Museum. Melody Pittman says, “don’t miss the chance to go for a scenic drive by horse and buggy!”

Some of the most popular things to do near Mackinac Island include visiting the beaches and parks along Lake Superior, outdoor activities like kayaking and biking, visiting the hiking trails in the nearby national forests, shopping at unique stores in Mackinaw City (on the lower peninsula side) or St. Ignace (on the upper peninsula side) and sampling the delicious food at local restaurants and its world-famous fudge.

Don’t forget to drive across the 5-mile long Mackinac Bridge, which joins the upper and lower peninsulas!

Highlights of Mackinac Island

  • Learn to make fudge at one of the world-famous Mackinac Island fudge shops!
  • Enjoy water sports like boating, kayaking and paddle boarding on Lake Superior.
  • Take a narrated horse-drawn carriage ride, the iconic Mackinac Island activity.
  • Tour one of the unique museums, like the Surrey Hills Carriage Museum, the Grand Hotel Stable and Carriage Museum or the Manoogian Art Museum.
  • Call for a horse-drawn Mackinac Island taxi to get to your destination.
  • Discover history at Fort Mackinac, the Biddle House or Richard & Jane Manoogian Art Museum.
  • Take a walking ghost tour of Mackinac Island.
  • Enjoy a day trip to Avalanche Bay Indoor Water Park
Detroit belle isle aquarium vaulted ceiling
Beautiful green opalite glass tiles line the vaulted ceiling of the Belle Isle Aquarium. Photo credit: Tess Fisher

Detroit

Detroit is a city on the rise. The place where the US auto industry was born, is once again a must-visit city. Great food, world-class museums, the gorgeous Belle Isle park and the iconic Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village are must-see spots. Even better, parking downtown is cheap and easy to find.

Highlights of Detroit

  • Sea Life Michigan Aquarium is great fun for ocean fans with a touch tank and education center kids will love.
  • Spend a day at Belle Isle, visiting the aquarium, the conservatory and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.
  • Visit the world-class Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit History Museum.
  • Stroll through Detroit International River Walk.
  • Visit Detroit Zoo and spend a day with the animals.
  • Learn about the history of cars at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Read More: Ultimate Guide to Michigan’s Quirky Roadside Attractions

A game at the University of Michigan
A game at the University of Michigan is a fun thing to do with kids in Ann Arbor. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen

Ann Arbor

If you are a college football fan, you are surely familiar with Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan’s Big 10 Wolverines. According to Deb Steenhagen, “The University of Michigan campus is almost indistinguishable from downtown Ann Arbor.” As such, it is a big part of things to do on a Michigan vacation.

And while taking in a University of Michigan football game is definitely a great activity, there are other things to do in Ann Arbor. These include visiting the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, exploring the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and taking a hike through the Leslie Science & Nature Center. It’s an educational family vacation the whole family will enjoy.

Highlights of Ann Arbor

  • The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History is a great, educational activity that’s fun for the whole family!
  • Other local museums include the Kelsey Museum of Architecture, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, along with the Yankee Air Museum and Michigan Firehouse Museum in neighboring Ypsilanti.
  • Catch a football game at the Big House, the largest football stadium in the United States.
  • Enjoy a family day seeing creatures at the Fox Science Nature Preserve, Domino’s Farm or Country Farm.
  • The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is a year-round activity you can do even during the winter.
The lookout at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan is one of the top things to check out when visiting
Is this the ocean, mom? The view of Lake Michigan from Pierce Stocking Drive. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is 64 miles of lake-hugging coastline and the largest sand dunes east of the Mississippi River. You can enjoy the stunning beauty of this area with hikes, enjoying the crystal clear lake by kayak, swimming, paddle boarding or boating or enjoy beach going and camping.

The area is home to the Sand Dune Climb, the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum and the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

Highlights of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

  • Camp on your stay here and enjoy some stargazing over an evening bonfire.
  • Enjoy the beautiful crystal clear lake with a beach day, swimming or family fun water activities.
  • See the area above via helicopter.
  • Enjoy the beachy small towns of Empire and Glen Arbor.
  • Bike the area on a family bike ride.
  • Take a scenic ride on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7-mile drive with panoramic views.
 Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
The beautiful Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is another beautiful place for a family vacation. Photo credit: © Mshake | Megapixl.com

Bonus Idea

If you like the idea of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you might also consider Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. On Lake Superior, this location offers miles of scenic lake shoreline and is a beautiful spot for a family vacation. It is famous for multicolored Pictured Rocks cliffs, waterfalls and sand dunes. It offers a gorgeous outdoor family vacation with hiking, boating, camping and swimming activities. And it’s a year-round destination, as there are family activities all four seasons.

Tulips blooming in downtown Holland,MI
Beautiful tulips bloom all over Holland during the annual Tulip Time Festival. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen

Holland

The beautiful area of Holland is another of Michigan’s top vacation spots. Holland is home to the Nelis’ Dutch Village and the Windmill Island Gardens.

SheBuysTravel contributor Deb Steenhagen loves Nelis’ Dutch Village. “If you are looking for authentic Dutch culture, this is the place,” she says. She also recommends getting a pair of your own (wearable) wooden Dutch shoes.

Holland is also located in the heart of Michigan’s scenic Lower Peninsula. It shares some of its Netherland roots, with options for Dutch-rooted activities that will make you think you are in Europe.

Highlights of Holland

  • Enjoy a family beach day at Holland State Park Beach, which sits on both Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. Don’t miss the iconic ‘Big Red’ lighthouse!
  • Get a taste of the country of Holland at the Windmill Island Gardens and see a real working Dutch Windmill.
  • Try on wooden shoes and enjoy outdoor rides at the Nelis’ Dutch Village amusement park.
  • Visit the perfect place for a photo op, the Veldheer Tulip Garden.
  • Take a ride on the Holland Princess, a 65-foot Victorian style paddle wheel riverboat.
  • Enjoy the Outdoor Discovery Center for some outdoor family fun.
  • Take a hike or enjoy the day at Tunnel Beach.
Woman watching the sunset aboard The Flying Dutchman, one of the best things to do in Saugatuck Michigan.
Bring a jacket for the sunset cruise aboard The Flying Dutchman. It gets chilly when the sun goes down. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Saugatuck

Saugatuck is a popular beach town with lots of fun things to do with kids. It’s also home to a large arts community with plenty of shopping and dining opportunities.

The best things to do in Saugatuck  include visiting Oval Beach, exploring the Saugatuck Dunes State Park and lots of water activities. It is a great spot for a home rental to enjoy a quiet family vacation with old-fashioned family fun. There also are some incredible restaurants, including spots on the water where you can have a drink, order dinner and watch the sunset.

Highlights of Saugatuck

  • Take an adventurous dune ride in an open-air dune schooner (like an open-air truck) that, according to Tripadvisor users, “…is the highlight of a trip to Saugatuck.”
  • Ride on the chain ferry.
  • Enjoy a day at Oval Beach.
  • Explore and hike at Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
  • Climb to the top of Mount Baldhead.
  • Enjoy an old fashioned boat ride in a Retro Boat Rental.
  • Visit Pier Cove Park and hunt for “lightning stones.”
 Tall Ships on Lake Huron
A ride on the Tall Ships on Lake Huron is a fun family activity. Photo credit: © Csterken | Megapixl.com

Great Lakes Bay Region

One of the must-see spots on a Michigan vacation is the Great Lakes Bay Region. It’s home to a number of family-friendly attractions, including the Midland Center for the Arts, the Dow Gardens and the Chippewa Nature Center.

This area is an outdoor lovers’ paradise, so if you are a fan of boating, hiking and active fun, this is the place for you. And it is also great for foodies, with plenty of delicious restaurants and breweries to fuel you for your active vacation.

Highlights of Great Lake Bay Region

  • Take a ride on the Tall Ships on Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay either in the day or under the stars for a celestial sail.
  • Visit Dow Botanical Gardens in Midland.
  • Enjoy the outdoors and animals at the Saginaw Children’s Zoo or the Wilderness Trails Zoo.
  • Boat through the Shiawassee Wildlife Reserve to see all of its inhabitants.
  • Climb aboard the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum.

Frankenmuth

A unique family-friendly Michigan vacation destination, Frankenmuth is a Bavarian-themed town that would make you believe you stepped right into the heart of Bavaria Germany. It is home to a number of family attractions, including Michigan’s Little Bavaria, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland and Frankenmuth River Place Shops.

The area has German roots, which can be learned more about at the Frankenmuth Historical Museum. It is also home to the world’s largest Christmas Store and world-famous chicken! It is a unique destination that is near the top of my Michigan bucket list.

Highlights of Frankenmuth

  • Go ziplining in the woods at Frankenmuth Aerial Park.
  • Search for gnomes on the Frankenmuth Gnome Hunt.
  • Try world-famous chicken at the Bavarian Inn or Zehnder’s Restaurant.
  • Visit Little Bavaria to cross the wooden bridge, see the Glockenspiel and Figurinespiel play at select times, browse the world’s largest Christmas store and try pretzel rolling.
  • Splash and ride the water slides at the Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark , named one of the top 30 waterparks in the world.
  • Ride on the Bavarian Belle Riverboat.
Keri Baugh Avatar
Keri first tasted travel on a college choir tour to Europe and was immediately hooked. She lived abroad twice, traveled to over 30 countries, and was a professional Cast Member at Walt Disney World Resort and for an educational travel company, before having kids. Once they came, she wanted to keep traveling and has done so since her oldest was three months old. Keri loves traveling with kids because you have to slow down, take breaks, and sometimes live like a local. It teaches kids flexibility, patience, and risk-taking, and it opens their eyes to the world. Keri moved abroad a third time to London for a year, when her kids were ages 4, 1 and 1. Her family travels several times per year, to Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Disney and Orlando, and on ski vacations in New England and out west. They take regular weekend getaways all over New England, where she is based. Keri is a stay-at-home mom and owns the family travel blog Bon Voyage with Kids to inspire families to enjoy the journey of traveling with kids. Keri has been a planDisney Panelist 2023 for Disney Vacation Club and Walt Disney World and as a family travel expert, she is regularly interviewed in major domestic and international news media and travel publications.
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