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7 Most Vibrant Towns in Michigan

by Staff

If you’re looking for a state with a treasure trove of small towns featuring picturesque views, charming, walkable downtowns, and an abundance of indoor and outdoor activities, Michigan may be the destination for you. In addition to miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, impressive dunes, vineyards, and beautiful beaches, the Midwestern state is home to vibrant towns that are ideal for daytime escapes, weekend getaways, and week-long vacations. Since Michigan experiences all four seasons, these must-see towns offer something to do all year round.

Munising

Aerial view of Munising, Michigan

The charming town of Munising is surrounded by several of Michigan’s natural wonders,including waterfalls, impressive sandstone cliffs, miles of hiking trails, and Lake Superior shoreline. Munising is most vibrant during the warmer spring, summer and early autumn months when visitors can explore the Pictured Rocks National Seashore, the Hiawatha National Forest, and the Grand Island National Recreation Area. Water lovers can take a boat ride on Munising Bay, while those who prefer to stay on land will enjoy birdwatching, backcountry camping, and hiking through the rustic woodlands. Downtown Munising is home to a unique collection of coffee shops, independant boutiques, breweries, and eateries. 

Harbor Springs

Harbor Springs, resort city, during autumn in Emmet County in the state of Michigan
Harbor Springs, resort city, during autumn in Emmet County in the state of Michigan, United States of America

The quaint town of Harbor Springs is situated on Traverse Bay, making it an ideal vacation destination for people who desire a thriving waterfront retreat. Harbor Springs is known for having the deepest freshwater harbor in the Great Lakes, and is just a fast ferry ride from the charming towns of Petoskey and Bay Harbor. If you’re visiting during the summer months, take advantage of Harbor Springs’ natural offerings by boating, hiking and biking through the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve or Harbor Springs Deer Park. Harbor Springs also has a vibrant art scene, is home to the Boyer Glassworks Studio and Gallery and the Crooked Tree Arts Center. Exciting annual events include Harbor Springs Festival of the Book, the Blissfest Folk Roots Music Festival, and Fall Festival Days at Pond Hill Farm. 

Mackinac Island

Main Street inMackinac Island, Michigan.
Main Street inMackinac Island, Michigan. Image credit: Michael Deemer via Shutterstock.

No visit to Michigan is complete without a trip to scenic and historic Mackinac Island, which is known for its world-famous fudge, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets over Lake Michigan, and charming car-free streets filled with horse-drawn carriages. Named “The Best Island in the Continental United States” by Travel and Leisure Magazine, Mackinac Island is the perfect vacation destination for those looking to get away from it all on the waterfront. After arriving on the island via a ferry,  visitors can explore more than 70 miles of trails on rented bikes, horseback, or via a romantic carriage rides. Fort Mackinac, which was founded in 1780, is the ideal place to learn all about the island’s rich history, and the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World will delight nature lovers of all ages. Even if visitors don’t stay at the sweeping Grand Hotel, which was named “Best Historic Hotel” by USA Today, they can enjoy a gourmet meal or afternoon tea on the premises. 

Glen Arbor

Rolling terrain of Glen Arbor Township, with Lake Michigan in the background
Rolling terrain of Glen Arbor Township, with Lake Michigan in the background

Water is a way of life in the pretty and lively town of Glen Arbor, which is surrounded by Lake Michigan, Glen Lakes and the Crystal River. Whether you’re looking for a romantic couples retreat, an exciting girls’ weekend, or a memorable family vacation, you’ll find it in Glen Arbor. Dubbed “Most Beautiful Place in America” by ABC’s Good Morning America, this town is home to an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, including the popular Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. In addition to the breathtaking dunes, which were shaped by glaciers, the park also offers miles of sugar sand beaches on Lake Michigan, camping options,historic buildings and and landmarks, and much more. Visitors can rent a kayak or canoe at Crystal River Outfitters, or spend a day at the Dunes Golf Club. The Glen Arbor Arts Center offers family-friendly art classes year round, as well as the annual Manitou Music Festival. 

St. Joseph

The great beach town of St. Joseph, Michigan.
The great beach town of St. Joseph, Michigan. Image credit SkyCam Video LLC via Shutterstock

Another vibrant Lake Michigan town, St. Joseph also offers visitors easy access to the St. Joseph River and sandy and scenic Silver Beach County Park. Don’t miss a trip to the historic Siver Beach Carousel, which delights adults and kids a like with its 48 hand-carved, life-like horses. The carousel is open year round and plays hosts to several festive annual events. The town is also home to the two impressive North Pier Lighthouses, which are perched on Lake Michigan. Art lovers will feel right at home at the Chartreuse Art Gallery, which features the work of several local artists in charming downtown St. Joseph. The Southwest  Michigan Symphony Orchestra offers a variety of innovative shows, while the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center gives visitors an introspective look at local history through various programs and lectures, exhibits, and a library. 

Escanaba

Street view of downtown Escanaba, Michigan.
Street view of downtown Escanaba, Michigan.

Vibrant Escanaba, which is located in Michigan‘s picturesque Upper Pennisula on the Bays de Noc, is a town where you can connect with nature, the arts, and a thriving winery and brewery scene any time of the year. Fayette Historic State Park offers about 17 miles of hiking trails, which meanders through a hardwood forest and past scenic limestone cliffs. The Sand Point Lighthouse and Historical Complex is the ideal way to spend a morning or afternoon. The historic lighthouse is fully restored and features exhibits depicting maritime life in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Escanaba also has a thriving arts scene with a variety of local art galleries and the Willliam Bonifas Fine Arts Center, a regional center that offers art, theater and music classes year-round. 

Frankenmuth

Frankenmuth, Michigan
Frankenmuth, Michigan – Image Credit Kenneth Sponsler via Shutterstock

The historic town of Frankenmuth is called Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” for good reason. Although the town encompasses a total of just two miles, its packed with shops, eateries and attractions celebrating its rich German culture. Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, which offers a festive holiday experience all year round, greets visitors as they enter town. The Frankenmuth Historical Museum gives history buffs an introspective look into the town’s interesting past via a variety of exhibits and events. Another place where tourists can explore Frankenmuth’s rich history is at the Holz Brucke Covered Bridge, which has a 19th Century design and spans the scenic Cass River. If you’re visiting town during the summer months and want to explore the river by boat, you can rent one for the day at Frankenmuth Kayak Adventures. 

No matter what region of Michigan you’re visiting, from the pristine, forested Upper Pennisula to the shores of Lake Michigan, you’ll have no shortage of vibrant small towns to discover. The state’s natural areas and miles of beautiful shoreline beckon you to get outside and enjoy your surroundings, while its many historic and cultural attractions are available for exploration during any time of the year. 

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