Michigan is a strange little state. Composed of two peninsulas, one of which eerily looks like a mitten, it’s a state of blended history, greatness and decay, great universities, and inspires a sense of almost pathological pride in its inhabitants. Since growing up in Michigan, I have lived in New York City, Virginia, Washington D.C., and visited just about every other state, and outside of New Yawkers and Texans, I’ve yet to encounter any other state that is so fervently defended and extolled by its residents. It’s not surprising, really — Michigan is a diverse and beautiful state. So, in honor of the great Mitten State, here are the 20 Top Reasons (as compiled by yours truly) to visit Michigan.
20. The Pictured Rocks
The Pictured Rocks line the Upper Peninsula. The lakeshore is in the upper echelons of the Upper peninsula, bordering Lake Superior. The lake itself is a marvel — it is the largest freshwater lake in the world. At times as cold and forbidding as the Pacific Ocean can be, the lake is clean, crystal, and deep, and the lakeshore still feels wild, with towering conifers and the sand/limestone cliffs rising from the water. Varying layers of rock create a natural, painted effect on the cliffs. Natural beauty at its finest.
19. Tulip Time
Holland, Michigan is always a strange little place — growing up, I was told that there were more Dutch people living in Holland than in the Netherlands itself. Whether this is true or not, there’s no doubt that Holland is a charming little town of old world windmills, wooden clogs, and, in the springtime, a festival of tulips that covers every natural surface in the town.
18. Midwestern Hospitality
I’ve never lived anywhere that was antagonistic, but there’s something uniquely welcoming about people in the Midwest. I saw kindness on the subways of New York, and the historic pathways through Virginia, but there’s nothing to compare to the kindness of strangers in the Midwest — and Michigan, in particular, seems to be filled with welcoming, generous people.
Artprize in Grand Rapids has to be one of the unique art festivals in America. Contestants include not only traditional artists, but also performance art, street art, sculpture, installations, etc. Artists utilize the city itself to create its art — take, for instance, the galloping horses above, who stampede through the cascades of the Grand River. Other interesting entries have included thousands of paper airplanes being released from the roof of a building, a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., made entirely out of pencils, and beautiful mosaics which adorn the city still.
On the other end of the cultural spectrum, Michigan is home to some fantastic sports teams. The Red Wings are the winningest hockey team in the United States, and the Tigers are one of the oldest baseball teams in the country. The Pistons have had great success in the NBA, and the Lions have the dubious distinction of having had the worst in the NFL (everyone likes to cheer for the underdog, though, right?). Plus, with two competitive Big Ten schools, there’s plenty of college football, March Madness, and Frozen Fours to keep everyone happy.
15. Tunnel of Trees
Up near Harbor Springs, the Tunnel of Trees provides a scenic roadway that veers along the lakeshore, and through beautiful, overarching trees. The road stops at multiple picturesque beach towns — really, one of the most beautiful, peaceful roads I’ve ever been on.
14. Main Street Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor has a beautiful, charming Main Street — and it’s been voted one of the best “main streets” in America for a reason. In the summer it is all abustle, with art fairs and book fairs, and shoppers darting in and out of the myriad boutiques and high end restaurants. But in the winter is when it really comes alive, with thousands of twinkling lights twined through the branches of trees and softly falling snow.
13. Sand dunes!
Who needs mountains when you have sand dunes? These amazing mountains of sand continue down the entire coast of Michigan, from the lone dune at Hoffmaster State Park to the enormous stretch of dunes at Silver Lake, to the famous national park in Traverse City. Combining all the joyous innocence of the beach with the majesty of mountains, Michigan Sand Dunes are a national wonder that are not to be missed.
Some people might think it’s crazy to put a grocery store into a post about a state, but Meijer was founded in Michigan and is ubiquitous throughout Michigan communities, and is the most amazing grocery store in the world, hands down. Walmart’s business model was based on Meijer, but where Walmart’s are often disorganized bastions of poor quality, Michigan merges its own (relatively high quality) products along with high end, organic, natural, and local produce. The produce is great, the meat is great, the food in general is great — and it has all the amenities of a target — from cheap, but brightly colored clothing to a range of hygiene products to electronics and sporting goods. The prices are good, and so is the quality — a miracle!
For those who want their outdoor adventures to be a little more classy and a lot less dirty, Michigan also has a bevy of quality vineyards, in particularly in the north of the state. Fruit wines seem to be big now — which makes sense, with world-famous Michigan cherries and the wide variety of apples, pears, and berries that are grown in the state.
10. Craft Beer
If you like your alcohol a little more hoppy, Michigan also has some amazing craft beers and local breweries. Bell’s in Kalamazoo is likely the most famous, but Founder’s is coming up close behind, as are dozens of other, small breweries. Downtown Grand Rapids is filled with great bars that feature quality beer year round, and several the serve exclusively Michigan brews — because it’s just that good!
9. The University of Michigan
Michigan is home to a number of great colleges — Michigan State, Grand Valley, Hope, Kalamazoo — but let’s be honest here, there’s nothing quite like the University of Michigan. The school regularly ranks in the top ten for rankings of both public undergraduate schools, as well as graduate programs. It’s ranked both in the United States and internationally, and has alumni ranging from the founders of Google to James Earl Jones. The Peace Corps was christened on the steps of the Union, JFK called it the “Harvard of the West,” and its buildings are eclectic and interesting — from Angell Hall, originally designed to be the state capital, to the law school which is based upon the design of Cambridge, to the North Campus Bell Tower which was constructed without any right angles. It’s a great sports school, a great academic school, and a greatly progressive school with a bent toward social justice.
8. Motown Winter Blast
Detroit is home to one of the greatest winter festivals in the U.S. — name another festival where visitors can sled down a massive snow hill constructed in the city center, view ginormous ice sculptures, skate in a downtown ice rink, and watch dog sled races? Plus live music, unique hot drinks, and great food specials — Motown celebrates the snow and the cold in a way no other major metropolitan does.
7. Apple Picking
Sure, lots of states have apple picking — I’ve gone everywhere from New York to Virginia — but no other place has apple picking like Michigan. Known as the Variety State, rather than picking one or two varieties of apples at a time, visitors to Michigan orchards can usually pick four to five different varieties — orchards are easy to find and easy to access, across the state. And, in addition to apple picking, there’s blueberry picking, blackberry picking, cherry picking, pumpkin picking, pear picking, and even potato picking. Can’t beat that!
6. Meijer Gardens
The Frederick Meijer Gardens are, hands down, the most amazing botanical gardens I have ever seen. There is a massive indoor greenhouse for tropical plants, as well as smaller rooms to visit desert landscapes, no matter the season. There’s an English garden, a japanese garden, and a rainforest. Outside, the beauty continues with an expansive sculpture park, including a sensory park for children and a wilderness preserve. In the winter, they put on a holiday display with enormous conifers decorated in the styles of countries across the world.
5. Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is hands-down the most popular tourist destination for Michiganders — the tiny island is motor-vehicle free. With only about 500 families that live on the island, it’s a refuge from modern life. To travel, visitors rent bikes, walk, or take a horse-drawn carriage. There’s a historic fort for those who want to view Michigan history, beautiful Victorian houses, fudge shops, and surprisingly good bars — as well as a beautiful view of the Mackinac Bridge and the beauty of being surrounded by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
4. Beach Towns
From Petosky to Charlevoix, Grand Haven to Harbor Springs, Michigan is filled with picturesque, beautiful beach towns. There’s boutique shopping, charming streets, ice-cream all set against the breathtaking beauty of the lakes (let’s be honest. . .Lake Michigan).
3. Experience all four seasons!
Admittedly, Michigan winters can be rough, but there’s nothing better than experiencing all four seasons. In the summer there are lazy days at the beach — and there are few places more beautiful than the fiery trees of a Michigan autumn. There’s plenty of skiing, ice skating, and snowman building in the winter, and magnolia blossoms in Ann Arbor during the spring.
2. Lake Michigan
Michigan borders four of the five Great Lakes: on the west side you can enjoy Lake Michigan, while the Yoopers (those living in the Upper Peninsula) may prefer Lake Superior: there’s Lake Huron for the east siders, and Lake Eerie just south of Detroit. And they’re all fantastic, but none more so than Lake Michigan. Sometimes it seems like the beaches start in Indiana and run all the way up to where Lake Michigan merges with Huron: miles of beaches, lighthouses, dunes, and ports make Lake Michigan the most inviting of the Great Lakes — plus, with its tides and waves, it’s just like visiting the ocean, without the salt and jellyfish.
1. State Pride.
Michiganders know how to poke fun at themselves (just go to youtube and look up Pure Michigan parodies for some stellar examples of that) but in the end, we all really love our state. Grand Rapids put together a world-record lipdub, and fifty different communities came together to sing a state-wide singalong. The statewide singalong is officially offline due to copyright issues (which isn’t to say that a bootleg version isn’t easily available). Definitely, if you have five minutes, head over to youtube to check both out!