Bavarian-style architecture is one of the main attractions in Frankenmuth, Michigan, via Kenneth Sponsler /

2024's 7 Most Beautiful Small Towns in Michigan

Teeming with pristine nature, Michigan is one of the most scenically endowed states in the country. This state boasts over 3,000 miles of picturesque coastline with golden beaches and azure waters kissing the shore of the mighty Great Lakes. Vast forests blanket mile after inland mile of the Upper Peninsula, punctuated by mesmerizing dunes and sparkling inland seas. Yet amid this natural grandeur lie hidden communities that further elevate this Midwestern state's beauty.


A horse-drawn carriage transports tourists in downtown Frankenmuth, Michigan.
A horse-drawn carriage transports tourists in downtown Frankenmuth, Michigan. Editorial credit: arthurgphotography /

This Bavarian-themed village on the banks of the Cass River promises visitors an enchanting cultural experience. This town is deeply rooted in German culture, and exploring its quaint downtown offers hints of its European connection at every corner turned. The Frankenmuth Visitor & Welcome Center is a great first stop in the town, offering visitors an opportunity to learn some background on the locality and learn about its top attractions before immersing into them. One of the top tourist experiences involves easygoing retail therapy at the Frankenmuth River Place Shops. This Bavarian-themed mall features 40 unique locations selling diversely cute items, from gifts and apparel to homeware.

Locals and tourists like to gather at Frankenmuth's most famous natural space, Heritage Park, to enjoy its pleasant outdoors. The little space harbors quiet waterfront trails and hosts various family-friendly festivals and events. Stopping by the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus will complete your cultural experience in this town with a chance to sample numerous varieties of German cheese.


Butler Street in Saugatuck, Michigan
Butler Street in Saugatuck, Michigan. Editorial credit: Kenneth Sponsler /

Small in crowds yet big on charm, Saugatuck delights newcomers with its picturesque lakefront scenery and a colorful arts and culture scene. This town offers an escape to the serene shores of Lake Michigan at Oval Beach, a popular beach-lovers paradise punctuated by golden sands and crystal blue waters. This shoreline haven draws sunbathers, swimmers, and picnickers all year round. Bordering the shore, Mount Baldhead Park offers a hint of greenery in a lovely nature area overlooking the Kalamazoo River. It has a scenic mile-long loop trail leading to Lake Michigan, perfect for unassuming strolls to unwind and meditate.

Saugatuck's rich cultural landscape comes to the forefront at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts. This regional performance arts hub stages enthralling live shows, ranging from plays and concerts to lectures. This town plans to kick off its summer performance series on June 22, 2024. While in the town, sample some of its local delicacies by visiting the Southerner, famous for serving delicious Southern-style cuisine.

Glen Abor

Aerial view of scenic M22 as it runs through downtown Glen Arbor with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park
Aerial view of scenic M22 as it runs through downtown Glen Arbor, Michigan with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, via Matthew G Eddy /

This charming cherry-dotted community sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Glen Lake and bordering Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore embodies the allure of small-town Michigan. Glen Abor invites tourists to discover its stunning outdoors on a 2.5-mile hike along the Sleeping Bear Point Trailhead. Hikers are rewarded with sweeping views of Lake Michigan against dramatic, scenic dunes. Adventure sports enthusiasts can get to open water for an exciting fishing expedition, courtesy of Watta Bite Charter Fishing. Depending on your preferences, this thrilling excursion can also be customized to be a sunrise, daytime, or sunset experience.

However, before venturing on the water, you can stop by Glen Abor Wines and buy a classic bottle to make the trip more enjoyable. Later, sample some lakeside art at Synchronicity Gallery, which exhibits original works of over 90 regional artists.


The historic business district on Mitchell Street in Petoskey, Michigan.
The historic business district on Mitchell Street in Petoskey, Michigan. Editorial credit: Roberto Galan /

This little gem in the Lower Peninsula easily ranks among the best small towns in Michigan, thanks to its charming mix of unmatched natural beauty, vibrant downtown district, world-class art scene, and million-dollar sunsets. Petoskey lures spring and summer travelers in droves to explore its idyllic open spaces. The Bar River Valley Recreation Area is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a mix of riverside trails, a scenic boardwalk, and thrilling whitewater rafting adventures. Meanwhile, visitors who prefer to take things slow can find a nice spot to relax at Bayfront Park and enjoy exquisite water views.

Petoskey has a respectable art scene allowing visitors to get a feel at the Great Lakes Center for the Arts. This world-class performance art venue boasts a picturesque waterfront location and hosts entertaining acts like comedy, musicals, and concerts throughout the year.


Downtown Northport, along M-201
Downtown Northport, Michigan along M-201, By Royalbroil - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Travelers who love isolated getaways devoid of rowdy crowds will feel at home in this scenic harbor village on the shores of Lake Michigan. Northport is known for its secluded beaches, such as Christmas Cove Beach, which encourages visitors to spend quality alone time unwinding while soaking up the heavenly scenery. The relaxed atmosphere is perfect for an easygoing golf game with friends on the lush landscape of Northport Creek Golf Course. This 9-hole course offers moderately challenging greens on a relatively flat terrain, making it excellent for all skill levels.

Historically inclined tourists can find much to explore at the Northport Area Heritage Association. Within this adorable museum, there are photographs, stories, archives, and artifacts documenting the town's past and present. Finally, ensure to pass by Pennington Collection and find a memorable souvenir to take home before leaving Northport.

Mackinaw City

City Hall in Mackinaw City, Michigan.
City Hall in Mackinaw City, Michigan. Editorial credit: Focused Adventures /

Situated on the northern end of Lower Peninsula, this historic port community promises an exciting journey back in time, thanks to its wealth of antique sites and nostalgic experiences. Mackinaw City is known for hosting one of the most photogenic bridges in the state, Mackinaw Bridge, and touring the Mackinaw Bridge Museum provides insightful background on the iconic landmark. The facility houses numerous artifacts and photos dedicated to the people behind the bridge's construction. A scenic ride on Shelpler's Mackinac Island Ferry allows you to discover the town's beauty from the water and access other exciting destinations, including Mackinac Island, which is about 15 minutes away.

Finally, those who fancy an outdoor adventure can head to Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Straddling 550 acres, this incredible nature area has miles of woodland trails and stretches of pristine Lake Michigan beaches. Additionally, this location is ideal for spotting local wildlife like bears and eagles and stargazing on clear night skies.


Street view in Holland, Michigan
Street view in Holland, Michigan, via Juli Scalzi /

This charming, culture-rich community on the scenic shores of Lake Macatawa put Michigan's European connection into perspective. Holland is steeped in Dutch heritage, which has influenced several aspects of the city, such as architecture, festivals, and cuisine. Newcomers can get a sense of local culture by tasting traditionally made delicacies at Deboer Bakkerji. This home-styled bakery uses fresh ingredients to prepare various baked goods, sandwiches, and salads using old Dutch recipes. However, the Tulip Time Festival offers a more immersive cultural experience, as townsfolk celebrate their Dutch roots through song, dance, crafts, and food.

Holland is known for its overall hospitality and welcoming sense of community, usually displayed at the Holland Farmers Market. Over 50 local vendors lay out their fresh produce, home baked goods, meats, and crafts for buyers, making this an excellent opportunity to talk, interact, and mingle in a family-friendly atmosphere.

Final Thought

Skipping famous destinations like Detroit and Grand Rapids to experience these beautiful small towns in Michigan could be the unique travel experience you've always yearned for. From lakeshore escapes hugged by glistening waters, to inland settlements flanked by dense forests and dunes, these idyllic communities beautifully capture Michigan's natural essence. Visitors will find Main Street charm, creative culture, and small-town hospitality amid majestic surroundings far removed from the urban hustle and bustle. Undoubtedly, spending time in 2024 exploring these scenic hidden gems will allow enduring memories from the most intimate corners of the Wolverine State.

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