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

7 of the Most Charming Towns in Michigan

Michigan, the main entrance to the Great Lakes, boasts sparkling waters akin to seas along breathtaking parklands, making it a year-round adventurer's paradise. Split into the Upper and Lower Peninsula, or the "mitten," one of Michigan's monikers, the state is home to eclectic shopping, architecture, and wineries. Lexington, along the lower peninsula’s thumb, inspires a perfect beachy getaway from Detroit.

Frankenmuth, a charming Bavarian village in the thumb's crease, offers a bevy of historic buildings and thematic attractions, creating a fairytale-like atmosphere amid undulating farmlands. Visitors can enjoy camping under the starry skies along the famed Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore near Empire, among other small towns that offer shopping, playing, eating, and staying like a local for a pure Michigan experience.


Downtown scene and streets of historic Calumet, Michigan
Downtown scene and streets of historic Calumet, Michigan, via melissamn / Shutterstock.com

In Calumet, the heart of the Keweenaw Peninsula, jutting out into Lake Superior, history runs deep. At the epicenter of the 1900’s Keweenaw copper boom—in the center of the Upper Peninsula's and Michigan's copper mining industries—its legacy as “Copper Town” is in the heart of town. At Keweenaw National Historical Park, visitors can enjoy strolls around historic sites, museums, and buildings, as well as underground tours. Having drawn nationals like Croatians, Finns, French, Polish, Scots, and Swedes, the cultural diversity persists with sites like the church dedicated to St. Anne, administered by Calumet's French Canadians, built of red sandstone from the Jacobsville quarry, as well as the Italian Hall Historical Marker.

With three villages within its borders, Calumet abounds in attractions for every taste and age, including the outdoors, other historic attractions like the Coppertown Mining Museum, and the Calumet Theater for an arts performance. Next door, south along the shore, McLain State Park offers easy access to the best hiking, camping, and fishing, while the beautiful Hungarian Falls are just 13 minutes inland, along with the famous Torch Lake. The quaint downtown is a mix of old and new, including the pretty Calumet Art Center, among other galleries, gift shops, coffee houses, and saloons. Don't miss the chance to taste the iconic pasty at a local restaurant with a dollop of gravy or to go for a hike or a day on the lake.


Lighthouse in Empire, Michigan, as seen from the beach
Lighthouse in Empire, Michigan, as seen from the beach

Home to the highest bluffs around the whole of Lake Michigan, Empire does its name justice along the central section of the endlessly photogenic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Offering the best scenery from up to 450 feet above the glistening waters, visitors can enjoy relatively easy access via the short and scenic Empire Bluff Trail, which meanders through the beech and maple forest to the Scenic Lookout. The Robert H. Manning Memorial Lighthouse, right on the beach between the cute South Bar Lake and the vast Lake Michigan, offers panoramic coastline views.

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is well-marked for an overview of the area, while the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center, a must-stop at the heart of town, offers a short movie, a gift shop, and the best bearings. Surrounded by impressive trails for immersive hikes during the day, such as the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, the Sleeping Bear Dunes Roadside Park features a beautiful viewing deck. At night, visitors can enjoy stargazing under dark skies at a campsite just north of the dunes along the lakeshore. From epic sunrises to an afternoon paddleboarding or kayaking, with rentals at Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak, take a break at the amicable Joe's Friendly Tavern.


The Bavarian Inn, one of the main restaurants and attractions in Frankenmuth, Michigan.
The Bavarian Inn, one of the main restaurants and attractions in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Editorial credit: Kenneth Sponsler / Shutterstock.com

Awe-struck by the natural beauty of the Saginaw Valley, Wilhelm Loehe, a pastor from a church in the Kingdom of Bavaria, Germany, initiated the settlement of Frankenmuth. While providing spiritual comfort to the German pioneers, part of the mission was to show the Indigenous people “Wie gut und schön es ist bei Jesu zu sein"—how wonderful it is to live with Jesus. Nestled in the thumb crease along Michigan's lower peninsula, today, this tiny Bavarian village with historic buildings feels fairytale-like amid undulating farmlands.

Attracting families, culture fans, and sightseers, the famed Bavarian Inn offers a great stay with a restaurant for beer and schnitzel. Across the street, Zehnder’s serves world-famous family-style chicken dinners, while the mom-and-pop chocolate shops and general stores in authentic architecture add to the storybook-cover appeal. Among other unique attractions, follow the cuckoo clock sound to the Glockenspiel Tower, and if you crave the festive season early, Frankenmuth's world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, is open nearly every day of the year.


Historic commercial buildings on Massachusetts Avenue in the historic town center of Lexington, Massachusetts
Historic commercial buildings on Massachusetts Avenue in the historic town center of Lexington, Massachusetts. Editorial credit: Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock.com

Featuring a large beach for swimming and sand volleyball, Lexington promises a relaxing getaway from the rumble of the Motor City along the lower peninsula’s thumb. From golfing to vineyard tours and wine tastings, great food, and shopping, Lexington loves kite flying and music. Waking up early for a stroll along the break wall at sunrise is a staple sight, just like a fluttering kite in the wind. Home to a scenic waterfront with panoramic views of southern Lake Huron, it is perfect for family fun along the waters, an afternoon of sailing, or bankside recreation.

Grab picnic staples at the Lexington General Store or the Market Place and linger at Old Town Hall Winery for a glass along the Main. Also in downtown Lexington, save a sliver of the evening for live music, comedy acts, or a stage production at the popular Lexington Village Theatre, or make it to Music in the Park on Friday evenings. Starting at the waterfront park, next to the state harbor with its photogenic vessels, enjoy exploring at your own pace with creeks like veins through the walkable town and the Fine Arts Street Fair on the first weekend in August this year.


Aerial view of Muskegon, Michigan.
Aerial view of Muskegon, Michigan.

Nestled against two lakes on the state's western coast, this Lake Michigan town makes it hard not to get caught up in its infectious spirit for adventures. From the waterfront Hoffmaster State Park and its summertime trails to Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park, the spectacular USS LST 393 turned museum displays historical WWII exhibits of its role as a tank-landing ship, with uniforms, equipment, and weapons. Abundant in beaches, including the sandy headland at Muskegon State Park, visitors can enjoy an aqua-centered getaway with boating or fishing in the chilly blue waters. Right across, the Beachwood-Bluffton neighborhood is home to Pere Marquette Park.

The main beach offers easy access to swimming and sunbathing after a stroll through Kruse Park, while 13 minutes south, Lake Harbor Park features a less crowded space to relax, including a dog-friendly beach by the charming Mona Lake. After the best breakfast of your life at Mr. B's Pancake House, the historic district is lovely to stroll with its picturesque architecture. Michigan’s largest amusement park, Michigan’s Adventure, combines scenery and fun, overlooking the state's namesake lake from its roller coasters and epic slides. Don't miss the early 1900s Muskegon South Pierhead Lighthouse as dawn breaks and under the glow of sunset.


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

Topping the lower peninsula, Petoskey, an old Hemingway haunt, also tops the list of the state's most popular small towns to visit. Appealing with its tranquility along the sparkling Little Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan, visitors can enjoy a number of quintessential experiences, like hunting for the elusive fossilized coral known locally as Petoskey stones at Petoskey State Park. Home to a large marina with plenty of boating opportunities and located in Michigan's AVA region, you'll never run out of opportunities to explore the area, on land or water. Just 14 minutes south is Walloon Lake with its Hemingway Memorial Marker and the award-winning Hotel Walloon.

Bayfront Park is a former industrial site turned into a verdant park with water and rocky views, places to relax, sports fields, and a playground. Petoskey's large, historic Gaslight District downtown packs a punch with cute shops and restaurants. Don't miss McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Populace Coffee, and the chance to sample the beloved local preserves and stock up for back home at the American Spoon. Maple Moon features wine tastings and maple products, while families enjoy a day trip to the scenic Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery. Burnt Marshmallow is a brewery with its Rudbeckia Winery.

St. Ignace

St. Ignace is a small town in northern Michigan by the Mackinaw Bridge.
St. Ignace is a small town in northern Michigan by the Mackinaw Bridge.

While known most for its easy ferry access to Mackinac Island, St. Ignace is also home to the statuesque Wawatam Lighthouse and the popular Straits State Park. More than a pit stop, the charming beach park offers many campsites for a budget getaway, as well as scenic bridge views, a picnic area, and a playground. The sparkling Strait of Mackinac connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, with simple access to both from downtown and a bevy of stunning beaches.

After a charming morning at Java Joe's Cafe with views of the island, take in the collection of historic buildings, a stroll through Bridge View Park, and views from the Castle Rock viewpoint at sunset. From a simple stroll around the perimeter of the charming Chain Lake in the town's backyard to the North Country Trail, one of just 11 National Scenic Trails, St. Ignace offers outdoor fun with plentiful unique experiences, like shipwreck scuba diving in the Straits.

Call it the Great Lakes State or the Wolverine State, Michigan is a treasure trove of wild forests and pristine lakes, alongside islands and a slew of charming towns. These towns, each with a different vibe, history, and unique experiences, beckon visitors away from the city, like Empire, home to the highest bluffs along all of Lake Michigan.

From the spectacular USS LST 393 turned museum in Muskegon to scuba diving in the historic town of St. Ignace on both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, there's a small, charming town for every taste. Petoskey appeals to families with its tranquil, sparkling Little Traverse Bay and the state park with its engaging hunt for the elusive fossilized coral Petoskey stones.

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