The best things to do in West Michigan range from road trips and wine tastings to family-friendly attractions like festivals, shopping, and castle tours. There’s so much to see in the West Side of Michigan, but what are the coolest attractions of all? Keep reading to find out!
Michigan is a special place. Although I’ve been a Michigander my entire life, I never truly started exploring the Great Lakes State until I met my husband 10 years ago. I’ve always enjoyed my home state, but it wasn’t until we took our first big road trip up the West Coast that I fell in love with all that Michigan has to offer.
Here, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite things to do and places to see, as well as those I’d still like to experience in West Michigan. My focus is specific to the western half of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan (the left side of the mitten!) ✋ If you were to look at a map, you would see 2 connecting highways that split the entire state in almost perfect halves from its southern border to the Mackinac Bridge (Route US-127 to I-75).
There’s no shortage of cool activities to do during any season; however my list focuses on the 12 top things to do in West Michigan.
Looking for a place to stay in Michigan? Here are some of the top Airbnbs in MI!
Guest Post by Brittany and Jason Wakley from WorldWideWakleys
1. Take a road trip across West Michigan
I know, I know…you just got here and I’m telling you to get in a car and drive for hours. If you’re okay being in a car for an extended period of time or if you’re like me and just really enjoy the road trip culture – singing songs, listening to music, in-depth discussions with your partner about the meaning of life – I promise it’s worth it!
The West Side of Michigan on a road trip
Saying that Michigan is beautiful is an understatement. You could probably find a number of routes that would be enjoyable, but my personal favorite and the one I’m going to recommend is up the West Coast. Many of the things listed after this can be done while driving up US-31, which is why I wanted to start here.
In order to make the entire coastal drive along the West Side Michigan, start somewhere near New Buffalo and head north to Mackinaw City (Route I-94 to I-196 to US-31, generally speaking). This also happens to be fairly close to Chicago’s international airport – about 1.5 hours away – so if you’re flying in, start there, rent a car and head to New Buffalo!
Regardless of the route you choose to take, one of the most gorgeous and must-see drives in all of Michigan is through the Tunnel of Trees. Highway M-119 starts on the north end of Petoskey; however, the 20 mile stretch of natural beauty doesn’t begin until you reach Harbor Springs. This narrow, winding path is lined with a gorgeous variety of deciduous trees and evergreens and provides stunning views of Lake Michigan. You are literally driving through a tunnel of trees! It’s easy to see why this is one of the coolest things to do at Lake Michigan.
This road trip is exceptionally beautiful year-round and if you are looking for somewhere to experience a color tour in the fall, this is the place! Take caution if you decide to drive in the winter, though, especially if you are unfamiliar with icy roads and lake-effect snow.
2. Lighthouse Tour
Something I have yet to do but would love to is visit all the lighthouses of Michigan. Home to more than any other US state, there are over 100 lighthouses and no two are the same!
Lake Michigan’s shoreline consists of more than 20 (see map). Although there isn’t a practical application to lighthouses these days, they sure make spectacular models in lakeshore photography, offering unobstructed views from the top!
If you are someone who enjoys checking items off a list – such as bucket list places and experiences – this is a great opportunity. Think of it as lighthouse bingo! And if you’re already planning on taking that coastal drive I recommended, you might as well stop and tour the lighthouses along the way. Is this one of the best things to do around Lake Michigan? Absolutely!
3. Explore Charlevoix in the West Side of Michigan
Looking for what to do in Lake Michigan? Add this to your wish list.
Charlevoix is one of the best places to visit in West Michigan, and it’s easy to see why! Among many other things, it is known for its small-town charm, beautiful beaches, Mushroom Houses – yes you read that correctly! – and Castle Farms. If you want to experience all that West Michigan has to offer but are unable to travel to many places, this adorable beach town literally has just about everything I mention on my list. Let me explain:
You will find Charlevoix right off US-31, the scenic route I mentioned before. From hiking, cycling, and paddleboarding to snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even skydiving there’s something for the more adventurous traveler to do any time of year.
If you’re the kind of person who just wants to kick back and relax on the beach, do a little boutique shopping, or sip a glass of wine while watching the sunset over Lake Michigan, this place is also for you. Here are some of the many things you can discover while making a pit stop to one of Michigan’s coolest cities:
Tour a fairytale castle
Located right off M-66 near Lake Charlevoix, a stop to Castle Farms is an absolute must – especially if you are a lover of castles like myself. Okay, I may be a little biased because it is where I got married, but we only did so because after taking our first tour of the castle and grounds, we fell in love…with the castle!
The rich history of Castle Farms is fascinating! I won’t give too much away, but it involves cows, rock concerts, and tax fraud. Are you intrigued? Then be sure to take a tour! And for more information and planning check out their official website.
Read next: Most Unique Castles around the Globe
Sample all things cherry
Fun fact: Michigan – specifically the Northwest region of the Lower Peninsula – is the largest producer of tart cherries in the US. So, consider cherry tasting as one of the best day trips in West Michigan!
There’s a shop called Cherry Republic that sells over 200 different products made from, you guessed it, good ole Michigan cherries. You can find salsa, chocolate, mustard, candies, wine, and more! And what’s even better, they have in-store samples including wine tasting…oh the samples. 🤤
Read next: Coolest Wine Regions around the World
Check out the Mushroom Houses
It would be a crime to mention the best West Michigan things to do without mentioning the Mushroom Houses!
Designed by self-taught builder Earl Young, more than 20 homes made from indigenous materials like limestone, cedar, and boulders can be found here. Each mushroom house is uniquely made to blend into its surroundings which gives them a similar style to what’s creatively known as Gnome Homes or Hobbit Houses. Use this map to find all of them and if you’re interested in staying overnight.. There are several options to rent out these houses, which can be found here.
Read next: Coolest Hobbit Homes in the USA
Eat a pasty…or two…or four!
What is a pasty? First of all, it isn’t pronounced like you would pronounce paste. You say it like past-ee. Secondly, it’s basically a homemade pot pie. If you’re unfamiliar with pot pies, they are savory pastries made similarly to dessert pies, but with vegetables and meat instead of fruit and sugar.
You can find pasties in many of the restaurants around Charlevoix and Northern Michigan. They are especially delicious and comforting during the colder months!
Don’t forget to shop local
One of my favorite things to do while I’m in Charlevoix is walk around downtown. You can stop into a little coffee shop, grab a coffee and maybe a quick bite to eat, and walk through all the unique boutique shops. I’m a big fan of window shopping myself – boutique window shopping is the best! There’s so many artsy, crafty things to see and I love checking out local artisans’ work.
If you’re able to be here during an event like Apple Fest, it’s even more fun because there are little stands that contain all things apple – baked goods, cider, and more – or something unique and crafty scattered throughout downtown. More on this event below.
And more things to do in Charlevoix, West MI…
I could go on and on about how awesome Charlevoix is and all the things you can do while you’re visiting. If you are interested in checking this place out for yourself, here are a couple of resources that will make your visit a memorable one:
Pro Tip: For those of you who might be wondering, it’s pronounced SHÄR-lə-VOI. 😉
4. Top Things to Do in West Michigan: Experience a West Michigan Festival
Michigan is known for its abundance in fruit! With lots of fruit, comes lots of fruit festivals. In fact, a Western Michigan vacation wouldn’t be complete without seeing a festival.
Found in many of the little beach towns along the coast of Lake Michigan, there’s plenty of opportunities to experience one of Michigan’s fun and exciting festivals. Just to be clear, not all of them involve fruit. Here’s a list of some of the big ones:
Taking place in the spring, there’s over six million tulips that bloom throughout the city! This is a celebration of Dutch heritage and the Holland community.
– When: May
– Where: Holland
A fall celebration that involves lots of apples. There are several activities and events that take place over the weekend like a pumpkin carving contest and a 5/10k race. With the accompanying art and craft show, there are over 100 artists’ booths set up throughout the park on the waterfront.
– When: 2nd weekend of October
– Where: Charlevoix
You may also like: Best Apple Picking Orchards in Vermont
Electric Forest in West Side Michigan
A four-day music festival with a focus on EDM and jam band genres that takes place deep in the forest. Once the sun goes down, the magical forest comes to life.
– When: June
– Where: Rothbury
National Cherry Festival
At the National Cherry Festival, cherries galore!!! Similar to Charlevoix’s Apple Fest, but with sunshine and cherries!
– When: July
– Where: Traverse City
International Wine, Beer, & Food Festival – A Top Thing to Do in West Michigan
A fun festival with unprecedented display of food, beverage, and culinary entertainment presented by the area’s finest chefs, restaurants, and purveyors of libations from around the globe.”
– When: Mid-November
– Where: Grand Rapids
For all my artsy peeps, this is an international art competition that takes place for 19 days every other year. Any artist working in any medium from anywhere on the planet can participate and the event is free and open to the public. There’s art scattered throughout the downtown and some of the pieces are truly magnificent!
– When: October
– Where: Grand Rapids
Paw Paw Wine & Harvest
This is one of the best things to do in West Michigan, hands down. Get your palate ready for some serious wine tasting! If you’re not into wine, there’s also a 5k, a grape stomping competition, a bunch of music, and more.
– When: September
– Where: Paw Paw
You may have noticed that I did not list any winter festivals; however, if you’re interested here’s an article that will provide you with a few that take place in West Michigan. ❄️☃️
Read next: Coolest Rentals in the Midwest
5. Hunt for Petoskey Stones
Do you love seeking out the perfect seashell? Or maybe you enjoy searching for unique rocks? How about fossils? Okay, okay…you get the point! I may have a slight obsession when it comes to treasure hunting – or at least that’s what I call it! As much as I like finding exquisitely polished stones in little boutique shops, I fancy the raw stuff.
Petoskey stones, in particular, have incredibly distinctive characteristics and can be found on the western shorelines of Lake Michigan. There’s an even better chance of finding them in the cities of Petoskey or Charlevoix, two of the best places to visit in West Michigan.
What makes Petoskey stones so unique? They’re actually fossilized coral from 350 million years ago! Also, they are super pretty, especially when they’re wet. This is definitely one of the best free things to do in West Michigan!
For the serious treasure hunter, here are some tips!
6. Be adventurous!
There’s always something outdoorsy and adventurous to do in the west side of Michigan no matter the weather – which is super unpredictable!
If it’s snowing, get your sleds and snowshoes ready! Are you into extreme sports? Take it to the big hills like the ones at Boyne Mountain and Crystal Mountain where you can ski and snowboard among many other things.
Conversely, if you’re visiting in the warmer months, rent a cabin on the lake, go camping, or hit the trails. For a more thrilling experience, you could dabble in some water skiing, skydiving, or rent some all-terrain vehicles (ATV) to hit the trails even harder.
The Michigan DNR’s website offers information about safety protocol, rules and regulations, and also provides maps of the extensive off-road vehicle (ORV) trail system. Western Michigan offers so many outdoorsy things to do, that it can be quite overwhelming!
7. Climb sand dunes in the Michigan West Side
Not everywhere you go is going to offer giant piles of sand, but here in West Side Michigan, we have that too! In fact, ranked among the top of many Best Sand Dunes in the US lists is Sleeping Bear Dunes. It was even named the Most Beautiful Place in America back in 2011! It is definitely a sight worth seeing and if you’re up for a little physical activity, go ahead and climb!
If sand dunes aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other outdoor activities to do while you’re in the area. Go camping, hiking, kayaking, cycling, and snowshoeing in some of the best places to visit in West Michigan. You can find out more of the top outdoor activities in the west side of Michigan here.
Although Sleeping Bear Dunes are probably the most magnificent of the Michigan dunes, there are some others that also offer a great time. Silver Lake State Park is a blast! Among many things to do in West Michigan – like camping, hiking, sailing, and golfing – you can ride the dunes! There aren’t too many places that will allow you to ride dunes freely, so if you enjoy off-roading, you’ll definitely want to check this place out. There are, of course, rules and regulations as well as an entrance fee. Check out this site for more information.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park and Warren Dunes State Park are also great for hiking and climbing. Keep in mind that there’s a fee to enter state parks. Depending on what you’re driving and where you’re from, it can vary from $5 USD to $25 USD for a daily pass.
8. Coolest West Michigan Things to Do: Sample craft beers
One of the best Lake Michigan activities, and anywhere in the state for that matter, is sampling local craft beers.
Michigan happens to be known for its numerous microbreweries and countless varieties of craft beer – it’s actually becoming publicly recognized as the Great Beer State! You can experience an enormous amount of flavors across the state. Seriously, it seems like just about every city has its own brewpub. Grand Rapids – also known as Beer City USA – has over 80 breweries alone!
For the beer enthusiast, there’s no shortage of options. Stop in for a brewski at one of Michigan’s first beer artisans Bell’s Brewery located in Kalamazoo. Enjoy one of the many unique flavors like Blue Magic, Thai Peanut, or Concrete Dinosaur at Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City.
If you’re interested in crafting your own masterpiece, Saugatuck Brewing Co. features a Brew On Premise Program from anywhere between $300-400 USD which also includes beer sampling. The possibilities are endless!
9. Enjoy some fine wines in West Michigan
Similar to the microbreweries, there are lots of wineries across the state – more so on the lakeshore because of the rich glacial soils.
Because there’s so much fresh fruit in Michigan, there’s plenty of opportunities to make great wine. Grapes are abundant here! Specifically, juice-making grapes like Concord and Niagara. The 45th parallel, where Michigan is situated, also plays an important role in winemaking. That’s why wine from places like France and Italy are so delicious!
Pure Michigan’s site, which is where I was able to retrieve many of my fun wine facts also provides a list of some of the wine trails to visit if you’re up for testing your skills as a wine connoisseur. If given the option to taste Michigan Ice Wine, don’t hesitate! It is specially made in only a few places around the world. This makes wine tasting one of the coolest things to do in Lake Michigan.
10. Best Things to do on Lake Michigan: Watch the sunset
Naturally, Lake Michigan offers some beautiful sunsets. Maybe it’s the picturesque views of the sun slowly being captured by the horizon. Perhaps it’s watching the gorgeous pink and orange colors dance across the water. Or, the experience of watching it from a boat in the middle of the lake with no land in sight; or kicking back and winding down on the beach with a cool beverage in hand during a warm summer evening…oh the possibilities!
Regardless of the reason, there’s just something special about enjoying a gorgeous sunset over Lake Michigan. So, get your camera ready to capture the perfect Insta photo! With its epic views and coastal charm, this is easily one of the top things to do on Lake Michigan, especially for couples!
Read next: Travel Photo Tips for Beginners
11. Visit historic Mackinaw City
And finally, all roads lead to Mackinaw…well, at least in the Lower Peninsula. This is a must-see during a West Michigan vacation.
No matter where you are below the bridge, head north and eventually you will find yourself in Mackinaw City. Once you’ve reached the Mackinac Bridge you’ve gone too far; now you’re stepping into Yooper territory.
Now that you’ve made it to the top of the mitten, here’s what you can do:
Say Hi to the Mighty Mac!
Add this to your Michigan West Side bucket list.
Mighty Mac is another name for the Mackinac Bridge. We don’t just call it big and mighty because we want it to sound better than it is; it truly is a magnificent piece of work. In fact, it’s the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world and longest in the western hemisphere! If that’s not enough of a reason to check it out, you could always walk under the bridge and have yourself a lovely photoshoot.
If you’re in the area on Labor Day, there’s an Annual Bridge Walk that takes place where 25,000 people or more walk the five-mile stretch. Pedestrians are only able to walk across the bridge this one day per year. It’s no wonder this is among the most unique West Michigan things to do!
Experience Colonial Michilimackinac
With its 16 exhibits, live demonstrations, and tours scheduled throughout the day, experience what life might have been like at Fort Michilimackinac during the 18th century. It’s also fun to just walk around the walls of the fort and look out over the Great Lakes Huron and Michigan. Here’s another great spot for a spectacular view of the Mackinac Bridge from a different perspective.
Enjoy the many flavors of fudge
Looking for what to in West Michigan? Don’t miss out on this!
When strolling the streets of downtown Mackinaw City, it seems like there’s fudge everywhere you look! If you don’t see the fudge, you can definitely smell it. Between that, salt water taffy, and popcorn, there’s no reason why you couldn’t satisfy your sweet tooth.
Mackinaw City makes for a great vacation destination! There’s so much uniqueness about the area and I highly recommend that you check it out if given the chance.
When you’re finished touring the city, hop on a ferry and head over to a place that’s even more special and unique… which brings me to the final item on my list. I listed it as a bonus because it’s technically not West Michigan, but it kind of goes hand in hand with Mackinaw City.
Is this one of the most fun things to do in Western Michigan? It sure is!
12. Step back Somewhere in Time
Mackinac Island is a place to escape the hustle and bustle of a modern city. Pay a visit here and you’ll see why it’s one of the most unique things to do in West Michigan.
Motorized vehicles are prohibited on the island allowing for a more peaceful, exhaust-free environment. Bicycles, however, are highly encouraged and welcomed. Walking or pedaling around the island are the main modes of transportation, but you can also tour the island on a horse-drawn carriage.
Similar to Mackinaw City, there are fudge shops…everywhere! Only here, you’re bound to see the fudge in the making. So fresh and sooo delicious. There’s also tons of cutesy boutique shops, restaurants, and art galleries.
In order to get here while visiting in the winter, Star Line Ferry operates until the lakes freeze over or you could always fly into the little airport, weather permitting; however, the couple companies listed on the tourism site that offer flights are out of St. Ignace, just north of the Mackinac Bridge. Although I’ve never personally experienced the island this time of year, it sounds incredible. It’s truly one of the top day trips in West Michigan.
*Somewhere in Time is a movie that takes place on Mackinac Island.
Coolest Things to do on the West Side of Michigan
Well there you have it: 12 super awesome reasons to visit West Michigan – and that’s only scratching the surface. Come see for more yourself! ✋
Have you been to West Side Michigan? Share your favorite activities and things to do in the comments below!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Brittany and Jason Wakley are passionate explorers and storytellers from the great state of Michigan. Through their content, they inspire people to follow their passions and chase their dreams! Follow their adventures around the globe on YouTube at @WorldWideWakleys and Instagram @WorldWideWakleys.