15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Michigan

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Originally a French interpretation of an indigenous tribe’s word meaning “large water,” the name Michigan fits this state perfectly. The only state to be comprised of two peninsulas, it is one of the most popular boating destinations in the United States, and with coastlines that stretch along 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, there is plenty to do in Michigan for both beach lovers and nature enthusiasts.

Take a break from your busy life and disconnect a little. Whether you travel on your own or take a travel partner, take advantage of small town charm and do some shopping, or relax and enjoy nature or a beachfront view!

Check out our list of the 15 best small towns to visit in Michigan for those of you wanting a break from city life or to reconnect with nature.

1. Saugatuck, Michigan

Oval Beach, SaugatuckSource: flickr
Oval Beach, Saugatuck

Transformed from a lumber town and port on the Kalamazoo river into an art colony and tourist destination in the late 1800s, this town continues to charm people of all walks of life. Take a stroll and peruse the art galleries, or walk down to the harbor. Spend an afternoon checking out the offbeat shopping opportunities, sneak in a nap on Oval Beach, or take a tour of the Kalamazoo River on the Saugatuck Chain Ferry, which starts at Wick’s Park and goes through the town side of the river. Don’t forget about the many art or music festivals offered throughout the year! If you’re more of an outdoorsy person, check out the view on Mount Baldhead, the Saugatuck Dune State Park or  Allegan State Game Area nearby.

There are plenty of bed and breakfasts, such as the Bayside Inn, offering cozy accommodations, so why not take a trip and relax while also getting a peek into the deeply rooted artistic creativity of this historic lakeside town.

2. Frankenmuth, Michigan

Frankenmuth, MichiganSource: flickr
Frankenmuth, Michigan

Founded by German Lutheran immigrants in the 1800s, this town is known for its old-fashioned European ambience. Maybe Europe is closer than you think: Franconian-inspired architecture distinguishes Frankenmuth from other midwestern towns. Go for a weekend trip and wander through the Bavarian-style streets. Treat yourself to a few nights away and cross the covered Holz Brucke Bridge (Holz Brucke means wooden bridge in German).

Heritage Park, located off of Weise Street, hosts many festivals and community activities throughout the year. Keeping true to their German roots, Frankenmuth is home to the World Expo of Beer every May, a non-profit beer festival, as well as a more traditional Oktoberfest in October. Or, acquaint yourself with Bavarian culture at the Bavarian Fest, started in 1959. Sample a variety of German foods and desserts, and wash it all down with some beer. An ideal getaway for the German-enthusiast or architecture buff, Frankenmuth is worth the visit.

3. Copper Harbor, Michigan

Copper Harbor LighthouseSource: flickr
Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Located on Lake Superior, Copper Harbor was once a bustling port community, home to one of the more successful and modern copper mines in the 1800s. Nowadays, the harbor is only used for recreational purposes and for a ferry connected to the Isle Royale National Park. Take a walk down to the harbor mouth and see the scenic Copper Harbor Lighthouse, or visit the Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, a former frontier army base that has been restored in recent years.

This historical gem is ideal for both beach and nature lovers. Enjoy the harbor view or venture out of Copper Harbor to explore the surrounding nature at either the Isle Royale National Park or Fort Wilkins. Copper Harbor also offers great biking and hiking trails and a birding festival for wildlife enthusiasts.

4. Hillsdale, Michigan

Baw Beese Lake, HillsdaleSource: flickr
Baw Beese Lake, Hillsdale

An idyllic college town and home to Hillsdale College, Hillsdale is nestled into the green, rolling hills of South Central Michigan, at the Indiana and Ohio borders. Known for Hillsdale College founded in the mid 1800s and lauded for its excellent liberal arts programs and political influence, the town offers more than just a bustling university environment: Victorian homes line its beautiful streets, while downtown Hillsdale boasts several cute cafes for the over-caffeinated college students or the tired tourist as well as many eateries and bar/grills.

After strolling through downtown and enjoying the Victorian architecture, check out the historic courthouse or college. Take a hike along the Baw Beese Trail, which passes through Hillsdale and ends at Sandy Beach Park. Enjoy an afternoon at Baw Beese Lake, or rent a bike and continue further along the perimeter of the lake. Take in the more relaxed pace of life and unwind for a few days.

5. Petoskey, Michigan

Little Traverse Bay in Downtown PetoskeySource: flickr
Little Traverse Bay in Downtown Petoskey

Located in Northern Michigan and rich in history, this region was first inhabited by indigenous peoples. Petoskey, originally from the language of the Odawa people, means “where the light shines through the clouds.” Originally purchased by an Odawa chief under the Treaty of Washington, westerners started trickling in during the 1800s, first missionaries, then pioneers. As a fun fact, Petoskey has a high quantity of ‘petoskey stones’, the state stone of Michigan.

Explore the cute downtown attractions or the surrounding areas if you are taking a well-deserved escape from humanity. An excellent destination for nature lovers, spend some time at Petoskey State Park, a great location to camp and found on Little Traverse Bay. Other camping options are Camp Pet-O-Se-Ga oarr Wilderness State Park. Enjoy the chance to get away to a town with such a fascinating history. Offering  waterfront views, great nature opportunities, and a rich history, Petoskey is waiting for your visit.

6. Tecumseh, Michigan

Tecumseh, MichiganSource: wikipedia
Tecumseh, Michigan

Tecumseh is located on the River Raisin, southwest of Detroit. Originally founded in the early 1800s, Tecumseh draws visitors for its famous railroad museum the Southern Michigan Railroad Society, as well as antiquing enthusiasts drawn to the local, amazing, antique dealers. When tired out from your day of perusing unique antiques, relax at one of the many cafes and fine dining establishments located in town. Visit the Antique Street Fair and Flea Market and see what treasures you uncover. For those brave enough to endure the cold, it also hosts the Ice Sculpting Festival in January. If autumn is more your season, check out the Appleumpkin festival in October. Enjoy autumn colors at this fall harvest festival and check out the handmade arts and crafts.

Explore the downtown area with all of its shops and restaurants, or relax at the Hidden Lakes Botanical Gardens and have a glass (or two) at Petamere Winery before continuing your shopping. There are a few bed and breakfasts that will take care of your accommodations during your stay so you can focus on what is important, relaxing and shopping.

7. Cadillac, Michigan

Lake Mitchell, Cadillac, MichiganSource: flickr
Lake Mitchell, Cadillac, Michigan

Originally a logging community named Clam Lake, Cadillac is a great destination in northwest Michigan. A perfect getaway for a nature lover, venture outdoors for hunting or fishing at Mitchell State Park. There are also plenty of hiking and biking trails, as well as swimming in Lake Mitchell or Lake Cadillac.

If you are not looking for an outdoors adventure, take a stroll around the downtown shopping areas or visit the Wexford County Historical Society and Museum. Get some insight into how people used to live and farm in the area, or attend one of the many events and festivals often hosted here. Finally, for some good ole fun, spend a day at the Adventure Island, Cadillac’s family- friendly amusement park. Good for any and all ages, Cadillac suits people of all interests and pursuits.

8. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island in FallSource: flickr
Mackinac Island in Fall

If island life is more your style, why not take a trip to Mackinac Island? Located on Lake Huron, this was a key island position for fur traders and a former Odawa settlement. The entire island is a National Historic Landmark and huge efforts have been made to preserve it, including a ban on almost all motorized vehicles.

The island is full of diverse terrain and wildlife: a marine state park, forest, limestone formations, varied and assorted birds, and a beautiful coastline. Treat yourself to a night at the resort, enjoy the diverse architectural style, and visit the downtown shopping and restaurant areas. A virtual blast back to the past, enjoy the tranquility and try some of their famous fudge made right there on the island. If you’re looking for a place to disconnect from modern, everyday life, this would be it.

9. South Haven, Michigan

South Haven, MichiganSource: flickr
South Haven, Michigan

At the mouth of the Black River and Lake Michigan, South Haven has long been a bustling shipping community because of its port, and is now also a popular destination for tourists because of the beautiful harbor and beaches. But it’s not all just water-based: logging was also formerly popular here and the deforested areas continue to be used as farmland and vineyards. South Haven also is home to a well-known Maritime museum for the sailors, so check out the marina or The Michigan Maritime Museum. If you want to stay active and outdoors, there is the Kal-Haven trail that is popular with bicyclists and snowmobilers.

Regardless of your preferred pastimes or the time of year of your visit, everyone will be charmed by the town activities: pick your own fruit in the summertime, visit the yummy blueberry festival, or take a hayride and drink some cider at a local pumpkin farm. End your nights out on the town at the quality restaurants or enjoying the music festivals and live theatre offered year-round.

10. Paradise/Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan

Tahquamenon FallsSource: flickr
Tahquamenon Falls

A tiny township at the shore of Lake Superior, near the eastern point of Whitefish Bay, Paradise is a gateway to the spectacular Tahquamenon Falls. A perfect, rural getaway for outdoor lovers, visit for a peaceful trip to get reacquainted with Mother Nature. Visit the historic Whitefish Point Lighthouse, one of the first of its kind on Lake Superior, and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum to better understand the historical significance of this lighthouse.

Take some time to explore the spectacular scenery around Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Unspoiled beauty is begging to be explored. Make sure to visit both the upper and lower falls and walk along the Tahquamenon River. Boat and canoe rentals are also available, as are miles of hiking trails. You can stay overnight at a campsite or return to Paradise for in-town lodgings.

11. Traverse City, Michigan

Sunset over Grand Traverse BaySource: flickr
Sunset over Grand Traverse Bay

Located in the north, Traverse City offers diversion and activities year-round. A perfect town for foodies, check out the many upscale restaurants this town has to offer. Be sure to visit their wine trails, wineries and microbreweries beforehand though, to find the perfect pairing for your food craving. A perfect way to end the tasting tours is to visit one of the festivals or music performances downtown.

Walk off the libation and food at one of the many hikes surrounding Traverse City, or explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Nap on the beach, try your hand at biking or fishing, and when you’ve recharged a bit, head back into town to top off your stay with another great culinary or shopping experience. Rinse, sleep, and repeat.

12. Charlevoix, Michigan

Charelvoix LighthouseSource: flickr
Charelvoix Lighthouse

Between the western end of Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan, Round Lake, at the center of the town, runs into a channel that drains into Lake Michigan and this lake access makes Charlevoix a crux for major boating traffic in the area. Regardless of its strategic importance, this was a one stoplight town until a second stoplight was installed in the 1980s, adding authenticity to its small-town feeling.

This quaint sentiment is preserved in the town dubbed locally as “Charlevoix the Beautiful.” Tucked between two lakes and green forests, there is plenty to keep you busy in the heart of downtown: walk along the canal, play a few rounds of golf at the local courses. Be sure to spend some time in nature and check out Charlevoix Lake and Beaver Island, or stay in town and visit the local fruit orchards, Crooked Tree Arts Center, or the many parks and art galleries downtown.

13. Ludington, Michigan

Ludington LighthouseSource: flickr
Ludington Lighthouse

Built at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River where it meets Lake Michigan, Ludington is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Michigan. Surrounded by Lake Michigan, Hamlin Lake and many other smaller lakes, this is an ideal trip for those who love to sail or fish, or do any water activities. Visit the nearby Ludington State Park, Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness or Manistee National Forest to hike or relax away from modern life.

Back in town, enjoy participating in a local tradition and walk down to the Ludington Lighthouse to watch the passenger ferry between the town and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the SS Badger, come back home each evening and catch the sun as it sets over Lake Michigan. Learn something new for that next trip to the beach and stop in at the Children’s Sandcastle Museum. Stop by in the summer to attend the West Shore Art League’s Art Fair, run the Lakestride Half Marathon, or check out their many other attractions that run all year.

14. Marshall, Michigan

Marshall, MichiganSource: flickr
Marshall, Michigan

Marshall, Michigan has been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places for its well-preserved examples of 19th century American architecture and boasts one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts. Deeply rooted in American history, Marshall has played a role in turning points in history such as the Underground Railroad when the townspeople helped to protect families of runaway slaves from slave catchers.

Take a walk through history in their historic downtown and visit any of their 8 museums. Don’t miss the famous Honolulu House, built by a former justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Or, put your feet up and have a drink at the Dark House Brewery, known for its seasonal and experimental brews. If the nostalgia for the past still carries over, try the Backroads Saloon for a cool drink and continue to reminisce about the “good old days”.

15. Colon, Michigan

Long Lake - Colon, MichiganSource: flickr
Long Lake – Colon, Michigan

Colon is located in Southern Michigan and flanked by two lakes, Long Lake and Palmer Lake. Many have speculated over its name: whether it has something to do with English grammar or if it is really named after Colon, Panama. Regardless of the origin of its unique name, Colon becomes even more intriguing when you realize that it is called the the “Magical Capital of the World.””. Home to the Abbott Magic Company, it is also the burial grounds for many famous musicians such as Harry Blackstone, Sr.

Come visit if you’re an aspiring magician and check out the weekly magic performances or the MagiCelibration Magic Festival. Magicians or common folk alike will enjoy all the magical fantasy and the 4-day “Abbott’s Magic Get Together” magic convention. Even the locals embrace the magical reputation: the local high school mascot is a white rabbit wearing a black top hat and many of the shops downtown incorporate the word “magic” into their names.

15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Michigan:

  • Saugatuck, Michigan
  • Frankenmuth, Michigan
  • Copper Harbor, Michigan
  • Hillsdale, Michigan
  • Petoskey, Michigan
  • Tecumseh, Michigan
  • Cadillac, Michigan
  • Mackinac Island, Michigan
  • South Haven, Michigan
  • Paradise/Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan
  • Traverse City, Michigan
  • Charlevoix, Michigan
  • Ludington, Michigan
  • Marshall, Michigan
  • Colon, Michigan