The “Pure Michigan” campaigns are great at showcasing Michigan’s best attributes. But did you know that there are many fun, kid-friendly places to visit — especially during the warmer months?
If you’re new to the state, you might not think of it as a summer vacation destination. But being surrounded by the Great Lakes means Michigan is packed with beautiful beaches and tons of other interesting terrain — including sand dunes and some small mountains.
Beyond the gorgeous landscape, Michigan is packed with charming small towns, cities full of art and culture, and a ton of other family-friendly activities.
Here are our top 10 favorite places for kid-friendly weekend trips from the Metro Detroit area in the Spring and Summer:
Tulip Season in Holland MI
You can’t beat a weekend trip to Holland in May during the tulip festival. Ready to feel like you’re in the Netherlands? At Tulip Time, you can see over 500,000 tulips in bloom during the first and second weekends of May (2022’s festival is May 7-15). And the annual Tulip Time Festival has so much more than just tulips — there’s a fun run, artisan market, art exhibits, a carnival and more. It really is fun for the whole family!
In the summer, Holland is still a charming town to explore. Downtown Holland’s “Main Street” is packed with unique stores and restaurants, all in classic Victorian style buildings. There are breweries and bakeries, a ton of restaurants, Kilwin’s fudge, toy stores, book stores, and more. It’s been named one of “America’s prettiest towns” and is great to visit year-round!
Need another reason to visit Holland in the summer? Holland has multiple magnificent beaches along the shores of Lake Michigan — including a beachside campground in Holland State Park. The beaches are great for swimming, boating, and other water activities in the summer. A few of the beaches also have playgrounds and picnic areas, and Tunnel Park even has sand volleyball areas.
Outdoor Adventures in Traverse City MI
Did you know that Michigan has tons of sand dunes? Traverse City is home to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. These aren’t the tiny sand dunes that you see in the South — they’re more like “sand mountains” that tower 450’ above Lake Michigan. Sleeping Bear Dunes is more than just sand, too — there are forests, smaller inland lakes, wildflowers and more.
The huge national park has 100 miles of hiking trails, multiple campgrounds, sandy beaches, a river, bike trails, a historic village and a rural historic district … the list goes on and on. Whether you want to explore the dunes, lay on the beach, learn about history or adventure by bike, boat or foot, Sleeping Bear Dunes has a little of something for everyone.
But Sleeping Bear Dunes isn’t the only reason to make a trip to Traverse City. If there’s one other thing Traverse City is known for, its cherries (and cherry wine)! In the Spring, you can go on a cherry blossom tour to see several million cherry trees in full bloom.
For the adults, Traverse City is also on the 45th parallel — shared with Italy’s Piedmont region, Bordeaux in France and the Willamette Valley in Oregon, all regions known for their wine making. This makes the “Traverse City Wine Coast” one of the top wine producers in the U.S.
There’s plenty to do with kids in Traverse City as well. In the summer, Traverse City’s beaches definitely top the list: the “sugar cane” sand is perfect for building sandcastles and the lake’s clear water is great for swimming with little ones. There are also a ton of free nature trails, lighthouses and parks to visit near Traverse City — including the “Fairy Trails,” which are nature trails lined with natural, handmade fairy houses. Kids are even encouraged to collect natural items to build their own fairy houses and place them at the edge of one of the trails (and there’s a free “how-to” ebook, too).
Downtown, there’s the Great Lakes Children’s Museum, the Dennos Museum Center, the Centre Ice Arena for ice skating, the Old Town Playhouse for live theatre performances, plus a ton of great dining and shopping options.
Summertime Fun at St. Ignace and Mackinaw City MI
Mackinaw City and St. Ignace are both packed with family-friendly activities. If you’re looking for a summer camping trip with gorgeous views, head to one of St. Ignace’s campgrounds. There’s also Deer Ranch, “oldest live whitetail exhibit in North America,” and Castle Rock, a 200’ rock that’s shaped like a medieval castle and offers views of Lake Huron and Mackinac Island (plus has a gift shop and a statue of Paul Bunyan and his ox). Summer in St. Ignace also brings events like Music by the Bay, Movies by the Bay, the Highlander Festival, fireworks and more.
If you’re looking for attractions rather than camping or nature activities, check out Mackinaw City. There’s mini golf, zip lining, lumberjack shows, a haunted mansion, a bowling alley and arcade, and more. The Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse is also in Mackinaw City, which is always fun to explore.
And, of course, both cities are where you can catch a ferry to Mackinac Island — one of our all-time favorites for a family trip.
Mackinac Island is a unique island located on Lake Huron. There’s no bridge to the island, so the only way to get on the island is to take a ferry from St. Ignace or Mackinaw City, use your own boat, or book a charter plane. Once you’re on the island, cars also aren’t allowed — so you either have to walk, bike or take a horse-drawn carriage. It’s a super fun island for families to explore, both for the natural beauty and the fun shops and restaurants. The kids will especially love all of the fudge shops, where they can watch the fudge be made in real-time and enjoy free samples.
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Kid-Friendly Guide to Mackinac Island
The Grand Haven MI Lighthouse
Did you know that Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state in the U.S.? The Grand Haven Lighthouse is definitely one of our favorites. It’s actually a set of two lights on the pier, which are set on a pier. They were built in 1839 and are painted bright red. You can view the lighthouses from the Grand Haven Boardwalk, which is 2.5 miles long and lined with shops, restaurants, marinas and gorgeous views of the harbor (it’s also perfect for sunsets!). The lighthouse pier also connects to the boardwalk.
Downtown Grand Haven also boasts a ton of unique shops and restaurants, the Grand Haven Musical Fountain — which has a 20-minute light and water show timed to music, and a ton of fun festivals and events in the Spring and Summer.
Charm and fun at Saint Joseph and Benton Harbor MI
Looking for a charming small town to visit? St. Joe and Benton Harbor are both great choices for a Spring or Summer weekend getaway. The two towns on Lake Michigan are also where the St. Joseph and Paw Paw rivers meet — creating Benton Harbor’s adorable canal (pictured above). There’s old-school charm in both towns, and plenty of cozy shops and restaurants.
Some other top attractions include:
- Silver Beach County Park in St. Joe — there’s a beach with lifeguards in the summer, access to a pier, playgrounds, picnic areas, volleyball courts, concession stands and there’s even a carousel nearby.
- St. Joseph Pier Lighthouse
- Whirlpool Compass Fountain — a fun splash pad for kids
- The Curious Kids’ Museum & Discovery Zone
- The Box Factory for the Arts
- Benton Harbor parks
- St. Joseph parks
- Sarett Nature Center in Benton Harbor — includes trails, live animal displays, a butterfly house and more
- Hidden Pointe — a Fun Park with mini golf, go karts, batting cages, trampoline basketball and an arcade.
Beyond their normal attractions, the two towns also host their fair share of events: Including the Compass Music Festival, farmers markets, arts and crafts festivals, a summer music series, holiday parades and more.
Explore the city of Grand Rapids MI
Does exploring a new city sound like a better weekend trip idea for your family than an outdoor-focused trip? Check out Grand Rapids! There’s so much to do in this gorgeous city, you’ll have a hard time choosing what to do.
The city is packed with museums that kids and adults will love, including The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
There are also interactive art pieces all throughout the city that the kids are allowed to play on, including a giant tire swing and the Big Red Button. And, of course, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
For parks, be sure to check out Huff Park for a fun playground and boardwalks through the marsh, Ottawa Hills Park for a universally-accessible playground, Alger Park for a fun water playground on hot summer days, or the Aircraft Viewing Park for your little airplane-obsessed kiddos.
If you’re looking to cool off on a hot summer day, the city also has three public pools — admission is only $3 for youth and $5 for adults if you’re a visitor — and 14 free splash pads across the city. Check them out here.
Bonus Trip Idea: Visit the Upper Peninsula!
Looking for a longer trip idea? If you’re searching for a week-long summer vacation, check out the UP! This is recommended for a longer trip or a trip for older kids/teens because of the long car ride (it’s 6+ hours from the Metro Detroit area depending on where you go).
There’s so much to see and do in the UP (and some of the most unique views and landscapes in the state). Some of the top attractions include:
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Sugarloaf Mountain
- Black Rocks near Marquette
- Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
- The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum