Michiganders are balancing the need for relaxing getaways with gas prices hovering around $5 a gallon. We need our summer fix because we know they never last quite long enough in the Mitten state.
If you haven't made your vacation plans yet, it's time. Take a day trip to Meijer Gardens, the state Capitol or Greenfield Village. Or take a few days and head to iconic Mackinac Island. And if the Upper Peninsula is in your sights, check out Marquette. It's worth the drive.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, enjoy your Michigan summer.
Nestled between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas in Lake Huron sits one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. What started as a strategic military post for the British in the late 1700s, is now the place where bicycles, horses and fudge shops abound and cars are a big no-no (unless they are construction or emergency vehicles, that is).
Things you might know: Fudge, fudge, fudge. The island is famous for it — and goes through more than 10 tons of sugar during peak summer season to sustain its seven fudge shops. Bicycles are the main mode of personal transportation and a person in moderate shape can easily bike the perimeter of the island in a few hours taking in the shoreline sights and trails into Michigan's first state park. The island was also the nation's second national park from 1875 to 1895, but it became a state park after the military closed Fort Mackinac.
Things that might surprise you: If you're a Christopher Reeve or Jane Seymour fan, you might recall the 1980 movie "Somewhere in Time," which was filmed on the island. More than 40 years later, there is still a destination weekend on the island that celebrates the film. The island's most iconic image is the Grand Hotel. Its 660-foot porch is the longest in the world and visitors not staying at the hotel can walk the porch, the main lobby and the grounds — for a small fee. There are about 500 horses during peak summer season, which is about the same number as the island's full-time residents.
Learn more at mackinacisland.org.
Frederik Meijer Gardens
We all know the Meijer grocery chain, but if you don't live in West Michigan, you might not know about the gardens and sculpture park that also bears the family name. Located in Grand Rapids, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park features a permanent collection of outdoor sculptures, 30 acres of manicured gardens and indoor gardens — including a six-story tropical conservatory — that allow visitors to view and enjoy a variety of flora in its native climate.
Things you might know: Most visitors have heard of the American Horse, a 24-foot-tall bronze sculpture by Nina Akamu, modeled after plans by Leonardo da Vinci that never resulted in a finished piece. The venue also has become popular as a summer concert venue, drawing big names like Sheryl Crow, ZZ Top, Norah Jones and the Goo Goo Dolls.
Things that might surprise you: The gardens host an annual butterfly exhibition — the largest of its kind in the U.S. — every March and April. The gardens also boast the nation’s most comprehensive house of carnivorous plants as well as a "corpse flower," which only blooms every 7-9 years. Curious about the Meijers? See if you can find the sculpture of Frederik and Lena Meijer sitting on bench on the sprawling grounds.
Learn more at meijergardens.org.
Michigan's Capitol was built in the late 1870s and its image is synonymous with downtown Lansing, the state's capital city. A majority of Michiganders have visited the Capitol, either on a school field trip as a youngster or for an event or rally on its lawn. The long-awaited and much-anticipated Heritage Hall underground visitor center is slated to open in July. It's the perfect excuse to return to the Capitol.
Things you might know: Guided tours of the historical building are available between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also take a self-guided tour, but trust us when we say the tour guides know what they're talking about. And if the Legislature is in session, you might be able to visit the gallery and see democracy at work. The glass floor of the rotunda is a must see. Lay down and gaze into the starry paintings that adorn the inner Capitol dome.
Things you might not know: While the Capitol gets top billing, there are other key places to visit nearby. Exit the Capitol and head west on the Frank J. Kelley Walkway to the Hall of Justice, home to Michigan's Supreme Court. Along the way you'll see the Veterans' Memorial Park and Vietnam Monument. Head south and east from the Hall of Justice to check out the Michigan History Museum. Its five floors will take you through the state's rich history. If you can get through all that history in a day, take yourself to the iconic Peanut Shop on Washington Square before leaving downtown.
Henry Ford/Greenfield Village
History comes alive at the sprawling Dearborn complex where you’ll find the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Inside the expansive museum is a treasure trove of artifacts large and small from across multiple decades. The village is a charming collection of historic buildings, depicting 300 years of American life in a beautifully landscaped setting through which you can leisurely stroll and enjoy a meal with A Taste of History.
Things you might know: Transportation and innovation are big themes here. The museum has a large collection of automobiles and other historic vehicles, including the Model T that sparked America’s love for cars, the limousine in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the bus in which Rosa Parks took a seat for civil rights. At Greenfield Village you can ride in a horse-drawn carriage or on an 1800s train and visit Menlo Park, which pays tribute to the inventions of Thomas Edison.
Things that might surprise you: A vast array of ever-changing exhibits and activities abound at both the museum and village, with appeal for all ages and interests. In the village, artisans give demonstrations of glass blowing, pottery, weaving and more and visitors can try their hands at various skills, too. You can also play games popular in the 1900s, or watch America’s national pastime, a baseball game with players suited up 1867-style. In the museum, check out what’s showing on the giant screen for an immersive 2D and 3D film experience, or revel in the newest traveling walk-through exhibit. Featured this year is “Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume."
For more information about all there is to explore at the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village, visit thehenryford.org.
If it were any closer, Marquette might be overrun with visitors. Instead, nestled in the northern Upper Peninsula along Lake Superior, it’s an ideal getaway — large enough to have a nightlife, small enough to have the charm of an escape, close enough to wilderness to actually escape. Its downtown is full of character, shops and restaurants, some overlooking the Lower Harbor and its Ore Dock. A couple miles down the road, along Lake Superior, you’ll run into McCarty’s Cove Beach, Northern Michigan University and Presque Isle State Park, which includes a shaded two-mile loop with stunning Lake Superior views, including from Presque Isle’s “Blackrocks,” where you’re welcome to jump 30 or so feet into the lake.
Things you might know: There might be no better view in Michigan than from atop Sugarloaf Mountain a few miles outside of Marquette. It’s a relatively easy hike up paths and stairs to a deck that overlooks Lake Superior, Marquette and miles and miles around it. It’s especially spectacular in the fall. The stone monument at the top was made by a local Boy Scout troop as a memorial to one of its members who died in World War I. It is said that his mother could see the monument from her home in Marquette.
Things that might surprise you: Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome, which opened in 1991, is known for being the largest wooden dome in the world. It’s 143 feet tall and covers 5.1 acres and is home to NMU’s football team and other athletic teams. Marquette is also where the 1959 movie “Anatomy of a Murder” was filmed, a courtroom crime drama starring Jimmy Stewart. The courthouse used in the film is still in use today.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: 5 Michigan destinations worth the drive, from Mackinac to Marquette