Friday, 29 July 2016 10:33

Michigan Road Trips: A guide to visiting the state’s hidden gems

Written by  REVUE Staff
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Michigan Road Trips: A guide to visiting the state’s hidden gems Illustration by Anthony Carpenter

This summer, resist the urge to sit in your air-conditioned abode. Get out of town and hit the highway before the roads are iced over once again. 

To get you started, Revue’s staff offers up some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations outside of West Michigan. Instead of compiling an assortment of vay-cay hot spots you’ve likely already visited, listed here are hidden-gem attractions, dives, scenic landscapes and fine establishments — all perhaps worth popping into while you’re gallivanting across the state with friends or family. Safe travels!


Northern MI and the UP



An ideal trip to the Upper Peninsula for a granola goes something like this: Go there. Don’t come back.

But for those with more downstate tendencies, I suggest a few days exploring Marquette — modern enough to enjoy some of the best beer in the state, but still close to a first-class array of outdoor recreation.

First, the new stuff: Dining at Steinhaus (102 W. Washington St., Marquette), the town’s premier German restaurant. If you don’t enjoy your meal, send a copy of your bill to Managing Editor Rich Tupica for reimbursement* — the menu’s that good. If you can still stomach a pint after all that schnitzel, there’s at least two more choices. Ore Dock Brewing Co. (114 W. Spring St., Marquette) has the feel of a more standard craft brewpub in its larger downtown spot, while the smaller Blackrocks Brewery (424 N. Third St., Marquette) feels more like drinking in your cool uncle’s cottage.

Now, the old stuff: The U.P. is a vast, 16,000-square-mile expanse of incredible scenery — too much to list here. But even around Marquette, you can drive less than five miles to hiking/biking trails near Marquette Mountain (4501 M-553, Marquette), as well as fishing in the Carp River. Also, a drive along Big Bay Road about 15 minutes north of town brings you to Little Presque Isle recreation area and beach. If you can, show up around 11 p.m. on a clear night with your significant other and fall asleep on the sand. —Andy Balaskovitz

*Offer not valid in Michigan.


Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

It’s a bit of a hike from West Michigan, but if you’re willing to cross the Mackinac bridge and take a 2-hour trip into the U.P., you can visit one of the most beautiful lakeshores in the United States. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore lies on the shore of Lake Superior and is home to gorgeous sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, miles of trails and even some historical shipwrecks. 

The best way to experience the coastline is via boat. I suggest checking out Pictured Rocks Cruises (100 City Park Drive, Munising) for a tour of the area’s world-famous sandstone cliffs. Located in Munising, Mich., Pictured Rocks Cruises has offered an up-close-and-personal view of the lakeshore for more than 50 years. Visitors can choose between the Regular Cruise, Spray Falls Cruise or Sunset Cruise, each one more than two hours long. 

If cruising isn’t your thing, you can still experience the lakeshore with miles of winding nature trails on land. Or, just drive along the coast, enjoying the scenery and picking up some knick-knacks, pastries and smoked fish from a multitude of roadside stands. There’s a reason Yoopers are so passionate about their peninsula. —Josh Spanninga


Tahquamenon Falls State Park

If a day in Paradise isn’t worth a drive across the bridge, I don’t know what is. Way up yonder, an hour north of the Mackinac, lies the Tahquamenon Falls (41382 W. M-123, Paradise). In the late spring, more than 50,000 gallons of amber-tinted water flow over the Upper Falls every second. Spanning 200 feet with a 50-foot drop, it’s the largest waterfall in the state, and an absolutely mesmerizing sight. Downriver, you can take a rowboat out to the Lower Falls, a much tamer series of cascades that are perfect for playing in, or maybe a mid-day (fully-clothed) shower. Personally, I spent a good half-hour with my family just building a rock tower in the middle of the river. If that’s not your speed, check out the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery or traverse more than 22 miles of hiking trails across the sprawling state park.  —Josh Veal

Mackinac Island 

When one thinks of a visit to Mackinac Island, visions of fudge, carless streets and scenic bike rides are likely among the first things to come to mind. But if you’re curious what your destination’s nightlife has to offer, it’s important not to overlook the island’s 14-stop pub crawl.

In just one easily-walkable mile, you can make your way from the Round Island Bar (6633 Main St., Mackinac Island) at Mission Point — home to a striking lake view — to the Grand Hotel’s casual restaurant and bar The Gate House (286 Grand Ave., Mackinac Island). In between are a dozen watering holes that vary in atmosphere and offerings, from the heavy craft beer focus and 50 taps of the Draught House (7463 Main St., Mackinac Island) to the historic Mustang Lounge (1485 Astor St., Mackinac Island), recently remodeled using 200-year-old wood from a fur trading post.

And if you’re looking for live music, hit up Horn’s Gaslight Bar & Restaurant (7300 Main St., Mackinac Island) and The Pink Pony (7221-105 Main St., Mackinac Island), each of which offer entertainment almost every night of the week. —Dwayne Hoover


Mackinaw City

If you’re looking to get away from the buzz of the city, but don’t necessarily want to leave the mitten behind, Headlands International Dark Sky Park (15675 Headlands Rd., Mackinaw City) might be worth a visit.

Located two miles west of downtown Mackinaw City, the Headlands is 600 acres of pristine protected woodlands. With no light pollution to get in the way, the park offers up a unique opportunity to get a stellar view of the night sky. In 2011, Headlands became one of the first 10 international dark sky parks in the world, which means it’s actually protected specifically for its primo visibility.

Headlands is open 24 hours a day to its guests and costs nothing to enter. The park offers an array of organized activities/programs, from trivia nights to Perseid Meteor Shower watching, for those who are interested in a little more than just lazing around under the stars. —Elma Talundzic



Historic walking and trolley tours of downtown Saugatuck and Douglas are a great way to take in the two harbor towns. Feeling more adventurous? Climb the 282 steps to Mount Baldhead and explore forested dunes to the beach, a view of the city and Saugatuck-Douglas Harbor (fall and spring offer better views). While there, hike the dunes and find a spot to watch the sunset over Lake Michigan. You can rent a canoe or kayak, or charter a sailboat, and cruise the river to Lake Michigan onboard an old-fashioned sternwheeler. There’s also the option to tour the harbor via a World War II-era amphibious “Duck.” Other natural areas to swim, hike or catch a sunset include Saugatuck Dunes State Park, Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area, Pier Cove Beach and Douglas Beach. —Marla R. Miller



When a friend told me that El Oasis (2501 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing) was the best Mexican food she’d ever eaten, I had my doubts. It doesn’t look like much, a white-and-orange food truck sitting in a fairly inconspicuous parking lot. If you don’t know it’s there, you’d probably just drive by. But it is, without a doubt, the best and most authentic Mexican food I’ve ever had. El Oasis has been serving Lansing residents since 2005 and has all the old classics — burritos, gorditas and my personal favorite: their tacos. Now personally, I’m good with chicken, but if you’re up for a little adventure go with the beef tongue or tripe. Also, be sure to get an order of chips and salsa (one mild, one hot) and mix them together for maximum deliciousness.

Up for a drink after you eat your weight in south-of-the-border cuisine? Stop by The Avenue Café (2021 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing) or The Green Door (2005 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing), both of which are right down the street. —Dana Casadei

Whether you’re a musician or just an admirer of beautiful instruments, stepping through the door of Elderly Instruments (1100 N. Washington Ave., Lansing) is like crossing the threshold of fretted heaven. You’ll find a heavy traditional music focus here, with lots of acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolins and the like, as well as an impressive collection of rare and vintage instruments.

Elderly also boasts a highly-regarded, nationally-recognized repair and restoration shop, with about 3,000 square feet of space and a staff of 11 that brings more than 250 years of combined experience to the table. So when you find that old, antique ukulele buried in your grandfather’s basement, you know where to take it.

The showroom is simply magical, and what truly makes a trip to Elderly worth the trek. If you’re looking to cut your teeth on a new Martin guitar or are maybe in the market for a vintage, $45,000 Gibson conversion banjo, it’s a stop that’s sure to inspire musical awe. —Dwayne Hoover


Eastern MI



I know the west coast has loads of great beaches and lakes, but if you want to really get away, take a two-hour drive south. Hines Park has been around since the early 1900s and spans across several cities in Wayne County. There’s bike trails, parks, picnic areas and baseball diamonds, but my favorite spot is a lot more tranquil — Newburgh Pointe. Located on the shores of Newburgh Lake, Newburgh Pointe is one of those areas where you can get away from it all. Sit on a bench, watch the water and feel yourself start to relax. There’s also fishing docks and a canoe concession if that’s more your speed. —Dana Casadei



With a city as big as Detroit nearby, it’s easy to overlook Ferndale — but what a mistake that would be. In recent years, Ferndale has revitalized its shopping district with a burst of new shops and restaurants. 

The best place to start your shopping trip is at The Rust Belt Market (22801 Woodward Ave., Ferndale). Located on the corner of Woodward and 9 Mile, this weekend marketplace is home to more than 50 shops, all independently owned by local artists and entrepreneurs. From trinkets and sculptures to soaps and clothing, there’s a little bit of something for everyone at this eclectic market. And just a few storefronts down you’ll find Found Sound (234 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale), a record store that carries an impressive array of new and used vinyl, cassettes, books, DVDs and VHS tapes.

If you’re hungry, head around the corner to try some delicious carne asada tacos at the Imperial Bar (22828 Woodward Ave., Ferndale). Make sure to get their chips and a flight of salsa on the side. 

If you’re still craving some entertainment after all that shopping and eating, visit The Ringwald Theatre (22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale) for a play, or the Loving Touch (22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale) for hip, live music. And the best part of it all? Everything listed here is literally five minutes away from each other, if not less. —Josh Spanninga



I’d suggest taking a three-hour trip to Oscoda on the Sunrise Side of the state in Iosco County. Oscoda is a blue-collar resort town on Lake Huron off US-23. Enjoy the small-town business district by exploring Great Northern Books & Hobbies (209 S. State St., Oscoda) and poking around the roomy McNamara Antique Mall (2083 N. US Hwy 23, Oscoda). Everyone is very friendly. Grab your books and games and head to Oscoda Beach Park, which was where people survived the Great 1911 Oscoda/Au Sable Fire that leveled the communities. After that, get a latte and scone at the Garden View Coffee Mill (120 E. River Rd., Oscoda) with its charming ambience and antique furniture. Finish the day watching a movie at the Lake Theatre (117 E. Dwight St., Oscoda). The next day, you can explore the Au Sable River by renting kayaks at Oscoda Canoe Rental (678 W. River Rd., Oscoda) Or, take a more leisurely trip on the Au Sable River Queen (1775 W. River Rd., Oscoda) with the Detroiters in the cabin smoking and playing pinochle. Finish your trip in the Huron-Manistee National Forest hiking around Lumberman’s Monument (5401 Monument Rd., Oscoda Twp.), which recognizes many of the lumbering families familiar to West Michigan. —Steven de Polo



My family and I like to visit Alpena when traveling up north. The warm and friendly port has charming Victorian mansions to enjoy and excellent restaurants. Spend an afternoon wandering around Rockport State Park down the road in Harrisville, which is the site of a former quarry. Don’t miss the 1870 Sturgeon Point Lighthouse (6071 E. Point Rd., Alpena) on Lake Huron. The attached nautical museum is supported by the Alcona Historical Society. Go down to the rocky beach with thousands of fossils to be discovered in the rocks. After finding the perfect stone for the garden back home, get an early dinner at the Court Yard Ristorante & Olde Roost Lounge (2024 US 23 S., Alpena). The steaks and pasta are excellent. Walk off the lasagna with a hike around the 17-acre Island Park (US-23 at Long Rapids Road, Alpena) in the heart of the city. Managed by Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary Board, the former hunting reserve boasts a grassland, forest, dunes and a marsh to explore. —Steven de Polo

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