Bay City

Discover the BEST Things to Do in Bay City Michigan

Nestled close to the Saginaw Bay shoreline, Bay City is a maritime Michigan town that has long been known for its vibrant atmosphere and historic charm. From its bustling waterfront to its historic architecture, this hidden gem of the Great Lakes region offers a captivating blend of old-world and modern-day allure.

Bay City is a year-round destination for travelers of all ages and interests. Located less than two hours from Detroit, Gaylord, Lansing, and Ann Arbor, it’s the perfect spot for a fun-filled day trip or an extended stay.

Bay City
Bay City I photo credit: nicolemfelten / Shutterstock

A One-of-a-Kind Destination

Often described as a one-of-a-kind destination, Bay City is a town with a storied past and a promising future. The maritime industry has long anchored the community, and residents still celebrate the powerful role that the Saginaw River and nearby Lake Huron played in its development, growth, and prosperity.

Once known as Lower Saginaw by European settlers, the area that eventually became Bay City was originally inhabited by the Sauk Tribe. The tribe often battled other Great Lakes tribes and relics from these battles can still be found in the area.

While European fur traders traversed the area for more than a century, it wasn’t until 1831 that the first settler — Leon Tromble — arrived in the area and built a log cabin on the bank of the Saginaw River.

During the 19th century, the shipbuilding and maritime industries allowed the city to flourish. The most prominent shipbuilder in Bay County was the Defoe Shipbuilding Company, which operated in the city from 1905-1976. Defoe was charged with creating ships and watercraft for the United States Navy, which heavily influenced the city’s nautical atmosphere.

Discover the Beauty of Bay City

Today, Bay City is a dynamic town that strives to celebrate its heritage while looking toward the future. Its vibrant downtown showcases colorful historic buildings, yet many visitors and residents will see this area is truly defined by its modern boutiques and fresh, flavorful local restaurants.

Whether you are looking for a dose of maritime history or a spot in the sun near the lake, Bay City is an ideal Michigan destination for your next big adventure.

Outdoor Things to Do in Bay City

With its premier location along the Saginaw River, Bay City is an idyllic destination for outdoor fun. No matter what time of year you visit, visitors can enjoy these exciting outdoor attractions…

Traverse the Bay County Riverwalk Trail

Winding along the east side of town, the Bay County Riverwalk Trail is a 10-mile loop that offers spectacular Saginaw River views.

This paved trail was created along the path of a former railway, and it is commonly used by bikers, hikers, joggers, and skaters. This trail features some of the best views in the city. It also connects trail users to iconic city destinations, such as Infinity Skate Park, Veterans Memorial Park, Carroll Park, and the Ted Putz Nature Area.

Spend the Day at Bay City State Park

Spanning over 2,300 acres, Bay City State Park is a sprawling natural space perfectly preserved for people of all ages to enjoy. Not only does it feature more than 1,000 feet of shoreline on Saginaw Bay, but it also includes Tobica Marsh — considered one of the largest remaining wetland areas along the Great Lakes.

The park is a longtime favorite spot for migrating birds, thanks to its prairie areas, wetland woods, and wet meadows. Bird watchers from across the state find themselves fascinated by the species they see in flight in and around the park.

One of the park’s newest additions is an accessible playground. Inspired by the natural surroundings, this park includes inviting play features that inspire the imagination, such as mushroom stepping stones, realistic rock climbing walls, and a fish-shaped play structure.

During the summer, the spray pad is the best place for young children to cool off after a day of fun in the sun at the park.

Sail Along the River on a Tall Ship

Once home to the famed Tall Ship Celebration, Bay City is one of the best places in Michigan to enjoy a graceful voyage on board an elegant tall ship.

One of the best ways to enjoy the tall ships is to take a BaySail cruise. The company offers public cruises on its two classic schooners, the Appledore IV and the Appledore V. In addition to an authentic Saginaw Bay experience, the cruise is designed to be an educational introduction to the region’s maritime history and environment.

Sunrise Pedal Trolley Tour	Bay City
Sunrise Pedal Trolley Tour | photo via miles2gobeforeisleep

Enjoy a Sunrise Pedal Trolley Tour

If you are looking for a lively and innovative way to experience downtown, a Sunrise Pedal Trolley Tour. is one of the best ways to do it. Self-described as the “Party on Wheels in Bay City,” these tours are offered to anyone looking to have a good time while learning more about the city.

It’s worth noting that alcohol is allowed on the trolley, and minor guests must be accompanied by their parents to participate.

While some groups prefer to hit up the best local bars and pubs, others prefer to cruise around to historical attractions while they learn more about what makes the city a great place to live.

Visit the Riverwalk Pier

The Riverwalk Pier extends over the waters of the Saginaw River and its large gazebo has become a symbol of the city. On any given day, locals and visitors can be found cycling or jogging on the pier.

The Riverwalk path that leads to the pier also connects to popular parks in Bay City, including Fitness Park, Veterans Memorial Park, and the Kantzler Arboretum.

Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum-Bay City
Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum | photo via set.builder39

Indoor Things to Do in Bay City

While it may be hard to tear yourself away from the famous breathtaking views that Bay City is known for, you would be remiss if you didn’t at least spend a bit of time indoors at some of these well-known local attractions…

Visit the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum Aboard the USS Edson

It’s hard to miss the decommissioned naval destroyer docked on the Saginaw River in the heart of Bay City. Over the past decade, the USS Edson has become a mainstay of the local shoreline, but it’s more than just an iconic sight — it’s the home of the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum.

The museum is currently considered by many to be the best tourist attraction in the city, and it provides visitors with an immersive look into life for service members serving in the U.S. Navy during the 20th Century.

Stepping aboard the USS Edson, you can walk through the inside of the ship, where exhibits and artifacts are on display. Volunteer tour guides and hosts provide extra context during your visit, and point you in the direction of hands-on experiences available on board.

Hunt For Treasures at the Bay City Antiques Center

Known as the largest antique store of its kind, the Bay City Antiques Center has become a legendary shopping destination in the city’s vibrant downtown. Housed in the historic Campbell House Hotel building, this antique center gives off an authentic vibe from the moment you step inside.

It’s best to plan several hours — or even an entire day — for antique shopping. This massive store spans over 60,000 square feet and features over 400 booths.

On any given day, you might find a treasure from over a hundred years ago or a rare European antique that could be the ideal addition to your collection. No two days are alike at this antique store, making it one of the most exciting and inviting attractions in Bay City.

Gaze Up at the Stars at the Delta College Planetarium

Located downtown, the Delta College Planetarium is easily identified by its iconic red, orange, and yellow entrance designed like a rocket exhaust nozzle. While it is part of the Delta College campus, the facility is open to the public, making it one of the most innovative and exciting downtown attractions.

This state-of-the-art facility was funded by NASA, and includes:

  • A 360-degree Planetarium Digital Theater
  • Classrooms
  • A multipurpose room
  • Museum display space
  • Rooftop observation deck

The planetarium itself seats 140 people during any show, and various shows are scheduled throughout the week. Many shows and programs incorporate music and other digital elements, giving visitors an immersive and memorable experience.

Visit the Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum

The Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum is a captivating destination that showcases a unique blend of vintage fire apparatus and collectible toys.

This museum boasts an impressive collection of motorized fire trucks, making it the largest of its kind in the region. Visitors can immerse themselves in the rich history of first responders as they explore the extensive exhibits of fire apparatus and artifacts.

Additionally, the museum houses a remarkable assortment of collectible toys, adding an extra layer of nostalgia and fascination to any visitor’s experience.

Latitude 43 Bar And Grill -Bay City
Latitude 43 Bar and Grill | photo via shannon_avery77

The Best Local Restaurants in Bay City

Bay City’s walkable downtown is defined by historic buildings that have retained the charm of the 19th century. Inside those buildings, you will find some of the most eclectic and modern local restaurants in the Great Lakes Bay region.

The city is developing a reputation for its burgeoning food scene, fueling more interest and activity in the area. Add these great restaurants to your bucket list…

  • Latitude 43 Bar and Grill is known for its casual yet refined atmosphere and its meals are all handcrafted from scratch, giving you one of the freshest and most flavorful dining experiences in the city.
  • Vinny’s Uptown Grill serves mouthwatering meals in a casual atmosphere but is anything but typical. If you happen to stop by for breakfast, grab an order of gourmet French toast, which includes options like baklava French toast and banana bread French toast.
  • Gatsby’s Seafood and Steakhouse is considered one of the city’s premier dining establishments — perfect for special occasions or indulging in the finer things. Not only does it offer fine cuts of aged beef, but it also has a vegan menu, making it inclusive and inviting.

These are just a few of the restaurants making waves in the local food scene. The city is home to dozens of locally-owned establishments that highlight local and international flavors and ingredients.

Antique Toy And Firehouse Museum-Bay City
Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum | photo via discoveringlifeadventures

Bay City Michigan FAQs

What is Bay City famous for?

Situated in the Great Lakes Bay region, Bay City is famous for its maritime heritage, historic charm, and its dynamic downtown. Visitors often come to enjoy water-based activities like sailing, fishing, and hiking on nearby trails.

Is Bay City a walkable city?

With a historic downtown, Bay City is certainly considered a walkable city. Pedestrians will find it easy to get around on foot, though bikers may have a harder time navigating the city.

What are the best things to do in Bay City?

The best things to do in Bay City include cruising along the river, dining at a downtown restaurant, visiting the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum, and spending time at the Bay City State Park. With so many options available, visitors of all ages and interests will easily find something fun to do.

When is the best time of year to visit Bay City?

Bay City is a year-round destination, offering visitors exciting activities and experiences to enjoy. With its waterfront location, summer is easily the most popular time of year to visit the city.

Bay Antique Center-Bay City
Bay Antique Center | photo via art.dept.bc

Begin Your Bay City Adventure Today

Whether you are hoping for a nautical vacation or a relaxing stay by the shore, Bay City has something to offer everyone.

This iconic Michigan destination is often described as one of the state’s best hidden gems and when you travel to Bay City, you will feel as if you have the whole place to yourself — yet you won’t be bored for a moment.

So find yourself the perfect antique, enjoy a delicious meal downtown and unforgettable views by the water. Sail on a tall ship or take a pedal trolley tour. The more you do, the more you’ll enjoy all Bay City can offer and you’ll discover why it continues to be a popular Michigan destination.

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