Michigan is full of wonderful places to visit. But the heart of a city is found in its downtown area. Here, you can find historic sites, beautiful green spaces, art exhibits, or one-of-a-kind shops.
While many people take a trip to Michigan to explore the outdoor attractions, it is also worth exploring the unique offerings of the downtown areas. These towns in Michigan have downtowns that are worth a trip all on their own.
Best Upper Peninsula Downtowns
Houghton averages 180 inches of snowfall annually, making it a major stop for winter sports enthusiasts. Located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, the area has something to offer for every season. Keweenaw’s snowmobile trails extend over 200 miles through jaw-dropping landscapes that tourists come to see from across the country.
When you’re ready to return to town, there are plenty of indoor things to do. You can take a load off with a local brew at the Keweenaw Brewing Company or enjoy the delights of the Keweenaw Waters Resort — both of which are within easy distance of Houghton’s charming downtown.
Located near Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Marquette offers numerous vacation activities. It has become a popular tourist destination for outdoor attractions, such as Hogback Mountain, Presque Isle Park, and local hiking trails in view of the Northern Lights.
But, the town itself is also worth a visit, with plenty of locally-owned restaurants serving delicious food, interesting museums, and fun shopping opportunities. Marquette might be known as a launchpad for nearby hiking, biking, camping, and more, but its in-town offerings are just as worthwhile.
Best Downtowns in Northern Michigan
Downtown Alpena is a charming and historic area that offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors and locals alike. The downtown district is located on the shores of Lake Huron and the banks of Thunder Bay River, making it a popular destination for water sports and outdoor activities.
Visitors can explore the many unique shops and boutiques that line the streets of downtown, or stop for a bite to eat at one of the area’s many restaurants and cafes.
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve, which showcases the area’s rich maritime history, is a popular attraction for visitors interested in the region’s culture and heritage.
Additionally, the downtown district hosts a variety of events and festivals throughout the year, including the Alpena Blues Festival and the Michigan Brown Trout Festival.
Gaylord is the ultimate outdoor destination in Michigan. It has more than 90 lakes scattered across some of the state’s best hiking venues. There’s no lack of bike trails, either!
The newly renovated downtown district is home to gourmet foods — like Bennethum’s Northern Inn, which rotates its exquisite menu every month. Mary’s Stein Haus, El Patron Grill, and Lucky’s Steakhouse offer some of the best food in the region, drawing gourmands from all over the country.
Some of the town’s premiere microbreweries include Big Buck and Snowbelt Brewing Company, both renowned for their lovingly crafted beers.
Mackinaw City is the gateway to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It often ranks as one of the best downtowns in Michigan.
The area is known for its stunning views of Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge, which carries Interstate 75 over the Straits of Mackinac to the Upper Peninsula.
You can check out the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, the historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, and the historic Colonial Michilimackinac military fort — a reconstructed 18th-century fort that offers a glimpse into the area’s rich history.
Plus, the downtown district features a variety of unique shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions that reflect the city’s heritage. Visitors can even take a ferry from here to Mackinac Island — a popular tourist destination that is known for its Victorian architecture and natural beauty.
Downtown Traverse City serves as the cultural, educational, and business capital of Northwest Michigan. The downtown district is home to a variety of unique and custom stores, offering visitors a diverse range of shopping options.
The area is also known for its diverse cuisine, with numerous restaurants and cafes serving delicious local and international dishes. Visitors can take in a live musical performance at the City Opera House or explore the exhibits at the Dennos Museum Center. The Traverse City Film Festival — one of the Midwest’s largest — is also held in the downtown area each year.
The downtown area is located near the beautiful Grand Traverse Bay, where visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and water sports.
West Michigan’s Best Downtowns
Grand Haven has soft-sand beaches renowned throughout the state. Its picturesque lighthouse is topped off by a musical fountain that plays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The natural beauty of the area is unmatched, but the town itself has many family attractions.
The Lakeshore Trolley is a favorite for visitors and natives alike to tour around town. Local farmer’s markets have seasonal produce and locally made products. And, the paved bike trail system is one of Michigan’s finest.
Grand Haven waterways are easy to explore, with many miles of Lake Michigan frontage that connects to inland rivers and lakes. You can kayak the bayous of the Grand River, fish at Spring Lakes, or rent a watercraft to take on Lake Michigan itself.
Downtown Grand Rapids is a vibrant and bustling area that offers a wide range of attractions and activities for visitors and locals alike. Located in the heart of the city, the downtown area is home to a variety of restaurants, shops, museums, and entertainment venues.
Visitors can take a stroll along the Grand River, explore the art galleries and exhibits at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, or catch the Grand Rapids Symphony at the historic DeVos Performance Hall. The area is known for its lively nightlife too, with a variety of bars and clubs offering live music and entertainment.
With its mix of culture, entertainment, and natural beauty, downtown Grand Rapids is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Michigan.
Like its namesake, Holland has exceptional natural beauty to offer visitors. Miles of paved bike paths and rustic hiking trails are perfect for the outdoorsy type. Gorgeous sandy beaches top them off. And, downtown Holland is a charming and historic district with a vibrant atmosphere that attracts visitors year-round.
The area boasts a variety of unique shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions that reflect the city’s Dutch heritage. Visitors can stroll along the cobblestone sidewalks of 8th Street and explore the Dutch Galleries of the Holland Museum, the Cappon House, and Nelis’ Dutch Village — a recreation of 1890s Netherlands.
The area also hosts various events throughout the year, including the popular Tulip Time Festival in May. Additionally, the heated, snow-free sidewalks and streets make it easy to enjoy activities in the winter.
Holland keeps up with the best in the state with its own microbreweries and pubs. Numerous breweries make their own artisan spirits and local-themed craft beers. Locally grown and produced wine is abundant with the area having some of the state’s best vineyards. Holland even has a local hops farm to supply its local breweries!
But, unique boutique shops and restaurants, art galleries, and even a skate plaza make downtown a happening place. The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum and Sandcastles Children’s Museum are great options for vacationing families, with hands-on options for kids. The James Street Plaza hosts fresh local produce at the local farmers market and even features live music and other events.
Downtown Saugatuck Michigan is a picturesque and charming lakeside town that offers a unique and eclectic blend of art, culture, and natural beauty. Located along the breathtaking shores of Lake Michigan, this beach town brings huge sand dunes, lakefront views, fantastic wineries, and bustling nightlife.
The area is home to a thriving arts community with over 30 galleries and studios, as well as a variety of trendy boutiques and distinctive shops. Local stores stock one-of-a-kind antiques, art pieces, decor, jewelry, and local outdoor equipment along Butler Street. It’s also loaded with local gourmet cuisine!
Visitors can explore the vibrant history of the town at the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society or take a stroll along the boardwalk to enjoy scenic views of the Kalamazoo River. In addition, the area is known for its beautiful beaches — including Oval Beach, which has been named one of the best in the world.
Downtown South Haven is a charming and picturesque area that offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors and locals alike. The downtown district is located just a few blocks from the beautiful South Beach, which features stunning views of Lake Michigan.
Visitors can explore the many unique shops and boutiques that line the streets of downtown, or stop for a bite to eat at one of the area’s many restaurants and cafes. The Michigan Maritime Museum, which showcases the area’s rich maritime history, is a popular attraction for visitors interested in the region’s culture and heritage.
Also, the downtown district hosts a variety of events and festivals throughout the year, including the Harborfest and the South Haven Jazz Festival.
St. Joseph is a romantic landscape that’s perfect for a couple’s getaway or a family vacation. It has some of the most beautiful beaches in Michigan, right along the coast of the Great Lake. This vibrant town has events and amenities for every time of year, giving it the nickname “Riviera of the Midwest.”
The shopping district is packed with boutique outlets nestled in classic brick-lined roadways. Wineries and upscale restaurants populate downtown alongside farmers’ markets, toy stores, ice cream parlors, and quaint bookstores. St. Joseph is a remarkable town that offers the perfect quiet retreat.
Top East Michigan Downtowns
Downtown Ann Arbor is a vibrant and bustling area that offers a wide range of attractions and activities for visitors and locals alike. The downtown district is located near the University of Michigan campus, which gives it a youthful and energetic vibe.
Visitors can explore the many unique shops and boutiques that line the streets of downtown, or stop for a bite to eat at one of the area’s many restaurants and cafes, which offer a diverse range of cuisines. The area is also known for its thriving arts and culture scene, with numerous galleries and museums showcasing local and international talent.
The Ann Arbor Art Fair, one of the largest outdoor art fairs in the country, is held in the downtown area each year. Additionally, visitors can catch a show at the historic Michigan Theater, which features a variety of live performances and film screenings.
Birmingham has some of the best walking streets in Michigan. Combined with upscale dining, shopping locales, and a strong local nightlife, Birmingham is a popping destination. The most notable locations are on Woodward Avenue, known as Michigan’s Main Street.
Located within Metro Detroit, it is a bustling locale that’s a little more laid back than Detroit itself. The town is one of the premiere shopping districts in the Midwest with an assortment of shops, restaurants, salons, galleries, spas, and antiquing outlets. Almost 300 retailers call Birmingham home, so you’ll never run out of options to explore.
Two gorgeous parks and a movie theater sit at the town center, and there are over 26 parks throughout the town. The city features tennis courts, golf courses, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds, as well as plenty of outdoor picnic spots.
The wooded trail system and bike paths, as well as the Rouge River, wind their way through the city center for the best of both worlds.
Detroit is a vibrant and culturally rich city that has undergone a significant revitalization in recent years. The downtown area is home to a variety of attractions, including the iconic Renaissance Center, which houses General Motors’ global headquarters. Also, visitors can explore the beautiful Detroit Riverwalk, which features parks, trails, and a variety of outdoor activities.
The downtown area is known for its thriving arts and culture scene as well, with numerous galleries, museums, and theaters showcasing local and international talent. Visitors can catch a show at the stunning Fox Theatre, explore the exhibits at the Detroit Institute of Arts, or take a stroll through the historic Eastern Market, which is home to a variety of shops and vendors.
Best Mid-Michigan Downtowns
Frankenmuth is renowned for its authentic German-American culture, giving it the nickname “Little Bavaria.” German character is found all around town throughout the year. From traditional German festivals and shows to art and cuisine, Frankenmuth is a real treat. You can grab a German-style beer at the Frankenmuth Brewery, which is the oldest microbrewery in the United States.
The German-style architecture impresses in every part of downtown. Frankenmuth Cheese Haus offers authentic German-style cheeses, and you can stop to be impressed by the fine workmanship at the Frankenmuth Clock Company. Plus, the Frankenmuth ChristKindlMarkt, Michigan’s largest open-air holiday market, consumes the town during the holidays.
Downtown Howell is a charming and historic area that offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors and locals alike. The downtown district is home to a range of shops, restaurants, and businesses, many of which are housed in well-preserved historic buildings.
Visitors can take a stroll through the downtown area to explore the many unique shops and boutiques or stop for a bite to eat at one of the area’s many restaurants and cafes. The Howell Opera House, which dates back to the late 1800s, is a popular attraction for visitors interested in the area’s history and culture.
The downtown district also hosts a variety of events and festivals throughout the year, including the Howell Melon Festival, the Fantasy of Lights Parade, and the Howell Art Project.
Downtown Jackson Michigan is a vibrant and dynamic area that has undergone significant growth and development in recent years. The downtown district is home to a diverse range of businesses, from small family-owned shops to large corporations like the CMS Energy Headquarters.
The area is also known for its historic architecture, with many buildings dating back to the early 1900s. Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour of the downtown area to explore the many unique shops, locally-owned restaurants, and historic sites, including the Michigan Theatre and the Grand River Farmers Market.
On top of that, the downtown area is a hub for arts and culture, with numerous galleries and museums showcasing local and regional talent. The Jackson Symphony Orchestra and the Bright Walls Murals are just a few examples of the many cultural attractions in the area.
Touring the Best Downtowns in Michigan
Though Michigan is known far and wide as a destination for outdoor sports and activities, there are countless reasons to stay in town too. These unique downtown areas in Michigan offer some of the most beautiful sights, delicious cuisines, and quality locally made products, making them an unbeatable choice for your next vacation.