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24 BEST Small Towns in Michigan to Visit

While Michigan has several big cities with glittering buildings and vibrant downtown areas, the small towns in Michigan truly showcase the state’s charm.

Some of the best small towns in Michigan are home to just a few hundred residents — yet they highlight the character of the Midwest, the natural beauty of the Great Lakes state, and the ingenuity of the local people.

Whether you are searching for a getaway that includes a scenic drive and a pristine beach, or you are hoping to step back in time and experience the rich history of the area, you will find that these cute towns in Michigan are worth visiting.

We asked some of our current and past contributors to share thoughts about their favorite small towns in Michigan…

St Joseph
St Joseph | photo via nick_cetrone

St. Joseph

Tucked away in the corner of Southwest Michigan is one of the state’s best beach towns. St. Joseph is home to two popular beaches — Lions Beach and Silver Beach, both of which are located on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Maybe unlike many other Michigan destinations, however, one of the great things about this town is that, once you park your car, you don’t have to drive it until you’re ready to head home. Everything is within walking distance, from the Lake Michigan beachfront to the downtown!

Katelyn Sandor

While those who are looking for a quieter, more peaceful day on the beach may opt to set up their towels and umbrellas on Lions Beach, you would be remiss if you didn’t stop at Silver Beach too.

The city’s well-loved beach is also home to the Silver Beach Carousel, a historic artifact that was restored to its former grandeur and has been delighting riders of all ages since 2010.

Traverse City
Traverse City | photo via travel_withpanda

Traverse City

Known as the Cherry Capital of the World, Traverse City might be one of the most well-known destinations in Michigan. Despite its worldwide recognition, this city is home to just more than 15,000 people — yet its summer population swells significantly as tourists and vacationers flood the city.

My earliest memories of visiting Traverse City as a youth revolve around two things: Gordie Howe-themed restaurants and mini golf. If I had let my childhood nostalgia serve as the guide for my recent #MittenTrip up north, it would’ve been a very shortsighted, albeit still pretty fun, weekend.

My return journey as an adult to Traverse City did not disappoint. I was impressed with the combination of outdoor activities as well as restaurants, wineries, breweries, distilleries and just an all-around welcoming atmosphere that this city created.

John Kalmar

When you visit Traverse City, you have the opportunity to not only spend time along more than 180 miles of shoreline but also sip wine at premier local wineries, play a round at a championship golf course, or even cruise along Grand Traverse Bay on a majestic tall ship.

Beaver Island Michigan
Beaver Island | photo via @alinaalbin

Beaver Island

Beaver Island may be the largest island in Lake Michigan, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to get to. While you will have to board a plane or sail on a boat to reach the shores of St. James on Beaver Island, you will find that the effort is worthwhile.

There’s a reason I’ve been to Beaver Island Michigan every year since I was born. There’s also a reason why every time I leave I want to cry and say, “No! I refuse.”

It’s because Beaver Island is like no other place on Earth.

Shalee Blackmer

Once you arrive on this quaint island, you will be able to explore the shores and tour the Beaver Island Harbor Lighthouse, which is known to locals as Whiskey Point Lighthouse.

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island | photo via @samiiphoto

Mackinac Island

There is no other place in Michigan — or perhaps even the United States — quite like Mackinac Island. This tiny island, just 8 miles in circumference, is a preserved Victorian masterpiece in many respects.

Motor vehicles have been banned on the island since the late 19th century, giving visitors the ability to travel back in time to an age when horses and carriages were the only modes of transportation.

For many island residents and visitors, bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation. As such, one of the most popular activities is biking around the perimeter of the island.

We spent the afternoon biking around the island. There is plenty to see. We didn’t really have an itinerary other than just ride around and look.

Nina Thomas

Of course, you won’t want to miss the other iconic sites on the island, such as the majestic Grand Hotel, the mighty Fort Mackinac, or the natural wonder known as Arch Rock.

Downtown-Munising
Downtown Munising | photo via clayton.lieb

Munising

On the northern shores of the Upper Peninsula, tucked along the edges of the Hiawatha National Forest, you will find the town of Munising Michigan.

Most visitors head to this remote destination to experience the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a preserved collection of sandstone canyons that showcase the geological history of Michigan with endless layers of color.

While the Pictured Rocks may be the most famous attraction in Munising, travelers will quickly discover that the charm, hospitality, and natural beauty that this city has to offer is what makes it so special.

Your Munising itinerary should not only include a Pictured Rocks cruise, but also a waterfall tour, a hiking expedition, and a visit to Tracey’s at Roam Inn, one of the best restaurants in the city.

The picturesque town of Grand Marais is only forty-nine miles from Munising by way of H-58, but I can guarantee that the trip and all of the great stops along the way will take several hours. In fact, you could easily spend a few days checking out all of the points of interest.

guest contributor
Marshall
Marshall | photo via gift_supisara

Marshall

Tucked away in the heart of rural, Southern Michigan is the town of Marshall. While it would be easy to pass this city as you travel westbound along I-94 toward Battle Creek, you would be missing an opportunity to experience the rich architectural history of Michigan.

Marshall is best known for its collection of perfectly preserved historic buildings, many of which date back to the late 19th and early 20th century.

Two of the most famous buildings in Marshall are the Honolulu House Museum — an Italianate and Gothic home built in the 1860s — and the state Masonic Temple Building, which was built in 1913.

Downtown Saugatuck
Downtown Saugatuck | photo via pitcherperfecthair

Saugatuck

Ranked as one of the best beach towns in the United States, Saugatuck combines the breathtaking beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline with the creative genius of some of Michigan’s most beloved artists. This small West Michigan town is situated on what has been dubbed the state’s Art Coast.

I love all of Michigan, but I have to say my heart belongs to Saugatuck Michigan.

My boyfriend and I have an annual summer tradition of visiting this small town on Lake Michigan, and with every year, my infatuation grows. The quaint town has it all – from ice cream to beaches, it’s a perfect place to go when the weather gets warm in Michigan.

Maureen Clemons

In addition to being home to spectacular sand dunes and beautiful beaches, Saugatuck is a cultural destination filled with art galleries, museums, boutiques, and more.

Tulip Time
Downtown Holland | photo via Amanda Shaffer

Holland

Named by Dutch settlers who first established the community, Holland is a town in Michigan that offers an unparalleled European flair. Around every corner, you will see influences from Dutch culture, but the most iconic spot in the city is the towering Dutch windmill on Windmill Island.

Holland is known for the heated sidewalks they have in the winter to melt all the snow off, but there are plenty of fun things to do in the summer as well. This includes visiting the Big Red lighthouse on the water, shopping at Glik’s, visiting a Cherry Republic store, and walking around the downtown area.

Seventy-Six is a great restaurant to stop at for some food as well as drinks. For breakfast, the Windmill Restaurant is a great spot that always gets very busy so get there as early as possible! Holland is equipped with many coffee shops to choose from as well.

Kassandra Olschanski

Whether you are visiting for the city’s annual Tulip Festival — which showcases colorful springtime blooms every year — or you are coming to spend a day on the beach, you won’t be disappointed by everything Holland has to offer.

Bavarian Inn In Frankenmuth
Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth | photo by Heather Stern

Frankenmuth

As you drive north through Michigan farmland, you may be surprised when you enter downtown Frankenmuth. Upon arrival, you will be greeted by a town that looks like it was ripped from the pages of an ancient German fairytale.

I’ve discovered through the years is that different people have different views and memories about Frankenmuth – and there’s always something new to explore and enjoy when visiting Michigan’s Little Bavaria!

Ashley Pichea

Known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria, Frankenmuth is a quintessential German town in the heart of the American Midwest. Famous for its Bavarian shops, chicken dinners, and charming covered bridge, Frankenmuth is a beloved Michigan destination.

While you are in town, don’t forget to celebrate the holidays in style — it’s Christmas all year at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, one of the largest Christmas stores in the country.

Awesome Mitten writer Heather Stern highly recommends visiting Frankenmuth:

Our family loves living so close to Frankenmuth! Even though we live close, we make a point to visit only once or twice a year so that the atmosphere remains a special excursion.

We cannot go to Frankenmuth without heading straight to Bavarian Inn for a 3 course, all-you-can-eat chicken dinner. While reservations are recommended on busier days of the year, typically, we can plan on being seated pretty quickly.

On a busy day (like Thanksgiving), expect to wait 2 hours or more if you show up without a reservation!

The All-You-Can-Eat fun starts as soon as you’re seated. Always bread to start, classic sourdough and Stollen bread varieties with butter, while you await the wait staff – who are dressed in traditional Bavarian garb.

Don’t miss the accordion player that is often making their way around the restaurant!

Other Frankenmuth must-sees:

  • The Cheese Haus: So. Much. Cheese. And fun candy. It’s truly a Frankenmuth staple. Don’t forget to let the kids climb on the cheese slice outside for a Michigan core-memory photo opp!
  • The Riverwalk shops: Tons of shops to choose from including a Michigan-made shop and other local wineries, honey and jerky shops. 
  • The Rau’s Country Store: This store is a favorite of ours with so much unique candy to check out!
  • Ice Skating: When late fall and winter hits, the skating rink comes out! Located across from the Bavarian Inn and Riverfront shops, it’s easy to find.
  • Check out the covered bridge: The Frankenmuth covered bridge connects the Bavarian Inn Lodge with the rest of downtown Frankenmuth. If you’re feeling adventurous, go on a hunt to find the many other bridges around the area (Gugel bridge is my favorite hidden one!).
Heather Stern
Petoskey
Petoskey | photo via reccemedia_

Petoskey

Petoskey was perhaps Michigan’s original resort town, developed in the late 19th and early 20th century as an escape for summer tourists looking to take respite in the cool, fresh air along Little Traverse Bay.

Today, visitors who come to Petoskey can still indulge in those same Victorian pastimes, such as wining and dining along the waterfront, strolling on the beach, or searching for Petoskey stones in the surf.

We started our day with breakfast at Roast & Toast with some fresh coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Afterward, we wandered through downtown Petoskey to see some of the different shops.

Lena Elise

To truly understand the city’s historic past, stop by the Gaslight District to experience the culture and atmosphere of this community.

Charlevoix Michigan
Charlevoix | photo via perspective.counts

Charlevoix

Just a few miles from Petoskey, you will find another one of Michigan’s most idyllic small towns — Charlevoix. This town of just more than 2,300 residents is located on a tiny strip of land between Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan, giving visitors plenty of opportunities to enjoy the sparkling waterfront.

Recently, my husband and I took a quick weekend trip to the Charlevoix and Petoskey area, only an hour from where we live. It was amazing how just getting out of our normal rhythms gave us new energy and helped to keep us going through the after-holiday slump.

Our first stop was at Mt. McSauba for a short hike. We followed the trail up and around bends and curves, eventually finding ourselves at the top of the ski resort.

The views of Lake Michigan on one side were stunning, with the sights of Charlevoix flanking the other. We took a side trail, (because why not?), and ended up traversing dunes to the shoreline below.

Kristi Murphy

Known for its sense of seclusion and privacy, Charlevoix is a favorite among visitors who want to live like a local in one of the most scenic towns in Michigan.

In addition to its world-renowned golf courses, cute downtown area, and picture-perfect beaches, Charlevoix is also home to some of the most interesting architecture in the state. And, no visit to this city would be complete without a tour of the mushroom houses of Charlevoix.

Suttons Bay
Suttons Bay | photo via mytravels4477

Suttons Bay

To call Suttons Bay a town would be a stretch — village is a better description for this tiny community on Michigan’s northern coast. You can find Suttons Bay along the Leelanau Peninsula and between the ever-popular Traverse City and the town of Northport.

The town itself is known for its colorful downtown area — where each historic building is painted a different pastel color — and its collection of first-class wineries and breweries, such as Black Star Farms Winery. This is the kind of place where you can sit, sip, and savor the true flavor of Northern Michigan.

Leland-
Leland | photo via brady_mcdonough

Leland

When it comes to small towns in Michigan, it doesn’t get much smaller than Leland. This community of just more than 500 full-time residents is located on a small strip of land between Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan, yet it’s one of the hottest tourist destinations in Northern Michigan.

When I told people I was going to Leland, the first thing out of their mouths was, “You have to go to Fishtown,” and I began to think that everyone was over-hyping the experience. I was wrong.

Fishtown is quintessential small-town America, with quaint boutiques brimming with local, artesian goods, a candy store, and plenty of places to eat.

Rachell Weeks

Leland is home to Fishtown, a preserved fishing shanty village with shops that showcases the critical role that commercial fishing has played in Michigan’s growth and development. In addition to visiting the preserved docks, shanties, and smokehouses, visitors will find restaurants and shops in historic Fishtown.

Grand Haven State Park-Grand Haven
Grand Haven State Park | photo via pauljendrasiak

Grand Haven

As you travel along Michigan’s sunset coast on the west side of the state, you will likely pass through Grand Haven.

Known for its small-town atmosphere and welcoming appeal, this community is home to some of the best beaches on Lake Michigan and two iconic lighthouses on an incredible pier where you can experience the strength and might of the waves.

Grand Haven is a community with substance and heart, and if you spend just a little bit of time here, you will quickly see why it’s one of the best places to visit along Michigan’s sunset coast.

Don’t mistake Grand Haven as only a summertime retreat — this town is a four-season destination where you can experience the magnificence of Michigan throughout the year.

Merchants Holiday Open House, Harbor Springs - Holidays In The Petoskey Area
Merchants Holiday Open House – Harbor Springs | photo via @jessicawynderphotography

Harbor Springs

Just past Petoskey on the other side of Little Traverse Bay is the tiny harbor town of Harbor Springs. Self-described as a quintessentially classic Northern Michigan destination, this community is home to sparkling waterfront views, amazing fall colors, and excellent winter sports facilities. No matter the season, you will find something to enjoy in Harbor Springs.

Downtown South Haven - #Mittentrip - South Haven - The Awesome Mitten
Downtown South Haven | photo via Shannon Saksewski

South Haven

Those who are searching for a home away from home on Michigan’s west coast will love the town of South Haven, which is a favorite among visitors but has not been taken over by the travel and tourism industry.

If you’re able, walk out to the lighthouse, take a seat on the ground, and watch the sunset. The sun, clouds, boats, people, and dogs came together to create a breathtaking scene. Lingering on the pier for a while as the foot traffic of fellow sun-seekers tapered off was a perfect way to spend an hour.

Shannon Saksewski

This family-friendly beach town has a surprisingly eclectic foodie scene, which has generated interest among travelers from farther away than Michigan. Ultimately, it’s one of the best places to go if you are looking for colorful sunsets, beaches with soft sand, and a healthy dose of culture and history.

Welcome Sign To Village Of Empire (Michigan)
Empire Michigan

Empire

Empire is the gateway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which is what brings most tourists to this town of just more than 350 people in Northern Michigan.

While breathtaking Pierce Stocking Drive offers the perfect tour through this park, you would be remiss if you didn’t spend time exploring the community of Empire itself.

Some of the top things to do in Empire include visiting the Manning Memorial Lighthouse and picking up some handcrafted, artisan chocolate from Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate shop.

Boyne City Tap Room - Boyne City, Michigan
Boyne City Tap Room | photo via @boynecitytaproom

Boyne City

Another small town in the Petoskey Area that is worth visiting is Boyne City. It is a favorite all-seasons destination in Michigan. In the winter months, skiers enjoy the incredible slopes at nearby Michigan ski resorts. Summer brings visitors to Lake Charlevoix for fun in the sun and on the water.

The area is also home to the annual National Morel Mushroom Festival each May, celebrating these delicious mushrooms native to Michigan and the hunt to find them!

Pentwater
Pentwater | photo via homesweetamericanhome

Pentwater

Those who cherish the simple things in life should certainly consider visiting Pentwater, a town on Michigan’s west coast that would be easy to pass through. Pentwater is home to fantastic beaches and a stunning historic lighthouse, and visitors genuinely appreciate the laid-back atmosphere that permeates the community.

Lighthouse In New Buffalo Michigan
New Buffalo

New Buffalo

Located just before the border of Michigan and Indiana, New Buffalo serves as a port of entry for all of those who visit the Great Lakes State.

New Buffalo in Southwest Michigan makes an excellent place for a day trip or a weekend trip. If you are in New Buffalo, you must visit The Harbor Grand Hotel. Whether it’s to stop at the spa, eat at the restaurant, or have a quiet and relaxed morning with breakfast in bed.

With beautiful harbor views, nearby beaches, and charming downtown, New Buffalo is the perfect Michigan destination for a relaxing getaway.

Kassandra Olschanski

Not surprisingly, this incredible town gives off a great first impression. Its top attractions are its local beaches and the nearby Four Winds Casino New Buffalo, but what this town is quickly becoming best known for is its food.

The local restaurant scene is growing and thriving, bringing eclectic flavors from around the world to the heart of Southwest Michigan.

Fennville Michigan
Fennville

Fennville

So many times, people look to visit Michigan’s coastal towns — and for good reason because there’s nothing quite like a peachy-pink sunset over the glittering waters of Lake Michigan.

Fennville Michigan is a small farming community off the beaten path in southwest Michigan. This quaint low-key town is often overlooked because of its proximity to the popular tourist city Saugatuck.

Only seven miles southeast of Saugatuck, Fennville is close enough to be a day trip but removed enough to feel like you are on a hiatus.

Lindsay Syswerda

However, there’s beauty to be found in Michigan’s agricultural regions as well, which is why Fennville is one of the best small towns in Michigan to visit. Fennville is just a short drive from the Lake Michigan shoreline, but it’s home to spectacular sprawling orchards, fruit wineries, and more.

Northport Lake Michigan Sunset On Shoreline
Northport

Northport

Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula is a treasure trove of unspoiled wilderness, stunning coastlines, and charming wineries, and at the very tip of this incredible peninsula is the village of Northport.

Home to just under 500 people, Northport is a small town with big heart. It welcomes visitors with open arms, showcasing classic Michigan attractions, including the iconic Grand Traverse Lighthouse.

With its stately white exterior and brick-red roof, this is one of the most picturesque lighthouses in the state. It is open seasonally for tours, allowing you to learn what life was like as a lighthouse keeper in the early decades of the 20th century.

Art In Tecumseh
Downtown Tecumseh | photo via Rebecca Calkins

Tecumseh

The hallmark of any small town in Michigan is its downtown area. In Tecumseh, you can experience the imagination and enterprise of local Michigan residents against a backdrop of perfectly restored historic buildings.

Tecumseh is known for its thriving downtown, which is filled with local start-ups — antique shops, art galleries, jewelry stores, wineries, and restaurants. If you are looking for a day — or night — on the town, then this small town just south of Jackson and Ann Arbor is the place to be.

Historic Ottawa Point Lighthouse In Tawas City, Michigan, On Lake Huron, Built In 1853
Ottawa Point Lighthouse – Tawas City

East Tawas

For a day on the lake along Michigan’s east coast, consider stopping by East Tawas. Home to just more than 2,600 residents, this town is the perfect place to soak up all that Lake Huron has to offer.

East Tawas is right on Lake Huron, and the scenery was amazing. The sunrises and sunsets were gorgeous and the water was clean and warm enough to swim and kayak in.

Nina Thomas

Whether you are watching the waves roll in at Gateway Park or doing some shopping at the ever-popular Harbor Point, you will find that East Tawas has some of the best views of Lake Huron. In addition, it’s home to Tawas Lake, which is a great place to put your canoe or kayak before paddling the Tawas River out to Tawas Bay on Lake Huron.

Discover More Small Towns in Michigan

You could craft an entire itinerary to include the best small towns in Michigan, or you could simply pick one destination to visit for a quick weekend getaway. No matter what, you won’t be disappointed that you decided to spend your free time in one of these idyllic towns.

On the map, these towns may seem small — even easy to pass by — but these cute towns in Michigan play a big role in making the Mitten State the wonderful place that it is to live, work, and play.

14 Comments

  1. The Au Sable river ends in Oscoda, MI (Ausable Township) which also has one of the most gorgeous stretch of beach in MI. Both East Tawas and Oscoda have much to offer! Beautiful beaches, boating, bike trails, hiking trails, horseback riding trails, snowmobile/ 4 x 4 trails, fishing etc.

  2. Copper Harbor was recently voted as one of the best small towns in America to live. Also Empire Port SaniLac alpina Grand Marais Port Austin

  3. Boyne City Main Street in Boyne City, Michigan is one of three winners of the 2020 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA), which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. It is a compact city with its vibrant downtown on beautiful Lake Charlevoix.

  4. How about Grand Ledge in Central lower Michigan 10 miles west of Lansing? It’s home to The Ledges along the Grand River, Michigan’s longest!! It is a very beautiful small city with about 8,000 residents! Please show The Ledge some love!!

  5. I guess the Trout Capital didn’t count. Kalkaska is and has been a major contributer with the National Trout Festival. Great Village !

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