Tucked away in the northeast corner of Michigan is the city of Alpena, which is known to most as the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes. Its proximity to Lake Huron as well as its warm and welcoming atmosphere make it an ideal vacation destination providing many things to do in Alpena Michigan.
The people who live in Alpena appreciate the fact that the community is rooted in history and authenticity, yet it is always looking forward to the future.
A Brief History of Alpena Michigan
Alpena was settled in the mid-19th century, and it quickly became known as the logging capital of the country. Lumber could easily be harvested and logs could float down the Thunder Bay River to waiting ships in the harbor, who were ready to take it to destinations around the United States.
As a place where industry thrived and natural resources were abundant, Alpena began to grow quickly — and its people were always in favor of progress.
Today, Alpena is more than just a logging town where timber reigns supreme. It is a town that is anchored by a variety of industries, including manufacturing, medicine, education, and more. It is a place where residents can enjoy the great outdoors as well as cultural attractions that are designed to excite the mind and spark conversation.
Alpena is a dynamic community where anyone can live and work or stay and play for a short while.
What to Do in Alpena if You Want to Spend Your Time Outdoors
In many regards, Alpena is a natural playground, and it has long attracted the attention of adventurous people who want to get out and explore the world around them.
If you want to spend most of your time outside while you are in Alpena, then you are in luck. There are many things to see, do, and experience outdoors in this community.
Lake Huron Beaches in Alpena
The Lake Huron beaches are likely the most popular outdoor attractions in Alpena. Fortunately, the miles of shoreline in this city means that there are many different beaches to choose from, allowing you to find a spot that is perfect for swimming and splashing or for relaxing in a quiet, peaceful atmosphere.
Some of the most popular Lake Huron beaches in Alpena include:
This beach is located just outside of downtown Alpena, making it the hottest spot to be on the warmest days of the year. This family-friendly beach has playground equipment, public restrooms, and a splash pad.
Bay View Park
This is a large beach that is considered to be the heart of the Alpena community. Throughout the year, many community events are hosted at this park, which also has a swimming area, tennis courts, bandshell, and playground.
Negwegon State Park
While not in the town of Alpena, this rustic beach in Alpena County is the best option for outdoor enthusiasts who want a rugged and private environment when they are at the beach. Once you arrive at this beach, you can set up camp at a local campsite and stay for a few days to soak up the natural beauty that surrounds you.
More to Outdoor Things to Do in Alpena
You don’t have to spend all of your time outdoors in Alpena on the shores of the lake. In fact, some of the best outdoor attractions in Alpena lie beneath the surface of the water.
You can take a glass-bottomed boat tour to the shipwreck sites on Thunder Bay and even go snorkeling to see the shipwrecks for yourself.
You also may want to consider canoeing, kayaking, or paddleboarding on the mighty but peaceful Thunder Bay River, at Island Park, or at the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary.
Enveloping the coast of Alpena and the surrounding areas of Thunder Bay and Lake Huron, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has been accumulating a large number and variety of shipwrecks since the 1800s.
Go Inside and Make Some Memories in Alpena
While there are so many things to do outdoors in Alpena, you will still want to make room to spend some time inside while you are staying in the city. There are many indoor attractions in Alpena that showcase the best of what this city has to offer.
These are a few of the top indoor attractions and activities in Alpena:
It’s impossible to miss this massive facility in downtown Alpena. The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center has dozens of exhibits that showcase what life is like on the Great Lakes.
Not only are there informative and interactive exhibits about the past, but there is information about why it’s important to protect the lakes for the future.
This family-friendly thing to do in Alpena Michigan is free of charge, so there’s no reason not to include it as part of your itinerary.
This small theater in downtown Alpena is run by a group of community volunteers who believe in the power of performance. The theater puts on several shows throughout the year, so make sure to grab tickets when you are in town.
As the largest museum of its kind in this region of the state, the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan is a favorite indoor destination among both local residents and visitors.
This museum is dedicated to art, science, and history, and has a variety of unique attractions, including a planetarium, a historic village, and a natural wildlife gallery.
Wintertime Activities to Enjoy in Alpena
Wintertime in Alpena is quiet, peaceful, and cold. Fortunately, that means that there are a lot of opportunities to enjoy winter sports and outdoor recreation.
Some of the most popular winter things to do in Alpena include:
Snowmobiling is particularly popular among local residents who are accustomed to the significant snowfalls that take place throughout the entire winter in Alpena. Local snowmobilers know that the most reliable trail to frequent is the N.E.S.T. trail.
Snowshoeing is another winter activity that is gaining traction in the community. Snowshoeing is becoming increasingly popular largely due to the fact that it is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. You will find that you can use regular hiking trails at local parks for snowshoeing during the winter.
Hiking is more than just a spring and summer activity. In fact, some of the best hiking experiences — and views from the trails — can be enjoyed during the winter months. It’s important to be prepared and to select a trail that is appropriate for your skill level.
However, when you go hiking in the winter, you will find that it’s the perfect way to clear your mind and learn to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.
Ice fishing is a local pastime, and there are several lakes in the area where you are able to try your hand at this unique winter activity. If the conditions are right, consider heading to Long Lake, Hubbard Lake, or Fletcher’s Pond.
Best Springtime Things to Do in Alpena
As the winter begins to recede and spring starts to arrive, it seems as if Alpena quickly comes to life. During this season of renewal, there are plenty of things to do in Alpena.
Hiking Norway Ridge Trail
One of the best things to do in Alpena in the spring is go hiking along the nature trails that wind through the local parks. Just a few miles south of Alpena you will find the Norway Ridge trail.
This trail stretches for 10 miles, and it is well-loved by hikers of all skill levels. It is a groomed trail and relatively easy to navigate, making it an accessible option for families with young children or beginners who are new to hiking.
When you walk along this serene trail in the springtime, you will begin to see life coming forth from the ground once again. It’s a beautiful time of year to see leaves blooming and plants bursting forth from the ground.
Also, keep your eyes and ears open, because you just may hear some of those new baby birds chirping for their next meal.
Alpena Farmers Market
Also, as the harsh winter weather fades away for another year, the Alpena Farmer’s Market moves outdoors again in the spring. Starting in April, the farmer’s market opens at 8 a.m. each Saturday and runs until 1 p.m. in the afternoon. Visitors can head to the market to grab fresh produce, bouquets of flowers, and artisan food products.
After a season where the best thing to do is stay inside and get cozy, spring is a welcome break in Alpena. Everyone is typically ready to get out and enjoy the Great Lakes once again.
Enjoy the Warm Sun and Cool Waves During Summertime in Alpena
Summertime is one of the liveliest seasons in Alpena, with local residents spending most of their time outside on the shores of Lake Huron and vacationers heading to the city in droves. While summer is the perfect time of year to frequent the many beaches in Alpena, it’s also the season when the community hosts some of its most popular annual festivals.
These are just a few of the annual festivals that you can attend during the summer in Alpena:
This annual festival takes place in July each year and is a fun-filled event with plenty of nautical activities to enjoy. Some of the events that you may want to check out include the cardboard boat regatta, the live music, and the local restaurant tastings.
With free admission, it’s an affordable way to enjoy some family fun in the sun.
The Brown Trout Festival is another week-long community festival that takes place near the end of July. It has been hosted in Alpena for nearly 50 years, making it the longest-running fishing tournament in the Great Lakes.
Attendees can participate by fishing during the designated time slots, and those who don’t want to fish can simply show up for live music, food, and festivities.
The summer culminates in August when the Alpena County Fair comes to town. This annual tradition includes all of the best elements of a hometown fair, such as animal exhibits, animal shows, a carnival, food tents, and more.
Not only does the Alpena County Fair attract visitors from afar, but it’s also a favorite event among local residents who have long called this community home.
Fresh Fall Fun to Enjoy in Alpena
The end of summer is always bittersweet, but it’s hard not to be excited about fall when you are spending time in Alpena. While the crisp temperatures and fall colors signal an end of life for another season, it seems to also usher in a fresh burst of energy for local people and visitors who are ready to make the most out of Michigan’s most magnificent season.
Fall Color Tour
One of the best things to do in the fall in Alpena is to go on a fall color tour. The fall colors peak in this northeast corner of the state sometime in the middle of October, but the exact timing will vary from year to year.
Regardless of whether you visit in late September and throughout October, you are sure to see some pops of reds, oranges, and yellows in the trees.
If you are interested in a fall color tour on foot, then consider walking through the Holy Cross and Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery on Washington Avenue. The trees that blanket the cemetery are known for their vibrant shades of yellow and orange.
If you prefer to see the colors from the water, consider taking a kayak ride along the Thunder Bay River.
Knaebe’s Apple Farm and Ciderworks
Another way to spend a fall day in Alpena is to head over to Knaebe’s Apple Farm and Ciderworks. This locally-owned farm and Northern Michigan apple orchard is a family-friendly destination with plenty of unique activities and attractions, including a u-pick pumpkin patch, a barrel train ride for kids, an apple slingshot for visitors to try, and farm animals for people to enjoy.
Admission to the orchard is free.
Fall Harvest Fossil Fest
If you didn’t get your fill of festivals over the summer, you can spend the day at the Fall Harvest Fossil Fest at the Besser Museum. This event is a favorite among locals, and it includes activities that are both enjoyable and educational.
It usually takes place on a Saturday in October, and some of the events include quarry tours, fossil digging, and family-friendly games. Attendees also can enjoy fresh apple cider and fudge sundaes!
Activities and Attractions that the Whole Family Can Enjoy in Alpena
Alpena is the type of place that appeals to people of all ages and stages, but it is easily considered to be one of the top family-friendly destinations in Michigan. There is so much to do for families of all shapes and sizes, which makes it the perfect place to visit for a vacation.
If you are planning a family trip to Alpena, these are a few activities and attractions that you may want to add to your itinerary:
A Visit to the Besser Museum
The Besser Museum is more than just a museum with interesting exhibits. It has many immersive and interactive activities for kids to enjoy, such as planetarium shows, a wildlife gallery where kids can see many of the fish that live in the Great Lakes, and an avenue of shops that appears as if it emerged straight out of the late 19th century.
A Trip to Starlite Beach
Starlite Beach is one of several Lake Huron beaches in Alpena, and it’s a particularly great option for families. Not only does it have restrooms and a picnic area, but there’s also a splash pad that was built in 2018.
Many younger children who aren’t quite ready to brave the waves of Lake Huron appreciate being able to stay cool and have fun in this water playground.
Head to the Playground at Mich-e-ke-wis Park
This playground is ideal for families with kids at different stages, because it has equipment that is suitable for a variety of ages and skill levels.
Romantic Things to Do in Alpena with That Special Someone
Whether you are taking that first getaway with someone new that you are spending time with or you are embarking on an anniversary trip with your spouse of many years, you will find that a date night in Alpena helps you feel young and in love at all times.
There are so many romantic things to do in this community that is filled with flavorful food and spectacular views, but here are a few ideas to help you get started with planning your next night out:
Get competitive at the oldest, continuously-operated mini-golf course in Michigan. Lee’s Mini Golf Course is a putt-putt course that may seem simplistic at first glance but is actually more challenging than it looks. Put your relationship to the test and see who comes out on top after a round of 18 holes at this local treasure.
Grab a meal at a popular dining locale in the city. The Black Sheep Pub is a great choice for your date night because it features an authentic European atmosphere as well as delicious food. You can sit back, relax, grab a pint and enjoy a great conversation with that special someone.
Stare at the stars at a Dark Sky Preserve in Alpena. After a fun adventure and a nourishing meal, you and your honey can cuddle up under the stars at Negwegon State Park, Harbor State Park, and the Rockport State Park Recreation Area.
All of these parks are designed dark sky zones, which means that you can see the stars perfectly on a clear night. Grab a blanket and your favorite beverage, and see how many constellations you can spot together.
Take Advantage of These Free and Affordable Things to Do in Alpena
Alpena is a surprisingly affordable vacation destination. Not only does it have many outdoor recreational areas that are free to enter, but it also has a variety of indoor attractions that do not charge admission.
Some of the best free and affordable things to do in Alpena include:
Visiting the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center
This museum is free to enter, though there are excursions available that cost extra.
Biking the Alpena Bi-Path
This urban bicycle trail will take you through the heart of Alpena and will allow you to soak up the city’s urban and riverfront views.
Stroll the Downtown Area and Check Out the Shops
The historic downtown in Alpena is bursting with life, and there are new shops and restaurants opening up each year. It doesn’t cost anything to walk along the street and see what’s going on in Alpena.
Head to a Local Park or Beach
There are many community parks in Alpena, and some of them even have beachfront access. These public parks do not charge an entrance fee, so you can enjoy a free day of outdoor family fun in Alpena.
Where to Stay in Alpena: The Best Local Lodging
Alpena is a vacation destination that attracts travelers of all types. This is a popular destination for families, particularly those who like to enjoy outdoor adventures or unique excursions together.
It’s also a great spot for couples who are looking for a romantic getaway where they can enjoy fresh air, spectacular views, and delicious food. As a result, there are plenty of locally-owned hotels, vacation rentals, and campgrounds in the area.
Some of the best places to stay in Alpena include:
Alpena Resorts is a locally-owned vacation resort that has been welcoming visitors to the city for more than three decades. This resort, which is centrally located and offers premier access to many of the community’s best attractions, boasts a heated pool, fitness center, and patio.
The Life Aquatic Vacation Rental
The Life Aquatic is a vacation home in Alpena that you simply can’t miss — not only because of its sky blue color but also because of its luxury amenities.
Campers Cove RV Park & Canoe Livery
For those looking to experience the natural wonders of Alpena, the Campers Cove RV Park & Canoe Livery is the perfect accommodation. This locally-owned campground features RV campsites as well as cabin rentals, and campers have access to exciting amenities, such as canoe and kayak rentals and miniature golf.
Dine at the Most Flavorful Restaurants in Alpena
Alpena has long been known as a historic port town, but it’s only recently started to earn a reputation as a foodie destination. In downtown Alpena and throughout the community, locally-owned Alpena restaurants are popping up everywhere.
The people who live in Alpena and those who are just visiting love to dine at these establishments because they offer fresh, seasonal fare as well as an inviting and genuine atmosphere.
Court Yard Restaurant
One of the most iconic restaurants in Alpena is the Court Yard Restaurant. Since the 1980s, both visitors and locals alike have found that this is one of the best places to enjoy a meal in the city. It is so beloved because it is appealing and welcoming to all types of diners.
Families who are looking for a hearty and delicious meal after a day of sightseeing are able to sit around and have a conversation in the cozy dining room, while couples who are in search of romance can soak up the ambiance as well.
The Courtyard Restaurant changes its menu completely four times per year, which means that there is always a new meal to try. The selections are created based on what is fresh and available from the local area, making this one of the most flavorful restaurants in town.
Mangos Tequila Bar
For a touch of spice and Mexican culture, the best place to dine in Alpena is Mangos Tequila Bar. This restaurant is a casual dining spot with a lively atmosphere, and it is suitable for families, young people, couples, and more.
While the menu includes a variety of traditional Mexican dishes, it also features innovative dishes that have a unique twist. This is a dining experience that truly cannot be missed during any stay in Alpena.
Nick’s Southside Diner
Another one of the most popular restaurants in Alpena is Nick’s Southside Diner. On the outside, this American restaurant appears like any other local diner in any Midwestern community. On the inside, however, it’s clear to see that there’s something special to be found.
Whether you go for breakfast or for lunch, you will find that you enjoy a meal that fills your belly as well as your soul. No matter which menu option you select, be sure to finish off your meal with one of the towering sundaes that have made this restaurant famous.
Shop Until You Drop at These Local Stores in Alpena
Whether you are staying in Alpena for the weekend or you have a weeklong vacation planned in the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes, you simply must take some time to go shopping.
Alpena is full of locally-owned shops that offer one-of-a-kind products that cannot be found anywhere else. These are just a few of the shops that you may want to visit when you are staying in Alpena:
Cedar and Threads
Cedar and Threads is a family-owned gift shop that is located in downtown Alpena. It is the best place to go if you are looking for a comfortable shirt or sweatshirt to bring home from your trip to this part of Michigan. It also specializes in other gift items, making it a favorite souvenir shop among travelers.
My Glass Wings Studio and Gifts
Found in the historic John Rowe building in downtown Alpena, My Glass Wings Studio and Gifts is a stained glass art studio. This studio has dozens of handmade stained glass items on display that are also available for purchase. In addition, there are gifts for people of all ages and interests. It’s an ideal place to go if you are looking for one-stop shopping in Alpena.
North Country Candy & Gifts
If you are looking to bring the taste of Alpena home with you, then definitely make time to stop by North Country Candy & Gifts. This locally-owned candy and treat shop is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Its most popular items include homemade caramel corn, premium chocolates, and locally-roasted flavored coffee beans.
More to Explore in Alpena Michigan
From the Lake Huron beaches to the iconic Alpena theaters, there are exciting things to do in Alpena Michigan for people of every age level and interest. There’s a reason that this town is known as a sanctuary — it’s the kind of place where people can escape the trials of their daily lives and rejuvenate their hearts, minds, and bodies.
When you visit Alpena, you will be surrounded by beauty, culture, and authenticity. There’s no better place to be in Michigan!