This Michigan bucket list item is brought to you by Visit Manistee County.
Manistee, Michigan, is a one-of-a-kind city where beauty, nature, and history come together. The downtown area is located right on the waterfront of the Big Manistee River, which flows through Manistee Lake and into Lake Michigan. With the Manistee Riverwalk opening the city to several exceptional experiences, locals and visitors alike find that Downtown Manistee is a terrific place to spend the summer.
1. The Manistee Riverwalk
Stretching the length of downtown is the 1.75-mile Manistee Riverwalk. There’s no wrong way to enjoy this path — take a leisurely stroll, go for a power walk, or jog along the Big Manistee River.
For being relatively short compared to featured trails in other cities, there’s quite a lot to see. Since it passes through the marina, you could even see a freighter slowly moving down the channel. The route includes two iconic drawbridges as well, and you can see them in action if a freighter is passing through.
If you take your time on the Manistee Riverwalk, you can read the informational markers about the region’s history, the river’s importance in the foundation of Manistee, and the local industrial boom. We challenge you to read all 25!
2. Boat Tours on the Princess of Ludington
For summer 2021, you have the rare opportunity to board the Princess of Ludington in Manistee for Lake Michigan boat tours. The 65-foot, all-aluminum vessel was built in 1973 with twin diesel engines. It’s famed for carrying passengers to Mackinac Island and the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior.
The Princess can accommodate up to 150 passengers, but the current capacity will be limited to 75 passengers. It has a galley where you can get snacks and beverages, and there’s a full-service wet bar with craft beer, wine, and cocktails. Two restrooms are located on board too.
You have four boat tour options. The 1.5-hour Manistee Day Cruise launches from the Manistee Riverwalk and cruises Lake Michigan if the waves and other conditions are good. If not, it heads to Manistee Lake for the cruise. Rather than the day cruise, you could choose the sunset cruise, which is very popular when the weather is warm. The captain will direct the Princess wherever the sunset is most visible and scenic, so you’re certain to get great photos.
A third tour option is the 3-hour Big Sable Point Lighthouse Day Cruise. As the name suggests, the Princess will cruise toward the lighthouse, which was built in 1867 after 12 shipwrecks in the area. For an even more scenic view of the lighthouse and surroundings, choose the three-hour lighthouse sunset cruise.
3. The Summer Concert Series
Manistee County hosts many opportunities to listen to live music for free. During the Summer Concert Series, local and regional artists have you hopping around various venues to enjoy their music. You can hear leading big band, classic, and jazz groups at the ShoreLine ShowCase at Rotary Park on 1st Street. Hosted by the Manistee Jaycees, Roots on the River features bluegrass and other musical varieties near downtown. You can learn more about other nearby summer concerts here.
4. Farmers Markets in Downtown & Nearby
At Memorial Drive near Maple Street Bridge, a Farmers Market is held for Homegrown Saturdays, which occurs every Saturday throughout the summer. More than 50 vendors gather to sell artisan goods, local produce, fresh flowers, and more. On top of that, you’ll hear a range of musicians playing live in front of the historic downtown shops.
Less than 20 minutes north of downtown Manistee, Onekama Farmers Market is open during the summer on Fridays starting from June. You can find even more artisan goods, fruits, and vegetables here while exploring downtown Onekama.
5. Fringe-Covered Surrey Carriage Tours of Dempsey Manor
If you like taking city tours of new places, you’ll love this tour of Dempsey Manor in a fringe-covered Victorian surrey carriage. There are four guided tours to choose from — all of which are narrated with informative details about the city’s history.
We suggest the Downtown Tour with Riverwalk, which takes you to 25 historic sites and past the two bridges over the river. It also includes a stroll on the Manistee Riverwalk — all in 2 to 3.5 hours. The other three tours last for about the same amount of time. They take you through the east and west historic homes districts and to historic churches and a landmark cemetery.
6. Historic Self-Guided Tours
Maybe you prefer to wander Manistee on your own. You can do that with the city’s self-guided tours. There are eight to choose from, covering 150 miles of Manistee County. Each includes a recommended route map and videos of each site that you can listen to along the way. Here are four tours that will help you explore historic downtown Manistee:
- Downtown / Commercial District Self-Guided Historic Tour — In 2 to 3.5 hours, you can walk to two bridges and 27 historic buildings in the central business district. The recommended route starts and ends at the Manistee County Historical Museum.
- West Homes Self-Guided Historic Tour — Taking 2.5 to 3.5 hours walking, this tour includes 21 historic homes and an optional building in the west residential district. Starting and ending at the Water Works Museum is the most ideal. Among the homes that you visit, the Filer Home on 1st Street is nearest the Manistee Riverwalk.
- East Homes Self-Guided Historic Tour — This 2 to 3.5-hour walking tour includes 15 historic homes in the east historic district. The Manistee County Historical Museum is the best place to start and end your journey.
- Churches Self-Guided Historic Tour — Only taking about 1.5 hours on foot, this tour takes you by nine historic churches. The ideal starting point is First Congregational Church on 4th Street. To complete the tour, we recommend hopping in the car because the other three churches and historic Oak Grove Cemetery are spread farther apart.
Local Manistee Dining Favorites
Downtown Manistee certainly has no shortage of fantastic food. One local favorite is Taco Bout It, a Mexican fusion restaurant that makes its own corn and flour tortillas, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, seasoning blends, and more on a daily basis. A tribute to the city’s fascinating history, North Channel Brewing Company serves Texas-style barbecue with 12 beers on rotating taps and live music and events. Set next to the Maple Street Bridge, you can enjoy a view of downtown and the Big Manistee River while you eat.
At Blue Fish Kitchen + Bar, you get artisan and farm-to-table dishes with a large selection of artfully prepared Great Lakes fish. Additionally, the restaurant has an extensive list of wines, artisan cocktails, and craft beer. Located in the basement of The Ramsdell Inn, TJ’s Pub has a cozy atmosphere, serves American favorites, and has a wide variety of craft beer, wine, and cocktail options. Since everything is fresh, the kitchen has no problem accommodating special diets — ie. gluten-free, vegetarian, and more.
Staying in Downtown Manistee
Manistee has several lodging options in the downtown area. One of our go-to spots is The Ramsdell Inn. The Victorian building is home to the only boutique hotel in the city. It has three floors with two suites and eight spacious rooms. Its location on River Street is ideal for walking to all of the above restaurants and on the Manistee Riverwalk.
About a 10-minute walk from the river path, Dempsey Manor Bed & Breakfast and Victorian House Museum is a truly exceptional place to stay. Along with luxurious rooms, the mansion is full of art and furnishings from the 16th to 19th centuries. Its location is really close to many of the historic sites on the self-guided tours of downtown.
If you’re looking for a different type of stay, check out these other lodging options.