Sometimes our family gets so caught up in catching new adventures far from home that we often forget what is right in our backyard – it’s Michigan, and there is always fun right around the corner! This summer, the #MIAwesomeList is jam-packed with tons of activities we could do right near our home in Fenton and we were thrilled to plan our hometown adventure.
What could there be in the Flint area, you ask? Well A LOT. Like, a lot, a lot. With my family of 4, we hit the town for a couple of days filled with good food (and beer for mom and dad), music, art, nature, and of course, summer wouldn’t be the same without ice cream!
Thanks to our partner, Explore Flint & Genesee, for pumping us up to explore all the area offers. We might live here, but we partied like tourists the whole time.
Our Explore Flint & Genesee Adventure
What We Did
- Hit the water in Linden with kayaks
- Played at Linden’s Clover Beach
- Enjoyed a concert in the park in Fenton
- Hiked For-Mar Nature Preserve and checked out the butterfly house
- Rode the train and walked through history at Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad
- Went on a hunt for murals around Flint
Where We Ate
- Shirley’s Cafe & Grill in Linden
- Fenton Winery & Brewery
- Grafted Root in Grand Blanc
- Tenacity Brewing in Flint
Ice Cream We Couldn’t Resist
- The Pumphouse in downtown Fenton
- The Ice Cream Garage in downtown Linden
- Banana Boat Ice Cream in Flint
Enjoy Serene Nature in Genesee County
We’ve lived in Fenton for nearly 6 years now and I could kick myself for not doing more exploring in our area. While we camp all over the mitten, it’s rare that we are at home and have the time to get out and experience nature in Genesee County. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to stay near home and explore nature right near our home.
Kayaking Up River to Lake Ponemah
For all the time that we’ve lived in Michigan and camped, we’ve never taken our kids kayaking! With them now being 9 and 5, we had the perfect weekend to try out kayaking close to home. Reservations are required, so we called ahead to Sunshine Kayak Rental in downtown Linden to reserve a couple of kayaks for the morning.
Family-Friendly Kayaking with Sunshine Kayak Rental
Sunshine Kayak Rental is great for families and beginning kayakers, as they offer two different trip types. We opted for the self-return trip which allowed us to go at our own pace at $25 per kayak for an hour rental.
Parking in downtown Linden is easily found right at the Millpond, which is the setting-off point for the kayaks. It was a tad confusing at first, as we thought we were supposed to meet at the kayak launch, but once we called the office and found that we had to check in at their brick-and-mortar location, we were well taken care of.
After fitting us for life jackets, a staff member walked us from the office to the kayak launch and helped us launch our kayaks. My daughter (9) was able to get a youth kayak which was the perfect size for her and easily maneuverable for her first time kayaking. We were able to head up the river toward Lake Ponemah as far as we wanted to and then could turn around and head back to the launch when we were ready.
Perfect Spot for All Kayaking Skill Levels
I’m not an avid kayaker myself – I’ve only been a handful of times – but this experience was not stressful whatsoever. The river itself is more of a canal and the water is calm. Houses line both sides and one home had great music blasting from the deck, so we were able to rock out a bit while we paddled our way up the river. We didn’t bring lunch or snacks with us on this trip, as we had other lunch plans, but it would be fun to plan a kayaking and picnic day!
The river took us under a bridge, where we ultimately ended up turning around and heading back toward the launch. It took us about 30 minutes to get to the bridge – we didn’t paddle full force, we had a lot of resting time and took it slow. In all, our trip was about one hour, but we could have gone longer. My daughter has been talking about how she already wants to go again and maybe try the downriver trip next time.
Hitting the Beach in Linden
After filling our tummies at Shirley’s Cafe and Grill (more on that later!) we took off and headed toward the park and the beach. Linden County Park is home to a gorgeous tree-filled play and lunch area with the popular Clover Beach across the street.
We parked the car near the play area and the kids loved exploring all of the different elements included in the play structure – especially the rock wall and multiple slides. This park has a paved hiking trail that we didn’t get the opportunity to explore on this trip (but we will be back another day to go hiking).
Enjoying the Sandy Clover Beach
Access to the park and the beach is completely free. One caveat here is that since Clover Beach is the place to be during the summer, parking at the beach fills up quickly. If you are planning on being at the park and the beach, you might have to cross Linden Road to get to the beach. This can be problematic accessibility-wise, however, while there are stairs leading down to the beach, there is also an accessible-friendly winding pathway that leads to the beach as well.
Once we made our way across the street and down to the beach, we set up our spot on the sand and the kids splashed their way into the warm waters of Byram Lake. The beach was packed on the day that we visited and for good reason – the water is warm, the beach is sandy, swimming areas are clearly marked and there is little worry of large wakes as it is a smaller lake in the area.
Our trip took us to the beach in the afternoon, but if you are hoping for a sunset, you’re in luck. Being a photographer and living in the area, I can tell you that Clover Beach has one of the best sunsets in the area. Be sure to park across the street if you are hoping to view the sun going down because the Clover Beach parking area does close at 8 pm sharp but the beach is still accessible.
Tasty Treats at The Ice Cream Garage
We cannot end a fun day without stopping for ice cream – it’s our favorite! We tried out The Ice Cream Garage in downtown Linden. Their hard ice cream options are to die for – I went with a blueberry ice cream with graham cracker bits, while my son opted for just plain chocolate (which he then put sour patch kids on…questionable choice, but ok). We enjoyed sitting on the benches with our ice cream and relaxing after spending time in the water.
For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum
One of our favorite activities as a family is hiking and immersing ourselves in nature, it’s why we love our state of Michigan so much! We’ve explored Genesee County’s For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum in the winter (it was a beautiful snowy hike!) but we hadn’t yet had the chance to be there during the summer months.
For-Mar has tons of daytime activities throughout the week, like story times in their accessible tree house, yoga in nature, and classes on gardening and animal care, but we chose to go to the park later in the evening. The weather was a bit cooler at this point and we thought it might be a bit less populated and maybe we could see some animals in action – we were not disappointed!
Barrier Free Treehouse
Once we arrived, we immediately headed straight for the treehouse. A gorgeously built treehouse down a short path near the visitor center, it is wheelchair friendly and gives beautiful views of the forest floor below. From the top of the treehouse, we saw a family of turkeys cross the path – the baby turkeys were so small and adorable! Unfortunately, the treehouse wasn’t open at the time that we went, but the kids still enjoyed looking in the windows and running up the pathway to the treehouse.
Next, we took off toward the other side of the park toward the newly renovated butterfly house. The flowers inside were in full bloom and the scent filling the butterfly house was amazing.
I was hoping that we could get some good photos of butterflies landing on the kids, but since the renovation was just recently completed, the butterflies are being released slowly and so there were not many flying around us. It was also evening, so the butterflies were likely lying low for the night. We were able to see a few monarchs hanging around near the ceiling though!
The arboretum pond was one of our favorite locations to visit, especially in the evening. The sun shines so beautifully through the trees at this spot. Geese were out in plenty, waddling around the grounds and around the pond. We were happy to see some goslings in their teenage phase (awkward with baby fluff still hanging on). The kids loved looking into the water for frogs and turtles. Just be sure to watch your step for goose droppings!
Another favorite location for us was the groundwater pond. We climbed up the observation tower where we were able to see the entire pond from above and from this location we noticed the most magical thing – goldfish! The kids couldn’t wait to rush down from the observation tower and around to the dock on the other side of the pond to watch the goldfish. There were so many!
The entire park in the evening was a magical experience for us, for sure.
Culture-Rich Experiences in Genesee County
Genesee County and the Flint area are chock-full of music, history, and art. You would be hard-pressed to visit any downtown area and not see a stunning wall mural, hear someone playing music, or see a historical marker of some sort. As a photographer, I simply cannot resist a good mural and as a family, we love jamming out to great music and learning about the history of the area around us. Our Genesee County adventure was not disappointing in any of these areas, to say the least.
Fenton Concerts in the Park
On Thursday nights in the summer, downtown Fenton comes alive. While we live about a mile from the weekly happenings, it’s rare that we actually get down there to enjoy all that our town has to offer. I was happy to find that we need to make room on our schedules for more Thursday night trips downtown.
We walked from our home and the kids rode their scooters, but if you are driving, there is plenty of free parking right downtown, both on the street, behind the police station, and behind the community center. The Farmers Market was going strong on Thursday night as well – full of fresh veggies, a snow cone truck and lots of arts and crafts.
Per usual, our family cannot simply do an activity without ice cream in hand, so we made sure to stop by Pumphouse Custard, one of our favorite Fenton ice cream spots. Located at the Fenton Millpond, it’s in the perfect location to listen to the concerts and enjoy a cone by the river. What is unique about their ice cream is that they make all of their ice cream using liquid nitrogen, so cool! My favorite is Faygo Rock N Rye topped with pop rocks – yum!
While we waited for our ice cream, the kids played behind the ice cream shop on the swings and play set, and then we headed to the hill for the concert. What I love about the Fenton Concert in the Park series is that it brings the community together in a fun way. Everyone gathers on the hill in front of the gazebo at the millpond and lounges on blankets in the grass.
A modern country concert was going on the night that we visited and we were happy to be able to sing along with quite a few songs that we know from the radio. The performer was engaging and even came out to the grass to sing along with a few kids who were dancing. The concert started at 7 pm and jammed on until 8:30 pm. Each week, there is a different type of music playing – jazz, pop, and even the local symphony.
Catching the Train at Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad
If you’ve read about our experiences at Fayette Historic State Park, you know that we love history and learning! A visit to Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad was the perfect location to spend a day learning about the history of the area. We purchased our tickets online for both the village and a train ride – these combo tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for kids.
We arrived at the village and as always, our 5-year-old son needed to immediately check out the bathroom on site. I’m happy to report that the facilities are clean! After the bathroom break, the kids needed a bite to eat before our scheduled train ride so we stopped over at the small cafe that is on site. The menu is super simple with hamburgers, hot dogs, and chips, so the kids ate their fill and were ready to board the train.
Huckleberry Railroad Train Ride
The train is pulled by one of two rebuilt historic engines and seating is in replica wooden coaches. Our kids loved hopping onto the train and choosing their spot on the wooden benches to sit while the conductor told stories and jokes. The train ride was about 40 minutes long and took us through the woods and on a loop through Genesee Township.
A highlight of the ride was waving to cars stopped at a red light on the road. The conductor shared historical facts along the way – the railroad was named Huckleberry because it was so slow that a person could jump off, pick some berries, and hop back up on the train with ease!
Once we departed the train station after our ride, we took off into the village to explore. The candy store was a hit with the kids – filled with penny candy, you can get a handful of candies for cents on the dollar. We also loved the Toy Barn, filled with vintage wooden toys that kids can try out as well as the stilts. Our kids loved trying to walk on the stilts – it was rough but they were happy to get a few steps in.
We enjoyed exploring the other buildings in town – the bank features a case of money that would have been in use when the village was in its heyday, while the barbershop attendant has plenty of stories of how the barber would double as a dentist – yikes!
A few history and art booths were lining the street at the time that we went. Our daughter answered a few questions about Michigan and was gifted a polished Petoskey stone! To take a break from the heat, we stepped inside the theater for a magic show.
To round out our visit we went for a ride on the ferris wheel – if you are nervous about heights, or rickety rides, this might be an activity to skip! My daughter and I were gripping the seats for our lives, it was a fast ride! Along those same lines, while very cool to look at, the vintage carousel is very fast – my son loved it!
Although we didn’t ride it during this trip, there is the option to board a replica paddlewheel riverboat for a cruise on Mott Lake. You can view the boat from the docks near the amusement rides.
Hunting for Murals in Flint
I think my favorite activity from our Genesee County adventure was searching for murals in downtown Flint. Maybe it’s the photographer in me, but I absolutely loved the art that brightened the city and could imagine so many photoshoots taking place near them. We headed toward Flint in the evening with the intention of walking, but it started to look like rain, so we drove around town, hunting for murals and stopping when we found them.
The Awesome Mitten team provides a great overview of the Flint Mural Project which lays out where to park if you are looking to do a self-led walking tour and where to find tickets for guided tours of the murals. Since we were expecting rain, we drove to the PSI Building on West 1st Avenue and started our driving tour there.
I was absolutely blown away by the beauty and talent that is taking over Flint! There was not one mural that I was unimpressed with – each one made me want to stop and stare. One of my favorite murals depicts a woman surrounded by birds.
Driving the tour was nice for several reasons:
- To avoid the weather.
- We could see more in a shorter time period.
- Many were near parking areas so we could easily get out and look at the murals up close.
Banana Boat Ice Cream
As always, once we saw many of the murals, the kids started screaming for ice cream (what can I say? We have an addiction!) so we headed off to Flint’s famous Banana Boat Ice Cream. When I tell you that we were overwhelmed by the amount of ice cream we received, I am not lying!
If you decide to try Banana Boat for yourself, know this: a Jr. is 2 large scoops and a small is 3 large scoops. We waited in line at this super popular spot until we were able to order. Our son got his favorite – Superman – and our daughter opted for one scoop of birthday cake and one scoop of black cherry. I tried something new and ordered a lemon-vanilla twist soft-serve cone (which was enormous!), while my husband got an oreo shake.
The flavors were delicious but beware of the size! I found myself double-fisting ice cream cones while I tried to eat my own and keep my son’s from dripping! We will just say that I had an ice cream hangover from this experience but I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Yummy Food and Brews in Genesee County
We love where we live – there are so many options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and we aim to try them all out! During our Genesee County adventure, we tried a few new places and also visited one of our tried and trues.
Shirley’s Cafe & Grill in Linden
After kayaking and before our beach day, we swung into Shirley’s Cafe & Grill for lunch and we were not disappointed! A small cafe located in the parking lot of a convenience store, Shirley’s could be easily missed, but it is obviously a well-loved spot. We had a short wait before we could be seated at a table.
The restaurant is decked out in Elvis memorabilia and the walls are lined with classic 45s. The kids had a great time checking out all of the items in the glass case by the cash register and they loved chatting with the staff who were all very nice, including Shirley herself! Shirley’s is open until 2 pm so it’s the designated breakfast and lunch spot for many locals.
We ordered sandwiches, while others were ordering breakfast – everything looked and smelled amazing! Everything was served with a very hometown feel – simple and to the point, delivered with a smiling face. When we left, we felt like we would be welcomed back as regulars.
Fenton Winery & Brewery
One of our all-time favorite places to eat is Fenton Winery & Brewery. Not only is it close to home, but their food, beer, and wine are some of my favorite treats, but we hadn’t visited in the summer to take advantage of their patio seating yet and this was the perfect time to try it out! Since we were visiting on a weeknight, we didn’t have to wait for a table at all.
My husband and I ordered flights – 4 samples of the beer or wine of your choice – and we ordered pizza for the table. My favorite drink of the night was the seasonal strawberry-pear cider – yum!
While we waited for our pizza order to come out, the kids played giant Connect 4 on the patio and we took a walk around the garden area to smell the herbs and look at the flowers that are planted there.
The pizza at Fenton Winery & Brewery is divine. We ordered the Golden Ticket (my choice, trust me, it’s the best) which features golden fig, prosciutto, cheeses, and a balsamic reduction as well as the meat lover’s pizza. The pizza paired with our beer flights was the perfect combination for a night out on the patio.
Tenacity Brewing in Flint
Before our trip to see the murals, we visited Tenacity Brewing in Flint and I think we have a new favorite place! We parked behind the old fire department building that houses the brewery and walked up to an open patio area. I was thrilled to see a taco truck on site (your girl loves her some tacos!) as well as yard games like cornhole set up.
We headed into the building where we ordered our beer (for the adults only, the kiddos brought their water bottles) and headed back outside to choose a picnic table to sit at. I opted for the cherry bomb cider that was on tap and was not disappointed. My husband tried out their blonde ale which was light and refreshing.
The taco truck was a highlight feature for me – I ordered both a chorizo taco and a pulled pork taco and was delighted that they were packed full of flavor. There is honestly nothing better than hanging out on a patio with tacos and beer, especially in the summer.
While there, we walked around the grassy area near the patio, where corn hole is set up. There is also an axe-throwing station (head over on a Monday night to throw an axe!), which I thought was a cool addition to the laid back vibe that the brewery gives. We will definitely be back – maybe I’ll even try my hand at axe-throwing!
The Grafted Root Eatery in Grand Blanc
We brunched at The Grafted Root Eatery, a popular breakfast, brunch and lunch spot in downtown Grand Blanc. When we arrived we had quite a bit of a wait, but we are patient folk so didn’t mind. The staff was incredibly sweet and apologetic about the wait, but they didn’t need to be! We don’t mind waiting, it just means that everyone wants to get their hands on some delicious food.
The restaurant is a tiny place within a shopping complex and from the outside, you would never expect to see the art and booked lined walls in the nook of a cafe that is inside. Little vintage tables were set up near a fully stocked bar with Michigan craft beer on tap.
Mimosas were being served all around and the smell of brunch wafted through the air. Needless to say, I had to order their banana-bread french toast for brunch as I could smell it all around me and it was worth it. The kids shared a Caprese grilled cheese with tomato soup that looked and smelled amazing. I can’t wait to visit again!
Want to Explore More in Genesee County this Summer?
The Flint area is one of the most culture and nature-rich areas around. There are so many places to visit, eat and experience, that it’s hard to fit it all in a couple of days! Here are some more places that are worth the trip:
- Ice Cream at Uncle Ray’s in Fenton – you cannot go wrong with their pineapple banana frozen yogurt and don’t forget to play mini-golf!
- Back to the Bricks Tune Up Parties – check out the American classic car events throughout the summer in Flint.
- Visit Stepping Stone Falls – a perfect photo opportunity and beautiful hiking trails.
- Take a hike at Dauner Martin Nature Sanctuary – a hidden gem in downtown Fenton (and super close to Uncle Ray’s ice cream!).
- Kayak the Flint River National Water Trail – take a guided tour.
- From out of town? Check out places to stay, from hotels and bed and breakfasts to campgrounds.