Summer Family Vacation Ideas On Michigan'S Thumbcoast
· · ·

2023 Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Summer Family Vacation on Michigan’s Thumbcoast

Spanning 140 miles along Lake Huron’s shorelines, Michigan’s Thumbcoast has outdoor recreational activities for everyone in your family. On top of that, the area’s beach towns are full of indoor experiences that allow you and your kids to explore your creative sides on a rainy summer day.

Whether you want to hike the trail systems, see the northern lights, check out a theater, climb a lighthouse, learn something new at a museum, or all of the above, the Thumbcoast is the best place to check off your summer bucket list.

Thanks to the Blue Water Area CVB for being 2022 #MIAwesomeList Summer Bucket List partners.

Fort Gratiot Lighthouse - Port Huron
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Family Things to Do in the Greater Port Huron Area

There’s no doubt that Port Huron is the ideal city for a family vacation in the summer. It has beaches, parks, museums, a movie theater, unique restaurants, and fantastic lodging options. Plus, you can find even more family-friendly things to do in Lexington, Goodells, and Kimball nearby.

Port Huron Area Outdoor Activities for Families

Timber Creek Petting Farm | Lexington

Rescuing displaced exotic and farm animals, Timber Creek Petting Farm provides an enjoyable and educational experience for all ages. Friday through Sunday during the summer, you get plenty of chances to feed and pet the animals.

Pine River Nature Center | Goodells

For outdoor recreation and education in one place, head to the Pine River Nature Center. This 90-acre nature center features a mature hardwood forest, prairie, and wetland. And, the Pine River running through it has created deep ravines, so you get impressive views of the flood plain below.

You can explore these features via more than 3 miles of trails, which are open from dawn to dusk. Also, there’s a fully accessible treehouse near the middle of the property. It’s the only one of its kind in the state.

Palmer Park | Port Huron

A center for recreation in Port Huron, Palmer Park is wooded and has playground equipment for kids, as well as picnic areas. Additionally, it features a gaga ball pit, super slide, and Sprout City Park. The super slide is a downhill tube ride that’s open from late June.

Sprout City Park is a one-of-a-kind, scaled-down play building park. There’s a house, bank and post office, hospital, farmer’s market, school, police station, fire station, and workshop garage.

On top of that, Sprout City has a shaded sandbox with dinosaur bones buried in it, painting easels, tricycles, two slides, and more for children to enjoy. This section of Palmer Park opens in early May, but some features aren’t available until late June.

Sawmill City | Kimball

For an amusement park-like experience, spend the day at Sawmill City. It has bumper boats, single and double go-karts, train rides, water wars with water balloons, bank shot basketball, and batting cages. There’s even a three-story wet and dry slide!

Thomas Edison Depot Museum - Port Huron
Thomas Edison Depot Museum // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Family-Friendly Indoor Things to Do in Port Huron

Bowl-O-Drome Lanes

Bowling is always a fun indoor family activity when the weather is rainy during the summer, and Bowl-O-Drome Lanes is ready to accommodate. This 18-lane bowling alley is open Tuesday through Sunday.

Also on the property is a waterfront restaurant and bar — Zebra Lounge. The menu includes sandwiches, pitas and wraps, hot dogs and kielbasa, dinner plates, and build-your-own burgers.

Nasr Natural Science Museum - Port Huron
Nasr Natural Science Museum // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Port Huron Museums

Another budget-friendly vacation activity for families is visiting one (or more) of Port Huron’s museums. For Summer 2022, admission will be free for four museums in the city — Carnegie Center, Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, Huron Lightship, and Thomas Edison Depot.

Here’s more information about these and other museums in Port Huron:

  • Carnegie Center — Located in a 1902 building, this museum houses more than 45,000 artifacts related to the Thumbcoast’s history and culture. Included is the largest collection of ship models in Michigan.
  • Discovery City — At the Carnegie Center, this area provides an hour and 15 minutes of hands-on fun for kids ages 2 to 8 years. Best of all, you only need to buy tickets for the kids!
  • Experience Center — In the Clara E. Mackenzie Building at St. Clair County Community College, families can explore all kinds of exhibits, including the Dr. Bassam H. Nasr Natural Science Museum, which has the biggest collection of fossils in the Thumbcoast. Admission is free.
  • Fort Gratiot Lighthouse — For free, you can explore the grounds of the oldest working lighthouse in Michigan — built in 1829. Paid guided tours, though, allow you to climb the 94 iron stairs for an amazing view.
  • Huron Lightship — Climb aboard this floating lighthouse to view the living quarters and listen to stories about its active history. It was the last operating Great Lakes lightship.
  • Thomas Edison Depot Museum — Housed inside the 1858 Fort Gratiot train depot, this museum portrays the multifaceted story of Edison as a world-famous inventor through interactive exhibits. You can explore the restored railroad baggage car outside too.

Sperry’s Moviehouse

If your family loves movies, Sperry’s Moviehouse offers a unique, intimate experience. The 12-screen boutique theater has luxury recliner seats with heat and massage options.

Along with traditional concession bites — popcorn, candy, and soda — you can order entrees and specials from the 2nd Floor Dinnerhouse. Enjoy your meal before, during, or after the film.

Discovery City At Carnegie Center - Port Huron
Discovery City // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Best Summer Event in Port Huron for Families

If you’re visiting Port Huron in early August, set time aside to attend Blue Water SandFest. This three-day festival at Fort Gratiot Lighthouse hosts the only master sand-sculpting competition in Michigan. The event also includes:

  • Advanced and amateur sand-sculpting contests
  • Free sand-sculpting demonstrations and lessons
  • A Quick Sand Speed Sculpting Show
  • Kids Zone with a huge sandbox
  • Lighthouse tours
  • Beer garden and festival food
  • Live music by award-winning local and national artists
  • Free trolley rides to the festival from St. Clair County Community College and Holland Woods Middle School
Huron Lightship - Port Huron
Huron Lightship // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Greater Port Huron Restaurants for Families

Scoops of Lexington | Lexington

At The Lexington House’s Scoops of Lexington, you can indulge your sweet tooth with a cold treat. The ice cream shop serves hand-dipped ice cream, old-fashioned malts and milkshakes, and homemade waffle cones.

Wimpy’s Place | Lexington

For famous mouthwatering burgers, head to Wimpy’s Place. This restaurant makes handcrafted burgers with zero trans fat! Alongside burgers, it serves hot dogs, Coney dogs, kielbasa, sandwiches, and a range of classic sides. Don’t forget desserts, such as cinnamon rolls, danishes, and pie.

Raven Cafe | Port Huron

Considered a culinary, cultural, and musical center in downtown Port Huron, the Raven Cafe is located in a restored Civil War-era building, one of the oldest buildings in the area.

It’s famous for its giant, 1-pound baked potato but also serves delicious soups, grilled and oven-baked sandwiches, bakery items, real fruit smoothies, coffee beverages, craft beer, and craft cocktails.

Casey’s | Port Huron

Popular among patrons of all ages, Casey’s is a local favorite that serves specialty pizza, jumbo breadsticks, grilled subs, and more in a casual dining atmosphere. During the summer, the garage doors on the south side of the restaurant open up to a patio with fire pits.

Nicky D’s Burgerz | Port Huron

Whether you want breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Nicky D’s Burgerz has you covered. Opened in the former Powers Diner, the restaurant serves gourmet burgers and new dishes, such as corned-beef egg rolls and pitas.

Raven Cafe - Port Huron
Raven Cafe // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Family Lodging in Port Huron Area

Jellystone Park at North Port Huron | Carsonville

Up the Lake Huron coastline from Port Huron, Jellystone Park is a very kid-friendly campground for tent, RV, and cabin camping. Tons of activities are available on-site — a nature trail, basketball, volleyball, beach swimming, fishing, jumping pillows, playgrounds, a heated pool, mini-golf, and more!

Even if you don’t stay at Jellystone Park, you can get a Day Use Pass for a full day of activities.

Hotels in Port Huron

Port Huron has more than a dozen lodging options within the city. For instance, the DoubleTree by Hilton, Comfort Inn Hotel, Holiday Inn Express & Suites, and Hampton Inn offer great accommodations for families. Check out these and other Port Huron hotels here.

Doubletree By Hilton - Port Huron Hotel
DoubleTree by Hilton – Port Huron // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Family Things to Do in Port Austin & Harbor Beach

At the tip of the Michigan Thumb in Huron County, Port Austin is home to numerous kid-friendly things to do during the summer. The nearby towns of Port Hope and Harbor Beach have a few excellent activities as well, making this area perfect for a family weekend getaway.

Family-Friendly Outdoor Activities in Port Austin

Sandy Dunes Adventure Golf

The beautiful landscaping at Sandy Dunes Adventure Golf makes a round of mini-golf fun and relaxing. Its waterfall is the largest in the Thumbcoast!

After some friendly competition, your family can head to the dairy bar for premium ice cream treats — Stroh’s & Mooney’s hand-dipped ice cream and homemade waffle cones. It also has soft-serve ice cream and yogurt, sundaes, banana splits, malts and shakes, and much more.

Port Crescent State Park

Resting along 3 miles of Lake Huron’s shores of sandy beaches and sand dunes in the upper Thumb of Michigan, Port Crescent State Park is one of the top places to go in the Thumbcoast for a nature lover looking for hiking trails and biking trails. It has a 2.3-mile Day-Use Trail, 0.75-mile Dunes Nature Trail, and 2.5-mile Organization Area Trail.

Additionally, the Michigan State Park has a boat launch on the Pinnebog River for canoeing and kayaking. And if you visit at night, you can take advantage of its dark sky preserve status — one of six in Michigan. The observation platform offers exceptional stargazing and spectacular views of the northern lights (when they’re visible).

Family Go Karts

Family Go Karts is an amusement park where you can drive go-karts on one of the biggest Indy-type asphalt tracks in Michigan. 

Plus, the family-fun center has a Trampoline Thing, paintball, Aero Trim workout equipment, and Hoops USA nets in five configurations. There’s even a Kiddie Land that’s free for ages 8 and younger.

Port Crescent State Park - Port Austin
Port Crescent State Park // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Best Indoor Activity in Port Hope for Families

For a somewhat indoor activity in the northern part of the Thumbcoast, explore one of the oldest lighthouses in Michigan — Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse. The current 89-foot tower and attached keeper’s house were built in 1857.

You can learn more about its history in the Keeper’s Museum, and don’t forget to stop by the gift shop for a souvenir of your visit.

Favorite Family Summer Event in Harbor Beach

If you’re in the area in mid-July, stop by the Harbor Beach American Legion Cart Derby. It’s an American Legion fundraising event with various age groups racing down Trescott Street in homemade carts. Watching the carts zoom down the street is rather exciting!

Best Family-Friendly Restaurant in Port Austin

For breakfast and lunch, get some carryout from The White Elephant. It serves pizza, sandwiches, soups, and salads, as well as ice cream. What makes it so awesome for families is that there’s a full arcade down the alley, so you can grab a bite and play games in the same area.

Exceptional Port Austin Lodging for Families

With a spacious park-like setting, Sandcastles on the Beach is the most ideal lodging option in Port Austin for families. It has one, two, and three-bedroom cottages with fully equipped kitchens, as well as motel units.

Best of all, Sandcastles is located on a 200-foot private, sandy beach and has large shade trees, picnic tables, and barbecue grills. If Lake Huron is too cold, you can swim in the heated pool.

Bookings are made via Vrbo.

Marine City Beach
Marine City Beach // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Family Things to Do in St. Clair & Marine City

Along the U.S.-Canada border, the miles of shoreline between St. Clair and Marine City are full of family-friendly experiences, some of which you won’t find in other parts of the Thumbcoast. The proximity of Algonac and Clay Township make these areas just a short drive away from kid-friendly festivals and restaurants too.

Family-Friendly Outdoor Activities in St. Clair & Marine City

Pine River Stables Horseback Riding | St. Clair

With more than 100 acres of wooded trails, small hills, and open meadows, Pine River Stables offers an excellent opportunity to go horseback riding in St. Clair. The stables have horses for all ages and riding skill levels.

Marine City Beach | Marine City

For beach swimming and beachcombing, spend a day at Marine City Beach. In addition to the sandy beach, it has shady grassy areas where you can watch passing freighters, as well as barbecue grills and picnic tables. There’s even a universally accessible playground for children.

Best Indoor Activity in St. Clair for Families

When the weather calls for an indoor activity, creative kids will love The Craft Loft. This shop offers fun, guided project experiences, such as designing ceramics and signs. In the gift shop, you’ll find art materials to take home.

Marine City - Inn On Water Street
Marine City – Inn on Water Street // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Family-Friendly Summer Events in St. Clair & Marine City

4th of July Fireworks | St. Clair

When it comes to fireworks for Independence Day, St. Clair has some of the best. The 4th of July Fireworks display in Palmer Park is nothing short of awesome and is the most predominant show in the Thumbcoast. Numerous vendors set up concessions, and several local restaurants stay open.

Summer Splash Bash | Marine City

If you’re in the area in late June, you don’t want to miss the Summer Splash Bash at Nautical Mile Park to kick off the summer season. This free event features music, face painting, vendors of all kinds, games and prizes, a cash raffle, kids fishing, and other entertainment.

Algonac Lions Pickerel Tournament | Algonac

From late June to early July, the Algonac Lions Club hosts the Algonac Lions Pickerel Tournament at Algonac Waterfront Park. This charity event includes a carnival, fireworks, games, eating contests, an antique boat parade, a car show, live entertainment, a beer tent, and of course, a fishing tournament.

Inn On Water Street - Marine City Hotel
Marine City – Inn on Water Street // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Best Restaurants in Marine City Area for Families

Anita’s Riverfront Grille | Marine City

Located on the St. Clair River in downtown Marine City, Anita’s Riverfront Grille makes American and Mexican cuisine. The menu includes burgers, baked subs, specialty, pizza, Mexican dinners, burritos and tacos, and more. You get a gorgeous view of the waterfront while you eat.

Popcorn Paradise | Marine City

If you love gourmet popcorn, you have to stop by Popcorn Paradise. Using locally grown corn kernels, it makes more than 30 sweet and savory flavors. We recommend the 16-flavor sample pack because it’s so hard to choose!

Cabana Blue | Clay Township

Although fairly new to the restaurant scene, Cabana Blue has made a big splash since opening in 2021. This sports bar and grill is more like an island waterfront destination. The restaurant menu includes pizza, wings, burgers, sandwiches, tacos, dinner entrees, and more.

Island Grill Clubhouse | Ira Township

At Mayea Marina on Anchor Bay, the Island Grill Clubhouse feels like a vacation spot itself. After parking your car or docking your boat, you’ll take a short golf cart ride to the restaurant. The menu features burgers, sandwiches — such as the Perch Reuben — grilled pizza, dinner plates, and more.

Favorite Family-Friendly Lodging in Marine City

With accommodations that make you feel at home, the Inn on Water Street is a 25-room boutique hotel. The rooms have unique floor plans, and most of them feature amazing views of the St. Clair River. The downtown location is close to live entertainment, a bike trail, restaurants, and more.

Pine River Nature Center - Goodells
Pine River Nature Center // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

More Things to Do in Michigan’s Thumbcoast This Summer

These are only a few of the best things to do in Michigan’s Thumbcoast. For more inspiration, check out this family road trip around the Thumb or this Thumbcoast road trip. Or, look at these Thumb and Bay area summer bucket list ideas.

One Comment

  1. How is it the the Sandfest is the only event that gets mentioned for Port Huron? What about Bluewater Festival, The Boat races, and the Mainstreet Memories Car Show is the largest car show in the Thumb with 900 vehicles expected this year. If you are going to mention one event you should mention all events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *