If you’re planning a trip to Mid-Michigan, check out all the fantastic things to do in Lansing Michigan!
With the iconic Michigan State Capitol building resting at the foot of Michigan Avenue, it’s clear to see that Lansing Michigan is a place where history, culture, and sophistication blend together.
Michigan’s capital city is also sometimes referred to as the Heart of Michigan, and that comes as no surprise to the people who live and work in this vibrant community.
Situated in the middle of the state and within reach of many of the best cities in Michigan, it might be easy to pass right on through Lansing. However, you would be missing out. Rather than moving through, consider stopping and checking out the amazing things to do in Lansing Michigan.
Learning About Lansing Michigan
Stately, welcoming, and charming are just a few words that passersby might use to describe Lansing, an urban community known for its fortitude and heart.
Located within 90 minutes of 90 percent of the state’s population, Lansing is just a short drive away for most Michiganders, and the perfect spot for a Michigan day trip or weekend destination.
By understanding how Lansing came to be the place that it is today, you will have a better appreciation for all that you will see and do while you are here.
Lansing’s Storied Past
The city itself was incorporated in 1859, but the land that now comprises Lansing has been home to people for thousands of years.
The Anishinaabe people long inhabited the forested areas that lined the mighty river that cuts through the heart of the region. Consisting of members from the Ojibwa, Ottowa, and Potawatomi Tribes, these people were primarily hunters and gatherers who lived along the trails and survived off the land.
European Settlers Arrive
European explorers first arrived in the region in the early 19th century, with the first survey being conducted in 1825.
Within a decade, two fortune-hunting brothers arrived in the area and plotted the land. They returned to their home state of New York, weaving a thread of lies along the way and convincing more than a dozen men to purchase plots in this new city that was home to 65 plots, a church, and several town squares.
Upon their arrival, the men realized that they had been duped, but some stayed to make this place their new home.
A Capital Is Born
In 1847, what was known as the Township of Lansing was chosen as the state’s capital — much to the surprise of many. It beat out other, much more developed towns, including Ann Arbor and Jackson.
But this designation allowed the settlement to grow quickly, and by 1859, it had a population of 3,000 people. Then, it was finally incorporated as a city.
The Auto Industry Brings Growth
In addition to being a political powerhouse, Lansing Michigan has been fueled by the automotive industry. Throughout the 20th century, automobile production anchored the economy, which allowed the city to grow in size and stature.
Today, Lansing is a diverse, cultural community that provides jobs in a wide range of areas and offers innovative experiences for people of all ages to enjoy.
Lansing Weather Throughout the Year
Centrally located in the Great Lakes State, Lansing Michigan all four seasons throughout the year. The spring can be wet and dreary at times, but the bloom in late April and early May makes the wait worthwhile.
Summers are warm and short, with temperatures hovering between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit most days. And, fall is one of the most spectacular times of year in Lansing, with a fall color display that is unbeatable and weather that is perfectly comfortable.
Winter is cold, snowy, and icy, and it can last from late November until mid-March or April. But, this season is a beautiful time of year to explore the natural areas of Lansing.
Outdoor Things to Do in Lansing Michigan
While most of Michigan’s outdoor attractions are seasonal, you will find that it’s easy to enjoy the great outdoors in Lansing throughout the year. These are some of the best outdoor things to do in the city.
Visit the Potter Park Zoo
Nestled inside the city’s capital is an intimate, 20-acre zoo that is beloved by locals and cherished by visitors.
The Potter Park Zoo is open year-round and known for its up-close-and-personal animal exhibits. More than 350 animals call the zoo home, and visitors who stroll through the zoo property quickly see why it’s a favorite among people of all ages.
The zoo prioritizes educational outreach, which means that there are many immersive exhibits and hands-on experiences to enjoy. It’s one of the best places to learn about the animals who reside there, the zookeepers who care for them, and the conservation initiatives they are working on.
Attend a Lansing Lugnuts Game
From early April until mid-September, one of the best ways to spend an afternoon in Lansing is at the ballpark. The Lansing Lugnuts are the hometown Minor League Baseball team, and it seems that everyone has a memory of enjoying a game at Jackson Stadium.
Situated in the heart of the city, the intimate baseball stadium seats about 7,500 people in the stands and another 2,000 on the lawn. It has the atmosphere of an old-fashioned ballpark as well as the modern amenities that visitors crave, making it a must-do on your Lansing summer bucket list.
Frequent promotions, inexpensive tickets, and a lovable “lug” of a mascot will bring a smile to kids and adults alike. Or, go all out and rent a private suite!
TIP: When the game’s over, head across the street to one of Michigan Avenue’s late-night hot spots to analyze the game and rehash the day’s events.
Picnic on the Lawn of the Michigan State Capitol
Capitol Square is a sprawling green space that stretches from the historic capitol building, making it one of the best places to enjoy a springtime picnic in the city.
On any given day, you will find groups of activists and lobbyists fighting for their causes and promoting their organizations, making this a place that is teeming with life and possibility. It’s one of the most exciting and vibrant places in the city and a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
Bike the Lansing River Trail
To enjoy the full Lansing experience, consider biking along the 20-mile-long Lansing River Trail. It moves effortlessly through downtown Lansing, allowing you to take in the sights and sounds of the city before stretching into parks, natural areas, and even the Michigan State University campus.
If birding is one of your favorite hobbies, then this trail is a must-do. Throughout the year, birding walks are organized by local organizations who are interested in spotting their favorite feathered friends in the natural areas along the trail.
Make Memories at Hawk Island County Park
Hawk Island County Park is the newest addition to the Lansing park scene, and it has quickly become a local favorite.
This 100-acre park is the perfect summertime destination because it features a swimming beach, fishing docks, and picnic areas. The youngest park visitors love to run and play on the community-built playground, which anchors this park and serves as a symbol of the spirit of Lansing.
Explore the Fenner Nature Center
Fenner Nature Center is an environmental education facility in Lansing Michigan that consists of a park and visitor center. The park is known for its beautiful trails, and it is open daily until dusk.
The visitor center is an indoor facility that is well-loved by people of all ages, largely because it features interactive exhibits as well as live animal displays. In addition, the visitor center offers a special viewing area for birdwatching and spotting deer and wild turkeys.
NOTE: The Fenner Nature Center is free to visit, but it’s operated by a nonprofit organization, so donations are always appreciated.
Kayak on the Grand River
Cool off with an hour or two on the water! River Town Adventures offers kayak, paddleboard, and canoe rentals for the adventurous. See Lansing from a new angle as you paddle the Grand River, enjoying a quiet retreat from traffic and city noise.
Learn in the 4-H Michigan Children’s Gardens at MSU
Stop and smell the flowers at this adorable East Lansing fixture! With outdoor and indoor gardens, the 4-H Michigan Children’s Gardens at MSU provides a colorful learning experience that looks like it’s straight out of a storybook.
Learn plant names, pose for photo ops, or simply relax in this quiet, little oasis. The grounds are open from April through October, and parking is free on weekends (metered Monday through Friday).
Indoor Things to Do in Lansing Michigan
While you will find incredible architecture and sprawling natural beauty outdoors in Lansing, you will quickly see that the indoor attractions offer unparalleled insight into the people of this wonderful community. These are some of the best indoor things to do in Lansing Michigan for people of all ages.
Tour the Michigan State Capitol
The Michigan State Capitol is easily the most recognizable building in Lansing, adding a sense of history and grandeur to the city. See the iconic dome ceiling and more than nine acres of beautiful, hand-painted surfaces as you learn about the building’s history and the legislative process.
One of the best ways to learn about the Michigan state government and to step through the halls where history has been made is to schedule a tour of the capitol building. Both guided and self-guided tours are available, and all tours are free of charge for interested participants.
No matter which type of tour you choose, you will learn more about government, history, and even art inside the walls of this incredible building.
Step Back in Time at the Turner-Dodge House
The Turner-Dodge House is a majestic mansion in the heart of the city, and visitors can tour the home and learn more about the development of the city.
This home, designed in the Classical Revival style, was built by James and Marion Turner in 1858, around the time that Lansing became the capital city of Michigan.
The Turners were a prominent local family who played an integral role in the shaping of Lansing, and their home was restored to its former glory to provide a glimpse into the past.
Meet Your New Best Friend at Preuss Pets
Self-described as a conscientious-minded pet store, Preuss Pets is different from your average pet shop in a typical city. This sprawling store is home to all kinds of animals who are waiting for their forever homes.
Located in Old Town, the family-owned business is housed in a colorful building that’s known for its man-made waterfall, lime green bus (it doubles as a fume hood for stinky critters), and lots of other fun sights that make pet time feel like playtime.
There’s also room to host birthday parties, so large groups can stay a while as they celebrate and tour the building.
In addition, it has almost anything you could need to take care of your newfound friend. Even visitors who are not looking to add a new pet to their home will enjoy walking around and visiting with the animals, which include birds, fish, dogs, cats, gerbils, hedgehogs, ferrets, and more.
Learn at Impression 5 Science Center
Whether it’s a rainy day or you simply need to find someplace for your kids to engage in hands-on learning, the Impression 5 Science Center is one of the most popular family-friendly things to do in Lansing Michigan, encouraging families to play and learn together since 1972.
Every exhibit at this kid-friendly, science-focused museum features interactive elements that allow kids to enjoy learning in action. From bubble-themed and Spectrum light and mirror exhibits to building zones and a nuclear experience, there are incredible experiences for children to discover around every corner.
Discover Michigan’s Past at the Michigan History Museum
As one of the few museums in the state focusing solely on the history of Michigan, the Michigan History Museum is a must-visit attraction in Lansing. It’s located in the Michigan History Center.
When you head into the museum, you will be faced with five floors of interactive and engaging exhibits that allow you to walk through time and learn more about how Michigan came to be the place that it is today.
Designed in chronological order, you can maneuver through each floor as if you are slipping through the sands of time.
With high-quality displays and interactive exhibits, this is by far one of the best museums to visit in Michigan. Pop in for a quick visit or stay for an afternoon — this comprehensive collection has enough to keep you engaged for hours.
Visit the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum
Known locally as the Lansing Car Museum, the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum explores the role that the automobile industry played in Michigan’s capital city and allows you to discover the man behind Oldsmobile and the modern assembly line.
The museum boasts an impressive collection of automobiles, including vehicles built as early as 1886 and as late as 2004. The automobiles are rotated in and out of the displays, which means that there is something new to discover every time you visit this innovative museum in Lansing.
Think Outside the Box at the MSU Broad Art Museum
The Broad Art Museum at MSU isn’t your typical art museum. For one, the building boasts an intense glass and stainless steel design — one that looks like a hungry shark when viewed at just the right angle!
The museum’s exhibits also strike an uber-modern chord and are regularly rotated out so visitors can enjoy a fresh experience no matter how frequently they stop by.
Bring a pal (or two, or five) who appreciates abstract thinking, grab a latte at the cafe downstairs, and chit-chat in one of the museum’s many sitting areas — strategically placed to encourage a unique social experience.
TIP: Whether you’re a Spartan, Wolverine, or neither, there’s no denying that the MSU campus is a beautiful place to wander. Roam beautifully maintained, tree-lined pathways to view historical buildings, play a round of Frisbee, or catch a few rays on the lawn. The campus is especially quiet during the summer, making it ideal for a peaceful walk with your special someone.
Shop ‘Til You Drop at Horrocks Farm Market
With a 70,000-square-foot facility, Horrocks Farm Market offers a memorable shopping experience, to say the least. You can find fresh, high-quality produce and gourmet coffee, caramel apples, and popcorn.
And, there are fresh-cut flowers and a garden center with everything that you need to satisfy your green thumb. Since local reigns supreme at this market, you’ll find an array of Michgan-made beer and wine to enjoy at home.
Plus, the Horrocks Farm Market has a deli that makes handcrafted sandwiches, a pizzeria that serves gourmet pizza, and food trucks that offer various flavors. You can also head to the Beer Garden and Tavern for a growler.
On top of that, the market typically hosts live band performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Go Shopping in Old Town
Plan a day of perusing a variety of local shops all within walking distance! Over the past 30 years, Old Town has undergone a revitalization to drastically reduce building vacancies and greatly increase its selection of boutiques, galleries, and specialty stores.
The Old Town General Store is just one spot. It offers a present-day take on the multi-purpose food, gift, and housewares shops you’d find in mid-20th century small towns.
Additional Attractions Near Lansing Michigan
It may be hard to pull yourself away from the beating heart of Lansing, but there are a couple of attractions nearby that are worth visiting.
Stroll Along the Banks of the Red Cedar River
Just a couple miles away from the capital city is the small college town of East Lansing, which is home to Michigan State University. MSU, as it is known to the locals, was the first land-grant university of its kind, and as a result, it has a sprawling campus with plenty of green space to enjoy.
The Red Cedar River cuts through the heart of campus, and walking paths wind along its shores. Whether you want to enjoy the history of the campus or the surrounding natural beauty, it is one of the most spectacular places to visit near Lansing.
Visit Uncle John’s Cider Mill
Uncle John’s Cider Mill is a seasonal attraction just north of Lansing that opens in the late summer and closes in November each year.
This is one of the best places in the Lansing area to go for pumpkin picking, apple cider, and delicious doughnuts. Also, it has a variety of fun-filled fall activities to enjoy, making this a memorable destination for families looking to relish this fleeting season in Michigan.
Local Restaurants in Lansing Michigan
Pride of place is a common theme throughout Lansing, which is why you will find so many eclectic and diverse locally-owned restaurants. So, check out some of these Lansing restaurants when you are in town.
Casual Dining in Lansing
For fresh fare and a casual vibe, head to any one of these casual locales in Lansing Michigan.
Cask & Co. Kitchen & Bar
Lansing residents know that Cask & Co. Kitchen & Bar is the best place to go for chef-crafted meals and a lively, social atmosphere.
Self-described as a casual eatery, this restaurant is far from average. Its menu consists of a wide range of items, from sushi rolls to Mexican favorites, as well as classic burgers and savory wings.
Soup Spoon Cafe
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Soup Spoon Cafe offers a little bit of everything. While its seasonal menu has a variety of items, this dining spot is most famous for its homemade soups.
Before noon, a host of benedict dishes steal the main stage. In addition to the ever-changing soup of the day, you can find unique soup choices, such as seafood chowder and rabbit pot pie soup.
Pablo’s Old Town
Pablo’s Old Town is, hands down, the best place to go in Lansing for authentic Mexican cuisine. This locally owned restaurant has been a favorite among locals and visitors alike for years, with everyone raving about the menu selections, as well as the warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Weston’s Kewpee Sandwich Shop
Weston’s Kewpee Sandwich Shop is a local favorite for good, old-fashioned hamburgers and fries. Run by the Weston family since 1923, the restaurant features a friendly waitstaff and no-frills dining (including paper-wrapped sandwiches) for families on the go.
Out and about before your midday meal? Weston’s is also open for breakfast, so you can stop by early to fuel up for the day.
Years ago, Meat BBQ was fairly small and one waitress was able to cover table service on quiet evenings.
Following a successful expansion (the dining room is located in a larger space next door while the kitchen remains in the original unit), Meat regularly brings in crowds of hungry carnivores looking to satisfy their tastes for Southern-style barbecue.
This bustling restaurant is set up for gatherings of all sizes, so you can comfortably seat your whole gang as you tear into favorites like beef brisket and made-to-order mac-n-cheese.
Upscale Dining in Lansing
To experience the finer side of life in Lansing Michigan, consider heading to one of these upscale dining locales.
If you are searching for an exclusive place to celebrate a special occasion, then Capital Prime is one of the best restaurants in Lansing to consider. Known for its aged beef and fresh seafood selections, this restaurant offers an unparalleled atmosphere and fine dining experience.
Looking for a truly unforgettable dining experience? Red Haven in nearby Okemos offers incredibly unique, farm-to-table cuisine in a shareable, small-plate format. The secret to enjoying this restaurant to the fullest? Come prepared with an open mind and a willingness to try something new.
You’ll be given a menu of courses, each with a list of ingredients, but no further explanation is given as to what the dish will look like or what form it will take. This slightly-cryptic method is designed to heighten curiosity and build a sense of trust between the diner and the chef.
Because the smaller portions allow you to sample a variety of creations, Red Haven also facilitates great date night interaction and group conversation for larger get-togethers.
Lansing Ice Cream, Coffee, & Popcorn
For a sweet treat in Lansing, consider one of these ice cream and coffee shops.
Celebrating more than 20 years in the Lansing area, Spad’s Twisters is known for its soft-serve ice cream and unique creations. It’s a favorite among local families.
MSU Dairy Store
For delicious ice cream that’s made on-site at Michigan State University’s Dairy Plant, treat the whole gang to dessert at the MSU Dairy Store.
With options that range from Beaumont Brownie Bliss to Tucker’s Scoop & Score, this East Lansing venue is worth the drive — just come prepared to wait in line, since it’s also popular with locals.
Blue Owl Coffee
Located in a small brick storefront in downtown Lansing, Blue Owl Coffee aims to serve delicious coffee and create a sense of community in Michigan’s capital city.
Cravings Gourmet Popcorn
Satisfy your afternoon snack attack with a trip to Old Town’s popcorn shop — Cravings Gourmet Popcorn. Sample a wide variety of gourmet popcorn flavors, including Old Town Mix (white cheddar and caramel), Dill Pickle, and Space Pop.
Sizes range from small bags and gift containers to large bags for weddings and special events. Know a popcorn lover who’s far away? Cravings ships products nationwide, so you can send a tasty snack to out-of-town family and friends too.
Breweries in Lansing
Much like other communities in Michigan, Lansing is home to a growing craft beer scene. One of the best breweries is Lansing Brewing Company.
More than 100 years ago, this brand was formed, serving craft beer to the laborers and tradespeople who built the city. Today, the Lansing Brewing Company has been resurrected to create a lively place for beer lovers to gather, connect, and enjoy a frothy brew together.
Where to Stay in Lansing Michigan
The best way to experience all that Lansing has to offer is to stay for a while. Consider staying at one of these accommodations in Michigan’s capital city.
Hotels & Motels in Lansing
In the heart of Lansing proper, you will find a variety of chain hotels that offer clean and comfortable rooms for relatively affordable prices.
For a more local experience, consider heading just outside of town and booking a room at the Wild Goose Inn Bed & Breakfast. This intimate B&B in East Lansing offers an authentic experience just a few minutes from downtown Lansing.
Lansing Vacation Rentals
From sleek lofts in the city center to historic homes for rent in the neighborhoods of Lansing, there are a variety of vacation rentals to choose from that allow you to live life like a Lansing local during your stay.
The Charming and Cozy Lansing Loft offers two bedrooms and an outdoor deck for sipping early morning coffee. It is centrally located just a few minutes from both downtown Lansing and the MSU campus.
Cozy Historic Home
Another vacation rental option in Lansing is this cozy historic home in the heart of the city. Built in 1904, it allows you to experience the city’s past while also enjoying the convenient and modern amenities that have been added to the property over the years.
As a bonus, this is a pet-friendly vacation rental in Lansing.
Camping in Lansing
For the most part, Lansing is an urban playground, but there are some campgrounds open seasonally. Cottonwood Campground has been owned by a local family since 1972, and it still offers some of the best camping in the city.
There are more than 135 campsites at this location, and some of the amenities include a pool, playground, two lakes, and a variety of outdoor recreational games to enjoy.
Discover More Things to Do in Lansing Michigan
In Lansing, you can experience the grit and determination of the Michigan people while uncovering the history of those who came before.
On the surface, the city feels like a political town — but pulsing underneath is an arts and cultural scene unlike any other community in Michigan. Despite being one of the most well-known cities in the state, discovering the true beauty of Lansing can feel like unearthing a hidden gem.