MICHIGAN—The Mitten is home to hundreds of small towns, and they all offer a certain charm that just can’t be found in Michigan’s bigger cities. But scouting out which of them offer the best options for a unique date night, fun-filled family adventure or a weekend getaway can be tough.
We’re here to help.
Whether you’re shopping, dining, or simply sightseeing in Michigan’s great outdoors, here are eight small-town destinations across Michigan that are worthy of a visit—or maybe three:
With a visit to Calumet, you can step back in time to when this small Michigan village was the center of the copper mining industry in the Upper Peninsula—earning it the nickname “Copper Town.” Located at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Calumet is home to the Coppertown Mining Museum, and other historic sites such as the Keweenaw National Historical Park. Don’t leave without stopping at a local restaurant for an iconic pasty. If you’re in the UP, they’re a must-eat treat.
The picturesque city of Charlevoix sits on a strip of land between Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan, with Round Lake in the middle of city—making it a major hub for fishermen and boaters. Charlevoix is known for its walkable downtown with fun shops, restaurants, and art galleries. As you explore the local history, you’ll learn that Ernest Hemingway spent a great deal of time roaming the area. The city is also famous for its “Mushroom Houses,” 26 homes and four commercial properties made of limestone, fieldstone, and boulders to help them blend in with the natural landscape. Some are available to rent.
Whether you stay for a few hours or a few days, Colon, the “Magic Capital of the World,” is a must-visit small town for all Michigan magicians—both amateur and professional. The town’s title comes from being the home (and final resting place) of dozens of prominent magicians, as well as magician supply stores like the Abbott Magic. Co. and the FAB Magic Co. While you’re there, learn more about the local history and magic traditions at the Colon Historical Museum.
Like many of Michigan’s small villages, Elk Rapids has a charming downtown with shops, boutiques, restaurants, and bars. But the proximity to great outdoors gives this town some extra draw. Elk Rapids sits between Elk Lake and Grand Traverse Bay, meaning visitors are always a short drive from more than 300 miles of trails for hiking, biking, birdwatching, and more. If the weather isn’t cooperating, check out the Spirit of the Woods Museum, an interactive experience featuring multiple wildlife dioramas and a massive, private collection of regional Native American artifacts.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a popular destination for residents and visitors alike, and because this small village sits right along its edge, you literally must visit Empire to take in the full experience. The coastline and public beach offer panoramic views of the northeast shore of Lake Michigan. Visitors can also explore the highest bluffs along the lake on the Empire Bluff Trail. While you’re there, learn more about the local history at the Empire Area Museum.
For picturesque views and a unique opportunity to connect with the state’s most pristine natural beauty, head to Munising in the Upper Peninsula. Located in the Hiawatha National Forest at the edge of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, visitors can hike, camp, kayak—and just about everything else that we all love about Michigan’s great outdoors. There are more than a dozen waterfalls there, too.
This small city sits at the mouth of the Galien River, only a short trek from Chicago and the Indiana border—but still far enough away to feel like a small-town beachside getaway. Sunbathe by day, and at night, test your luck at the Four Winds Casino Resort. New Buffalo is also a key stop along the “Backroads Bikeway,” a series of a dozen regional bike routes that follow secondary roads over streams, through parks, and over rolling hills peppered with scenic farmland and state forests.
Every list of Michigan’s best small cities includes Saugatuck—and we wouldn’t dare leave it off this one. This coastal hotspot offers the perfect mix of outdoor activities and a thriving, inclusive culture—known to be especially friendly for the LGBTQ+ community. The village is flanked by six different beaches, as well as dozens of local restaurants, cideries and breweries to visit while browsing the local art scene. While you’re there, be sure to catch a show at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.