Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer

Photo courtesy of Eastern Market Partnership via Facebook

By Lisa Green

July 5, 2023

Summer in Michigan may be short, but the friendships you build don’t have to be. Here are some free and cheap ways to meet new people this summer.

MICHIGAN—If you find it harder to make friendships as an adult, you’re not alone. In our school days, classes provided a convenient, regular setting to socialize with people your age. Not to mention, we didn’t have the stress and time constraints of things like work, relationships, children, and so on. So for many, adulthood presents plenty of obstacles to making friendships.

And yet, statistics show good quality friendships are vital for our physical and mental health. Friends boost our immune systems, increase lifespan longevity, strengthen self-esteem, reduce stress, and add overall joy.

Many people suspect smartphones and our increasingly digital world are leaving us less connected than ever before. There might be some truth to that—and if so, the COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse.

The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey from the Survey Center on American Life showed that Americans are coming by friendships less often in the current era. Compared to data from 1990, the number of close friendships among Americans has declined, and fewer Americans say they have a best friend in 2021 (59%) compared to 1990 (75%). Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic proved isolating to our friendships. On average, roughly half of Americans lost touch with at least some friends, with women under 30 as the cohort group that was most affected (59%).

Making new friends doesn’t have to be as hard as it feels. Human behavior expert (and former FBI agent) Dr. Jack Schafer developed a Friendship Formula, which he first published in his book The Like Switch. According to Schafer, friendships are best developed among people who use verbal and nonverbal behavior to satisfy needs, share a physical space, and see each other frequently for extended periods of time.

Survey data backs up the Friendship Formula. A poll of about 1,200 people by YouGov reported people are most likely to meet people where you’d probably expect: in high school (87%) or college (70%), at work (75%), or a church or other spiritual community (44%). But since there’s plenty of people for whom these aren’t options, such as those who work from home, the same survey also reported other common ways to meet friends.

The YouGov survey reported that, aside from school, work, and church, many people meet their friends informally when they just start chatting someone up in passing (38%). Other common options include meeting people through their neighborhood (61%), sports or fitness activities (33%), social clubs and activities (32%), volunteer work (30%), and events (24%).

With these results in mind, here are some of the best in-person options you can take advantage of this summer from just about anywhere in Michigan. Don’t forget to follow important tips like introducing yourself, using conversation starters, and making eye contact!

Network With a Professional Development Organization

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of Connect Marquette via Facebook

When it comes to job hunting, you’ll often hear the advice, “It’s all about who you know.” For this reason, many communities have their own groups dedicated specifically to networking and professional development, no matter where you’re at in your career. This is also a great opportunity to not just network, but make genuine friends. Across Michigan, there are plenty of options.

Connect Marquette is one professional development network in Michigan that connects professionals in one of the state’s most remote locations: the Upper Peninsula. They host events for their members as well as for the general public, such as the Iron Range Roll, a 16-mile bicycle race. Their membership discount for students is especially beneficial for Northern Michigan University students that are new Yoopers.

You can find other professional development groups through Eventbrite, Meetup, or simple Google searches.

Volunteer for a Cause

Volunteering is one of the best ways to meet new people in your local community. By connecting with a cause important to you, you can forge friendships based on common interests and values. Some of the most common volunteer work opportunities include working with animals or children, civic engagement, food banks, and more.

Michigan has an abundance of locally initiated volunteer programs such as the Literacy Center of West Michigan, which recruits volunteers to assist community members of western Michigan in developing reading, writing, and language skills, including those who do not speak English as their first language. The Literacy Center most commonly recruits volunteer tutors who work one-on-one with adult learners.

If you’re looking to help out with events, find your local Downtown District Authority (DDA). The State of Michigan has its own volunteer opportunities through services like  Adopt-A-Highway, the Department of Natural Resources, or working the polls with the Democracy MVP program. The Michigan Volunteer Registry provides volunteer opportunities specifically for natural or public health emergencies. Share Detroit is a website specifically for southeast Michigan nonprofits and volunteer opportunities. You can look into national organization-based volunteer opportunities like United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, and AmeriCorps

There are other web-based tools to find opportunities, such as VolunteerMatch, JustServe, DoSomething.org, Idealist, and the Point App. Finally, you can search for nonprofit organizations that may need volunteers through searches like GreatNonprofits.org, GuideStar, Charity Navigator, or the Internal Revenue Service.

If you don’t see anything you like or have other ideas in mind, start your own community service project

Grow Into Community Gardening

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) via Facebook

Summer is perhaps the best time to get into the growing spirit by participating in community gardening. Especially good for apartment dwellers and other renters without their own green spaces, community gardens are spaces maintained by a local community—usually specific neighborhoods or parts of a city. Most of the time, the community garden organizes communal gatherings on a given day for planting purposes and may even sponsor classes and workshops. 

Each community garden is a little different; it may be run by an organization or college, involve individual plots, incorporate only organic gardening, promote pollinator-friendly plants, or specifically serve low-income people.

One community garden that’s making waves is the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI), based in three acres of Detroit’s North End community. Though the city of Detroit has nearly 1,400 community gardens and farms, MUFI is the only officially designated agrihood. (In fact, it’s considered America’s first agrihood!) The MUFI seeks to engage the community in sustainable agriculture and empower urban communities. For those in the area, the MUFI has an extensive event calendar.

If you want to find a community garden near you, it’s easy! You can use websites like the American Community Gardening Association or just search “community gardens near me” on Google. You can even start your own community garden with as little as two people and a plot of land (with permission). The Michigan State University Extension is incredibly helpful for prospective communal gardeners of all skill levels, including a Master Gardener Volunteer Program.

Hang Out at the Library

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of Traverse Area District Library via Facebook

Your local public library provides more than just books; often, the library still serves as a community hub for people of all ages. These publicly funded resources are often one of the best, and possibly only, places in your local community to participate in free events.

One of Michigan’s best public libraries is the Traverse Area District Library. This Traverse City-based library offers an extensive event schedule that includes a wide variety of events aimed at different groups. Aside from the traditional book club or movie night, the TADL offers events such as tai chi, yoga, an anime club, adult coloring night, and needle art gatherings. Through a partnership with Disability Network, TADL also offers events specifically for disabled adults.

You can find your local library by searching the Michigan Library Directory or PublicLibraries.com. If you’re unsure about doing library events in person, the Library of Michigan has an online series of Programs for the Public that is accessible anywhere you have Wi-Fi.

Take a Trip to the Farmers Market

Steve Pepple/Shutterstock

Summer in Michigan means access to the second-greatest crop diversity in the country, so it’s worth it to check out the local produce as the growing season continues. It’s also where you can meet your neighbors and culinary entrepreneurs from your area. On top of that, farmers markets also often incorporate demonstrations, workshops, entertainment, and more, making it a true social event.

There is no better and more expansive farmers market in Michigan than Detroit’s Eastern Market. This urban farmers market is not only enormous, but one of the country’s oldest, having operated since 1841. The Saturday markets are traditional farmers market events that occur year round, hosting more than 200 vendors. Summer also features special markets on Tuesdays and Sundays. There are a total of six sheds across four-and-a-half acres and multiple city blocks. Fresh produce is the typical draw, but a cornucopia of tasty goods can be found at Eastern Market, including cheese, honey, preserves, fish, flowers, and more. You’ll also find cooking classes, fitness classes, local art, and so much more.

Visit the Michigan Farmers Market Association to find a farmers market near you.

Just Start Running

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of Running Lab Brighton via Facebook

If you’d like to focus on your fitness or health, it’s not a bad idea to get into running. Aside from getting a good pair of shoes and some comfortable clothes, this hobby is cheap and easy to pick up. Plus, it’s communal in nature, making it easy to make fast friends.

Your local running store is going to be your best bet for finding a running community. These stores often offer group runs for a variety of fitness levels, from casual walks to marathon training. One example is Running Lab in Brighton, which offers both free weekly meetups for all skill levels as well as marathon training. They also offer good form running classes to improve how runners run. And of course, there’s plenty of running equipment, including specially branded Detroit Marathon merchandise.

If you don’t have a running store in your area or you’re struggling to find groups that run at your pace, try Meetup. Or just find a jogging buddy with JoggingBuddy.com, the app Strava, or by posting in local social media groups.

Find Free Summer Concerts

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of Parties in the Park via Facebook

Our musical tastes are often one of the most interesting things to discuss with new acquaintances, so enjoying music together is often a great way to make friends. But if you don’t want to wait for tickets to go on sale nearby for a favorite artist, you can often indulge in the local music scene. The best part? Summer concerts in local parks are often free.

One longstanding Michigan summer concert favorite is Muskegon’s Parties in the Park. For nearly 40 years, music fans of all ages have enjoyed free admission to this series of summer music events in Hackley Park in downtown Muskegon. The series features a wide variety of music genres, each sponsored by a different organization.

You can find a free concert series near you by searching Google Events, Facebook Events, or finding lists like this one from Local Spins.

Join a Cycling Club

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of Social Cycling Flint via Facebook

Michigan may be known for being home to the Motor City, but more and more cities are starting to value bicycles as a healthier and greener alternative to driving cars. If you’d like to turn your motor-powered commute into a relaxing summer ride—or just want to get out and enjoy nature from a bicycle seat—a cycling club could be a great solution. And you’re bound to find other local cyclists to encourage you.

Social Cycling Flint has been gathering eastern Michigan cyclists together for 10 years now. Their Thursday night social bike rides are often called “party rides” for how popular they are. Cyclists meet at the Flint Farmers Market in the evening and ride around Flint. The final ride of the year is called the “Ride of the Damned,” which is Halloween-themed, with costumes encouraged. Social Cycling Flint was named the League of Michigan Bicyclists’ Club of the Year for 2019. The group also has a Facebook Group where members can connect and exchange bicycle equipment.

Visit the League of Michigan Bicyclists, LocalRaces, or Strava to see if there’s a cycling club near you. Or start your own!

Catch Pinball Fever at an Arcade

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of LFG Gaming Bar Kalamazoo via Facebook

For the millennial generation, ’80s and ’90s nostalgia is back in a big way. That means arcades are picking back up again! Though couch co-op and split-screen gaming are becoming a dying breed due to the internet, classic arcade machines give you a unique opportunity to test out your gaming skills in-person and make new friends.

Arcade bars make up some of the most common arcades around Michigan, and one of the best is LFG in Kalamazoo. Standing for Liquor Food Gaming, LFG offers a full menu of food and specialty drinks, all themed around your favorite video games and pop culture references. All of their available arcade games and video game consoles are catalogued on their website, and it’s quite an impressive collection. But one of the best features of LFG is the amount of events they offer, including a Dance Dance Revolution club, “Fight Night” for fans of fighting games, and music bingo.

If your interest is in pinball, more places than ever (in this century, anyway) have pinball machines, with some locations offering leagues. The Pinside Map and Pinball Map are two of the easiest ways to find pinball machines near you. You can also use search engines like Yelp and Google to find an arcade near you.

Make Pals With Your Pooch

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of Grand Ravines Dog Park via Facebook

Animals are often social in ways we can’t be. If you’ve got a canine pal in your home (or can borrow one from a friend or family member), you can let your pup sniff out some new pals for you. Not only will your dog gain valuable socialization, you’ll be able to meet fellow dog owners.

Michigan has plenty of dog parks and dog-friendly state parks. One of the best dog parks is Grand Ravines, a 202-acre park in Jenison. It received the mParks Park Design Award and the Rover.com staff placed Grand Ravines second on a list of the top 12 Michigan dog parks. The dog park is located in Grand Ravines South and is entirely fenced-in for dogs to roam off-leash. Grand Ravines makes sure dogs get their fill of fun (and their owners some relief) by offering a dog-wash station and doggy drinking fountains. There are no fees or membership required to use the dog park, as long as dogs are good canine citizens by following the park rules.

You may be able to find a dog park near you by checking the list at BringFido.

Take a Paint-and-Sip Class

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of Tipsy Ypsi Paint & Pour via Facebook

If you’d like to learn how to paint but don’t have any idea where to start, a paint-and-sip class is a great event you can try out for around the same cost as a lunch outing. And you’re bound to bond with whoever’s painting next to you.

The “sip” in paint-and-sip is usually intended to be beer or wine, with the vast majority of paint-and-sip locations being BYOB. A paint-and-sip class is a great opportunity to meander over to your local party store and grab some Michigan craft beer. If that’s not your bag, non-alcoholic beverages are absolutely okay as well—just don’t mistake your drink for your paint cup! Some classes are kid- and family-friendly, with some even geared toward children or parent-child duos. Regardless of your style or beverage of choice, paint-and-sip classes involve an instructor walking you through every step of painting your own work of art.

Several Michigan paint-and-sip companies have cropped up in recent years, like Tipsy Ypsi. Originally called Paint and Pour, the business that is now Tipsy Ypsi had a total of four locations in the southeast Michigan area. Today, they have rebranded as Tipsy Ypsi after focusing their effort into the Ypsilanti location—and it sure is popular. In conjunction with downtown Ypsilanti’s First Fridays event, they’ve even started hosting karaoke paint parties.

The national chain Painting with a Twist is the paint-and-sip business most likely to have a location near you. If you can’t find any paint-and-sip events near you, check out your local arts center or event websites like EventBrite to see if there’s an upcoming paint party event.

Get Out of Your Head with Yoga

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation via Facebook

One of the most versatile ways to invest in your own health and fitness is through yoga, which can be tailored to the practitioner to explore a variety of health benefits like mental wellness, focus, strength, flexibility, balance, pain relief, and more. Going to a yoga class also makes it easier to indulge in a good-vibes environment with other people—see where we’re going with this?

The city of Grand Rapids is partnering with Priority Health to bring free outdoor fitness classes to people for the summer. Anyone interested in yoga at any skill level can enjoy these classes where they stretch, move, build strength, and grow their bodily awareness. There are also other classes like Zumba, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and even ballroom dancing.

You can find yoga providers near you by using directories such as Yoga Finder, Yoga Alliance Directory, Yoga Journal Directory, or the typical ways like Yelp, Google, and social media.

Spice Up Your Life with a Cooking Class

Anna Ewa Bieniek/Shutterstock

Everyone eats. There’s a lot of value to learning not only how to cook but also how to meal prep, meal plan, and even learn advanced culinary techniques. Also, navigating this important skill can help you work with others in the class and hopefully make new friends.

Michigan State University Extension offers cooking classes in multiple locations through its grant-funded Cooking Matters series. There are five different programs offered, including Cooking Matters for Parents, aimed at families with young children; Cooking Matters for Families, intended for families with school-aged children; and Cooking Matters for Adults, which teaches adults how to budget and shop for healthy meals.

For cooking classes near you, use websites like Eventbrite, Yelp, and Google. Make sure to also check your local nonprofit organizations, libraries, and other public service agencies.

Check Out Open Mic Nights

WilliamM/Shutterstock

Interacting with the bar scene to try and meet new people might be a drag sometimes, but doing it for the open mic nights is never a bad idea. Attending an open mic is usually free to do, though there might be a small cover charge or application fee. Performers will try their hand at a variety of creative arts, including poetry, comedy, or various types of music.

In Michigan, one of the best open mic nights around can be found in Lansing. Moriarty’s Pub might look like an unassuming hole-in-the-wall Irish pub, but its open mic night can’t be beat. The Lansing City Pulse named it the no. 1 open mic night in the area. It is hosted by local singer-songwriter Jen Sygit, who formerly ran the open mic at Dagwood’s for over a decade.

You can find open mic nights near you by searching social media like Facebook Events, using Eventbrite, Craigslist, or Google searches.

Find a New Hobby at a Game Store

Michigan Mingling: 15 Cheap and Free Places to Make Friends This Summer
Photo courtesy of Eternal Games via Facebook

The term “game” can mean a lot of things these days, but a game store is where fans of things like board games, card games, trading card games, and tabletop role-playing games can gather and indulge in their favorite hobby. Hobby gaming, as it’s often called, can primarily be found in your local game store, along with scheduled games, tournaments, and other events. Game stores are often supportive of new players and have served as a hub of information and knowledge of these games long before the internet was popular.

A great example of a local game store is Eternal Games, which has locations in Warren and Chesterfield. Eternal Games hosts an event or two every day, featuring games like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and more. In addition to these regular community events, they feature a great selection of board games, card games, miniatures games, role-playing games, puzzles, and more.

Tracking down your local game store can be a bit tricky, but there are a few resources online. You can check out Board Game Geek to see what local fans are saying online, or use locators for popular companies like Wizards of the Coast. You can also use sites like Meetup to find gaming groups for your game of choice.

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