Once upon a time, we had physical photo albums. These days, though, our adventures and memories are often cataloged on social media sites like Instagram. No shame! There’s something uniquely creative and inspiring about curating our social feeds. And to feed those feeds, we’ve found 11 photo-ready spots for your Insta-cool shoots in southern Michigan.
Remember: These locations are for personal use photography only. If you’re a professional or looking to do a for-profit photoshoot, contact the folks in charge for more information about their photo policy and permissions.
The Spirit of Detroit
2 Woodward Ave., Detroit
This iconic cast-bronze statue created by Marshall M. Fredericks is the largest cast statue made anywhere in the world since the Renaissance. The Spirit of Detroit stands at 26 feet tall and is one of the most recognizable symbols of Detroit. On top of that, the statue is also a favorite spot to grab an Instagram-worthy selfie.
The statue has stood on Woodward Avenue for almost 70 years, inspiring multiple generations of Detroiters. In fact, the people of Detroit are responsible for naming the statue with a title inspired by a biblical verse from Corinthians. The rays in the statue’s left hand represent divinity, while the right hand holds a family, symbolizing human relationships.
Sometimes described as the number one riverwalk in the U.S., Detroit’s International Riverwalk offers breathtaking views of the Detroit River looking out at Windsor, Ontario. More than 3 million people visit this stretch of coast every year. The Riverwalk takes up more than 3 miles of the riverside from Rosa Parks Boulevard to the Belle Isle Bridge, with plenty of green space like Milliken State Park and Mt. Elliott Park. You’ll find plenty of urban art in the Riverwalk Garden Rooms. But the Riverwalk is for more than just walking—you can also (river)jog or (river)bike it.
Belle Isle Park
Detroit’s most popular state park is also one of its most popular photo op locations. Belle Isle is a 985-acre island park sitting in the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor. The park is almost entirely free to visit, save for a Recreation Passport for parking.
Belle Isle is great for those riverside coastal photos, especially from Belle Isle Beach, its swim beach. Another popular location for photos on Belle Isle is the Oudolf Garden, a free 3-acre garden designed by internationally renowned Dutch horticulturist Piet Oudolf. The park also features a few Instagram-worthy architectural marvels. Check out the iconic designs of the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the Belle Isle Aquarium, and the James Scott Memorial Fountain.
Eastern Market Murals
One source of great aesthetic beauty in the Motor City is its prominent street art. And one of the best places to see street art is in the Eastern Market district of Detroit. Eastern Market, both a commercial district and the name of Detroit’s farmer’s market, is well-known among Detroit metro residents as the largest outdoor farmers market in the country. But the district is also known for its collection of street art, hosting more than 100 street art murals, all perfect for social media.
The neighborhood’s first mural was commissioned in 1969, and the bounty of art has only grown since then. More recently, this art has manifested via the Murals in the Market festival, a nine-day September event celebrating street art that was first run in 2015. You can start your hunt for the Eastern Market murals with the Detroit Mural Guide and the CANVS app.
The Heidelberg Project
3600 Heidelberg St., Detroit
This legend may be urban, but it’s more than just an urban legend. The Heidelberg Project is an experience best described as an outdoor art environment encompassing an entire street on Detroit’s east side. And this free outdoor art project encourages photos for non-commercial purposes (read: your personal Instagram).
In 1986, artist Tyree Guyton and his family began transforming Heidelberg Street as a political protest against the decay of his neighborhoods following the 1967 Detroit riots. Guyton and his family created an impressive metamorphosis for the street, radically upcycling vacant houses into giant art sculptures, using everything from paint to salvaged objects. The project still stands today, serving as an inspiration for artistic expression to better social and economic health of communities.
The artistic symbolism makes liberal use of polka dots, representing the circle of life and interconnectedness of all things, and clocks, which invite the viewer to reflect on their lives and ask deeper questions about their reality.
Yates Cider Mill
1950 E. Avon Road, Rochester Hills
When those fall colors hit, ask any metro Detroiter where to take the best fall Instagram pics and they’ll probably tell you that you can’t beat Yates Cider Mill. This Rochester cider mill is Michigan’s oldest, and one of the oldest and continually running businesses in the entire state, having started over a century ago in 1863.
The fresh apple cider makes for a winning combo with the house-made donuts, especially since the cider recipe has stayed consistent for over a century. But the best opportunity for a family tradition is surely to stroll down the riverwalk through the apple orchard—perfect for photos.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum
1800 N. Dixboro Road, Ann Arbor
1610 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan and its accompanying iconic stadium, Michigan Stadium, are already popular photo op locations. But to escape the crowds, you can find the best opportunity for natural photo backdrops at the University of Michigan’s two green spaces: Nichols Arboretum (also known as “the Arb”) and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Within the Arb, you’ll find the W.E. Upjohn Peony Garden, a garden of nearly 800 peonies that acts as a living museum exhibit of historic and rare peonies. The Arb also has 3 and a half miles of walking trails and plenty of other green space. The Matthaei Botanical Gardens contains 11 outdoor garden spaces that include everything from perennials to medicinal plants to bonsai trees. The Arb is free to explore, while Matthaei Botanical Gardens only charges for parking. Both are perfect locations for your next Instagram photo shoot.
Warren Dunes State Park
12032 Red Arrow Hwy., Sawyer
Michigan’s most-visited state park is Warren Dunes State Park, averaging about 1 million visitors annually. Its trademark large sand dunes and beaches make it a popular hangout for Michiganders and out-of-state tourists alike. With nearly 2,000 acres to roam around in, you’ve got plenty of space to snap that perfect Instagram photo.
Try hiking to Tower Hill, the highest point in the park at 240 feet above water level, for the best views around. Or try a smaller hill like Mt. Edwards, Mt. Fuller, or Pikes Peak. The dunes as well as the 6 miles of trails also provide ample opportunity to snap a pic of a member of the migrant bird community.
Leila Arboretum Society
928 W. Michigan Ave., Battle Creek
Located in the Cereal Capital of Battle Creek, this 72-acre arboretum and garden was named after Leila Post Montgomery, the widow of famous cereal magnate C.W. Post. Montgomery donated the entirety of the space that was formerly the Battle Creek Country Club with hopes of turning it into a beautiful space blending culture and nature. Though the Great Depression put those plans on hold, Montgomery’s dream was realized decades later in 1981. A group of citizens came together to form the present-day Leila Arboretum Society, bringing gorgeous blends of nature and culture to the space—making it the perfect place to snap some gorgeous nature photos for your Instagram.
One of the most Instagram-worthy attractions at the Leila Arboretum Society is Fantasy Forest, a natural fantasy-themed sculpture garden. At one point, Fantasy Forest was a grove of century-old ash trees that got destroyed by invasive beetles known as Emerald Ash Borers. Instead of tearing down the trees, the Arboretum Society invited artists to transform the tree trunks. Today, Fantasy Forest is full of wizards, dragons, gnomes, and more. These statues are like nothing else you’ll find on any of your friends’ Instagram feeds.
Fernwood Botanical Garden
13988 Range Line Road, Niles
Fernwood Botanical Garden might be only minutes from Indiana, but the photos you can take there are pure Michigan. The current 105-acre garden on the shores of the St. Joseph River had humble beginnings, starting as Kay and Walter Boydston’s 12-acre country home. Kay hosted like-minded friends who loved nature until the garden became a public place in 1964. It has only grown in acreage and buildings since.
Social media photos with proper tags are encouraged at Fernwood Botanical Garden, so Instagram away. Some of the special natural areas that you can use as photo ops include a rain garden, herb garden, Japanese garden, railway garden, and more.
Gull Meadow Farms
8544 Gull Road, Richland
Gull Meadow Farms is a family-friendly attraction in the Kalamazoo area that also makes for a great photo op. Throughout the harvest season and beyond, Gull Meadow Farms hosts popular events like Sunflower Days, Princess and Superhero Weekend, All-Star Stunt Dogs, Walk Through the Lights, and more. But they also have plenty of attractions throughout the rest of the year that are Instagram-ready, including the apple orchard and the pumpkin patch.
If you take social media photos, Gull Meadow Farms only asks that you tag them.
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