12 off-the-beaten-path experiences in Lansing

12 Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences in Lansing

Photo courtesy of The Otherside Paranormal and Mortuary Science Museum via Facebook.

By Lisa Green

February 7, 2024

From haunted objects to the creamiest ice cream imaginable, we’ve rounded up a list of our must-see Lansing experiences you might not know about.

MICHIGAN—Lansing’s a lot more than just a place where politics and collegiate sports occur. It’s also pretty dang cool.

With its central location, proximity to the Michigan State University (MSU), and capital city status, there’s a pretty good chance that most Michiganders have stopped in the Lansing area for a spell. But once you’ve toured the Michigan State Capitol, learned about state history at the Michigan History Center, tailgated at Spartan Stadium, and gone wild at Potter Park Zoo, what else is left? Well, a wealth of unique discoveries.

Lansing has a rich history and culture to match, with plenty of family-friendly activities and experiences you can’t find anywhere else. If you’re ready to find a getaway within driving distance, we’ve got a few Lansing originals you’ll want to know about.

Enjoy Lansing as the Michigan festival capital

12 Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences in Lansing

Photo courtesy of Michigan Nordic Fire Festival via Facebook

The greater Lansing area is often called the “Michigan Festival Capital” because it is home to more than 60 different fairs, festivals, and public shows that take place throughout the year. Here are just a select few.

The Lansing area is home to several music festivals. The Charlotte Bluegrass Festival (June 20-22, 2024) is a three-day celebration of bluegrass entertainment, camping, workshops, and jamming. There’s also Stoopfest (May 10-11, 2024), a stripped-down local festival featuring live music, comedy, and arts performances held on the front stoops of homes—plus parks, backyards, garages, and bars—all in walking distance of each other in the Eastside neighborhood. There’s also the popular Summer Solstice Jazz Festival (June 21-22, 2024) featuring local, regional, and national jazz artists performing in downtown East Lansing. As of this year, the brand new Rock Lansing Music Fest (May 18, 2024) will bring rock music to Adado Riverfront Park.

Lansing has plenty of culture, too. The East Lansing Art Festival (May 18, 2024) has been running for more than 60 years and features the work of around 200 different artists. There’s also the unique ScrapFest (July 12-13, 2024), an art festival devoted to scrap metal, upcycled, and repurposed artwork. The Capital City Film Festival (April 10-20, 2024) showcases independent films, interactive media, and live music in several venues across Lansing.

Like its neighbor to the east in the Motor City, Lansing also has its share of car shows. The Oldsmobile Homecoming (June 15, 2024) is the world’s largest one-day Oldsmobile Show and Swap Meet. The Car Capital Auto Show (June 29, 2024) is held on the grounds of the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum.

Then there are the unique festivals that don’t exactly fit into a box. The Michigan Nordic Fire Festival (Feb. 25, 2024) is a viking-themed celebration of winter, fire, spear-throwing, and mead. Finally, Brrs, Beards and Brews: A Lumberjack Festival (April 6, 2024) takes place in Old Town, with feats of strength, beard and mustache competitions, and more lumberjack- (and lumberjane-) themed fun.

Watch the game and explore nightlife like an MSU student

If you want to get in touch with your inner Sparty without paying the tuition bill, the next best thing is to explore the MSU nightlife. MSU students most often frequent the bars along Grand River Avenue and Albert Street in East Lansing. And there are plenty of great options to explore, many of which have been neighborhood bars and campus staples for generations—some as many as 40 years.

Crunchy’s Burgers and Beer is a trademark MSU location, decked out in emerald green and Spartan logos to match. Not only is it a favorite spot to watch MSU sporting events, but also a great atmosphere featuring arcade games and Sharpie messages. Crunchy’s features “The Weekly Crunch” comedy night on Mondays, Stump! Trivia on Tuesdays, and karaoke on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. They are known for their Famous Crunchy Burger and signature buckets of beer.

Another long-standing favorite is The Peanut Barrel, with one of the most popular patios in East Lansing, where you can hear the crowd from MSU’s stadium on game days. The Peanut Barrel has a reputation as one of the best places to enjoy a burger or sandwich with fries and a brew. The restaurant’s ownership was taken over by the Crunchy’s owners after the Peanut Barrel’s owners of over four decades, the Bells, retired in 2023. The bar hosts new weekly event called Tuesday Tunes with the Groove Drs, along with My Trivia Live on Thursdays, and live music on Live Music Fridays.

Landshark Bar and Grill is a great sports bar with more than 25 televisions and a custom sound system, making for a great MSU sporting event experience. They host Trivia Night with Sporcle on Mondays and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. They are best known for their trademark Shark Bowl, which is a 20-to-46-ounce drink chock full of alcohol.

Rick’s American Cafe was named one of the top 25 college bars in America by The Daily Meal, along with its second location in Ann Arbor near the University of Michigan. The biggest draw to Rick’s are the premier DJs spinning up to five nights a week, with plenty of dance floor space for students to party. They also have drink specials, Country Night on Wednesdays, and a live DJ with music and dancing on the weekends.

The newer bars are nothing to shake a stick at, either. FieldHouse is one of the best spots in East Lansing to watch football, with more than 75 hi-def TVs, a Big Ten-themed cocktail menu, 24 craft beers on tap, and daily specials on all your favorite sports grub. Its patio faces downtown East Lansing, so you’re right in the middle of all the action.

The Graduate Rock Bar at the Graduate Hotel is East Lansing’s newest rooftop bar, bringing summer camp vibes to MSU. Named after the famous MSU landmark, Graduate Rock Bar is not just another hotel bar. The 10th-floor views are an experience all their own—both the indoor horseshoe bar and outdoor patio provide breathtaking aerial views of East Lansing and the MSU campus. They are known for their quirky craft cocktail menu, which includes beverages like the “Adult Capri Sun,” complete with plastic pouch.

Tin Can Bar is a newer East Lansing staple, but it’s already grown to six different locations across Michigan and Ohio. They offer more than 100 different canned beers you can combine with a gourmet stuffed burger for only $10. They are most known for their Beer Tours and Shot Tours, in which repeat customers can try many different types of alcohol for the chance to land on their wall of fame, with a trademark exclusive T-shirt included for bragging rights.

Grab some ice cream from the MSU Dairy Store

One of the best parts of Michigan State University is the MSU Extension, an extensive program designed to make MSU’s knowledge resources accessible to businesses, communities, and individuals. While they are present in every Michigan county, one of their coolest offerings is just down the street from MSU—the MSU Dairy Store.

Ice cream and cheese may not be the first thing you associate with the Spartans, but the locals swear by this store for the creamiest and freshest tasting ice cream imaginable. The store is adjacent to the MSU Dairy Plant, which makes the ice cream sold in the store. You can find an observation deck there with educational videos about ice cream production. 

The flavors rotate but often include collaborations with other spots on campus like the Beal Botanical Garden (lavender) and other local businesses. Check out their trademark Spartan Swirl, which is cake batter ice cream mixed with cake pieces and a green frosting swirl.

See a show at Wharton Center for Performing Arts

Lansing just so happens to be home to Michigan’s largest performing arts venue, the Wharton Center for Performing Arts. The center originally opened in 1982 and spreads its entertainment among four unique stages: the Cobb Great Hall, the Pasant Theatre, the MSU Concert Auditorium, and Fairchild Theatre. These stages host a vast and diverse array of performance types, from touring Broadway shows and raunchy comedy to exciting concerts and family-friendly shows.

Wharton provides a whole lot of extra experiences, too. They are known for their sensory-friendly performances, for which they turn down the sound and stage lights, keep the house lights on, allow audience members to move around, keep designated areas for quiet spaces and craft spaces, and more. These performances are specially designed to be inclusive of patrons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), sensory-processing issues, learning disabilities, and other types of neurodivergence.

The Wharton Center also provides educational experiences to foster interest and skill in the arts. The Sutton Foster Awards honor high school musical theatre performers with year-round programming that ends with a showcase in East Lansing. Take It From The Top is a musical theatre workshop program using experienced Broadway professionals to teach local students. The Young Playwrights Festival allows Michigan high school students to write one-act plays and bring them to life in a performance. 

Explore vintage in REO Town

12 Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences in Lansing

Photo courtesy of REO Town Marketplace via Facebook

Just south of downtown is a place that can be described both as one of Lansing’s oldest and most up-and-coming neighborhoods. REO Town is named for the founder of Oldsmobile (later REO), Ransom Eli Olds. The neighborhood was home to the REO plant, which originally produced vehicles from 1905-75. It was considered one of the birthplaces of the American automobile. Even today, there’s a lot of cool stuff to do in this Lansing neighborhood. In fact, it’s so good at upcycling things that it’s sometimes called Lansing’s “Thrift District.”

One of the most beloved thrift stores is Thriftique, a shop with an antique collectible boutique feel that carries everything from everyday fashion to jewelry, housewares, and knickknacks.  

One of the most unique attractions is the REO Town Marketplace, a mash-up of several unique, independent boutique-style shops. Among these one-of-a-kind offerings is Vintage Junkies, another spot for all things vintage, with a curated showroom centered around an upcycled modern home. They specialize in breathing new life into old furniture through restorations and remixes, and will even do custom orders for your vintage furniture pieces. 

You can also find The Record Lounge, a spot for all things vinyl records, including new, used, rare, and collectible records. It’s also one of Michigan’s only female-owned record stores. Wayfaring Booksellers, a woman–and-LGBT-owned bookstore, offers vintage, rare, and collectible books. They also curate books, including those aligned with the theme of “Read Queer All Year,” a challenge for readers to read as many queer books as they can. 

Also at REO Town Marketplace is Lansing Clothing Company, which offers all the Lansing-themed and Michigan-themed swag your heart could desire. Check out their takes on “Dirty Lansing,” a play on the logo for Dirty Dancing, and “Michigan Metal,” which displays the word Michigan in the style of the Metallica logo.

Also in the REO Town area is The Robin Theatre, an intimate event venue in a century-old storefront that seats about 60. The theater offers an eclectic range of events including poetry, folk music, hip-hop, jazz and blues musicians, dance, theatre, sketch comedy, and more. 

Another culture collective in REO Town is REACH Studio Art Center, a nonprofit community art center offering art programs and activities for all ages. You can find classes in all kinds of art mediums, including two-dimensional, digital arts, ceramics, fiber arts, and more. Check out the Open Art Studio events to do freestyle art among other people or participate in the Walk-in Wednesday sessions for rotating themes.

Get the heebie-jeebies at the Otherside Paranormal and Mortuary Science Museum

Lansing’s newest museum attraction is located inside the REO Town Marketplace, but the subject matter is certainly not for the faint of heart. In fact, it might include more than a few “cursed objects” that the original owners couldn’t wait to get rid of.

At the Otherside Paranormal and Mortuary Science Museum, guests can take a 30-minute guided tour of relics from both mortuary services and paranormal investigations. The museum includes everything from embalming equipment to haunted dolls to human skulls and bones. One of the cursed dolls might even sap your energy—don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Cheer on the Lansing Lugnuts

12 Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences in Lansing

Photo courtesy of Lansing Lugnuts via Facebook

Everyone loves rooting for the Spartans or the Detroit Tigers, but in Lansing, Minor League Baseball has its place. Its trademark team, the Lansing Lugnuts, pay homage to the town’s automobile history.

The Lugnuts play right in downtown Lansing in the Cooley Law School Stadium, originally known as Oldsmobile Park. On the same intersection of the stadium is a smokestack which carries the world’s largest lugnut, placed in 1996 specifically to honor the team. Other structures soon followed, including outfield apartments, and the ballpark became the anchor of the downtown entertainment district.

Compared to the major and collegiate leagues, watching a Lugnuts game brings a certain affordability and accessibility that Lansing folks love. Most tickets are between $10-20. 

Find your inner Zen at its many gardens

You might have a small one somewhere in your home or at your office, but in Lansing, you can find real Zen gardens, as well as gardens that just make you feel Zen. The Zen garden is intended for relaxation, contemplation, and meditation. It often uses empty space to reflect how empty the mind should be in a content state. The actual idea of Zen is a complex subject involving multiple religious, cultural, and philosophical topics, but it was based around spiritual meditation first and foremost.

Lansing’s most authentic Zen garden is also one of downtown Lansing’s best attractions. The Shigematsu Memorial Garden is a traditional karesansui-style—meaning dried-mountain-water-style—garden. The style is the iconic Zen garden, with the stalwart large rocks representing islands in the water as well as the stillness of a contemplative mind. The Shigematsu Memorial Garden was designed in 2006 in honor of Megumi Shigematsu, former President of Biwako Kisen Company and a generous sponsor of Lansing Community College programs in Japan. 

This garden on Lansing Community College’s campus offers many recognizable Japanese garden elements including Japanese maple and cherry trees as well as two lanterns. The larger one is called yukimi (a snow-viewing lantern) while the smaller one is called misaki (a cape lantern). In the garden, you can also find a moon-viewing platform, a koi pond, and a water basin. The garden is set around a large hill, representing Mt. Hiei and Mt. Hira in the Shiga Prefecture of Japan. The hill features a single large pine tree at the top, which symbolizes everlasting life.

MSU also has many gardens of its own, including the Milton Muelder Japanese Garden in the Clarence E. Lewis Landscape Arboretum. This Japanese garden is just one of 15 different garden areas designed as an instructional space for students interested in landscape development. It includes an organic farm, a rain garden, a pollinator garden, and more. This arboretum is located on MSU’s south campus and offers free admission. You can also find the MSU Horticultural Gardens, the MSU 4-H Children’s Gardens with more than 56 themed areas, and the Lewis Landscape Arboretum in this part of the campus. 

The W.J. Beal Botanical Garden is another MSU garden located closer to the campus library. It’s the oldest continuously operated university botanical garden of its kind in the United States. Though it may look small, it is a living laboratory with more than 5,000 different kinds of plants.

Cooley Gardens and Scott Sunken Gardens in Lansing provide a popular wedding venue with gorgeous natural features. Cooley Gardens were originally designed by landscape architect Edward H. Laird in a geometrical Beaux Arts style popular in the 1930s. The Scott Sunken Gardens are an Italian-style walled garden. This garden was notably moved less than a decade ago, 400 feet southwest of its original location, after the Lansing Board of Water and Light installed a Central Substation project.

Catch up on the trends in Old Town

12 Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences in Lansing

Photo courtesy of Old Town Lansing via Facebook

Located north of Lansing’s downtown, the Old Town neighborhood is a creative, trendy, and quirky district known for its shops. In approximately four blocks, you can find tons of diverse shopping, dining, and festivals. They’ve even curated a self-guided tour. It’s called Old Town because it was Lansing’s original downtown sector over a century ago. But even with all that history, Old Town is still cool today.

One of the weirdest (and coolest) shops in Old Town is Thrift Witch, a “gothic pop-culture oddities thrift shop” specializing in pop culture collectibles, original dark art, creepy antiques, clothing, and accessories. It’s the place to buy alternative clothing brands like Sourpuss. They have an adjacent space called The Dark Art Market that serves as a rotating small business incubator.

Another great weird shopping option is Bad Annie’s Sweary Goods. True to its name, Bad Annie’s likes to carry stuff that, well, swears. Described as “ridiculously inappropriate,” they carry clever gifts, books, clothing, and accessories that might make you want to wash out your mouth—or eyes—with soap.

There’s also plenty of “everything old is new again” flavor. Metro Retro sells all kinds of apparel and housewares both in vintage and modern aesthetics. For the toys that cater to the ’80s and ’90s kids in all of us, there’s Grave Danger. From Squishmallows to action figures, this is a store for all ages, selling new and used collectibles, toys, movies, games, music, and books. For feminine folks with an eye for classic styles, there’s Grace Boutique, offering clothing, handbags, shoes, and accessories designed to make you feel glamorous. They carry sizes 0-22 in cocktail and formal dresses, with even a few wedding accessories. 

One of the best and most unique experiences in Old Town comes from a store that sells exotic animals. Preuss Pets is known around the Lansing area for setting up aquariums, but it does way more than that. Aside from cats and dogs, Preuss offers reptiles, amphibians, birds, mice, bunnies, and other exotic breeds. They even host parties and events, offering animal encounters with creatures as exotic as a tortoise and ball python. Preuss genuinely cares about the animals we choose to make part of our families, which has kept them beloved in the Old Town community for years.

There’s also great spots to grab a bite to eat. Pablo’s harkens back to Old Town’s history as a hub for the Mexican American population in Lansing, providing delicious tacos to boot. Ozone’s Brewhouse offers craft brews, seltzers, and house wines, all to accompany delicious pub fare and wood-fired pizzas. The Creole Burger Bar and Southern Kitchen features Southern fare, half-pound burgers, and some of the best whiskey this side of the Grand River.

Find your perfect coffee shop

12 Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences in Lansing

Photo courtesy of Strange Matter Coffee Co. via Facebook

Lansing is a town for both college and politics, and that means there’s a lot of coffee to go around. The popular coffee chain Biggby Coffee, which now has more than 300 stores across 12 states, was founded in East Lansing in 1995. And there’s plenty more Lansing coffee outlets to choose from, so you can find your perfect cup.

Strange Matter Coffee is the biggest local favorite around Lansing, producing a holistic coffee experience that’s good to the last drop. Their single origin coffee is thoroughly enjoyed across their two locations and beyond, with coffee products available for shipping across the US. 

Blue Owl Coffee is another hometown favorite that started in REO Town and found two additional locations within East Lansing and Old Town after that. They are known for their diverse selection of flavored coffees. Chapelure is an East Lansing favorite, with plenty of delicious pastries (or full, freshly baked cakes) to gobble up with any traditional cafe drink. The Brew Cafe is owned by a tattoo artist and sits below tattoo parlor Ministry Ink. Brew Cafe uses beans from Sozo Coffee Roasting in nearby Ionia. 

There are also several coffee shops that provide unique experiences. Hooked does triple duty as a coffee shop, bookstore, and wine bar. They bring community events like book clubs, meet-the-author talks, and guided wine tastings. Constellation Cat Cafe is a cat cafe that allows you to enjoy your latte with adorable cats. At any given time, the cat cafe has anywhere from six to 20 adoptable cats. They even include events like meditation with the cats. Finally, Board and Bean Game Cafe is an upcoming board game cafe in the downtown area, the first one ever in Lansing, based on the Snakes and Lattes chain. Though Board and Bean is still “coming soon,” they’ve hosted pop-up events at Honey Bun Bakery already.

Toast to the Greater Lansing Craft Beverage Pass

You don’t have to go all the way to Grand Rapids or Leelanau Peninsula to enjoy the best tour of craft beverages. Lansing has its own extensive selection of adult beverages, especially after the number of breweries in the Lansing area has quadrupled in the last 10 years. You can explore a lot of them with the Greater Lansing Craft Beverage Pass.

This special promotion from the Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau was just introduced in 2023 and provides a curated list of local brew houses, winemakers, and distilleries in the metropolitan area. Those with the pass have 365 days to redeem discounts, rewards, and prizes for visiting the establishments included in the pass.

One of the most prominent venues is Old Nation Brewing Company in Williamston, home of the incredibly popular M-43 and similar IPA beverages. Craft Beverage Pass holders get half-off any pint at Old Nation. Another venue is BAD Brewing Company in Mason, with an extensive patio offering sun shading in summer and warm huts and greenhouses in winter. Their bourbon-barrel-aged beers are particularly popular. Michigan-made brewery chain Jolly Pumpkin offers a buy-one-get-one-free deal on truffle fries, perfect for enjoying any of their popular craft beers. Looking Glass Brewing Company in downtown Dewitt offers a generous 10% off your bill with a Craft Beverage Pass. Even non-breweries like Uncle John’s Cider Mill are part of the fun.

Get back to nature with the Lansing River Trail and Grand River

Photo courtesy of Lansing River Trail via Facebook

The Lansing area has plenty of trails and outdoor recreation, but one of the best ones is the Lansing River Trail. This trail of over 20 miles cuts directly through Lansing, following the Grand and Red Cedar rivers, and passes by several landmarks and destinations. One spur of the trail connects directly to Michigan State University. The northern section travels through Old Town and, near the middle, the trail goes directly through downtown for a quaint, walkable boardwalk. But the most scenic part of the trail is said to be the southern portion, which cuts directly through Lansing’s natural wetlands and woodlands.

Along the trail, you can discover 19 different parks including Crego, Hawk Island, McGuire, and Scott Woods. Along the north side, you can explore Lake Lansing Parks around the town’s scenic namesake lake. The trail is also located nearby several popular attractions, like the Impression 5 Science Museum and Potter Park Zoo.

For those interested in exploring the Lansing River, visitors may rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards at River Town Adventures in Cherry Hill Park.

On one particular 3-mile stretch of the trail, just south of Saginaw Street, you can seasonally find the ArtPath River Trail Exhibition. Thanks to the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center, this event brings the talents of local artists directly to you and the great outdoors. The exhibition is a walkable outdoor art gallery with rotating art installations every year.




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