The 6 Most Charming Small Towns in Michigan
Between historic architecture, a European-influence and lakefront settings, Michigan’s quaint towns are a draw that keeps folks coming back to this Great Lakes state. Fit for a leisurely vacation or outdoor adventures, the most charming towns in Michigan inspire visitors with unique attractions, quality eats and that pure, crisp air you can only experience when you’re surrounded by natural splendor. Here are just a few of our favorite charming small towns in Michigan and what to see in each.
1. Charlevoix, MI
Set against beautiful Lake Michigan, Charlevoix is spoiled by nature and big on small town Americana charm. But it also has a few unique surprises up its sleeve. Case in point: the Hobbit Houses—27 distinct homes designed by architect Earl Young that are made of limestone, fieldstone and boulders sourced from northern Michigan. Topped with cedar shake roofs and giving off major “Lord of the Rings” vibes, people in these parts have nicknamed them “mushroom houses” thanks to their appearance of having grown right out of Charlevoix forest and you can (and really should) stay at the Weathervane Terrace or Hotel Earl, both built by Young.
Long wholesome summer days spent at Fisherman’s Island State Park picnicking, swimming or hunting the elusive Petoskey stones are favorite pastime activities during the summer, as is a visit to Castle Farm. This stunning property—which dates back to 1918 and includes a stone-facade castle complete with turret towers—has pretty incredible gardens to explore. It’s also one of the area’s most coveted wedding venues should you be in the market for a magical place to tie the knot.
2. Frankenmuth, MI
With a name like Frankenmuth, you would expect a few Bavarian-style buildings. But this charming town is so concentrated with restaurants, shops and homes influenced in the style that you’ll feel you’ve been transported directly to a small German village—beer, bratwurst, schnitzel, pretzel rolling and all. Just three-square miles in size, Frankenmuth packs in a picture-perfect covered bridge, a darling Bavarian Inn and a riverboat tour that will put you into instant vacation mode. Unique festivals, including a huge beer-tasting event, are a thing in Frankenmuth all year round, but it’s the shopping—which includes an adorable chocolate “haus”, cheese “haus”, gift and country stores and even a cuckoo clock shop—that are worth visiting any day of the week.
Pro tip: Frankenmuth also happens to be home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the largest Christmas Store in the world housed in an Alpine-style building open (almost) year-round. So, go ahead—treat yourself to Christmas in July.
3. Petoskey, MI
Petoskey’s historic architecture will draw you in while its lakefront vista will keep you coming back. The town is home to a lovely lighthouse, watersports galore and a small but bustling downtown. Worth working into your itinerary: Mighty Fine Pizza, a mom-and-pop pizza joint that prides itself on its homemade dough and sauce—with a mighty fine taste to match.
Petoskey is also home to many wineries and breweries, making it an ideal and affordable alternative to some of our country’s more popular wine regions. Sip responsibly at the indoor tasting room at Maple Moon Sugarbush and Winery or on the outdoor deck at Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery. Other highlights include the picturesque Walloon Lake Winery, Mackinaw Trail Winery, and Resort Pike Cidery and Winery, where bubbly ciders reign supreme.
4. Harbor Springs, MI
You can easily spend a Saturday morning or afternoon popping in and out of art galleries in Harbor Springs, where a few highlights include Tvedten Fine Art, Hanni Gallery, and Elizabeth Pollie Fine Art. Afterwards, sit for brunch or lunch at Stafford’s Pier Restaurant, a gorgeous dockside restaurant serving fresh oysters, crab cakes and other seafood specialties.
The town is positioned on the deepest harbor in the Great Lakes, making Harbor Springs an ideal place for a summer sail—or choosing a summer vacation filled with chances to get out on the water. Post up at Harbor Springs’ incredible beaches, Zorn Park Beach or Cross Village Beach. The under-the-radar but relaxing town is as family-friendly as it is pet-friendly and the dedicated Zoll Street Beach—an idyllic stretch of sand where you’ll find people launching small sailboats and kayaks—welcomes four-legged friends.
5. Saugatuck, MI
Known for its art scene and a part of what’s nicknamed the “art coast” in Michigan, Saugatuck’s spirit draws all visitors, but is especially popular with LGBTQIA+ folks. In fact, it’s even been voted one of the hottest gay destinations in recent past. The lively scene is best on display in neighboring Douglas, though, a separate charming town that is spiritually connected to Saugatuck. At The Dunes Resort, visitors will find a queer-friendly pool, bar, and “burger hut.” The resort also hosts many parties and events, so it’s become a hub of queer culture in Michigan and a destination in its own right.
Back in town and amongst charming art galleries that display art from both local and national artists alike, picturesque Saugatuck also boasts a variety of unique shops and epicurean adventures. The town takes grub quite seriously and includes everything from farm-to-table eats, celeb chef-driven restaurants and coastal concepts with impressive wine lists.
Pro tip: Oval Beach in Saugatuck should be high on your list, even if you visit early or later in the season. Just seeing this little slice of paradise with powdery sand, primo views and a chilled out vibe will instantly elevate your mood.
6. South Haven, MI
Accessing South Haven’s quality beaches—where you’ll find plenty of wide stretches of sand and dunes—is a rite of passage during any visit to South Haven. One of the best is South Beach, which has a charming set of blue stairs that lead over the dunes and majestic views over the glittering lake. The town gets high marks for its splash pad, nature preserves, protected waterfront parks and a red lighthouse that juts into Lake Michigan. At the Aqua Park at Lake Arvesta Farms, you’ll find the ability to wakeboard, water ski, and kneeboard or the challenge of an on-water obstacle course. The dynamic sports complex is also home to pickle ball courts, mini golf and a disc golf course surrounded by beautiful trees.
Pro tip: After a day spent on the water or shopping downtown make it a point to sit at the bar at Clementine’s. Located in a historic bank dating back to 1896, the old-timey restaurant and bar is an Insta-worthy spot to relax as you sip some of South Haven’s finest martinis (think caramel and chocolate).