Being in the heart of Michigan may mean limited access to the Great Lakes that the state is so famous for, but it has its advantages, with plenty of great places to visit within driving distance of Lansing. Here are our recommendations for the best cultural cities to check out and the most magnificent beaches and parks in which to relax. Wherever you choose, an awesome day out is waiting for you.
The closest of these day trips to Lansing, Grand Rapids was chosen as the number one travel destination in the U.S. in 2014 by Lonely Planet, and it’s not hard to see why. From art and culture at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and the Art Prize festival to so many craft breweries that it has earned the nickname “beer city,” Grand Rapids is a city on the rise. It’s an hour west of Lansing.
Heading west 30 minutes past Grand Rapids will bring you to the picturesque town of Holland, MI. Founded by Dutch settlers in 1847, it’s maintained its Netherlands roots and offers a European experience year-round with an authentic windmill, a 19th-century-period village, and Dutch delicacies. The most popular time to visit though is in May when the annual Tulip Time festival takes over, and the blooming flowers bring up to one million people to town.
Just south of Holland lie the twin coastal towns of Saugatuck and Douglas, separated by the Kalamazoo River and Lake. Crossing the river on the only hand-cranked chain ferry in the country is a must, as is browsing in the many unique boutiques and art galleries. There are also many beautiful beaches to discover and fresh, local food to enjoy. What more could you ask for?
If you’re after the great outdoors, the largest state park in the Lower Peninsula is less than an hour south of Lansing. The Waterloo Recreation Area covers more than 20,000 acres, with 11 fishing lakes and eight boat launches for water fans, 47 miles (75.6 kilometers) of hiking trails to explore, and swimming beaches and picnic sites for a more relaxing day.
In some ways, the towns of Ann Arbor and Lansing are rivals, dating back to when Lansing was chosen to be the state capital over Ann Arbor and maintained by the sporting competitions between East Lansing’s Michigan State University and Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan. But beyond all that, Ann Arbor is a lovely city with food, festivals and even fairy doors to check out, and it is only a little over an hour southeast of Lansing.
For something a little edgier, Michigan’s largest metropolis and the former capital is also only an hour and a half away. Detroit is home to world-class art, museums celebrating its role as the home of the auto industry, and a cutting-edge restaurant scene. There are also major league sports to see, three large casino resorts, and the developing riverfront and Belle Isle Park. You will definitely need more than a day though.
Made famous by the Simon & Garfunkel song “America,” Saginaw is just over an hour northeast of Lansing. Its main attractions include the Japanese Cultural Center and Tea House, the historic Castle Museum, and a museum and zoo for children. The Saginaw Bay is just a little farther away than the city, offering fishing and boating.
To the east of Saginaw, there’s Frankenmuth, home to the world’s largest Christmas store. Much like Holland, MI, Frankenmuth was settled by German immigrants in the mid-19th century, and the town’s German, and particularly Bavarian, heritage and culture have been preserved, with a particular focus on Christmas.