Complete Guide to Manistee MI: 28 Best Things to Do for the Most Unforgettable Family Trip

things to do in manistee mi

Ever Pass by Manistee, MI? Here’s What You’re Missing

It’s no secret that if you’re vacationing in Michigan, you have options.

Places like Sleeping Bear Dunes and Mackinac Island have helped put Michigan on the map, but if you’ve never set your GPS for Manistee MI, you’re missing out.

manistee mi Lake Michigan pier
Pier at 5th Ave Beach, Manistee MI

Table of Contents

To help you find your way around this marvelous city & county, we’ve written a playbook that will take you through everything you need to know for a family visit, including:

» Manistee MI Overview
» Parks, Trails & Nature
» Downtown & Manistee History
» Adventures
» Manistee Beaches
» Local Flavor

28 Reasons to Set Your Sights on Manistee, MI for Your Next Family Trip

The City of Manistee lies inside of Manistee County in Michigan. Both are worthy destinations.

Manistee is one of those lucky places that stakes a claim on Lake Michigan, with miles of sandy shoreline.

It’s also a place rich in history – and old, turn-of-the-century brick buildings to go with it.

downtown manistee mi

Historic Theatre in Downtown Manistee MI

Today, just over 6,000 people call the city of Manistee home year-round. 24,000 people live in the county.

A visit to Manistee wouldn’t be complete without sampling what both the city and the county have to offer.

Here’s where you’ll find Manistee on the Michigan map:

Manistee, Michigan location
Map Showing the Location of Manistee MI

PARKS, TRAILS & NATURE: It’s Hard to Stay Inside When You’re in Manistee MI

Acres of state forest land, along with miles of shoreline and rivers, make Manistee a nature-lovers playground.

And you don’t have to be a hardcore hiker, biker, or fisherman to get in on the action.

Many Manistee treasures are very accessible, so even if your mobility is limited by a stroller, little kids, or wheelchair, you can participate, too.

Or, if you’re in a place to ramp it up and do a mega hike, overnight backpacking trip, or head on out on a canoe-packing trip, Manistee has that, too.

Here’s Your Get Outside “Things to Do” List for Manistee:

1) Drive Through the Tunnel of Trees

Manistee County

Drive your car through this iconic canopy of towering black willow trees and you feel like you’re in a fairytale for a few moments.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see deer at the end of the road like we did.

This is a great spot for photos – the road isn’t very busy – but do be on the lookout for other vehicles when you stop.

tunnel of trees manistee michigan

Locals call this road Bullfrog Highway because the frog noises from the nearby Big Manistee River are so audible here.

If you can find the Manistee Meijer, you’re close to the Tunnel of Trees. To get there from Meijer, head SW on M-55 (Caberfae Highway) for 0.8 miles and then turn right onto N Main St. That’s where you’ll find the Tunnel of Trees.

manistee mi tunnel of trees map

2) Stroll the Arcadia Marsh Boardwalk

Manistee County – Arcadia

Arcadia Marsh
16791 Northwood Hwy, Arcadia, MI 49613

It’s not every day you get to hike through a marshy nature preserve and get the perfect IG backdrop.

Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve boardwalk
The Extensive Boardwalk at Arcadia Marsh is Impressive

Tucked away in the most unexpected place, the Arcadia Marsh Boardwalk is a treasure so hidden and so new that most locals don’t even know about it.

Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve boardwalk

At just under a mile, this universally accessible pathway system travels over diverse wetlands and all but guarantees abundant wildlife viewings.

Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve swans

3) Picnic Under the Hemlocks & Hike the Trails at Magoon Creek Park

Manistee County

Magoon Creek Natural Area
Red Apple Road, Manistee, MI 49660

The hardest part of a visit to Magoon Creek Natural Area is deciding how to spend your time.

The 1.5-mile hiking loop is great for kids. A picnic under the hemlock trees would be magical. Watching Lake Michigan freighters from this high-bluff view is another great option.

magoon creek bluff view manistee
magoon creek hiking area manistee (1)

4) Hike out to Big Views @ Arcadia Dunes and Maybe Visit Old Baldy, Too

Manistee County

Arcadia Dunes & Old Baldy @ C.S. Mott Nature Preserve
Gilbert Rd, Arcadia, MI 49613

If filling your lungs with fresh air makes you smile, head on over to Arcadia Dunes in the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve just north of Manistee MI.

With over 15 miles of trails, you might wonder where to start adventuring. Don’t worry – we’ll help!

If you’re using a stroller or wheelchair, you’ll want the Overlook Trail. This one-mile roundtrip trail uses a wooden boardwalk system and a series of switchbacks to get you up to a great Lake Michigan overlook.

Old Baldy Dune Arcadia Michigan
Old Baldy Dune Arcadia Michigan

If you’re up for a little off-road adventure and don’t mind a sandy hike with stairs, adventure over to Baldy Dune for even bigger Lake Michigan views.

trail info old baldy
trail info old baldy
Old Baldy Stair Climb
Old Baldy Dune Arcadia Michigan

5) Climb to the Top of the Arcadia Scenic Overlook

Manistee County – Arcadia

Arcadia Scenic Turnout
Two miles north of Arcadia on M-22

This is a fantastic stop along M-22. Park your car at the bottom and climb up the 120 steps for the best view.

Perched hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan, you’ll get a birdseye view of the lake and its shoreline to the south. Be sure to bring your camera!

Arcadia Overlook credit 22 North Photography

Arcadia Overlook. Photo: 22 North Photography

6) See How You Measure Up Against Michigan’s Very Own Giant Sequoia Tree

Manistee County

Michigan Champion Giant Sequoia Tree @ Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary
2890 Lakeshore Rd, Manistee, MI 49660

Yep, Manistee MI has a Giant Sequoia Tree

Come for the giant tree, stay for the views, birding, and hiking.

The Michigan Giant Sequoia was planted as a seedling in 1949 after being carried back to the state from California in a coffee can. Today, the champion tree towers above the other trees at the sanctuary and already makes humans feel very small by comparison.

michigan giant sequoia
Michigan’s Giant Sequoia Tree is in Manistee
manistee mi giant sequoia tree

When you’re done getting photos of the giant sequoia – if you can fit the whole tree into a photo – see if you can find the Giant Sycamore tree on the property.

Bald Eagles have been spotted from the trails and this park offers wonderful Lake Michigan views.

manistee mi Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary

7) Top Off Your Water Bottles at the M-22 Artesian Well

Manistee County – Onekama

M-22 Artesian Well on Portage Point Drive, Onekama MI

Water flows continually from this artesian spring just off of M-22 on Portage Point Drive in Onekama, MI.

It’s cold, pure, and refreshing and a nice little stop if you want a place to fill up water bottles while you tool around Manistee County.

artisan well onekama, MI

Another artesian well, nicknamed Old Faceful, is located in Pierport, MI.

8) Pretend it’s Yesterday on the Old Wooden Playground at Lighthouse Park

Manistee County

Lighthouse Park
Cherry Road, Manistee, MI 49660

Not many of these old wooden playgrounds are still in existence. Happily, this one is still standing and is in good repair.

My kids gasped with delight when they saw this one at Lighthouse Park in Manistee and instantly resumed a game of tag leftover from the last time they found a play structure like this.

lighthouse park manistee, MI
Wooden Playground at Lighthouse Park in Manistee MI
lighthouse park manistee, MI

Downtown Manistee MI

Once upon a time, Manistee was one of the richest cities in Michigan.

Home to a number of 1800’s-era lumber barons who kept trying to one-up each other, the city saw the rise of an incredible number of victorian buildings and mansions. When fire destroyed 2/3rds of the town in 1871, the wealthy lumber tycoons rebuilt many lost structures using stone and brick in the style of the day.

As you drive or walk the streets of Manistee, you’ll see many of these stately Victorian structures standing today.

As it was then, today downtown Manistee’s shopping district is situated along River Street and runs for several blocks.

The Manistee River is to the north of River Street, and it’s on this street that you’ll find most of the downtown shops and restaurants. Downtown is also home to a stage theatre, a movie theatre, museums, and lodging options.

The county’s Visitor’s Bureau has put together a number of self-guided theme-based history tours for those wanting to explore the city’s past (everyone should!) and this local news article is a great read on Manistee’s history as well.

downtown Manistee Michigan
Manistee MI has Many Victorian Era Buildings

9) Get Your Steps in on the Manistee Riverwalk

You can walk along the river from downtown Manistee all the way to Lake Michigan via the riverwalk (minus the small washed-out portion at the end waiting to be repaired.)

That’s 1.75-miles one way.

It’s a hike, but it’s a fun walk that will let you see the city in a whole new way. While you walk, read the markers and learn more about how the river impacted the development of Manistee over the years.

riverwalk manistee, MI
The Riverwalk in Downtown Manistee MI runs for Miles
manistee riverwalk

10) Just Try and Choose a Favorite Downtown Restaurant

Downtown Manistee has a variety of restaurants to choose from.

Delightfully, many of these restaurants sport streetside patios as well as decks overlooking the river.

restaurants manistee MI

You can’t go wrong with tacos from Taco ‘Bout It Mexican Fusion.

Taco ‘Bout It Mexican Fusion
344 River St, Manistee, MI 49660
restaurants manistee, MI (

North Channel Brewing Co. is the place to stop in for a burger, fries and a local beer.

North Channel Brewing Co
86 Washington St, Manistee, MI 49660
restaurants manistee MI 3
North Channel Brewing Company in Manistee MI

Bluefish Kitchen + Bar, serving lunch and dinner, has a great riverside deck. Head here when you’re in the mood for seafood.

downtown manistee shopping 3
Bluefish Kitchen + Bar
312 River St, Manistee, MI 49660

11) Leave Enough Time for Shopping

The cute streets of Manistee are home to a smattering of shops that you must visit.

Better yet, the area is easy to walk and parking is free.

downtown manistee shopping

The Happy Owl Bookshop has a solid children’s section as well as a nice variety of reads for adults. Stop here to grab a few beach reads.

Happy Owl Bookshop
358 River St, Manistee, MI 49660
downtown manistee shopping 1

If you ask me for my favorite store in Downtown Manistee, it’s going to be a toss-up between Synder’s Shoes (always remember to shop the basement!) and the Ideal Kitchen. They both have an amazing stock of high-quality items. I love my kitchen about as much as I love shoes, so they both get the top slot IMO.

downtown manistee shopping

My kids love to shop at Glik’s that store is always on trend.

12) Dock Your Boat at the City Marina

Manistee Municipal Marina
480 River Street, Manistee MI 49660

You can boat your way to downtown Manistee as well, whether you’re coming from Lake Michigan or Manistee Lake.

The city marina was renovated and reopened in 2012. Improvements include a spacious day room, modern showers, and laundry facilities.

Make a reservation before heading out: call (800) 447-2757 or reserve online.

manistee municipal marina

13) Watch a Movie on a Big Screen in the 82-Year Old Vogue Theatre

Vogue Theatre
383 River Street, Manistee MI 49660

The Vogue is currently open with social distancing measures in place.

When you buy a ticket, you’ll be watching a show in a venue that was saved from demolition when locals stepped up to renovate the historic theatre.

Today, the Vogue is staffed by volunteers and shows first-run movies, 25¢ specials, and a little bit of everything else in between.

downtown manistee theatre

14) Catch a Tour or Live Program at the Ramsdell Regional Center of the Arts

Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts
101 Maple Street, Manistee MI 49660

The venue is currently open with social distancing measures in place.

This is Manistee’s go-to spot for culture.

Theatre, dance, musicals, tours and classes are just some of the things offered in this historic 1903 building.

Adventurous Things to Do in Manistee

15) Get Out on the Water with Inn Fun Cruises

Downtown Manistee

Inn Fun Cruises
Cruises Leave from Downtown Manistee

Hop aboard for a private sightseeing cruise with Tonya and Kevin’s Inn Fun Cruises.

inn fun cruises

Kevin captains the boat while Tonya narrates your two-hour journey around the waterways of Manistee. She’s truly a wealth of information and you can tell she loves where she lives.

manistee boat crusie

As you motor around, Tonya might disappear for a moment or two. That’s because she’s grabbing a surprise for you – customized to whatever it is that you’re celebrating that day. This boat is where memories are made, so don’t be afraid to let Tonya know the reason for your visit.

BYOB for the trip. They’ll provide light locally-sourced refreshments – we had Taco ‘Bout It Mexican Fusion chips and guac, as well as a few tasty items from Wee Bee Jammin’, among other things.

manistee boat cruise

16) Put on a Headset and Buckle Up for a Scenic Airplane Ride

Manistee County

Orchard Beach Aviation @ Manistee County Blacker Airport
2323 Airport Rd, Manistee, MI 49660

It works out to $1/minute/person when you sign up for an aerial sightseeing tour with Orchard Beach Aviation, and that’s a pretty good deal.

Pick three friends to pack into the 4-seater airplane, tell the pilot what you’d like to see, and get ready to be wowed. If you need a surprise birthday or anniversary gift, this might just be it.

You’ll likely fly over Lake Michigan beaches, the city of Manistee, or Portage Lake and surrounding areas for a bird’s eye view of the area.

Flights are $30 per person (two-person minimum.)  Call (231-723-8095) or stop in for more information.

Flights are conducted year round.

manistee scenic airplane ride
Sightseeing Flights over Manistee MI
scenic airplane tour manistee
Aerial View of Manistee
manistee scenic airplane ride 1

17) Board the SS City of Milwaukee for a Tour or Show Up for the Haunted Ship – if You Dare

City of Manistee

SS City of Milwaukee
99 Arthur St, Manistee, MI 49660

This big boat invites you aboard to learn more about how a steamship of this size spent decades on the water of Lake Michigan.

If you do the tour, you’ll get an inside look at the ship’s mechanicals as well as an idea of how people living and working on the ship passed the time. Some of the occupations back then were pre-OSHA – you’ll be surprised to hear how dangerous some daily tasks were.

uss city of milwaukee 2

Bring your kids on this tour – it opens your eyes to a piece of history that they won’t get to experience anywhere else.

uss city of milwaukee
uss city of milwaukee 1

And, if you dare, bring them back for a fright when the ship is all decked out as a Ghost Ship in October. They take their spooking seriously here.

manistee ghost ship

18) Get Ready to Ride the Rapids – Pine River Rafting

Manistee County

Bosman’s Pine River Canoe Rental
8027 Grandview Highway Wellston, MI 49689

Most people don’t realize that there is a place in lower Michigan where you can go whitewater rafting. There is – and it’s on the Pine River, which runs through Manistee County.

The rapids here are small – class one – and in August, they’re usually pretty tame. That makes renting a raft a fun family thing to do on a warm afternoon.

While the Pine River is not recommended for novice canoe or kayak operators, running a raft down the river is a lot easier to do. The raft lends stability – it’s very hard to tip over.

That doesn’t mean the swift current won’t run you into a tree or two – that happened to us – but we had a blast paddling for 3.5 hours and would love to do it again.

To do this trip, you need at least 4 people old enough to handle a paddle well. All of our rafters were over 10 years old. We took turns rotating the rider.

While we toured with Bosman’s and had a fantastic experience, there’s another reputable outfitter in the area as well: Pine River Paddlesports should one or the other be booked up.

pine river rafting
Rafting the Pine River in Muskegon County
pine river rafting

More Manistee MI Adventures for Next Time

  • 19) Gravity Hill – Put your car in neutral in this section of Putney Road and watch as your car appears to roll UPHILL. What??! It supposedly works on bikes and skateboards, too. We can’t wait to test it out. According to the Manistee CVB website, “Putney Rd. crosses Joyfield Rd. between US 31 and M22. Travel south from Joyfield Rd. and stop at a point 150 to 200 ft. beyond the “Stop Ahead” sign on the east side of the road, then put your car in neutral. You will roll all the way back up the hill to the Blaine Christian Church. And take time to enjoy the view of rolling hills, orchards and farms along the way.”
  • 20) G&D Alpaca Farm, 4796 Maple Road, Manistee MI 49660. We also want to visit the Alpacas! These alpaca pastures are open for public visits May 15 through October 31, 10 am – 4 pm daily, except Tues & Wed. They also have a forest fairy trail and a boutique with alpaca-based merchandise. Call (231) 723-2838 to confirm open hours. Special events, like “pick your own bouquet” and “fairy house building” happen on occasion.
alpaca farm manistee mi

photo: G&D Alpaca Farm Facebook

Manistee Beaches

Manistee has quite a variety of beaches for you to sample.

21) Spend the Afternoon at 5th Ave Beach, Pier & Lighthouse

City of Manistee

Fifth Avenue Beach
108 Lakeshore Drive, Manistee MI 49660

It’s okay to have a beach fire in the fire ring at the Manistee beach. How cool is that?

The beach house here offers concessions, the pier is open for walking, and the lighthouse is very photogenic. It’s the smaller of the two city beaches, but that doesn’t make it’s Lake Michigan water or beach any less.

5th avenue beach lighthouse manistee, MI
Pier at Fifth Avenue Beach in Manistee MI
5th ave beach house manistee
Fifth Avenue Beach House
5th avenue beach manistee, MI

22) Slide Down the Tallest Slide at First Street Beach

City of Manistee

First Street Beach & Douglas Recreation Area
110 S. Lakeshore Drive, Manistee MI 49660

This beach sits opposite of the 5th Avenue beach, across the Manistee River channel.

It’s much larger, with a variety of picnic pavilions and play areas. There’s also a large fish cleaning station.

1st st beach manistee, MI
Picnic Pavilions at First Street Beach in Manistee MI

Waves here can get big – heed the flag color when thinking about a swim in Lake Michigan.

1st st beach manistee, MI

One thing we loved was the massive retro slide at the playground. We haven’t seen a slide this tall anywhere else in Michigan.

1st st beach manistee MI 3

First Street Beach also has a beach house with concessions.

1st st beach manistee MI 2

23) Watch the Sunset at Portage Point Beach

Manistee County

Portage Point Beach
Onekama Township MI 49675

Head north of Manistee a bit toward Onekama to find another Lake Michigan beach.

Here, you can walk the pier, climb the dunes, and catch the sunset.

portage point beach onekama MI
Boardwalk to Lake Michigan at Portage Point in Onekama
sunset at portage point beach onekama, M
Sunset from Portage Point Beach
sunset at portage point beach onekama, M

24) Score Petoskey Stones or Beach Glass at Magoon Creek Beach

Manistee County

Magoon Creek Natural Area
Red Apple Road, Manistee, MI 49660

South of Manistee, Magoon Creek Park is right on Lake Michigan and is a delight for visitors in search of Petoskey Stones, beach glass, and other beautiful stones across its 2,300 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline.

rockhounding beach lake michigan magoon creek manistee


25) Stock Up at Wee Bee Jammin’

Wee Bee Jammin Storefront
8925 Norconk Road, Bear Lake, MI 49614

Manistee County

Wee Bee Jammin is an adorable shop featuring yummy artisan jams they craft onsite themselves and label with clever names like Toe Jam (this kind tastes good!) and Razzle Dazzle.

They make their own honey, too, from bees that they raise themselves. That’s probably why their Flower Power Honey will knock your socks off.

wee bee jammin

If you can get there in person, do it. The little storefront boutique is stocked with their own creations as well as fun and interesting Michigan-themed boutique finds.

wee bee jammin

If you can’t get there in person, shop their online store – it’s got a great selection of their artisan jams and jellies – and it’s what I’m putting in stockings this year and using for housewarming gifts going forward.

wee bee jammin honey

If you’re looking for something really unique, get yourself the Wild Flower Comb Honey.  It’s taken straight from the hive, cut, packaged, and sent right to you. Grab a honey dipper and enjoy!

26) Sample all of the Ciders at Northern Natural Cider House & Winery

Manistee County – Kaleva

Northern Naturals Cider House & Winery
7220 Chief Rd, Kaleva, MI 49645

It’s a little drive from downtown Manistee to this locally owned, locally grown cider house, but it’s worth the trip.

Northern Naturals regularly puts on events featuring live music, fresh food truck pizza, and tacos. Check their Facebook page for the latest on that.

They only offer outdoor seating and are regularly open every day from 3 to 8 pm. Food is served Wed-Sun from 4 to 8 pm.

Northern Natural Cider House & Winery
Changing Menu at Northern Naturals Cider House & Winery
Northern Natural Cider House Winery 1

27) Get Pizza & Ice Cream at Papa J’s and Follow it Up with Putt Putt

Manistee County – Onekama

Papa J’s Ice Cream & Eatery
4825 Main St, Onekama, MI 49675

Papa J’s is BIG in the small town of Onekama, MI.

Locals love it for their solid ice cream menu and food offerings. (Their fried pickles are tops, too.)

Mini golf and kayak/SUP rentals are handled by this business as well.

Papa J's (1)
Papa J’s in Onekama is popular for ice cream, pizza, and putt putt
Papa Js

28) Visit Historic Portage Point Resort

Manistee County – Onekama

Portage Point Resort
8567 Portage Point Dr, Onekama, MI 49675

Few hotels remain from Michigan’s steamship era, but Portage Point Resort is one of them.

Visit for the day or make this your home away from home and enjoy the lakeside saltwater infinity pool. This is resort generations have called home and the new owners are renovating it to help it last for centuries to come.

manistee mi things to do pinterest pin

7 thoughts on “Complete Guide to Manistee MI: 28 Best Things to Do for the Most Unforgettable Family Trip”

  1. Crystal l gerard

    We just inherited a little place from my grandfather a few yrs back and our entire extended family loves the proximity to traverse city and the dunes bit I’ve been in search of great more local to do and came across this wonderful list. Thanks for the inspiration I can’t wait to visit again soon.

  2. This is absolutely fantastic, and the timing is perfect. We are starting our family vacation two days from now. Thank you!

  3. Melody, that was a thoughtful and pleasant write up about my home town and county. I grew up in Arcadia and have lived just north of Manistee for the rest of my life so far. Always lived one mile from Lake Michigan, Lake Michigan is one of my great loves. Thank you

    1. Hi Paula, great article about our area. I would encourage you to check out the amazing museums in Manistee County. Kaleva’s Bottle House Museum, Marilla’s Museum and Pioneer Place, Brethren’s Museum complex, Arcadia and Manistee museums are all unique and amazing places to visit.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *