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.
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:
PARKS, TRAILS & NATURE
It’s Hard to Stay Stuck Inside When You’re in Manistee
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
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.
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.
If filling your lungs with fresh air makes you smile, head on over to Arcadia Dunes in the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve.
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.
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.
5) Climb to the Top of the Arcadia Scenic Overlook
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.
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.
7) Top Off Your Water Bottles at the M-22 Artesian Well
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.
Downtown at a Glance
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.
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.
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.
Bluefish Kitchen + Bar, serving lunch and dinner, has a great riverside deck. Head here when you’re in the mood for seafood.
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.
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.
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.
My kids love to shop at Glik’s – that store is always on trend.
Hop aboard for a private sightseeing cruise with Tonya and Kevin’s 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.
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.
16) Put on a Headset and Buckle Up for a Scenic Airplane Ride
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.
Bring your kids on this tour – it opens your eyes to a piece of history that they won’t get to experience anywhere else.
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.
18) Get Ready to Ride the Rapids – Pine River Rafting
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.
More Manistee MI Adventures
A few adventures we have on our list 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.
photo: G&D Alpaca Farm Facebook
Manistee has quite the variety of beaches for you to sample.
21) Spend the Afternoon at 5th Ave Beach, Pier & Lighthouse
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.
22) Slide Down the Tallest Slide at First Street Beach
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.
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.
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.
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.
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