What is Michigan Known For? (18 Things It’s Famous For)

Michigan is a popular Midwest destination full of history, culture, and nature sights. With two distinct peninsulas to explore, its diverse landscapes and regions are always full of exciting things to do and learn.

Michigan is known for its automotive legacy, Motown history, and the Great Lakes. Experience an important piece of Michigan’s history from the auto industry boom in Detroit. Reminisce on the timeless music emerging from the Motown era. See what makes the Great Lakes one of nature’s greatest wonders.

Belle Isle

Floating between the US-Canada international border is Belle Isle Park, one of Michigan’s crown jewels. This 982-acre is larger than Central Park—and designed by the same person!

Belle Isle offers lots of things to do for visitors looking for a change of scenery than the urban cityscapes of Detroit. Detroit is far from being a beach destination, but the sandy shores of Belle Isle State Park bring out everybody during the summer to enjoy swimming and building sandcastles. Explore the underwater world in the Belle Isle Aquarium, becoming the first aquarium in the US when it opened in 1904. Sunset Point is one of the best viewpoints to see Detroit, USA, and Windsor, Canada, at the same time.

Auto Industry

Detroit rightfully earned its nickname as the ‘Motor City’ thanks to leading the transformation of the auto industry. The ‘Big 3’ auto companies—Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler—are headquartered in Michigan and have been a driving force in the industry since the beginning.

Henry Ford is one of the pioneers of the industry from his earliest Ford Models and has landmarks such as the Henry Ford Museum that gives insight into the industry’s earliest days. The tallest building in Detroit, the GM Renaissance Center, is the headquarters for General Motors and also has a car showroom inside.

The Detroit International Riverfront

Ranked as the top riverwalk in the country by USA Today, the Detroit International Riverfront is a pathway set on the Detroit River and just a stone’s throw away from Canada. The promenade is designed for leisure and recreation with parks, dining, and more.

The 5.5-mile stretch is a popular place to see locals going for a jog. In addition, it’s an excellent place for sightseeing with views of landmarks such as the Ambassador Bridge, Belle Isle, and Windsor, Canada.

There is a lot of history to uncover on the Detroit International Riverwalk, such as being the sign of freedom on the Underground Railroad for runaway captives crossing the river to Canada and views of the Our Lady of the Rosary Church across the river used as a signal tower by Al Capone during prohibition.

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater lakes in the world, and Michigan is the only state that touches each of them. Known as the ‘Land of the Great Lakes,’ Michigan makes an excellent destination for water-lovers looking to experience them.

Massive glacier sheets that nearly covered all of Canada melted thousands of years ago to form the lakes. And thanks to the Great Lakes and the inner lake islands, Michigan ranks as having the second-largest coastline extending 3,288 miles long.

Sand Dunes

Michigan’s Great Lakes aren’t the only landscape feature created from the melting glaciers of the past. It also created the world’s most extensive freshwater coastal dune system. A trip to the lakeshores will reveal just how high these dunes can go.

The famous Old Baldy dune in Whitefish Dunes State Park is a popular hiking trail to reach the summit at 93-ft over Lake Michigan. However, visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has mind-boggling dunes peaking at 450-ft on the same lake. Lake Superior also has chart-topping dunes at the Grand Sable Banks and Dunes, offering sweeping views at 300-ft elevation.

Only State With Two Peninsulas

Did you know that Michigan actually consists of two landmasses? It’s the only state in the US with this distinction. The Upper and Lower Peninsula are connected only by the Mackinac Bridge. The peninsulas are formed by the Great Lakes and offer unique destinations on each.

The Lower Peninsula is the mitten-shaped region of the state home to Detroit, the capital of Lansing, and many other large cities. The Upper Peninsula is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, with places like Ottawa National Forest for hiking and nature walks and Big Powderhorn for skiing.

There are four counties on the western edge of the Upper Peninsula that fall within the Central Time Zone. 

Motown Legacy

Home to legendary music acts like the Jackson 5, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Supremes, and others, Motown is one of the industry’s most successful record labels. It produced 45 songs that made it to number one on the Billboard Music Charts, creating music that transcends generations. 

The Motown Museum, called Hitsville USA, continues to be a landmark in Detroit as one of the most visited tourist destinations attracting upwards of 100,000 people every year. The museum creates an immersive experience inclusive of buildings like the original Studio A to stand in the ‘Snake Pit,’ where the Motown artists sang their chart-topping hits. The museum exhibitions showcase iconic memorabilia like Michael Jackson’s shiny glove and a walk-through of the upstairs apartment owned by Barry Gordy, where the artists frequently slept on the couch after their late-night studio sessions.

Mackinac Island Fudge

Mackinac Island is a place frozen in time—where horse-drawn carriages and bikes replace the prohibited motor vehicles, and fudge is the dessert of choice.

Mackinac Island floats in the middle of the Straits of Mackinac. It’s a popular stop for people traveling between the upper and lower peninsula. In a tradition that started in the late 1800s, Mackinac Island fudge shops have opened the doors to their factories to show behind-the-scenes of production.

Some of the best shops serving varieties of fudge flavors are Original Murdick’s Fudge, Original Mackinac Island Fudge, Rybe Fudge Shop, and Joann’s Fudge.

Traverse City National Cherry Festival

Michigan has a thriving agricultural industry producing many crops year-round. However, summertime is when the state fruit, the tart cherry, makes its annual appearance. Nobody celebrates cherries as much as Traverse City.

Traverse City sits in the heart of the Traverse Bay Farms region. The region produced upwards of 75% of all the tart cherries in the US. Visit various farms during July and August for u-picking and eat tasty treats made with cherries like jam, salsa, or chocolate-covered goodies. Also, don’t miss the Traverse City National Cherry Festival, which brings out a half-million attendees for the cherry parade, live performances, and more.

Only Floating Post Office in the World

The J.W. Westcott II is a tugboat floating in the Detroit River carrying an unusual type of cargo. But for the past 140 years, it’s provided mail services to boats docked on the river. It’s recognized as the only floating post office in the world!

The small black and red boat makes its rounds cruising the river between ships, delivering packages, letters, and other mailings. Now you can send mail directly to your shipmates!

Aside from the unique delivery service, it also has its own zip code: 48222!

World-Class Art

Art is a major part of the culture in Michigan. From museums showcasing top-tier artists worldwide to beautifying neighborhoods with public installations, art can be seen in all forms around the state.

Detroit’s Midtown cultural district is home to the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA), a museum holding one of the best art collections in the country, with works by Vincent Van Gogh and Diego Rivera. On the Eastside, the Heidelberg Project draws nearly 300,000 visitors every year to see the neighborhood beautification created by transforming recycled objects into a colorful outdoor installation. 

Grand Rapids features the 158-acre Frederick Meijer Sculpture Garden, home to 200 large-scale sculptures, including famous works like the DaVinci Horse and artists Dale Chihuly, Keith Haring, and Ai Wei Wei.

Second-most Skiable Area in the Country

Trailing only New York in the number of ski resorts, Michigan holds the number two spot, with more than 40 dotting both peninsulas. When ski season arrives in the winter, people come from all over to hit the slopes!

Michigan is never short on snow during the winter, especially at places like Mount Bohemia, averaging 273-inches of snowfall every year. Ski resorts like Ski Brule and Big Snow Resort bring out the best skiers worldwide, with 500+ meter drops.

For those who like to ride, the 1.25-mile ski trail at Boyne Highlands is the longest in the lower peninsula. And for those who prefer to soar can head to Copper Peak for ski flying on the largest ski jump in North America, rising 241-ft.

You Can See The Northern Lights From Here

Places like Alaska, Iceland, and Norway aren’t the only places where the colorful aurora borealis appear. If you’re traveling around Michigan, you’ll have a few places to see one of the world’s most beautiful spectacles.

Michigan falls within the auroral zone and has several locations with little to no light pollution to see the lights. Copper Harbor and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are great viewing points in the Upper Peninsula. But one of the most beautiful views is at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, with the vibrant display of reds, greens, yellows, and purples, shining over the Mackinac Bridge.

Soo Locks

While the Panama Canals are one of the most amazing man-made structures in the world, Michigan’s Soo Locks hold the crown for the busiest lock system in the world. It shuts down in the winter because of the weather, but it still manages to transport 10,000 ships on average annually.

The Soo Locks Visitor Center has an observation deck to see massive ships lifted and lowered 21-ft as they travel between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Visitors can also cruise on the St. Marys River for a unique experience of going through the locks themselves.

Michigan is the State With The Most Lighthouses

Many people only think about New England for scenic lighthouses, but Michigan has the most of any state. At its peak in the 1930s, Michigan had approximately 250 towers, although it still maintains its rank with 129 current towers.

There are 113 lighthouses that sit on the Great Lakes, and 44 of these are on Lake Michigan. The tallest on the lake, Big Sable Point Lighthouse, rises 112-ft, and visitors can climb to the top for panoramic views of Lake Michigan. The beautiful Holland Harbor Lighthouse, appropriately named ‘Big Red,’ also sits on the Lake Michigan shoreline and is the most photographed in the state.

For other unique lighthouse experiences, take a tour inside lighthouse keeper’s houses converted into museums or stay overnight in Big Bay Point Lighthouse, which overlooks Lake Superior.

Breakfast Capital of the World

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Thanks to Michigan, you have a more delicious way to enjoy it. Cereal giant, Kellogg, established its headquarters in Battle Creek in 1906. Ever since, the city has been called the ‘Breakfast Capital of the World.’

Battle Creek celebrates its breakfast cereal legacy every summer with the annual Cerealfest, inviting families for live performances, kid-friendly activities, and, of course, free breakfast!

A handful of cereal manufacturing companies are still located in Michigan.

Michigan Apples

Apples are the largest export crop for Michigan. It averages more than 900-million pounds annually, the third-highest in the US, accounting for 8% of total national production.

The nearly 800 family-run apple farms in Michigan have over 14.9-million apple trees. The summer climate is the secret to Michigan’s apples getting their signature crunch. However, by autumn, the apple farms are busy providing tours behind-the-scenes of apple production, u-pick activities, and food. Apple cider and donuts are a seasonal tradition in Michigan since more than half of the state’s output is for apple-based products.

Legacy of the 38th President of the United States.

A Michigander achieved the highest level of political office in the country when Gerald R. Ford succeeded the role of the 38th US President. Although born in Omaha, he grew up in Grand Rapids, and it was chosen as the site for the official Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum.

The museum is a place to learn about Gerald R. Ford’s life and political career. The multimedia galleries provide audio and visual archives about his early years as a college football athlete to his years served in office.