First-timer in the Great Lakes Bay? We could just say you’re going to love it here (and you will). But we’d rather help fill your bucket list with some of our can't-miss, must-do attractions — and signature experiences you just shouldn't leave without having!
Buckle up: your first trip to the Great Lakes Bay is about to be one for the books, and we’re dishing on all the top things to try, whether you’re traveling with or without the kids!
As we welcome you back, we’ll be doing our best to keep you in the loop on what’s open & closed in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Just look for the orange banners below on our partner listings as you start planning for your next trip!
While we all navigate this new normal, some experiences may be slightly different, and some businesses may only be partially reopened. Please check with the individual businesses for their reopening status, new hours of operation, and updated policies before visiting!
Top Things to Do in the Great Lakes Bay without Kids
Explore the longest canopy walk in the country. Overlook 54 acres of forest, a pond, and a four-zoned orchard — all from up to four stories high in the treetops — on the breathtaking Canopy Walk at Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens in Midland. Then, cross over to the connected Dow Gardens to witness 110 acres of botanical beauty (and over 35,000 annuals in bloom each spring and summer).
Go freshwater sailing. Board one of BaySail’s dreamy tall ship schooners for a hands-down magical Celestial Excursion, where you’ll sail Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay while stargazing (and grazing on artisanal charcuterie, plus drinks you brought on board).
Try an adventure ecotour. Johnny Panther Quests Adventure Trips will whisk you through the “Everglades of Michigan” on a shallow-draft boat — with an expert local guide as your Captain, and ample opportunity to spot wildlife you won’t see anywhere else.
Go wine tasting on the water. Just when you thought wine tasting couldn’t possibly improve, Frankenmuth FunShips brings it on a boat (and pairs each sampling with handcrafted gourmet chocolates). Find these 12-passenger vessels and enjoy a little Peach & Honey vino with those sunset river views!
Ride all the riverboat cruises. Board the 150-passenger Bavarian Belle Riverboat for a narrated history tour of Frankenmuth by day, or dance on-deck under a blanket of stars while you listen to live, local music on one of Bay City Boat Lines’ Friday Evening Entertainment Cruises.
Take a new kind of tour. Whether you’ll bike through Bay City or Frankenmuth on one of our 16-person pedal trolleys (with a local brew in-hand) or tour Michigan’s German town on a horse-drawn carriage — these are anything-but-average ways to see our cities for the very first time!
Shop all the top spots. When you’re in a place that’s home to Michigan’s largest antique center, one of the Midwest’s largest outlet malls, a 35-store, European-style outdoor shopping district, two indoor city markets, the world’s largest Christmas store, and a unique village of shops that spans six buildings — you can cover a lot of shopping ground quickly. Explore our top spots for shopping in spring & summer or fall & winter!
Immerse yourself in the arts. See a show at historic spots like the Temple Theatre and State Theatre, catch a concert or comedy show at The Dow Event Center or Huntington Event Park, enjoy a performance at Midland Center for the Arts, or explore spots like the Saginaw Art Museum, Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, and one of North America's most authentic Japanese tea houses.
Keep it festive. From Michigan’s largest beer tasting event to its largest antique festival, the only officially sanctioned Oktoberfest outside of Germany’s original to the largest outdoor new car show on the continent — we know how to throw a festival here. Find your favorites from our top annual festivals by season and time your first trip to one of those!
Sip & savor. Whether you’ll cozy up at one of our most romantic restaurants or find your perfect pour at one of our breweries, wineries, or distilleries, there are plenty of spots to get a taste of our local food, beer, and wine scene while you’re here! Discover some of our top restaurants to try this spring & summer or fall & winter!
Top Things to Do in the Great Lakes Bay with Kids
Try two of the top indoor waterparks in Michigan. With one of “30 Top Indoor Waterparks around the World” (Zehnder’s Splash Village) and another Frankenmuth waterpark with the Midwest’s largest hotel family fun center (Bavarian Inn Lodge) — these spots are a no-brainer first on the Great Lakes Bay family bucket list!
Explore the forest. Let your kids play (safely!) four stories above the forest floor and lounge in suspended cargo nets tucked in the treetops at Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens, then cross over to Dow Gardens for an award-winning Children’s Garden, colors to “ooh” and “ahh” at everywhere, and a family picnic on the lawns. Or, adventure in the trees at Frankenmuth Aerial Park, where you’ll zipline and climb through six ropes courses for ages seven and up!
Find freshwater family adventures. Bring the whole crew for a Bald Eagle-spotting boating adventure through our Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge with Johnny Panther Quests, or join BaySail for a family-friendly Sunset Sail on Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay.
Do two zoos. Visit the Saginaw Children’s Zoo to interact with more than 150 animals (and take a spin on the hand-carved carousel and iconic miniature train). Be sure to feed the cockatiels in the Walk-Thru Aviary and try the Wetland Experience! Or, explore Wilderness Trails Zoo in Birch Run — a 56-acre zoo with a Petting Area, Parakeet Encounter, and Rainforest Experience!
Enjoy nature (freely). Experience one of the largest private, non-profit nature centers in the country for free at Chippewa Nature Center in Midland. Your littles will love the Nature Play Area — and seeing the 1870s-style log cabin Homestead, complete with chickens, sheep, pigs, a cow, and a calf!
Splash around. With half-a-dozen spray parks and splash pads in the Great Lakes Bay, you’ll have no problem finding a cool place to chill with the kids! From a spray park at Bay City State Park to a filtered-water, zero-depth splash park in Saginaw with three bays that cater to kiddos of different ages — be sure to pack extra suits and try them all!
Make it a beach day. Enjoy almost a mile of natural Saginaw Bay shoreline inside Bay City State Park (plus that spray park we just mentioned!), make use of the Turtle Tides Spray Park and soft, sandy beach at Sanford Lake Park, or spend the day on a 40-acre lake at William H. Haithco Recreation Area in Saginaw for a supervised swimming beach, playground, and plenty of spots to picnic.
Find fun on the farm. Take the kids to tour a working heritage farm at Grandpa Tiny’s or a working dairy farm at Weiss Centennial Farm — then bring them to LeCronier’s Baby Acres where they can pet, hold, and even feed the baby animals!
Make educational memories. Whether you’ll bring the kids to an interactive Children’s Museum designed just for tikes under 10, explore the hands-on galleries of the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science & Art, or take the whole family to outer-space at Delta College Planetarium — learning for little ones is a whole lot of fun here!
Get in on family game time. Ride a five-story rollercoaster before mini-golf, bumper boats, laser tag, and a mega arcade at Kokomo’s Family Fun Center, or play all day at Stardust Lanes with bumper cars, laser tag, four escape rooms, a video arcade, and bowling. You can even spend an iconic summer day at the ballgame when you watch the Great Lakes Loons play in Midland, or see heart-pounding hockey action as a family when the Saginaw Spirit face off at the Dow Event Center!
With kids or without, you’ll find plenty of ways to jam-pack your stay with our top things to do in the Great Lakes Bay!
Already know where you’re headed? Check out our top things to do by city and start building that Great Lakes Bay bucket list now!