It’s challenging to travel without breaking your budget. We did some research and found these 16 cheap places to visit in Michigan that were fun to explore.
There’s no denying that Michigan has some truly beautiful places. As of 2021, Michigan generated over $23 billion in tourism. Tourism supports over 214,000 workers making it one of the largest employers in the Great Lakes State. In addition, the state is home to more than 38,575 square miles of Great Lakes waters and 1,305 square miles of inland waters. Its territorial waters are second in area only to those of Alaska. With all that focus on hospitality, we found these 16 spots you can visit this summer that won’t break the bank:
What We Will Cover
Is Michigan An Expensive Place To Visit?
Michigan is an affordable place to live and visit, making it ideal for weekend getaways and short breaks for exploring The Great Lakes State.
The cost of living is rising everywhere and making life difficult across the nation, but it is 10% lower in Michigan than the national average. One interesting statistic is around housing. The home price in Michigan is 23% lower than the country’s average, and over 72% of people own their homes.
While America is not one of the cheapest countries to live in and visit, Michigan is affordable for residents and tourists.
If you will be visiting The Wolverine State (there is more than one nickname for Michigan) soon, then here are a few places worth visiting that are also budget-friendly.
1. Detroit Institute of Arts
In 2023 the Detroit Institute of Arts was named the best art museum in the US by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice contest. This institute houses what is considered one of the country’s finest public collections of art. You can view The Thinker by Auguste Rodin here, or at least one of the earliest versions he created. Rodin created 40 casts, one sold through Christie’s for $11 million.
Other works here include Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Monet. General admission is always free for members and residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. Admission costs $14, youth 6-17 $6, children five and under can go for free.
Take A Road Trip
In Michigan, the travel and tourism sector is significant. Over 122 million people visited Michigan in 2017, spending $24.7 billion there, according to Travel Michigan. As a result, efforts have been made to develop designated scenic travel routes that visitors may use to reach their destination. The fact that Michigan boasts 22 picturesque byways astounded us. These roads connect the metropolitan Detroit area with the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula. Any holiday schedule can include these activities.
2. Heritage Route 23
If you like to drive, and you love beautiful scenery and stopping to appreciate different towns and ways of life, then The Sunrise Coast awaits. 200 miles of coastline with views of Lake Huron can be enjoyed by anyone traveling on Heritage Route 23.
3. AuSable Bayway
We found that the 22-mile River Road Scenic Byway runs westward from Lake Huron to the Huron National Forest. It runs parallel to the historic Riviere aux Sable, which in French means River of Sand. We decided to skip the endless commercial strip that makes up the lakeshore to make a trip along this Byway on our way back to Bay City
About National Scenic Byways
The United States Department of Transportation selects a National Scenic Byway, a road recognized with six “intrinsic qualities”: cultural, historical, natural, recreational, scenic, and archeological. The list was authorized by Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation’s scenic but often less-traveled roads and promote tourism and economic development.
The most scenic byways are chosen to be All-American Roads, which must satisfy two of the six intrinsic qualities. The classification means they have peculiarities that do not exist elsewhere in the United States and are different and valuable enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves.
Of the 120 National Scenic Byways and 31 All-American Roads, Michigan has 3 routes with this national designation.
4. Mackinac Island State Park
A popular destination for locals and tourists alike. No cars are allowed on the island save for some exceptions, such as emergency vehicles, and it’s been this way since 1901. The island is located on the Straits of Mackinac, which separate Lake Michigan from Lake Huron.
If you have taken the road trip above then you should take time out for a visit to this Lake Huron island. There is a fee for the ferry to the island, but once you are there, you can explore by bicycle or foot for free. You can also learn about the history of the island and some of the more interesting buildings or indulge in outdoor activities such as kayaking.
5. Arch Rock
While on Mackinac, you should take time out to see this interesting geological marvel. Over the Straits of Mackinac is Arch Rock which appears to hang in the air 149 feet up.
6. Tahquamenon Falls State Park – Paradise, Michigan
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a state park in the U.S. state of Michigan, located on the southern shore of Lake Superior in the village of Paradise. The park’s main attraction is Tahquamenon Falls, a set of two waterfalls, which descend into their own small basins and then tumble together down to form larger pools before they exit out through another channel cut through rock.
The main falls are located at, while an additional smaller waterfall can For two or three days each spring (the exact timing varies), snowmelt from higher elevations causes a rare phenomenon known as “the veil,” where water flows over both sets of falls simultaneously rather than one after another.
7. Sample A Real Cornish Pasty in The Upper Peninsula
The first Cornish beef pasty, a delicacy unique to Michigan, was imported from Cornwall by English copper miners in the 1840s to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the depths of the copper mine, the miners would set the pasty on top of their shovel and warm it over the headlamps. There are several ways to make this little meat pie, but we prefer to stick with the Michigan Tech beef pasty recipe.
This once-ethnic meal is baked daily to produce this genuine Michigan delicacy more than 180 years later. The Beef Pasty has a flaky shell with warm meat and vegetables inside. They are filled with a substantial mixture of meat, pork, potatoes, rutabaga, and carrots in a flaky crust.
Once prepared, these tender, flaky pastries can be warmed in the oven for just a few minutes to truly enjoy the taste of Michigan.
8. Go To Kitch-iti-kipi (Big Cold Water) – Manistique, Michigan
Located just north of Manistique in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Kitch-iti-kipi is the largest spring in the state. It pumps out more than 8 million gallons of water daily and is a beautiful sight to behold. Kitch-iti-kipi means “big cold water”. The water is 45 ft deep at its deepest, but it is crystal clear. Looking closely, you can see the fish swimming in this aerial shot. It’s definitely worth a visit!
9. Cheap Lunch – Why Michigan Loves Its Coney Island Hotdogs
Coney Island is indeed in New York, not Michigan, but that hasn’t stopped a ton of eateries from emerging and serving this distinctly American cuisine. Who created the original Coney Island in Michigan is still up for discussion. It’s comparable to requesting your mother’s chili recipe. You never get the same response again because it depends on who you ask. However, we examine the ongoing argument between the Kalamazoo, Detroit, Flint, and Jackson varieties of Michigan Coney dogs.
While Michigan doesn’t have official food like some states, the Coney dog could be described as the unofficial one. After a hard day exploring or driving around the state you can reward yourself with a tasty but cheap bite to eat by visiting one of the many Coney Island diners that abound in Michigan; there are 500 in Metro Detroit alone.
10. Michigan is A Great Place To Go Camping
To reduce accommodation costs and enjoy the outdoors, you can go camping in various spots in Michigan. Ludington State Park Beach has three different grounds for camping and is great for exploring, which costs nothing. Beaches, wetlands, forests, and a famous lighthouse, make for photo opportunities and outdoor fun.
Free Beaches To Visit Along the Gorgeous Lake Michigan Shoreline
There are many county parks with beaches along Michigan’s Lake Michigan shoreline. Here are a few best places for county parks with a Lake Michigan overlook or beach.
- Oval Beach – Located in Saugatuck, Allegan County.
- Grand Haven City Beach – Located in Grand Haven, Ottawa County.
- Kirk Park Beach – Located in West Olive, Ottawa County.
- Hoffmaster State Park – Located in Norton Shores, Muskegon County.
- Charles Mears State Park – Located in Pentwater, Oceana County.
- Stearns Park Beach – Located in Ludington, Mason County.
- Orchard Beach State Park – Located in Manistee, Manistee County.
- North Beach Park – Located in Ferrysburg, Ottawa County.
- Warren Dunes State Park – Located in Sawyer, Berrien County.
- Van Buren State Park – Located in South Haven, Van Buren County.
Each of these parks offers a unique beach experience, with sandy shores, clear waters, and stunning views of Lake Michigan. Many parks also offer additional amenities, such as picnic areas, hiking trails, and playgrounds, making them great destinations for families and outdoor enthusiasts.
11. Matthaei Botanical Gardens
If you are near Ann Arbor, a lovely place to visit that costs next to nothing are the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. There are 300 acres in which you can follow nature trails and learn about a huge variety of botanicals. It is best places known for its extensive collection of plants, flowers, and trees from around the world, as well as its beautiful natural settings and educational programs.
One of the highlights of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens is its outdoor display gardens, which feature a wide variety of plants and flowers arranged in themed gardens, including a children’s garden, a medicinal garden, and a great lakes garden. Visitors can stroll along winding paths and enjoy the beauty of the natural surroundings while learning about the plants and their uses.
The botanical gardens also include a conservatory, which houses a collection of tropical plants from around the world, including orchids, cacti, and palms. The conservatory also features a seasonal display of flowering plants and special exhibits yearly.
In addition to its gardens and natural areas, the Matthaei Botanical Gardens is also home to a research facility and educational center, which offers a wide range of classes, workshops, and programs for all ages. The center hosts events such as nature walks, gardening workshops, and lectures by experts in the field.
Entrance to the gardens is free, although there is a parking fee. This is currently $2 an hour with a maximum daily fee of just $5. So, the whole family can visit for a relatively minimal cost.
12. Ann Arbor Farmers Market – Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is a great place to visit on Saturday mornings. With over 40 vendors, it’s one of the best places to find everything from fresh produce to homemade cheeses and baked goods. The market is open year-round and has plenty of delicious options for you to choose from.
13. Mt. Pleasant – Museum of Cultural and Natural History at Central Michigan University
The Museum of Cultural and Natural History at Central Michigan University is located on the campus of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The museum is housed in the university’s historic Rowe Hall and offers visitors a chance to explore the cultural and natural history of Michigan and the Great Lakes region.
The museum is free to the public, although donations are accepted. It is open year-round, with varying hours depending on the season, and offers guided tours, educational programs, and special events throughout the year.
The exhibits at the Museum of Cultural and Natural History cover a wide range of topics, including Native American history and culture, early settlement and pioneer life in Michigan, and the natural history of the Great Lakes region. Some of the highlights of the museum’s collection include a full-sized replica of a mastodon skeleton, a collection of Native American artifacts, and a restored one-room schoolhouse from the late 19th century.
The museum also features a number of interactive exhibits and displays that are designed for children, including a play area that replicates a Native American longhouse and a hands-on fossil discovery zone.
Overall, the Museum of Cultural and Natural History at Central Michigan University is a great destination for families with children, as well as anyone interested in the cultural and natural history of Michigan and the Great Lakes region. The museum offers a wide range of exhibits and activities that are both educational and entertaining, and it is a great resource for researchers and educators as well.
14. Kalamazoo – Schmaltz Geology Museum and Dinosaur Park
The Schmaltz Geology Museum and Dinosaur Park is located on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The museum is named after Dr. William B. Schmaltz, a former geology professor at Western Michigan University who donated his extensive collection of rocks, minerals, fossils, and other geological specimens to the university.
The Schmaltz Geology Museum is free to the public, although donations are appreciated. The museum is open year-round, with varying hours depending on the season. The Dinosaur Park, which is adjacent to the museum, is also free and open to the public.
The museum’s collection is one of the best places to see and sometimes touch geological specimens from around the world, including rocks and minerals, fossils of prehistoric animals, and meteorites. The highlight of the collection is a fully articulated skeleton of a mastodon, which was discovered in nearby Paw Paw, Michigan in 2000.
The museum also features a number of interactive exhibits and displays, including a simulated earthquake experience, a fluorescent mineral exhibit, and a simulated mine shaft that visitors can explore.
The Dinosaur Park features life-sized dinosaur sculptures that are arranged in a naturalistic setting. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the park and learn about the different types of dinosaurs that lived during the Mesozoic Era.
Overall, the Schmaltz Geology Museum and Dinosaur Park is a great destination for anyone interested in geology, paleontology, or natural history, and it is especially appealing to families with children.
15. Michigan Science Center
There are several educational places to visit in Michigan. Ann Arbor itself is home to the highly-rated University of Michigan.
The Michigan Science Center is recommended for all ages for educational fun. There is an entry fee of $18 for adults up to 64 and $14 for children between 2 and 15, but you can save money by bringing a picnic to enjoy in the park and make a day of it.
16. Motown Museum
The Motown Museum, located in Detroit, Michigan, is one of the best places to see a site dedicated to the legacy and history of the Motown record label, which was founded in Detroit in 1959. The museum is housed in the original headquarters of Motown Records, known as Hitsville U.S.A., which was the recording studio and office space for Motown’s artists, producers, and staff.
The Motown Museum offers visitors a chance to experience the birthplace of the Motown sound, which produced some of the most beloved and influential music of the 20th century. Visitors can tour the studio and see where legendary artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and The Temptations recorded their music.
The museum features a number of exhibits and displays that showcase the history of Motown Records, including photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia from the label’s heyday in the 1960s and 70s. Visitors can also watch videos of live performances and listen to recordings of classic Motown hits.
One of the most popular exhibits at the museum is the famous “Studio A,” which has been preserved to look as it did during the 1960s. Visitors can stand in the same spot where Motown’s artists recorded their music and see the original recording equipment and instruments.
The Motown Museum is a must-see destination for music lovers, history buffs, and anyone interested in the cultural heritage of Detroit. It offers a unique glimpse into the rich history of Motown Records and the incredible music that was created there.
One of the more expensive entry fees, unfortunately, but for $20, you can visit the former home of Berry Gordy and learn about how the great Motown hits were created and recorded. Discounts are available for veterans, children, students, and seniors.
17. Cheap Places To Visit In Michigan – Detroit Eastern Market
Detroit is a diverse city with a rich cultural history shaped by waves of immigrants and their food traditions. Of all the Michigan places to see, the Eastern Market is known for its place as a historic public market in Detroit, Michigan. It is located at Gratiot Avenue and Russell Street in Midtown Detroit. The market is the largest historic public market in the United States, dating from 1891 and operating continuously since then. The Eastern Market is one place you can experience this diversity in the form of the many restaurants, cafes, and food stalls that line its streets.
18. Michigan History Center in Lansing
The Michigan History Center is a museum and research facility located in Lansing, Michigan, the capital city of Michigan. The center is operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and offers a comprehensive look at the history and cultural heritage of the state. It’s one of the best places in the state to conduct genealogy research, and it’s all free.
The Michigan History Center features a range of exhibits, displays, and interactive experiences that highlight various aspects of Michigan’s past, including its Native American history, the state’s role in the Underground Railroad, the lumber industry, the automotive industry, and more. The center also includes a research library and archives that house a vast collection of historical documents, photographs, and artifacts related to Michigan’s history.
Admission to the Michigan History Center is affordable, and there is a small fee to enter the exhibits. However, admission is free for children under 5 years old and for members of the Michigan Historical Society. The center is open year-round, with varying hours depending on the season, and offers guided tours, educational programs, and special events throughout the year.
In addition to the exhibits and research facilities, the Michigan History Center also includes a museum store where visitors can purchase books, souvenirs, and other items related to Michigan’s history and culture. Overall, the Michigan History Center is a fascinating destination for anyone interested in the rich history of Michigan and the Midwest region of the United States.
19. MSU Museum – East Lansing
The MSU Museum, also known as the Michigan State University Museum, is located on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. The museum is one of the oldest and largest university-based museums in the United States, and it offers a wide range of exhibits and programs that focus on natural history, cultural heritage, and science.
The MSU Museum is free to the public, although donations are accepted. The museum is open year-round, with varying hours depending on the season, and offers guided tours, educational programs, and special events throughout the year.
The exhibits at the MSU Museum cover a wide range of topics, including anthropology, natural science, folk art, and more. Some of the highlights of the museum’s collection include a full-sized woolly mammoth skeleton, a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy, and an extensive collection of Great Lakes shipwreck artifacts.
The museum also features a number of interactive exhibits and displays, including a hands-on learning center for children and families, and an interactive exhibit on Michigan’s natural history and ecosystems.
In addition to its exhibits, the MSU Museum also houses a research library and archives that contain a wealth of historical and scientific materials related to Michigan and the Great Lakes region. The museum also offers a variety of educational programs and workshops for schools, community groups, and individuals.
Overall, the MSU Museum is a fascinating destination for anyone interested in natural history, cultural heritage, and science, and it is a great resource for researchers and educators as well.
20. Best Places to Visit in Michigan – Enjoy Free Live Music In Detroit
After spending money to learn the history of Motown, how about some free live music to help balance the budget? If you’re traveling as a broke student in Michigan but want entertainment, or if you’re a couple out for the night, what better than free music and cheap drinks?
July sees the 8-day free festival, Concert of Colors, in Detroit. But, there are venues with free music every night in the city. PJ’s Lager House and Trixie’s Bar are popular live music venues with affordable drinks.
21. Sleeping Bear Dunes Near Michigan Traverse City
No mention of great places to visit in Michigan for free without the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is a popular destination in Michigan, located in the northwest part of the state near Traverse City. It is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which encompasses a stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline and the surrounding areas.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes are known for their towering sand dunes, crystal-clear waters, and stunning views of Lake Michigan. Visitors can explore the dunes by hiking along scenic trails, taking a dune climb to the top of the towering sand dunes, or enjoying water activities such as swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
In addition to the dunes themselves, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore also includes a number of other natural attractions, such as forests, wetlands, and beaches. Visitors can take a scenic drive along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which offers panoramic views of the dunes and the lake, or explore the charming towns and villages that are located nearby, including Traverse City.
22. Grand Rapids on a Budget: Discover the Hidden Gems of Michigan’s Art City
Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a vibrant city that has so much to offer without breaking the bank. This Midwestern gem combines a rich cultural scene, beautiful green spaces, and a delightful foodie landscape. So, pack your bags and let’s dive into the best affordable attractions and tips for an unforgettable trip!
Grand Rapids Main Attractions:
Grand Rapids is the perfect destination for budget-conscious travelers looking for art, history, and outdoor adventures. Here are our top picks for free or cheap attractions:
- ArtPrize: Every autumn, the city comes alive with ArtPrize, an international art competition that turns the entire downtown area into a massive art gallery. The event is free to attend, and you’ll be amazed at the talent on display.
- Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park: This stunning botanical garden and sculpture park offers free admission on Tuesdays (4 PM – 9 PM) for those looking to enjoy both art and nature. Don’t miss the iconic American Horse sculpture!
- Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM): This museum features contemporary and modern art, with free admission on Tuesdays (12 PM – 6 PM) and Thursdays (5 PM – 9 PM). Check out the rotating exhibitions for an inspiring experience.
- Grand Rapids Public Museum: Step back in time at this museum, which offers reduced admission rates on Tuesdays. Explore exhibits on local history, Native American culture, and much more.
- Riverside Park: Need a break from the hustle and bustle? Riverside Park is a beautiful and expansive green space perfect for picnics, walks, or bike rides along the scenic Grand River.
Budget Accommodations in Grand Rapids:
Finding budget-friendly accommodations is a breeze in Grand Rapids. Check out local hostels like The Grand Hostel or opt for Airbnb rentals in charming city neighborhoods. Don’t forget to compare prices on booking platforms such as Booking.com or Expedia for the best deals.
Dining Options in GR:
You won’t go hungry in Grand Rapids, as the city boasts a diverse culinary scene that caters to all budgets. Affordable dining options include:
- Two Beards Deli: Satisfy your sandwich cravings with unique and delectable creations at this popular deli.
- Donkey Taqueria: For delicious Mexican fare in a trendy setting, look no further than Donkey Taqueria. Their tacos are to die for!
- Marie Catrib’s: This eclectic eatery offers a variety of homemade dishes with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
- Grand Rapids Downtown Market: Sample a range of culinary delights under one roof at this indoor market, featuring a variety of food vendors and a year-round farmers’ market.
Video: Best Places To Visit In Michigan
Final Thoughts on Cheap Places To Visit in Michigan
Michigan offers some splendid places to visit that are either free or cheap. And there are too many to mention here.
But now that you’ve enjoyed some of the delights of Michigan, you might have the travel bug as many others do now. Travel and tourism are on the rise again, and many budget-friendly destinations remain. As this article was written, a flight from Michigan to Romania was just $330. So, Europe and further destinations may not be as out of reach as you might imagine. Just remember to return to Michigan to explore the countless other places that need to be seen.