Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Manistee, MI

  • Published 2021/12/11

The city of Manistee, Michigan, sits on the state’s Lower Peninsula, serving as the county seat of Manistee County.

The name ‘Manistee’ comes from the Ojibwe indigenous people and is associated with the county’s primary river.

The name may be derived from the word ministigweyaa, meaning ‘river with islands at its mouth’; other sources claim it is an Ojibwe term, meaning ‘spirit of the woods.’

Manistee is a prime place for nature lovers with acres of forests, lengths of rivers, and miles of sandy shoreline along Lake Michigan.

The city was once home to lumber barons who competed with each other for infrastructure, resulting in the rise of an impressive number of Victorian mansions and buildings on the streets of Manistee.

Fire razed the city in 1871, but the barons rebuilt many of these lost structures with clay and stone.

Today, Manistee’s streets brim with shops, museums, historical attractions, theaters, lodgings, bars, restaurants, and more.

Manistee is an affordable, navigable, friendly city with a lively downtown that is also close to the heart of the natural world of Michigan.

If you drop by this city on one of your holidays, make sure to check this list of the best things to do in Manistee, Michigan.

Check Out Manistee North Pierhead Lights

Scenic View of Manistee North Pierhead Lights

Sue Smith /

Manistee Pierhead Lights are two marine navigation aids in the south and north side of Manistee Harbor, Michigan.

A lighthouse on each pier was built in 1875, and through many years, they have undergone several moves and renovations.

The present tower on the north pier is 39 feet tall made out of cast iron, with a white cylinder body and a ten-sided steel lantern visible for 12 nautical miles.

Scenic View of Manistee North Pierhead Lights

Sue Smith /

There is also an elevated walkway created for access to the keeper during inclement weather that has been modernized several times.

Visit this peaceful lighthouse, enjoy the beautiful views as you hear the waves crash on the walkway and jetty, and soak up the warm Manistee weather on the beach.

Scenic View of Manistee North Pierhead Lights

Sue Smith /

Hang Out on Fifth Avenue Beach

Fifth Avenue Beach is considered one of the most beautiful ones on Manistee.

If you’re looking for enchanting shoreline views on the lengthy North Pier, this is the place to visit.

The lighthouse is not far from the beach, and the pretty shore is a wonderful place to bring a date as you watch the ships and view a classic lake Michigan sunset.

You are sure to have a good time splashing around in the water, searching for shells, surfing in the waves, strolling on the sands, and fishing on the pier.

If you have the energy to spend on dry land, you’ll find an excellent playground for your kids to run around in and tennis courts for the grown-ups.

There are also concession stands if the wandering and playing stoke your hunger and clean public bathhouses to get you ready for your trip back to town.

Play Golf at Manistee Golf and Country Club

Michigan is a golfer’s paradise and one of the most beautiful states for playing golf.

Manistee Golf and Country Club, established in 1901, is one of the oldest courses in the states with breathtaking views of the beaches, the piers, and the backdrop of Lake Michigan.

Enjoy playing golf at this historic course on the shores of the lake, with several holes directly overlooking it and the lakeside breeze issuing a challenge to every skill level.

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly short length of the courses, as undulations in the terrain and water hazards will prove even more of a challenge that requires a keen golfer’s eye to overcome.

Have a swell day challenging your friends and family on these well-shaped greens, and remember to seek the help of the friendly staff, should you need it.

Afterward, tuck into a sumptuous and traditionally prepared meal at their dining area as you finish up your day.

Have a Family Day at 1st Street Beach

1st Street Beach is the largest city-owned recreation area in Manistee and has much to offer visiting families.

Here you will find ball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball nets, playground equipment, bike racks, a boat launch, a dog run, fishing areas, and a fish-cleaning station.

The fine sugar sand makes for a perfect setting for these various recreational activities, especially volleyball.

You can not only go swimming, surfing, and boating but also kite-flying and parasailing.

There is even a concert site for live music where you can listen to lively and entertaining musicians by the lakeside.

Picnic on the sand or at the pavilions and gazebos and bask in lovely views of the lake and the pier.

And there are fire rings set up for one to have a cookout at night while enjoying the cool breeze from Lake Michigan.

Follow the Manistee River

View of Manistee River

James Yarbrough /

The Manistee River is wide and flows smoothly 190 miles through the northwestern peninsula of Upper Michigan, entering Lake Michigan at Manistee.

Manistee River originates at the sandhills of Antrim County, which produce a steady flow of cold and clean water all year, making it a good place for fishing.

View of Manistee River

Sue Smith /

It is now considered one of the country’s best trout and salmon spots.

It’s also an ideal river for casual paddling, rope swinging, and hanging out at the sand bars.

It’s perfect for a beginner paddler as long as you remember the strong currents and tight turns.

View of Manistee River

George S. Noleff /

Manistee River is perfect for boating, swimming, and sightseeing in the beautiful blue waters.

You can also go for an idyllic tubing session: tube the Hodenpyl Dam up to the Red Tube access or Bear Creek to Rainbow Bend for a fun morning or afternoon trip downriver.

Visit this popular destination that supports various recreations in the waters of Manistee.

View of Manistee River

Devon Kotke /

Explore the S.S. City of Milwaukee

The S.S. City of Milwaukee is a historical Great Lakes railroad car ferry built in 1931 that traveled on Lake Michigan, between Muskegon, Michigan, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

She was built for the Great Trunk Milwaukee Car Ferry Company and is the only ship of her kind from the pre-1940s era to survive.

She was designated a National Historic Landmark and is now a museum ship, a bed-and-breakfast, and an events venue sitting on the waterfront of Manistee Lake.

On this giant boat, you will learn about how a ferry of this size spent decades on the waters of Lake Michigan.

Tour inside the ship and get a good look at its mechanicals, learning about the ways the people lived and worked aboard in the past.

You might just be surprised at the danger of some of their daily tasks from long ago.

And try to catch the ship in October, when she is all decked out for spooks and frights as a Ghost Ship.

Step back in time at this iconic ship, the last unmodified railroad car ferry on the lakes.

Watch Shows at the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts

In 1903, in downtown Manistee, lawyer and philanthropist Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell built the Ramsdell Theatre, a historic opera house, and playhouse.

The building is a classic colonial redbrick structure featuring six giant columns that support the portico above the main entrance.

Today, it serves as a classic cultural center in Western Michigan and was designated a Michigan Historic building.

The center provides top-tier arts and entertainment and produces almost 20 theater, dance, and music performances every year.

At this theater, watch ballets, operas, live music, family performances, cultural presentations, instrumentals, vocal groups, contemporary music, and so much more.

Also view exhibitions that contain artworks important to the history and vitality of Manistee, reflecting the community’s need for diversity and inclusivity.

Don’t miss out on the entertainment at this beautiful and historic Manistee facility.

Have a Ride with Orchard Beach Aviation

Buckle up for a fantastic aerial sightseeing tour with Orchard Beach Aviation!

Choose three companions to invite on this four-seater plane, tell the pilot about your sightseeing goals, and prepare to be amazed.

Flights are typically flown over a couple of routes: the Lake Michigan shoreline and downtown Manistee or the M-22 and Portage Lake area.

The friendly pilot will make everyone safe and comfortable and give information on the areas and landmarks as you fly over them.

Take to the skies as you see Northern Michigan in its glory at the time of the year when the earth is changing from vibrant green to warm and bright colors.

On this scenic flight, see the foliage embracing the Lake Michigan beaches and be astounded by the sight of varicolored forests and warm-hued fields.

Fall color flights are conducted through October, and you may have a ride during a crisp morning, a warm mid-day, or a beautiful sunset.

Go on this fun and unforgettable airplane tour and be enraptured by the side of Michigan that you’ve never seen before.

Catch a Movie at Vogue Theater

View of Vogue Theater

ehrlif /

Vogue Theater is a historic movie theater that was built in 1938.

At the time of its construction, it was the most modern structure and the peak of design with deluxe projection and sound systems.

It was a northern Michigan version of Art Deco stylings: a recessed entrance leading to a lobby and 935 theater seats.

This venue was almost demolished in 2005, but the locals stepped up to save and renovate their beloved theater.

View of Vogue Theater

Cbl62, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today this cinema still has its original neon signs and beautifully renovated interiors with a great outside façade and grand retro atrium.

It is a pleasant place with cheerful and friendly employees eager to give a fun movie-going experience to the entire crew.

Catch excellent classic and up-and-coming movies at Vogue Theater in the heart of downtown Manistee.

Find Books at Happy Owl Bookshop

Happy Owl Bookshop in the downtown Manistee district is a small and independent bookstore.

Its mission is to keep conversations between book lovers alive and to build and nourish a community based on books.

The book shop is filled to the brim with educational toys, newspapers, cards, gifts, and, of course, new books aplenty.

Browse their meticulously curated collection of the classics, the latest award winners, childhood favorites, educational material, and other books that will entertain and bring joy to the hungry reader.

Stay and read at the bookshop and bring your kids to the cozily-crafted reader’s nook that encourages read-aloud bonding.

And if you don’t find what you’re looking for on their shelves, the book shop will be happy to make special orders at no additional charge.

If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with after your wanderings, Happy Owl Bookshop might have just what you need.

Stroll on the Manistee Riverwalk

This popular boardwalk follows the Manistee River 1.75 miles through downtown Manistee.

On the riverwalk, one can walk beside the river from the center of Manistee all the way to Lake Michigan.

The path is designed for pedestrians and is handicap-accessible, with benches, interpretive signs, multiple businesses, charter fishing docks, and private docks on the way, and vessels gliding through the river as you pass by.

Markers on the path will educate you on how the river shaped Manistee’s development over the years.

Stairs lead from the riverwalk to shops and restaurants, and certain sections lead to picnic areas with grills and bench swings.

At the east end of the riverwalk, lights are installed so that you can go for a well-lit stroll even after dark.

Stroll down Manistee Riverwalk for an invigorating exercise that will also allow you to get to know the city from an entirely new perspective.

Cruise with Manistee Harbor Tours

Manistee Harbor Tours is a boat tour agency that offers sightseeing tours, sunset cruises, and private event excursions on Lake Michigan, giving boat tours out of Manistee every summer.

The Princess is a 65-foot all-aluminum vessel running cruises out of Manistee into Lake Michigan and navigating the Manistee River into Manistee Lake.

The Sunset Cruise is their most popular excursion where you will find fantastic sightseeing and photo opportunities as they cruise during the sunset.

The Manistee Day Cruise takes it to Lake Michigan, cruising either north or south depending on the weather conditions: a south cruise will be a 1 ½ hour trip towards Big Point Sable while a north cruise is a 1 ½ hour trip to the Onekama harbor and the Portage Lake entrance.

You can even book a private boat charter on the Princess for special events – with open spaces for catering and dancing and padded bench seating along the interior and perimeter, you and your companions are in store for an unforgettable special occasion.

Bond with welcoming locals, tourists, and staff aboard the Princess, and get ready for a fabulous cruise as you view the scenic lake and shoreline and take on the adventurous waterways around Manistee.

See History at Manistee County Historical Museum

Front View of Manistee County Historical Museum

ehrlif /

Manistee County Historical Museum is a local 19th-century museum that offers permanent and rotating historical exhibits and a genealogy collection.

The building formerly housed A.H. Lyman Drug Company, a consolidation of Manistee’s three drug companies.

After Lyman’s passing in 1896, business continued under pharmacist F.W. White; his family gave the building over to the museum in 1961.

At this museum, view pioneer exhibits, Civil War mementos, antiques, costumes, houseware, maritime and genealogy research, and so much more.

Also, view a special drug exhibit in the Lyman building, a life-size log cabin, a maritime exhibit, several Victorian rooms, period rooms that include a business office, and one of the state’s most extensive Victorian antique and photograph collections.

Every year the museum also displays three exhibits tying back to Manistee County’s rich history.

This museum is a hidden treasure of Manistee County’s history and is a must-see for anyone looking for quaint old-time exhibits and discoveries.

Go Fishing with Michigan Sport Fishing Company, LLC

Michigan Sport Fishing Company, LLC offers some of the finest Great Lakes sports fishing in Manistee for visitors and residents.

Captain John Milbourne heads the company and has a 100-ton Master’s License issued by the United States Coast Guard.

He has 30 years of fishing experience under his belt, having fished from Jamaica to Minnesota to Canada and spent the past 20 years devoted to fishing in Lake Michigan.

He loves to fish and says that he wants to help people catch the big one that didn’t get away.

The fishing company offers half- and full-day charters for up to six people, specializing in freshwater charters on Lake Michigan to fish for king salmon, coho, brown trout, steelhead, and lake trout.

Enjoy your adventure as you have some hands-on fun fishing, set the gear, hook your fish, and learn the ropes from other experienced anglers.

Enhance your understanding of the sport of fishing and have an exciting and fulfilling trip on Lake Michigan.

Be Enchanted by Magoon Creek Natural Area

If you are an outdoor lover raring for views of aqua-blue water, a sweeping lakeside panorama, and lovely shorelines, Magoon Creek Natural Area is the place to be.

Magoon Creek is great for a picnic in the outdoors, with benches on a high bluff under evergreen hemlock trees and stunning views of Lake Michigan, where one can watch freighters go past.

When you’re headed down to the shore, let your kids play at the nearby clay cliffs and splash in the sparkling water in the creek outlet.

On Magoon Creek Beach, unearth many sorts of hidden treasures such as jasper, agate, beach glass, and Petoskey stones – make sure to wear water shoes for beachcombing and take a bag for your finds.

Hike the 1.5-mile hard-packed loop trail and pass through up-and-down terrain, upland wooded areas, shoreline, farmland, dunes, and a marshy creek area.

Magoon Creek is a good spot for a refreshing afternoon jaunt and quiet recreation with your family.

Final Thoughts

Scope out this list for your next vacation, and be amazed by the activities waiting for you at Manistee.

Manistee has so many hidden surprises for anybody seeking out a grand old time in the lower peninsula.

You will discover new pleasures for you and your entire family in this lakeside destination that will bring you closer to nature and the lively heart of Michigan.

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