Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in the Thumb of Michigan

  • Published 2022/11/17

With its surrounding blue waters, rich culture and history, and diverse community, the Thumb of Michigan is an alluring destination for every kind of traveler.

Located in the mitten-shaped lower peninsula of Michigan, the Thumb region is known as the Blue Water Area.

Its 140-mile shoreline will give you the best views of blue waters, beaches, and nature.

Michigan’s Thumbcoast communities include the Clay-Algonac-Harsens Island, Marine City, Port Huron, Lexington, Port Sanilac, Harbor Beach, and Port Austin, among others.

You won’t run out of fun things to do as long as you’re in the Thumb!

Before you head out, check out this list of the best things to do in the Thumb of Michigan.

Visit the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse

Exterior of the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse

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You can’t visit the Thumb of Michigan, a coastal area, without going to at least one of its many lighthouses.

One of the ten oldest lighthouses in the state is the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse.

It was constructed in 1848 using stones from the shore of Lake Huron.

Spiral staircase in the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse

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To this day, it remains an active lighthouse managed remotely by the United States Coast Guard.

While you may visit and take photos from the outside, it is only open to climbing on some dates, so check the schedule before going!

However, the museum and gift shop are always open to the public, so drop by and learn about the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse’s significance and history.

The grounds of Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse

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Discover Shipwrecks at Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve

Start your adventure by going to Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, which stretches along Lake Huron’s western shore.

If you enjoy shipwreck diving, this place is perfect for you!

While diving, you will access many shipwrecks because at least 16 of them lie above 120 feet, just within recreational diving limits.

Among the shipwrecks you’ll find in the area is the 1907 steel freighter named Regina, a victim of “The Great Storm” of 1913.

The ship went missing, together with its crew.

That’s one of the exciting shipwreck histories you may uncover at the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve.

Unwind at Pine Grove Park

Night scene at Pine Grove Park

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Pine Grove Park, located in Port Huron, is one of the area’s most popular parks for a good reason.

The park is along the river, giving a stunning view of the sunset and all other water activities, including ships passing by and people fishing off the boardwalk.

Just lounging here and watching the world pass by will give you a sense of peace for sure!

If you want to get active, the park has picnic areas, a softball diamond, a playground, and shuffleboard courts.

Whether looking for a place to bond with friends or take a stroll alone, Pine Grove Park is perfect!

Sail Away with Bay Sail

Go sailing with Bay Sail in the Thumb of Michigan.

The business has provided sailing experiences since its schooner, Appledore IV, came to Bay City in 1998.

They offer public sailing and educational voyages that will teach you about the history of Saginaw River and the Great Lakes as the ship sails from Downtown Bay City to Saginaw Bay.

You may also go on a sunset sail with complimentary snacks and drinks or a specialty sail with fun activities!

If you want the whole experience, Bay Sail’s charters and tours are great for private functions.

Whatever you choose, you’ll surely enjoy a moment of peace in the waters of the Thumb region.

Learn Naval History at Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum

Daytime view of USS Edison at Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum

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As a significant part of U.S. naval history, the USS Edson is in Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum.

Tour the museum and know why USS Edson is called the “Grey Ghost of the Vietnamese Coast.”

Tour guides are available to give you a good look at the ship and its essential parts, like the weapons systems, berthing areas, command and control centers, and hurricane bow.

You’ll also find museum exhibitions on board the USS Edson itself.

Don’t forget to support the place and drop by the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum store to get a souvenir!

Climb Your Way through Frankenmuth Aerial Park

If you love adventure, don’t miss out on Frankenmuth Aerial Park’s exciting courses!

This one-of-a-kind park will make you go through ladders, bridges, climbing elements, and zip lines throughout the woods.

You’ll be surrounded by nature while accomplishing the courses!

There are six different courses that you may choose from, varying in difficulty for every skill level.

Among the crowd’s favorite courses is the FrankenZip, which consists of seven zip lines 15 to 35 feet off the ground!

If the Frankenmuth Aerial Park has piqued your interest, you may book your climb time in advance to reserve a slot.

Explore the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History

Exterior of the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History

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Learn the story of the local community when you visit the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History.

The museum, located in downtown Saginaw, stands out in the area with its structure resembling a castle.

The French Renaissance Revival building was constructed as a post office in 1898, inspiring the early French settlers in the area.

Close view of the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History's architecture

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Today, it houses three floors of exhibits that display the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame.

The exhibits also cover the lumbering and automotive era in the county and archaeology collections, among others.

The museum also gives tours for small and big groups. Just don’t forget to inquire with them!

If you’re a history enthusiast or enjoy learning about the places you visit, the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History should be an essential destination for you!

Welcome sign of the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History

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Beat the Heat at Grindstone General Store

Drop by Grindstone General Store in Port Austin and get your ice cream fix or score some products from local artisans!

The store is the last remaining business from the historic district of Grindstone City and has been a favorite destination of families since 1886.

Today, it serves as an ice cream parlor offering large scoops of hand-dipped ice cream.

When you visit, you may lounge outside and socialize with guests and locals who frequent the store.

You may also pick souvenirs from Grindstone General Store’s gift shop, which features locally-made products and arts and crafts from local artisans.

See the Fort Gratiot Light Station

Chairs facing the Fort Gratiot Light Station

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When you’re in Port Huron, you should allot some time to see the Fort Gratiot Light Station for yourself!

Climb the lighthouse and see the majestic views of Lake Huron and the Blue Water Bridges from the top of the tower.

Initially constructed in 1825, the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse underwent renovations in 1829 and 1861.

It was also the first lighthouse built overlooking Lake Huron.

Today, it’s the oldest working lighthouse in Michigan.

Top half of the Fort Gratiot Light Station

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Whether you climb the lighthouse or not, you will get a fantastic view of the structure and the nearby lake.

It’s also the perfect place to practice your photography.

Add Fort Gratiot Light Station to your list of places to visit in the Thumb of Michigan!

Aerial view of the Fort Gratiot Light Station

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Experience Japan at the Japanese Cultural Center, Tea House, and Gardens

Learn about Japanese culture in the city of Saginaw when you go to the Japanese Cultural Center, Tea House, and Gardens.

Here you may experience different Japanese customs, including a traditional tea ceremony for individuals and groups.

The center offers a tour that will teach you about the history of the gardens and tea house while giving you a taste of green tea and Japanese sweets.

If you want, you may visit the garden without a guide and marvel at its beauty.

The Japanese Cultural Center, Tea House, and Gardens also hold events like festivals and Ikebana classes, so check in advance if these are open to the public.

Climb the Harbor Beach Lighthouse

Far view of the Harbor Beach Lighthouse

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Another lighthouse in the area of Lake Huron is the Harbor Beach Lighthouse.

Take a short boat ride to visit the lighthouse and learn about its history and significance in the community from the volunteer guides in the area.

Seasonal tours are also available, so you may inquire about them when you visit.

While you’re on top of the lighthouse, don’t forget to take photos of the mesmerizing 360-degree view of the lake!

To complete the experience, you may also visit the Harbor Beach Grice House Museum nearby to see the original Fresnel Lens from the Harbor Beach Lighthouse.

Taste Local Brews at 3 North Lexington Taphouse & Eatery

Grab a drink and discover local food when you visit 3 North Lexington Taphouse & Eatery.

It’s in the beach village of Lexington, a part of the Thumb of Michigan.

Stop by this local favorite after a long day of exploring the area, and you can get yourself a wine or beer, whichever you prefer.

You can choose from a wide selection of wine, beer, and cider.

You should also try one of their gourmet sandwiches and salads with ingredients sourced locally!

You should add 3 North Lexington Taphouse & Eatery to your list of destinations in the Thumb area.

Catch a Show at the Delta College Planetarium

Close view of Delta College Planetarium's bright building

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Watch a show or two under the Delta College Planetarium’s 360-degree dome screen.

The planetarium has a variety of shows about the planet, the moon, and the expansive universe.

You may check the titles and showtimes from their website and buy your tickets in advance.

Beyond that, Delta College Planetarium also hosts photo exhibitions and planet observation nights!

Located in the heart of downtown Bay City, Delta College Planetarium is also within walking distance from numerous local restaurants and shops.

Walk the Bridge to Bay Trail

You can’t pass up the Bridge to Bay Trail in Port Huron if you enjoy outdoor activities!

Enjoy going through the trail while basking under the sun and seeing the Thumb of Michigan’s stunning waterfront views.

The diverse trail system consists of river walks, boardwalks, bike paths, and rail trails, stretching along the 50-mile shoreline of St. Clair County.

You won’t just enjoy the picturesque blue waters but also the charming communities in the area.

The trail will give you access to beautiful waterfront areas and views of the rural countryside.

When you plan your visit, get a copy of the trail map from the website!

Taking the Bridge to Bay Trail will give you the full-circle experience of traveling to the Thumb of Michigan.

Feel the Holiday Spirit at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland

Winter scene at Frankenmuth

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Frankenmuth is a beautiful city you should add to your list when visiting the Thumb area.

There are many fun things to do in the so-called “Little Bavaria” of Michigan.

However, a place you can’t miss is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store.

Bavarian Inn at Frankenmuth

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The store is open all year round, so you can always visit this store for its infectious Christmas cheer, even in the middle of July!

Carriage ride at Frankenmuth

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You can also go on a narrated tour aboard the Bavarian Belle Riverboat, an authentic paddlewheel riverboat.

Aboard the riverboat, you’ll enjoy an unforgettable experience sailing down the Cass River of Frankenmuth, with snacks available!

Bavarian Belle riverboat at Frankenmuth

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Final Thoughts

The Thumb of Michigan is full of fun activities and scenic views almost everywhere!

You won’t run out of charming places to visit, all brimming with diverse cultures, history, and a sense of community.

It is genuinely every traveler’s dream destination!

While planning your trip, bookmark this list of the best things to do in the Thumb of Michigan.

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