Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Sterling Heights, MI

  • Published 2022/12/29

As a suburb of Metro Detroit, Sterling Heights in Macomb County offers a relaxing vacation for newcomers and regular visitors.

Twenty-five miles from Detroit’s urbanscape, it’s an inclusive community with lots of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Its charm lies in its various facilities that everyone can take advantage of, including senior centers and refreshing parks and trails.

Its collection of historic establishments is one you shouldn’t underestimate, too.

Incorporated in 1968, this city was once a refuge for many after the War of 1812.

Before becoming Sterling Heights, it was also a part of Shelby Township and was a great supplier of farming resources.

Now, its modern business district is a reflection of its prosperous rural Michigan town.

Staying within a certain budget is easy when you travel to this city with this list of free things to do in Sterling Heights, Michigan, to help you out:

Admire the Architecture and Furnishings of Upton House Museum

Exterior of Upton House Museum

Andrew Jameson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of Sterling Heights’ points of pride is the Upton House Museum.

This museum is a direct reflection of the Victorian Italianate style that was famous from the 1840s to 1880s.

Built in 1866, William and Sarah Aldrich Upton previously owned it, and it’s now one of the only few surviving homes of their era.

Facade of Upton House Museum

Andrew Jameson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Upton House Museum is also a Michigan Historical Landmark.

Inside, you’ll see semi-arched windows, wide eaves, and Italian-originated pieces and furnishings.

Upton House Museum may not always be open, but to be sure you can explore the interior of this landmark on Dodge Park Road, you can come by during Sterlingfest.

View the Still-Life Exhibits at Sterling Heights Nature Center

Sterling Heights Nature Center welcomes visitors inside its decorative walls and historic artifacts.

This park gem features wildlife and plant species in still-life exhibits.

Living amphibians and reptiles are also within the center, along with native sea creatures.

Get a closer look at some local lake fishes living inside the 900-gallon aquarium.

If you prefer spending time outdoors, the center’s adjoining park has everything you might need for a refreshing stroll and shade.

Sterling Heights Nature Center is along Utica Road.

Have a Picnic at James C. Nelson Park

Sterling Heights is a bustling city, but it also has its fair share of handpicked nature landscapes within trails and parks, and James C. Nelson Park is one such example.

Situated within 15 Mile Road, this public park extends to 36.6 acres with a full range of amenities for everyone looking for a good time.

At the immersive play equipment, watch your kids have their fill of fun and excitement.

There’s also a sand volleyball court you and your loved ones can play in for a few friendly games.

Once you’ve tried the amenities and facilities onsite, take a break at the picnic tables with a light meal.

James C. Nelson Park is also ADA-accessible, making it a safe place for those with mobility issues.

Watch the Sky Light Up with Fireworks at Festa Italiana

Enjoy an Italian celebration bonanza when you come by Festa Italiana in Freedom Hill County Park.

This annual festival celebrates Italian culture and heritage with free live performances and a wide selection of entertainment.

Enjoy a front-seat view of household Italian performers and musicians when you come by the amphitheater.

Your kids’ entertainment is also guaranteed at the fun zone.

When Friday comes to a close, there’s a magnificent display of fireworks you can admire from afar.

General admission is free, but some activities may come with a fee, so keep that in mind.

Sterling Heights celebrates Festa Italiana every July, so you might want to free your schedule around that time.

Drive to Metro Parkway for all the fanfare and festivities.

Chill by the Lawn with Live Music at Music in the Park at Dodge Park

Looking for a way to celebrate good music within an outdoor setting?

Music in the Park is a free concert series at Dodge Park.

Meet local bands and artists and jam to new songs and some old-time favorites, too!

To spice things up, Music in the Park also combines other programs, like movie nights and family-friendly events, into its usual music setlist.

This annual event happens throughout June, July, and August to commemorate the summer.

Dodge Park is on Utica Road.

Go on a Scenic Hike around the Clinton River Trail System

Take your hiking to the next level with a visit to the Clinton River Trail System trailhead.

Spanning 461.1 acres, this trail system connects various downtown Sterling Heights parks in one scenic pathway.

Get your bike gear ready and prepare to flaunt your mountain bike skills as you traverse through the nature trails.

Spend time with the unfiltered beauty of nature while getting some exercise.

On Utica Road, the Clinton River Trail System is an all-in-one nature destination for everyone of all ages and hiking experience.

Go for a Round of Tennis at the Courts in Arlingdale Park

Arlingdale Park‘s appeal is, in part, because of its multi-purpose field.

This 8.7-acre park has a fully functional basketball court and a swing set for your little ones.

With its invigorating canopy of trees, you can relax in the shade and breathe in the scent of nature all around.

Multiple benches are all over the park vicinity, giving you enough opportunity to relax after you’ve explored the grounds.

Arlingdale Park is on Jonathan Drive and is open to everyone who wishes for a good time with family and friends outdoors.

Get Some Reading Done at Sterling Heights Public Library

Need a serene place to work on business matters or expand your knowledge about the city’s history and culture?

Sterling Heights offers an educational experience unlike any other with its multifaceted facilities and research materials.

Sterling Heights Public Library on Dodge Park Road helps you obtain the information you need for free.

Browse through reading collections and archives at the library, and if you’re lucky, you might get to participate in some of its free outreach and community-centered programs.

You can also make a reservation to secure some of the best seats at Sterling Heights Public Library.

Admire the Historical Homes all Over Sterling Heights

If you prefer a scenic drive all over Sterling Heights, you are still in for a treat.

Sterling Heights’ historical homes are attractions themselves.

On Clinton River Road, come face to face with the 1936 home of Ethel and Royal Hill and its green roof.

Shaded by old trees is Chris Gratopp’s 1924 home, which you can find on Plumbrook Street.

Another striking house is John and Mary Nieman’s, which dates back to sometime in the 1920s.

Its slightly modern design is prominent on Clinton River Road.

Sterling Heights never ceases to amaze tourists by celebrating its early days through still-standing homes and structures.

Appreciate the Public Artworks and Sculptures within Sterling Heights

Art is everywhere in Sterling Heights, and you don’t have to spend to appreciate its beauty.

This city excels in various public sculptures and murals that are the handiwork of local and calibrated artists.

One such eye-catching sculpture is Xs & O by Mark Beltchenko, which became a permanent display in the city in 2003.

This artwork aims to bring meaning to how the past changes one’s perspective on what is familiar to the eyes.

The sculpture Ring Around the Rosie is also a must-see at the Sterling Heights City Center.

Unveiled in 2001, this piece by Bernadette Zachara-Marcos aims to evoke the family-friendliness of the city.

There’s more art to see, so start exploring Sterling Heights’ streets!

Enjoy Free Activities and Entertainment at Sterlingfest

Sterlingfest is a three-day annual festival happening every October.

This makes your summertime travels even more special with free activities and live entertainment.

Booths and stalls litter the streets, offering refreshments and entertaining programs anyone can enjoy.

You may even get to sample dishes and craft beers in the artisan shops all over Enterprise Street and any nearby avenues.

Most importantly, this community effort at celebrating Sterlingfest aims to raise funds for the Sterling Community Center.

Hop on to Sterling Heights and be part of the celebration!

Other Things to Do Nearby

Had your fill of Sterling Heights’ best free tourist spots?

There’s more you can look forward to in the nearby cities.

Take a Relaxing Stroll at Detroit International RiverWalk

Sunny day at Detroit International RiverWalk

Linda Parton /

Need a quick break from the bustling traffic of downtown Detroit?

Detroit International RiverWalk goes over three miles, providing a refreshing casual stroll.

The riverwalk features various developments and an onsite restaurant.

Pathway at Detroit International RiverWalk

Linda Parton /

Have fun splashing around at nearby splash pads, or take in the beauty of nature on your hike.

Detroit International RiverWalk is on Atwater Street in Detroit, only 28 minutes from Sterling Heights.

Binoculars at Detroit International RiverWalk

Linda Parton /

Have Fun at the Disc Golf Course at River Bends Park

Only 16 minutes away from Sterling Heights, River Bends Park offers a wide selection of recreation for the whole family.

Its all-inclusive playground comes with rubberized equipment for the safety of the kids playing there.

Its disc golf course has 27 holes that are free to everyone who wishes to use it.

You can also cross the historic bridge over to Woodall Community Park for immersive nature exploration.

If you want a challenging mountain biking experience around the trails of this park, there are single and two-track trails where you can show off your skills.

You can find River Bends Park on Mile Road in Shelby Charter Township.

Marvel at the Luxurious Art Deco Architecture of the Guardian Building

Exterior of the Guardian Building

Bryan Pollard /

There is a reason why Detroit’s Guardian Building is one of its top-rated tourist attractions.

Only a 29-minute drive from Sterling Heights, this historic skyscraper is popular in the city for its art deco architecture.

Spearheaded by Michigan designers, the building’s north and south towers resemble that of a Gothic cathedral.

Using an array of colors for the exterior is a nod to the Native American and Aztec art influences.

Colorful interior of the Guardian Building

EQRoy /

For the overall feel of the building, architect Wirt C. Worland borrowed inspiration from the Roaring Twenties.

The Guardian Building, through Pure Detroit, also welcomes visitors through free public tours.

Drive along Griswold Street in the downtown area of Detroit to reach this magnificent landmark.

Murals in the Guardian Building's interior

Andrew Boydston /

Take Your Bike for a Ride along Dequindre Cut Greenway

Trail of Dequindre Cut Greenway

Andrew Jameson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In downtown Detroit, Dequindre Cut Greenway promises a unique biking experience.

Opened in 2009, this urban path offers various recreational opportunities.

It runs along what was formerly the Grand Trunk Railroad Line.

Within its 20-foot-wide paved pathways, you can practice your biking skills while taking in the sights.

You may also see urban artwork, as well as graffiti.

Dequindre Cut Greenway is a 26-minute drive from Sterling Heights with its entrance ramps on Lafayette Street and Woodbridge Street.

Final Thoughts

Sterling Heights’ historic and recreational background makes it a fun-filled travel destination for solo, duo, and group travelers.

With its annual festivals and nature-focused communal spaces, it’s easily a great source of entertainment for everyone of all ages.

Most of all, you don’t have to make a large dent in your wallet to have fun and explore what this city offers through this list of free things to do in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

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