Michigan (pronounced “MISH-i-g’n”) is an American state in the upper Midwest and the heart of the Great Lakes region. It has many attractions, famous landmarks, and scenic state and national parks and forests. In addition to the great ones, it has about 12,000 inland lakes, 38 deep-water ports, and more miles of coastline than any state but Alaska, and more lighthouses than any other U.S. state. Its agriculture features tourist-friendly fare such as cherries, blueberries, peaches, apples, and wine. And its cities include a major metropolis, some university towns, and countless rustic villages.
The state is geographically unique, being comprised of two major peninsulas and can be further divided into five distinct areas. They are the Upper Peninsula, (known to Michiganders and Wisconsinites as “The U.P”), Northern Michigan (Big Rapids and Northwards), West Michigan (along the sandy coast of Lake Michigan), Central Michigan or “Mid-Michigan” and the Southeast or “Downstate”.
Several of the major tourism destinations in Michigan include:
Each Michigander carries a map of the state at all times. Stick out your right hand (palm toward you) and you have a map of the lower peninsula. Stick out your left hand (again with your palm facing you, fingers pointing to the right) and you have an approximate map of the upper peninsula. Don’t be surprised if a resident tells you where a city is by pointing at his hand.
Michigan’s economy was previously dominated by the auto industry, but has diversified somewhat as that and other traditional manufacturing industries have moved their facilities elsewhere. Tourism is a growing segment of the economy, focusing in the winter on activities such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling, and in summer on the state’s
extensive beaches, lakes, and rivers. Hunting, fishing, and sailing are also popular outdoor activities.
While the vast majority of Michiganders tend to be very friendly, if you are identified as a tourist in certain areas (especially small, lakeside towns) you may be met with resentment. Many Michigan residents live in formerly unspoiled regions of immense natural beauty which have recently been overtaken with condominium developments, large hotels, and other commercial buildings meant to capitalize on tourism.
Michiganders (the feverishly-defended demonym) have a unique local dialect and accent. In general, speech is very fast, seemingly spontaneous contractions arise in casual conversation. Letters or syllables are sometimes removed from longer words (“probably” is almost always shortened to “probly” and sometimes “prolly”; “mirror” sounds like “meer”) and unnecessary prepositions are often added to the end of sentences. When the letter T appears in the middle of a word, it is usually pronounced with a D sound. Context awareness is very important to fully understand a Michigander.
State highways are almost always referred to as the letter M followed by the highway number. For example, Michigan State Highway 43 becomes M-43. Interstate highways and US highways are usually referred to with the highway number alone. For example, Interstate Highway 94 becomes 94 in conversation. Many counties and cities also employ a number-based naming scheme for local roads and may be referred to by their number alone as well; however, local road numbers and highway numbers rarely overlap. If you’ll be spending time in a small area of Michigan, take a few minutes to study a map of the area when possible to avoid confusion. Also it is common for Michiganders to give time instead of units of distance when asked to give distance (about 4 hours away instead of a 200 miles).
Carbonated soft drinks are most commonly referred to as pop. Coke is a specific kind of pop (regular Coca-Cola), unlike some other areas of the United States. The word “soda” is infrequently heard, but will still be understood. The term “soda pop” is nearly unheard of.
Michigan has several airports, but most international or cross-country travelers will fly into Detroit Metro Airport (IATA: DTW) just west of the city, or transfer there to a smaller airport elsewhere in the state. Grand Rapids’ Gerald R. Ford International (IATA: GRR) also has daily flights from various parts of the country. Regional airports (which also have direct flights from cities in nearby states, such as Chicago and Minneapolis-Saint Paul) include Flint’s Bishop (IATA: FNT), Lansing’s Capital City (IATA: LAN), Kalamazoo/Battle Creek (IATA: AZO), Muskegon (IATA: MKG), Midland/Bay City/Saginaw (IATA: MBS), Traverse City’s Cherry Capital (IATA: TVC), and Marquette’s Sawyer (IATA: SAW).
Driving into Michigan can be accomplished by one of the highways that enter and extend through Michigan. From Ohio, I-75 goes through Detroit, Flint, and Bay City, and Mackinaw City, ending in the U.P. city of Sault Ste. Marie right to the Canadian border. From Indiana and Illinois, I-94 passes through Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Jackson, Ann Arbor, and Detroit, and ends in Port Huron in the thumb of Michigan. I-196 branches from I-94 and continues up the lakeshore to Grand Rapids. I-69 enters from east Indiana and Indianapolis, crossing I-94, and passing through Lansing, Flint, and Port Huron. US-131 stretches from I-80/90 in northern Indiana through Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Big Rapids, Cadillac, and northward. The Upper Peninsula can be entered from Wisconsin via US-2 from Duluth, and US-41 from Green Bay or Milwaukee. Michigan has major bridge/tunnel border crossings from Ontario, Canada located in Detroit (from Windsor) and Port Huron (from Sarnia), with a less heavily used crossing at the northern twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie.
Amtrak provides daily rail service on three routes to Michigan, out of its hub in Chicago. The Pere Marquette travels through St. Joseph and Holland to Grand Rapids. The Wolverine travels through Kalamazoo, Jackson, Ann Arbor, and Detroit, to Pontiac. The Blue Water passes through Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Flint, on the way to Port Huron. A connecting bus also runs from Kalamazoo north on US-131 to St. Ignace.
Car/passenger ferries from Milwaukee and Manitowoc, Wisconsin operate during warm months, crossing Lake Michigan to Muskegon and Ludington, respectively.
As the historic base of the U.S. auto industry, Michigan’s intra-state travel system is almost entirely dependent on the internal combustion engine. The most extensive public transit system is the Greyhound bus network, which reaches most population centers in much of the state. Amtrak’s three daily rail routes from Chicago connect certain cities in southern Michigan (see “Get in”). Most intra-state air service is out of Detroit Metro; there is no regular service between the state’s small regional airports. Several of the larger cities have local bus services (Detroit also has light rail), but the personal automobile remains the best way to get around within Michigan. Interstate, US, and state highways permeate southeast Michigan, crisscross the rest of southern Michigan, stretch up into northern Michigan, and trickle across the Upper Peninsula.
Michigan is blessed with many natural beauties. Primary on that list are its Great Lakes (much of Superior, Michigan, and Huron, and a little bit of Erie), the waters of which are even depicted on official maps of the state. The Upper Peninsula region contains many of Michigan’s natural wonders, including the Pictured Rocks, Mackinac Island, Isle Royale, Tahquamenon Falls, the Porcupine Mountains, and the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. The Lower Peninsula has expansive forests, rivers, and inland lakes in the north (such as Huron and Manistee National Forests), humongous sand dunes (such as at Sleeping Bear Dunes), and countless miles of beautiful shoreline. In the autumn, “color tours” of the changing leaves in northern Michigan are popular.
The Upper Peninsula is often praised for its natural beauty. There are many campsites and it is a great way to immerse in the vast expanses of virtually untouched nature. To cross the Mackinaw Bridge into the UP is the favored method for arriving in the Upper Peninsula, and costs around $4.00. Prices in the UP are generally higher than in the rest of the state, as most towns operate on tourism economies during the summer. Cellular service is reliable in populated areas, however once you leave the cities and are on the highway away from civilization, coverage can be spotty.
Michigan has a draw to shopping based on the many unique coastal towns and the look and feel of its tourist areas and attractions. Michigan has a fixed 6% sales tax which is rarely included in the advertised price (like the rest of the United States). Most groceries and many personal items are not taxed.
Michigan also has a fixed 10 cent bottle deposit on all carbonated beverages. While the merchant is legally required to take back containers in exchange for your deposit, many gas-station and convenience stores rarely will. Most supermarkets will have machines to exchange your bottles for a slip, which is then taken to a service counter in exchange for cash.
If it can be done on or in the water, Michigan probably offers at least a little of it, somewhere in the state. Fishing, sailing, and motorboating are popular on both the Great Lakes and inland lakes. The Great Lakes are a bit cool for some tastes, even in the summer, but are still very popular beach destinations, along with swimming in the warmer lakes inland. Canoeing is also popular on the rivers snaking through protected forests. Some people do surf, mostly the often-substantial waves coming across Lake Michigan, but it won’t impress the dudes back home at Hermosa Beach or Waimea.
In winter, replace water with snow and ice. Hardcore anglers keep fishing through the ice. Although serious alpine skiers might find the idea of skiing in glacier-smoothed Michigan laughable, there are many downhill ski areas, with the most popular resorts in the still-textured Charlevoix/Grand Traverse region of the state. Some great cross-country skiing can be found in both peninsulas, and any incline with a population of kids nearby becomes a sledding hill.
The city of Detroit hosts four major professional sporting teams: the Tigers (baseball), the Lions (American football), the Red Wings (hockey), and the Pistons (basketball). The Lions, Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers all play in stadiums in downtown Detroit. Detroit also hosts the North American International Auto Show each January. Big-city casino gambling with four major casinos (supplementing the several Native American casinos in more remote areas of the state) is Detroit’s latest addition. Detroit serves as the cultural and entertainment hub of the metropolitan region, with major concert venues, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Institute of Art, and an active theatre scene.
In Lansing, you can visit the State Capitol Building, which was renovated in 1992. Many other state government and historical buildings are located in Lansing and East Lansing.
There are many small towns of interest in Michigan. Frankenmuth, a town in Mid-Michigan, is a replica German town. Very famous are Zehnder’s and Bavarian Inn, two restaurants known for their fried chicken.
If crossing from the Lower to Upper Peninsula, or vice-versa, visit Mackinaw City, St. Ignace, and Mackinac Island. Fort Michilimackinac and an old lumber mill are located on the latter, and these are both open to the public. In order to get to the Island, you must take a ferry. Three different services are available.
If you’re planning a trip into Michigan and you want to check off the “must-eat” local specialties, then there are 5 things you really should be sure to try while you’re here.
But although these four foods are most commonly associated with Michigan, they’re by no means the state’s only specialities.
Aside from cherries, Michigan is a surprisingly prominent agricultural region, well-known for a variety of products:
Although not as prestigious as Californian or overseas varieties, Michigan wines are growing in respectability, with significant vineyards in the southwest (e.g. St. Julian, Tabor Hill, Fenn Valley) and northwest Lower Peninsula (e.g. Leelanau Cellars, Good Harbor, Chateau Grand Traverse).
Michigan is highly regarded for it’s craft beer scene, Grand Rapids was named “Beer City USA 2013”, and Kalamazoo was rated #2 as well. Some of the more widely available Michigan beers are Bell’s, Founders, New Holland, Dark Horse, Arcadia, and Atwater. There are also several highly-regarded breweries that only distribute in-state, most notably Shorts, Kuhnhenn, and Dragonsmead. Stroh’s also used to be brewed in Detroit, but is now made out of state.
Two native brands of soft drinks (called “pop” by the locals) are Faygo (perhaps best known for strawberry-flavored “Redpop” and the 1970s top-10 single based on their TV jingle), and Vernor’s ginger ale (with its distinctive tangy taste and gnome mascot). The national brands own the restaurant and vending-machine business, but these are available in stores.
Michigan’s bountiful apple harvest is often used to make fresh apple cider, and cider mills are abundant in the apple-growing region. They are only open during the harvesting season in autumn, but, if you stop by, you can get cider by the gallon (not “hard” cider) or just a cup of it, hot or cold. In Michigan, cider is traditionally drunk with cake doughnuts; most cider mills make their own doughnuts fresh on the premises, so you can get them piping hot, and rolled in cinnamon sugar. Most also sell other apple products, like baked goods, apple jellies and butters, and apple-related products like cookbooks and mulling spices.
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