Detroit Mom’s Travel Series: Alpena

Alpena is a Michigan city most people have heard of, but few have spent any real time there. Typically a drive-through city for those traveling up the eastern coast to Mackinaw City, it’s a prominent spot on the map but not usually a must-go travel destination. That is, until you realize this historic town of traditional-meets-trendy is truly a hidden gem! 

Spending summers just an hour south of Alpena, at my grandfather’s house in Greenbush, my family often made trips northward to take advantage of all this little/big town had to offer. As an adult, my girlfriends and I have day-tripped here to enjoy the natural landscape, food, and art scene (yes, you read that right!). Whether you’re looking for a family day at the beach, a historic sightseeing tour, untouched nature trails, or eclectic food paired with an authentic Michigan brew, Alpena, “Sanctuary of the Great Lakes,” has something in store for you. 

The author walks with her children into Island Park
Walking into Island Park!

Sample Itinerary for Alpena

9:00-9:30 a.m. | Cabin Creek Coffee
201 N 2nd Ave, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 356-5613
For coffee and tea lovers, this cozy coffee shop has every type of beverage, pastry, and treat you could ever want. 

9:30-10:30 a.m. | Island Park
River St, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 354-1700
Take the covered wood bridge to Alpena’s nature sanctuary, offering beautiful views of the river, easy walking trails, and a glimpse of the city’s Youth Sailing Club practicing with their boats if you’re lucky!

10:30-11:30 a.m. | Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan
491 Johnson St, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 356-2202
With rotating exhibits about art, history, and science (all Michigan-themed, of course!), there’s always something to do at the Besser Museum. 

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Stop for lunch at a restaurant of your choice, found under the “Restaurants You’ll Love” section below!

12:30-1:00 p.m. | Art in the Loft
109 N 2nd Ave Suite 300, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 356-4877
Downtown, you’ll find Art in the Loft, Alpena’s own upscale (but still child-friendly) art gallery. Browse a rotating collection of works from artists and maybe even take one home! On some occasions, they also offer drop-in classes. 

1:00-2:00 p.m. | Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center
500 W Fletcher St, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 884-6200
There are so many cool historical artifacts and so much interesting history packed into the place, but the best part has to be the walk-through interactive ship that allows you to experience a storm at sea and, for little ones, crawl through a neat play structure. 

2:00-4:30 p.m. | Alpena Shipwreck Tours
500 W Fletcher St, Alpena, MI 49707 | (888) 469-4696
Now that you’ve learned the history behind Shipwreck Alley, it’s time to venture into the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary on a glass-bottom boat tour to view the shipwrecks in person! 

4:30-6:00 p.m.
Grab dinner at a restaurant of your choice, found under the “Restaurants You’ll Love” section below!

6:00-7:30 p.m. | Bay View Park
208 N 1st Ave, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 354-1780
After dinner, it’s time for some more time outdoors. Bay View Park has a playground, a beautiful boardwalk, a path to the nearby harbor, and amazing views of some of the city’s most gorgeous historic homes. During the summer, you might even be fortunate enough to witness a performance in the bandshell. 

Restaurants You’ll Love

Austin Brothers Beer Co. | 821 W Miller St, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 340-2300
You’ve probably seen their handcrafted Michigan beer in supermarkets, but when in Alpena, you can visit the actual brewery. The menu rotates often and can be limited, but if you’re looking for craft brews, a bite to eat, and Austin Brothers merchandise, this is the place. 

Court Yard Restaurant | S2024 US-23, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 356-9511
Relaxed but a bit more upscale, this restaurant offers classics like Prime Rib, steak, and seafood. There is also a lounge that frequently has live music. 

John Boy’s Restaurant | 817 W Chisholm St, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 356-0481
Don’t be dissuaded by the exterior; this traditional diner specializes in the fare we’ve all come to know and love, like biscuits and gravy or a mushroom swiss burger. It can be tricky to find a seat, but it’s perfect for families with little ones who just want something “normal.” 

Red Brick Tap and Barrel | 109 River St, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 340-2175
With beers, cocktails, and hearty meals sure to please every palate, this restaurant is a pretty safe bet if you’re looking for a great lunch or dinner. 

Thunder Bay Winery | 109 N 2nd Ave, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 358-9463
A lovely tasting room that offers a relaxed experience tasting wines and brews from a local, family-owned winery. 

Attractions You Must Visit

Mich-e-ke-wis Park/Starlite Beach | S State Ave, Alpena, MI 49707
A sandy Lake Huron beach plus a splash pad and picnic facilities, what more could a summer destination need? 

Rockport Recreation Area | Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 734-2543
You know those awesome Lake Huron fossils you’ve seen in shops? This is where many originate from. It’s an old gravel quarry rich with cool rocks and fossils that you can take home! 

Favorite Coffee Shop

Cabin Creek Coffee | 201 N 2nd Ave, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 356-5613
With a little something for everyone, this coffee shop caters to all ages and palates. The only concern I’ve heard is that the latte is a bit too sweet (is that even possible?).

Favorite Place for Sweet Treats

North Country Candy & Gifts | 1045 N Bagley St, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 354-8231
You know those iconic sweet shops that live in your summer vacation memories? This is one of those! Traditional chocolates, caramel corn, coffee, ice cream, and more await. 

Favorite Kid-Friendly Spot

Bay View Park | 208 N 1st Ave, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 354-1780
The hub of lakefront Alpena has a playground, boardwalk, harbor, bandshell, and plenty of trails connecting to the Alpena Bi-Path, the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors and expend energy. 

Favorite Date Night Spot

The Center Building | 109 N 2nd Ave, Alpena, MI 49707 | (989) 356-4577
The Center Building houses many great attractions, from Art in the Loft to restaurants like The Fresh Palate and Nucleus Lounge, and even a spot for adult drinks in Thunder Bay Winery. 

Bonus Tips to Alpena 

  • Alpena can easily occupy you for a few days, especially if you plan to take full advantage of the parks and outdoor recreation areas. However, it’s best suited for a long weekend rather than a week-long trip. 
  • The glass bottom boat tour is recommended for children eight and up as it is 2½ hours long and covers the area’s rich maritime history while reviewing some of its most famous shipwrecks. 
  • If the conditions are right, you can view some of the more shallow shipwrecks by paddleboard or kayak. There are also plenty of meandering rivers for you to cruise down if you want to put in a canoe or kayak!
  • Rockport State Park Recreation Area is also a fantastic dark sky park if you’re looking for a nighttime adventure. 

What’s your favorite vacation spot? Check out our previous Travel Series location–Yosemite National Park!


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