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How to Have a Year Full of Quintessential Michigan Experiences

by Lisa Diggs

There are thousands of events and activities to be had across the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Some are so uniquely Michigan that they help define who we are as a people and as a state, and are worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime.

January – North American International Auto Show

Like it or not, motor vehicles drive the economy in Michigan, and this is their party to end all parties. You don’t have to be in the market for one, work in the industry, or even love cars, to enjoy what is more commonly known as Detroit’s auto show. Buried in the throes of winter, the city suddenly pulsates with the energy of thousands of visitors from around the nation and the world. Sure, beautiful concept cars are unveiled, and innovation abounds, but perhaps the biggest thrills can be found outside of Cobo Center where the opportunity exists to mingle, chat, and share a meal with fascinating people from all around the globe. The 2017 public dates are January 15-22.

February – Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival

I remember when I was in college, it seemed as though the only questions anybody asked about beer were: “Is it on special?” and “Do you have the light version?” Nowadays everywhere you turn in this state you will find a beer connoisseur. Whether you fall into that category, or are a novice trying to learn a bit more about this booming industry, there’s no better place than at a beer fest. Sample different styles, ask questions, and figure out which ones you love. One warning though, tickets sell out awfully quickly so act now, or put it on the calendar for next year. The 2017 dates for this event are February 24-25 at the Fifth Third Bank Ball Park near Grand Rapids. 

March – St. Patrick’s Day Parade Celebration in Corktown

As the saying goes, “we’re all Irish on St. Patty’s Day,” and nowhere is that more evident than along Michigan Avenue in Detroit, especially on the Sunday before when the parade takes place. You can join in a run in the wee hours of the morning and/or wait for the parade and revelry to begin shortly after. Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, was named after County Cork in Ireland (home to the famous Blarney Stone), and while there are no stones to be kissed in Michigan’s version, you’re sure to see your share of Kiss Me I’m Irish buttons and shirts. The street is lined with people who immediately adjourn to one of the neighboring pubs as the parade winds down, creating a gigantic, friendly block party. This year’s celebration is on February 12.

April – Winetasting Weekend

As booming as Michigan’s beer industry is, the wine industry set the pace years before. With vistas at least as stunning as Napa Valley, there is no bad time to explore one of the state’s many wine trails, but April is officially recognized as Michigan Wine Month. That means you can find a plethora of special tastings, lectures, tours, and events at that time of year. Pick a weekend, and a region, and head out for a uniquely Michigan experience.

May – Tulip Time Festival in Holland  

Perhaps it’s the long, cold winters or maybe it’s just the novelty of so many bulbs beginning to flower, but there is something truly special about Tulip Time in Holland. More than 4.5 million tulips have been planted, and are awaiting your arrival. Be sure to take in Windmill Gardens for some of the most incredible sights. Experience the Dutch culture, shop and dine in the adorable downtown, and pop over to the beach where the views will warm your heart even if the water still feels like it could stop it. The 2017 dates are May 6-14.

June – Belle Isle Grand Prix

The revving of engines at a Grand Prix race is almost indescribable. You can feel it in your bones. This race once scurried through the streets of the city, which was thrilling, but it’s even more accessible now that it takes place on an island. Nestled between The U.S. and Canada, the grandstands provide amazing views of both nations. Pit crews are also easily visible and thoroughly fascinating. Best of all, Friday is “Free Prix Day” allowing access to all at no cost. This year’s spectacle takes place in Detroit June 2-4.

July – Traverse City Film Festival

In recent years many film festivals have popped up throughout the state and all have their charms. It’s hard to say exactly what makes Traverse City’s so special, but it is. First, the city itself provides a tremendous backdrop with vistas, wineries, and eateries worth a visit all on their own. In addition, the involvement of Academy Award winning filmmaker, Michael Moore, helps attract some of the industry’s most promising talents to not only submit their films, but come to the fest and participate in panels and special events. Moore also uses his vast cinematic experience to curate the lineup, giving Michiganders an opportunity to see movies on big screens that would not ordinarily make it our way. This year’s premiere fest of flicks hits screens in T.C. July 25-30.

August – Kayak Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

This is actually an activity that can be done May-September, but August is a spectacular option as temperatures both in the air and water will likely be at their warmest. There are several ways to view one of Michigan’s most remarkable natural wonders, yet none are as intimate as floating up and seeing the brilliant colors and formations for yourself. Kayaking experience isn’t necessary. Each trip begins with a safety briefing and experienced guides accompany you along the way to help if you need it, and to provide fascinating information about the sights and sounds of this stunning Lake Superior landmark.

September – Mackinac Bridge Walk

Once a year, on Labor Day, Michiganders flock to Mackinaw City and St. Ignace for the chance to stroll across one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. The 5-mile walk goes from the U.P. to the L.P. Shuttle buses transport trekkers either to the start or back from the finish line. Enjoy a leisurely pace while you glide across Mighty Mac surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. It also affords the rare opportunity to truly marvel at the engineering and stare up at the enormous towers. It’s an experience that driving across simply cannot provide. Labor Day falls on Sept 4 this year.

October – Artprize

It started only about eight years ago as a simple idea of offering artists a gigantic financial prize and letting the public, rather than a juried panel, vote for what pieces we most appreciated. It is now considered to be the most attended public art event on the planet, and has both a public and juried vote. It is a scene like no other, and changes each year based on which venues participate and what art is submitted. You can find masterpieces anywhere from inside a police station to the middle of the Grand River. There is no admission and no single destination. Simply wander the city taking in all of the astounding artistry, and cast votes for your favorites if you wish. The event runs for just over two weeks in Sept/Oct each year. The 2017 dates are Sept 20-Oct 8.

November – Thanksgiving Parade

Every family has its own holiday traditions, and this one is worth adding in at least once in a lifetime, if not annually. There are many parades across our state for a variety of holidays, but none come close to the sheer magnitude of this one. Gigantic balloons and floats (that rival those in New York) meander down Woodward Avenue, along with paper mache big heads depicting local heroes, marching bands, horses, celebrities, and surprises galore. It’s quite the spectacle, and if you really want the true Detroit Thanksgiving trifecta, add in a Lions game at Ford Field before dinner with the family. The holiday lands on November 24 this year.

December – Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village

There are incredible celebrations throughout the state during the holiday season, but few can help capture the spirit of the holidays before it was all about shopping, wrapping, and lights, like Greenfield Village in Dearborn. You can ride in a Model T, smell a goose cooking in a hundred-year old stove, be serenaded by costumed street carolers, meet new friends around a bonfire, tour the grounds in a horse-drawn wagon, and cap it all off with spectacular fireworks. Lanterns light the way, most of the décor consists of beautiful natural greens and ribbons, and you can even munch on chestnuts that have been roasting on an open fire. There really is nothing like it anywhere else in the country. Holiday Nights run weekends (Fri-Sun) in December.


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