alpena sanctuary of the Great Lakes

Alpena, Michigan: What you Need to Know

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See the best things to do, as well as where to eat and stay, on your visit to Alpena, Michigan, the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes.

Thanks to Pure Michigan and Visit Alpena for hosting my travels as a representative of TravelingMom. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased. 

The town of Alpena, Michigan, is more commonly known as the “Sanctuary of the Great Lakes”. Visitors come to escape the daily grind and enjoy pristine nature and a laid-back way of life. From world-class outdoor attractions and activities to unique finds that are specific to the region, you’ll find them here. Based on my visit, here is what you need to know about traveling to or visiting Alpena, Michigan.

alpena sanctuary of the Great Lakes

Alpena Attractions

Winter is as good of a time as any to visit Alpena, Michigan and surrounding towns. There are a large number of outdoor attractions that are sure to please those with varying skill levels such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling, to name a few. Here you can find thrills in the frigid temperatures, as well as explore 100 miles of groomed trails. 

In the warmer months, enjoy Alpena’s fat-tire biking trails, hiking, and 13,000 gorgeous acres of outdoor bliss on Michigan’s Sunrise Coast. Fishing takes center stage at Lake Huron for Brown Trout, Chinook, salmon, and walleye in this beautiful region. 

alpena michigan attractions to see

Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center

Learn about the many shipwrecks that lie in the bottom of Lake Huron, referred to as “Shipwreck Alley” at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the country’s only freshwater marine sanctuary. It is home to around 200 historically known shipwrecks, now lying on the bottom of Lake Huron.

You can snorkel, dive, or board the glass-bottom boat Lady Michigan for a closer look at the underwater graveyard, including the Harvey Bissell, Portland, and American Union. The boat ride lasts two hours and tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for ages 6 to 12. 

Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center ship

Its visitor’s center, the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, is a free museum that has wonderful hands-on exhibits and displays detailing many of the wrecks, maritime conservation, and life-size vessels you can climb aboard. This is an excellent museum and shouldn’t be missed for a bit of education and fun in Alpena, Michigan. 

Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center

Dark Sky Viewing

Alpena is a great place for checking out the stars in the sky, especially since there is minimal light pollution. Three Dark Sky Preserve Parks are the region–perfect for seeing constellations and possibly the Aurora Borealis.

Another great place to stargaze is the Rockport State Recreation Area. Learn what to look for and what you’ll be seeing at the Besser Museum’s planetarium. Besser Museum also has art, history, and science exhibits; great fun for the entire family.

Besser Museum Michigan

What to Do and See in Alpena and Its Neighboring Towns

Alpena is at a strategic location in Michigan’s Great Lakes region. While there are awesome things to see and do there, such as diving, photographing lighthouses, fossil hunting, kayaking, biking, and exploring shipwrecks, you can also visit some fun neighboring towns to add even more to your visit.  

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visiting alpena michigan pin

Ocqueoc Falls & Bicentennial Pathway 

See Michigan’s Lower Peninsula’s most amazing falls and even swim there (weather permitting). Ocqueoc Falls is currently the only ADA accessible waterfall in the whole country and largest in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Follow one of the trails for an easy hike, then cast your rod to catch a few fish while you are there. This is part of the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail

Ocqueoc Falls michigan
Great Lakes maritime heritage trail collage

Presque Isle Lighthouses

The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse and New Presque Isle Lighthouse (the tallest on the Great Lakes) are two of the seven lighthouses in the area that I visited. Old Presque Isle claims to be haunted, and has been featured in numerous books and television programs. It has a museum that was the light keeper’s dwelling and has various interesting artifacts.

new old Presque Isle light house

At New Presque Isle, there are three historic buildings, one being a museum. The property also has a playground, picnic pavilion, and nature trails. You’ll enjoy panoramic views of Lake Huron shoreline glittering underneath the viewing platform that takes 130 steps to reach.

Fun fact: Michigan has 155 lighthouses, more than any other state. 

Presque Isle lighthouse stairs
michigan light house Presque Isle

Thunder Bay Resort, A Regional Gem 

Thunder Bay Resort offers lovely accommodations and an RV park for solos, couples, and very large groups traveling together. With a golf course on the property, Thunder Bay Resort is a popular North Michigan retreat for golfers and families. There is also award-winning elk viewing, complete with carriage rides and an upscale five-course meal in the resort’s rustic cabin. Thunder Bay is in Hillman, only 22 miles from Alpena. Check out the Murder Mystery Weekends, as well. 

You can read about the elk-viewing and dinner experience in this post. 

thunder bay resort michigan

Where to Eat in Alpena, Michigan

Austin Brothers Beer Co.

I visit a lot of breweries, but I’ve never been to one with as good of food as Austin Brothers Beer Co. in Alpena. The menu is bursting with incredible offerings, such as a fantastic Beer Cheese Fondue (tucked in a loaf of molasses beer bread), Beef Brisket Sandwich (with bacon beer jam and Swiss style bread), and Korean Sloppy Joes (with Kimchi slaw). Enhance your meal with a beer flight, including the Pineapple Smoothie IPA and Triple Berry Goes. You won’t leave hungry from this top-notch brewery and eatery.

Austin bros beer company food and drinks

Cabin Creek Coffee

Sip a delicious cup of coffee or tea, paired with a slice of quiche or breakfast sandwich, from Cabin Creek Coffee. This cozy shop has a wide selection of pastries, specialty coffees, and smoothies to choose from. For lunch, try a flatbread, pizza, sandwich, or soup.

I loved the deer-head decor, which added to the rugged charm of this local establishment. 

cabin creek coffee quiche

Nick’s Southside Country Diner 

Sink your teeth into a darned tasty breakfast at Nick’s Southside Country Diner. This authentic 1950’s box-car diner offers fast and friendly service, eggs cooked to order, and pancakes shaped like airplanes, bunnies, or whatever creation the chef is feeling. Dinner ranges from coney dogs to chicken & dumplings, and everything in between. 

nicks Southside diner

The Fresh Palate 

You’ll love the delicious creations prepared by the culinary professionals at Fresh Palate in downtown Alpena. Choose from Michigan whitefish, tapas, creative burritos, and gourmet sandwiches as you enjoy dining in the industrial and artsy space. Pair your meal with a glass of wine or one of the 22 draft beers on tap. 

the fresh palate dinner michigan

Note: Above The Fresh Palate is Michigan’s premier fine arts gallery, Art in the Loft. Step inside the 7,000 square feet space to see the lovely works of local artisans. Art in the Loft is available for private functions, too.  

the fresh palate michigan whitefish

Unique Attractions Near Alpena

Kneabe’s Mmmunchy Krunchy Apple Farm

Kneabe’s Mmmunchy Krunchy Apple Farm houses all things related to apples–from apple picking to cider, donuts to the Mac’n’Squasher apple slingshot, and everything in between. Pick your favorite pastry and coffee drink to enjoy in the rustic restaurant, and then let the kids take a pony or wagon ride outside near the apple orchards.

Kneabe's Mmmunchy Krunchy Apple Farm kid's play area

I had my first taste of a cider donut from this gem, and let me tell you, they are freaking delicious. 

Michigans apple cider donuts

Twisted Roots Hard Cider

Located on the same property as Kneabe’s Mmmunchy Krunchy Apple Farm is Twisted Roots Hard Cider. Sip from a wide array of tasty hard ciders and enjoy a wood-fired pizza piled high with toppings of your choice. Twisted Roots has a bustling atmosphere and is a fun place to hang out. 

twisted roots hard cider pizza
twisted roots hard cider michigan

Dinosaur Gardens 

Dinosaur Gardens is a nostalgic roadside attraction in Ossineke that you cannot miss! You will know you are there because a giant Jesus is holding the world in his hand beckons to you from the parking lot. Stroll through a wooded 24-acre park with walking trails past the 27 life-size dinosaur statues. There is also a gift shop and putt-putt golf on the property. 

Jesus outside of dinosaur gardens in michigan
dinosaur gardens roadside attraction
dinosaur gardens entrance

Where to Stay in Alpena

You’ll have waterfront views and the convenience of exploring Alpena’s downtown on foot by staying at the lovely Holiday Inn & Suites of Alpena. This newer hotel has an attractive lobby, clean and spacious contemporary rooms, and a heated indoor pool. Plus, you’ll enjoy free Wifi, breakfast, and parking. 

holiday inn and suites alpena

Sanctuary of the Great Lakes Photo Gallery

Kneabe's Mmmunchy Krunchy Apple Farm restaurant
downtown alpena fish mural
light house Presque Isle
view from michigan lighthouse
apples on the Lake Huron shore

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what you need to know about alpena, michigan

Read more of our Michigan posts: 

A Perfect Northern Michigan Road Trip

Things to Do at Mackinaw Island

Fun Things to Do In (and Near) Bay City, MI with Kids

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