Nestled along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, Manistee provides small town charm coupled with miles of pristine beaches, rivers, forests and trails to explore.
Here is a comprehensive guide to the top attractions and activities to enjoy in Manistee, Michigan.
1. Relax at First Street Beach
First Street Beach is Manistee’s main public beach, spanning over a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline just north of downtown. Visitors will find plenty of amenities and room to spread out on the expansive beach.
Wade into the cool, clear waters of Lake Michigan from the wide, sandy beach. Lifeguards are on duty during peak summer months. The beach has gradually sloping access perfect for swimming.
Two concession stands sell snacks, ice cream, and beach essentials. Modern bathhouse facilities are available including outdoor showers. Volleyball nets and playground equipment keep kids entertained.
A paved walkway crosses over the scenic dunes from the metered parking lot on First Street to the beach area. The 200+ parking spaces fill up quick on busy days. Arrive early to claim your spot.
2. Explore Downtown Manistee
Downtown Manistee, centered along River Street,is filled with beautifully preserved Victorian storefronts housing shops, galleries, restaurants and historic murals. It makes for a pleasant walkable downtown to explore. Some of the best places involved:
Vogue Theatre of Manistee
Address: 383 River St, Manistee, MI 49660
First opened in 1938, the Vogue still shows new film releases in its single Art Deco theater, marked by the iconic neon lit marquee outside. Tickets just $4-6!
Riverwalk & Fishing Pier
Stroll along the scenic riverwalk overlooking the Manistee River. The fishing pier at Penny Park is accessible from the walkway and stocked with trout and salmon.
3. Tour the Historic Coast Guard Station
For an in-depth look at Great Lakes maritime history, visit the Historic Coast Guard Station located right along Manistee’s channel leading to Lake Michigan.
Inside the original 1927 Coast Guard building, exhibits detail important shipwrecks and rescues using artifacts, photographs, and hands-on displays. Guided group tours also available with advance reservations.
The restored boathouse opposite the station has exhibits on the evolution of lifesaving boats and motors. See the hand-crafted 36-foot surfboats used in early rescues, complete with oars and accessories.
This National Historic Landmark station has remained largely unchanged since its opening nearly 100 years ago. Red brick construction, Doric columns, and Georgian architectural details make this an iconic Michigan structure.
4. Hike the Lake Michigan Shore at Arcadia Dunes
For a beautiful Lake Michigan hike, head to the Arcadia Dunes along the M-22 shoreline. Trails wind through towering vegetated dunes, pristine beaches, and quiet forests.
Wooden staircases and platforms allow hikers to climb high into the massive dunes for panoramic views over Lake Michigan and Arcadia Lake. Photo opportunities abound.
Well-marked hiking trails of varying length let you explore diverse ecosystems—walk along the sandy beach, traverse high atop the dunes, and wind through shady maritime forests.
In addition to hiking, the nearby paved shoreline bike path rolls through the dunes area near expansive parking lots, perfect for a gentle bike ride or stroll.
5. Ride the Lakeshore Bike Trail
For a scenic and easy bike ride perfect for all ages, pedal along the Lake Michigan Shoreline Bike Trail between Manistee and Onekama. The paved 4.7 mile route hugs the wooded shoreline, passing tranquil inland lakes too.
Onekama Trailhead & Parking has the largest parking area, located right along M-22. Use the crosswalk to access both sides of the trail. Portable restrooms on site.
Midway up the route, you’ll find the Northpoint Scenic Turnout with panoramic Lake Michigan overlooks from atop the towering dunes. Short walk to beach access. Vault toilet available.
Lastly, Wetland Boardwalks diverges away from the lake through stretches of cattail marsh wetlands. Extended boardwalk segments keep the trail high and dry through these ecosystems. Benches line the route for resting.
6. Relax at Orchard Beach State Park
Nestled along the scenic shoreline between Manistee and Onekama, Orchard Beach State Park has a pristine public beach, grassy picnic areas, fishing access and a boat launch onto Lake Michigan.
The nearly one-mile beach has shallow water perfect for swimming, with restrooms and outdoor showers available. Grassy dunes provide lounging areas just steps from shore.
Several pavilion shelters amid the trees overlooking the beach may be reserved for groups. Playgrounds and basketball courts give kids room to burn energy. Modern bathhouses on site.
A paved boat ramp provides access to launch motor boats and kayaks into Lake Michigan. The fishing pier extends over the shoreline for catching salmon, steelhead trout and other species.
7. Tour the Manistee Pierhead Lighthouse
For an iconic photo alongside spectacular Lake Michigan views, take a stroll out the south pier lining the channel to see the Manistee Pierhead Lighthouse. Get right up to the 60-foot tower!
The southern pier and lighthouse sit right downtown along River Street for easy access. Built in 1927, the brick and cast iron tower stands on a concrete pier extending hundreds of feet into Lake Michigan to guide ships.
Signs on the pier describe the construction and history of the lighthouse. The walkway loops both sides of the pier, which is a popular fishing spot for salmon and trout during seasonal runs.
Walking the length of the pier lets you take in vistas across Lake Michigan and see the shoreline in both directions. Sunsets here are stunning. The red Manistee beacon is visible for miles out on the lake.
8. Tour Historic Ramsdell Theatre
Address: 101 Maple Street, Manistee, MI
Built in 1903 as a memorial to local banker and philanthropist T.J. Ramsdell, this elegant venue is both a historic landmark and mainstay for performing arts in Manistee. Guided tours let you explore the interior architecture and displays.
Intricate details like gold leaf accents, stained glass transoms, and brass railings craft an intimate, ornate setting in both the main theatre and lower level ballroom. Displays document past performances and famous visitors.
Throughout the year, Ramsdell Theatre hosts concerts, plays, dance recitals, comedy shows and more by local performers and touring acts. Their annual Christmas Carol production is a popular tradition.
The Romanesque Revival exterior echoes the elegant interior with red brick arches, stone accents, a grand entrance portico on the east side and Queen Anne details along the north and south facade.
9. Swim at Fifth Avenue Beach
If First Street Beach is too crowded, head a few blocks south to Fifth Avenue Beach for a more laid-back atmosphere. Lifeguards on duty, concession stands, playgrounds and other amenities make this a family-friendly spot.
Volleyball nets beckon competitive games on the beach. Kids can burn energy on two playground structures, with swings and climbing equipment, all overlooking Lake Michigan views.
Special beach accessible wheelchairs provided by the City of Manistee allow mobility impaired visitors to also enjoy the beach. Call ahead to reserve the chairs free of charge.
Near downtown accommodations and the Coast Guard station, Fifth Avenue Beach offers easy pedestrian access. A paved walkway over the dunes connects it to First Street Beach one mile north.
10. Paddle Down the Manistee River Trail
For a relaxing outdoor adventure accessible to beginners, kayak down the Manistee River Trail. Guided outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, and instruction for navigating this tranquil 20 mile river route through the national forest.
Bear Creek Outfitters offers kayak and canoe rentals, transport shuttles, and guided tours on the Manistee River for all skill levels. Choose from laid-back half day trips to overnight camping excursions.
Paddling the gentle river allows viewing of eagles, osprey, herons, beavers, mink and other wildlife along the wooded shoreline. Late September trips offer peak fall color viewing.
Much of the river Trail passes through dense, mature forests in the national forest, providing a shady canopy overhead. Some segments open up to wide bends and meadows.
11. Go Fishing in Manistee
From inland rivers to the big lake, Manistee provides premier fishing for salmon, trout, walleye, bass and more. Cast from public piers and shoreline spots or book a guided fishing charter. Highlights rivers included:
Pere Marquette River
This “Blue Ribbon Trout Stream” offers excellent fly fishing opportunities for brown and rainbow trout. Wading and drift boat trips available through guides like Baldwin River Lodge.
Just 15 miles north near Arcadia, the Betsie River also has a healthy trout population and empties out into Betsie Bay, a prime salmon fishing hole on Lake Michigan.
12. Cheer on the Ludington Mariners
From June through August, head to Ludington’s scenic Stearns Park beach to catch an amateur baseball league game and take in the lakefront views. The Mariners team competes in a wood bat college league.
The vintage ball field sits right along Lake Michigan, allowing spectators to watch the game and enjoy the views. A lively hometown atmosphere accompanies the competitive league play. Games often end with fireworks shows!
The baseball field shares facilities with the adjoining public beach. Visitors can grab food, go swimming in Lake Michigan, or relax on the beach when not watching the action.
General admission lawn and bleacher seats cost just a few dollars per person, making for an affordable night out. Bathrooms, playgrounds, and other amenities keep kids happy.
13. Go Camping Nearby
The Manistee National Forest offers almost endless camping options in the wilderness surrounding the city. Drive-up campgrounds welcome RVs and tents, while remote backcountry sites reward those on foot or bike. Here, you can stop two locations:
- Orchard Beach State Park Campground: 10 minutes north of town, the campground at this state park sits right along the Lake Michigan shoreline and adjacent to a nice public beach.
- Red Bridge River Campground: Located just west of Manistee has over 100 sites along the pine-shaded banks of the Manistee River. Great base for area activities.
And don’t forget to cosult the Manistee Ranger District office for best options.
With four seasons of natural beauty and endless ways to unwind outdoors, Manistee truly offers an authentically Up North Michigan getaway. Explore the area beaches, trails, rivers and friendly small town vibes through these top attractions and activities