Avoid Crowds In Detroit, Michigan And Visit These 14 Highly Rated Small Towns Instead

Many would not have considered Detroit a top tourist destination a few years ago. However, the city has found itself amid an economic upswing that has brought an influx of visitors and people moving from out-of-state. On the one hand, this has infused the city with a buzzing new energy. On the other hand, it has also led to larger crowds and more traffic congestion. While Detroit merits a visit to see its ongoing transformation, it's nice to know that many small towns nearby offer an escape from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

Michigan contains an abundance of alluring small towns that make for the perfect getaway for a peaceful retreat. While some are hidden away in remote locations that take some effort to reach, many are easily accessible from urban centers. Touch down in Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, and within a few hours, you can be chilling out at a lakefront cottage, shopping for antiques in a town that looks stuck in time, or doing some apple picking in a bucolic rural setting. For those searching for a charming vacation destination in Michigan, these are some of the best small towns within driving distance of Detroit that get top ratings on travel forums, travel blogs, and review sites.

Port Austin

Located on the sandy shores of Lake Huron at the tip of Michigan's "thumb," the picturesque waterfront village of Port Austin makes for a relaxing escape. Stay in a cozy cottage or pitch a tent on a campground nearby and spend your days strolling along beaches, picking up fresh produce at the farmer's market each Saturday from late May to mid-October, or setting off on fishing trips. Outside the village, you'll also find a golf course, a go-kart track, and a horseback riding stable.

Port Austin visitors won't want to skip Turnip Rock (pictured above), a unique formation that gets its name from its unusual shape. It juts out of Lake Huron on a natural stone pedestal that waves have eroded, then expands at the crown. The trees growing on the apex of the rock give it the look of a turnip top. The best way to see the rock is on a kayaking trip. Port Austin Kayak rents kayaks and bikes to explore the area. The Port Austin Reef Light may also draw your interest. Built in 1878, this unique lighthouse overlooks a reef about 1.5 miles offshore from the mainland, giving it the illusion of hovering over the water. Amid a massive restoration project, the lighthouse will not open its doors to tours again until 2025.


A mere 40-minute drive from Detroit, the village of Milford feels like it's a world away. You won't find skyscrapers or traffic-clogged freeways there. Instead, you'll discover pleasant tree-lined streets, charming art galleries, boutique shops, and parks. The town only spans 2.5 square miles, making it quite walkable. You can grab a bite to eat at a restaurant downtown or pack your own lunch and set off on a hike through one of the many natural areas in and around the village.

Kensington Metropark is the top-rated attraction in Milford, and it's easy to see why. This vast area includes nearly 4,500 acres of woodlands, marshes, and fields that radiate out from Kent Lake. There is a paved trail for biking and jogging and two hiking trails through the forest and other nature. In the summer, you can swim at Martindale and Maple Beach, ride on the Island Queen pontoon boat, or play golf and disc golf on designated courses. In the winter, you can go cross-country skiing. The park also boasts 10 miles of equine trails (though it's a bring-your-own-horse situation).


When Detroiters want a waterfront escape, Lexington comes in as a top choice. The harborfront town sits on Lake Huron's southern coast and offers plenty to vacationers. The harbor serves as a jumping-off point for sailing and fishing trips, and Lexington Beach is a prime sun tanning and swimming spot. A Tripadvisor reviewer commented, "Lexington State Harbor has the most picturesque views around. Every weekend in the Spring/Summer months there is some type of musical performance on the stage at the harbor, along with a food truck. A must visit!"

The town itself charms with its many historic buildings, some of which you can stay in. The Cadillac House Inn & Tavern opened its doors in 1860 and has provided lodging to Lexington visitors ever since. The Lake Huron Lodge opened shortly after in 1874, initially serving as a summer home for its owner. It retains some original features, but the rooms have undergone remodels to offer modern amenities. Even the hip and happening Windjammer Bar & Grill has some history. Built in the 1960s as a waterfront supper club, it hosted many performers, including Frank Sinatra Jr. It remains one of the top spots in town for food, wine and dine events, and live entertainment.


Transport yourself to Europe without leaving Michigan on a trip to Frankenmuth. Also known as "Little Bavaria," German settlers founded this charming community, hence the Bavarian-style architecture and nickname. Its festive atmosphere, with a Christmas market and carriage rides, makes it a must-visit Michigan destination during the holiday season. However, it also has tons to offer year-round, including zip-lining, waterparks, riverboat cruises, and museums.

Start your visit to Frankenmuth by strolling through town to see the German-inspired architecture. Frankenmuth River Place Shops gets multiple five-star reviews on Tripadvisor for its charming atmosphere and excellent variety of stores and restaurants. Other popular spots in town include the Bavarian Inn Restaurant & Lodge for its tasty schnitzel and sausages and the Michigan Heroes Museum, which honors Michigan citizens' contributions to military and space programs. The Bavarian Belle Riverboat is a great way to see the town from the water if you visit during the warmer months, with tours running from May to October.


Leland is a bit of a trek from Detroit at about 4.5 hours of driving time, but it's worth it for the gorgeous waterfront scenery. In fact, many consider it one of the best towns to visit on the Great Lakes. The community sits between Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau, surrounded by water on two sides. Just over 300 people call the small town home, and it gives off a sleepy fishing village vibe. Julianne Brainard wrote on her travel blog Pints, Pounds, and Pâté, "Boasting just a three-digit population (yes, you read that correctly), you'll immediately feel relaxed when you arrive in Leland's enchanting, tiny, basically one literal main street downtown. Stoplights? I don't think so. Lake views? You bet."

You'll find plenty to do indoors and outdoors in Leland. Van's Beach is a beautiful strip of sand along Lake Michigan's shore, and it's easily accessible from downtown. Historic Fishtown has wooden docks lined with fishing boats and specialty shops selling artisan goods. Hikers will love hitting the trails at the Clay Cliffs Natural Area, climbing the bluffs at Whaleback Natural Area, and exploring the rugged Manitou Islands. After a full day of sightseeing, tuck into hearty dishes like seafood chowder and stuffed whitefish at The Cove.


The village of Holly has everything you could want in a small town — an attractive downtown with inviting shops and cafes, access to parks and hiking trails, fun festivals, and even a haunted hotel. One resident commented on Niche.com, "Holly is a quaint little village with a great historic downtown full of different shops. It [does] not offer much when it comes to nightlife but it makes up for in family friendliness." As a bonus, driving to Holly from Detroit takes less than an hour, making it an easy place to visit on a day trip from the city or a weekend getaway.

Visit Holly in the summer or fall, and you can go hiking, canoeing, and camping in the Holly Recreation Area. The park spans over 8,000 acres and has amenities like disc golf, a water park, and boat launches. Seven Lakes State Park is another top-rated spot for outdoor activities. Holly also serves as the site of the Michigan Renaissance Festival, which takes place on weekends in August and September. During the winter, you can hit the slopes at Mt. Holly Ski & Snowboard Resort and attend the Holly Dickens Festival, which celebrates the spirit of Charles Dickens' story "A Christmas Carol."

New Buffalo

Explore the southern shore of Lake Michigan from New Buffalo. This scenic town sits on the mouth of the Galien River and has a long sandy beach on the lakeside. Follow the coastline in either direction, and you'll find scenic shorelines rippling with dunes. In town, there are antique shops, art galleries, boutique hotels, and plenty of places to grab a bite to eat. Just outside of town, you'll discover vineyards, orchards, and wetlands to explore.

New Buffalo waits about 1.5 hours from Chicago, making it a great place for a day trip if you're staying in the Windy City. The driving time from Detroit is longer at about 3-4 hours, but it's still doable for those who want to get away for a few days. New Buffalo and the nearby beach towns that comprise "Harbor Country" are sometimes called the "Hamptons of the Midwest" for their upscale beach town atmospheres. If you're looking to stay in luxurious digs, the Marina Grand Resort and the Harbor Grand Hotel are both great options right on the water in New Buffalo.


The small village of Armada is the ideal spot to unwind and enjoy some rural scenery. The small downtown has a handful of restaurants and several buildings dating back to the 1800s. Visitors can go apple picking in the orchards around the area, visit the Armada Flea Market, and hike the Macomb Orchard Trail. Armada has no hotels, but it is only an hour's drive from Detroit, so you can easily make the trip there and back in a day. If you want to stay overnight somewhere close by but not in Detroit, there are a few B&Bs in the village of Romeo about 15 minutes away.

The most popular attraction in Armada is Blake's Orchard & Cider Mill. This working farm has apple orchards, a cider mill, a petting farm, wagon rides, and a tasting room where you can try its famous hard cider. A Yelp user wrote, "The taproom has great food and ciders to choose from, and they have some outdoor food places as well accompanied by their ciders of course. The things to do are sectioned off to make sure that the kids have their activities to do and the adults have their activities to do. Live music on most days really adds to the enjoyment of the day outside in the courtyard area."

South Haven

South Haven is prime cottage country thanks to its ideal location on the southeast shore of Lake Michigan. The city has a small-town vibe with a mix of eclectic shops, cozy cafes, and craft breweries. It also has several beaches along the lake, parks and nature preserves where you can go hiking or have a picnic, and vineyards and wineries just outside of town. South Haven is a popular summer holiday spot, but winter can also be a lovely time to visit. In fact, the South Haven Light is one of those lighthouses on the Great Lakes that actually looks better in winter. Winter waves often crash onto the lighthouse and freeze, creating stunning ice formations.

When you're not hitting the beaches or taking boat trips on the lake, you can explore the town of South Haven. Old Harbor Village has interesting shops, restaurants, and waterfront bars. Just across the Black River, you'll find the Michigan Maritime Museum, where you can learn about the history of boating on Lake Michigan. Head down to the South Pier to see the famous South Haven Light, originally built in 1871. South Haven is also renowned for the National Blueberry Festival, which takes place every August.


If you love outdoor adventures, Gaylord is your spot. Styled like an alpine village, the downtown feels like a Swiss canton with chalet-inspired buildings. During the winter, you can head into the surrounding forests for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing on inland lakes. The Treetops Resort and Otsego Resort are winter hotspots for downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. In the summer, the area is popular for golfing, hiking, and camping at Otsego Lake Park.

Gaylord is about a 3.5-hour drive from Detroit, so you'll probably want to stay overnight if you're visiting from Motor City. Luckily, there are plenty of places to choose from in the area. The Sojourn Lakeside Resort is a bit outside of town, but it gets rave reviews for its beautiful lakefront setting and excellent amenities. The resort has no restaurant, so you'll need to head into Gaylord for a bite to eat. Travelers recommend Bennethum's Northern Inn for steaks and seafood and Snowbelt Brewing Co. for craft beers and pub-style eats.


Pentwater is a pretty waterfront village on the edge of a small lake connected to Lake Michigan. There is a lovely marina where sailboats bob on the water and a beautiful white sand beach in Charles Mears State Park, which stretches north of the pier. A Reddit user stated, "I would recommend a pit stop in Pentwater, MI. It's one of my absolute favorites places in MI. Small town feel with cutes shops and has Charles Mears State park to stay at too. Another place right on Lake Michigan with beautiful sunsets. If you wake up in the middle of the night and walk you can see a ton of stars and the Milky Way (depending on weather/month). Lake Michigan is typically very clear here too."

Many people visit Pentwater in the summertime to enjoy the beach, fish on the lake, and hike through the dunes in Charles Mears State Park. But no matter what time of year you visit, you'll find plenty of activities on offer. The Pentwater Artisan Center has workspaces where you can do some woodworking, painting, and pottery making. Stroll through the village and find quaint art galleries, restaurants, and a farmer's market. During the winter, you can go cross-country skiing on the Pentwater Pathways system and ice fishing on Pentwater Lake.


With a population under 7,000, Marshall has more of a small-town feel than a big-city vibe. History buffs will love the Historic District's many buildings from the 1800s and early 1900s. As you meander through the streets, you'll see a range of architectural styles, including Art Deco, Queen Anne, Greek Revival, and Neoclassical. The Marshall Riverwalk is another lovely area to stroll through, as it has attractive bridges and boardwalks along the Kalamazoo River.

If you're looking for indoor activities in Marshall, the American Museum of Magic is an intriguing spot. You can learn about famous magicians throughout history and see a vast collection of magic-related artifacts. Tickets are $7 for adults and $4.50 for kids. Children under five can enter for free. The museum gets top ratings on review sites. For example, one individual shared on Tripadvisor, "This museum is small but mighty. You won't learn any tricks but you will see lots of them they've collected. It's housed in a historic building which adds to the charm." The AMM is open daily between April and November, but if you come between December and March, you'll need to call ahead to make an appointment.


Switch off for a while in Stevensville and reconnect with nature and yourself. This tiny village next to Lake Michigan is the gateway to Grand Mere State Park, where you'll find over 1,000 acres of land with two inland lakes and plenty of dunes to explore. The village also offers easy access to North Lake Park, which has a picnic area, boat launch, and opportunities for fishing. In the summer, you can go swimming and kayaking on the lake, take strolls through the dunes, and do some birdwatching. In the winter, it's worth going to the Madeline Bertrand County Park for cross-country skiing on trails next to the St. Joseph River.

Several hotels and vacation rental spots exist in Stevensville and the neighboring city of St. Joseph. Chalet on the Lake gets excellent reviews for its family-friendly chalets that can sleep up to 12 people and have fantastic amenities like a swimming pool, tennis courts, and playground for kids. You'll also find a few restaurants and bars in the village where you can have a meal and grab a few drinks. Top-rated spots include Full Circle Cafe & Espresso Bar for hearty breakfasts and the Grand Mere Inn for seafood dishes like lake perch and blackened swordfish.


The tiny community of Manchester lies just an hour's drive from downtown Detroit, but it's a major contrast to the concrete jungle of the big city. The village dates back to the 19th century, and many of the buildings from that time still stand today. The River Raisin winds through the town, and several parks dot the riverbanks and the verdant river valley. It's a peaceful, friendly spot where you can spend the day taking in the historic architecture, popping into small shops, and eating at local diners and restaurants.

Get a sense of what Manchester was like in the 1800s at the old Blacksmith Shop. It was once a center for producing carriages, sleighs, and horseshoes. Today, it is a museum with a working forge where you can see blacksmithing demonstrations and even try pounding some metal yourself. The Blacksmith Shop is open to the public on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Another way to immerse yourself in village life is at one of the fun festivals throughout the year. The Manchester Chicken Broil has taken place for over 70 years and features excellent food, live music, and tons of community spirit. Stop by for a delicious full chicken dinner and feel good knowing your money will go towards bettering the community. The festival usually takes place on the third weekend of July.

How we selected the small town alternatives to Detroit

To find the best small towns in Michigan close to Detroit, we looked at the places that got multiple recommendations from travelers on forums and review sites like Reddit, Forbes, Tripadvisor, and Yelp. Explore focused on places that offer an escape from the urban hustle and bustle, choosing those that were small (under 10,000 people) and had a peaceful vibe. Most of our picks are actual towns, although we did include a few cities with a small-town atmosphere. All the destinations have something to offer travelers, whether natural beauty, inviting shops and restaurants, fascinating museums, or a combination of all these elements. In addition, you can easily access each locale from Detroit, with driving times of 4.5 hours or less.