For many centuries, the Mackinac Straits were one of the most important crossroads in North America; first with the Indians who gathered here in their migrations through the region and later with the French voyageurs and British traders who established forts and trading posts. Fort Michilimackinac was established in 1715 as a trading post and was the site of a famous massacre. Another larger fort on nearby Mackinac Island played a key role in the fate of thousands of square miles in the War of 1812. Everywhere you walk at the Straits resonates with history.
ITS DEFINITELY HISTORY
A short walk or drive to Alexander Henry or Lakeshore Park near the eastern side of the bridge offers beach access to Lake Huron as well as kiosks along the Mackinaw City Historical Pathway. Head past the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse toward the Colonial Michilimackinac gift shop and Visitor Center, or just relax on a bench down near the waters edge.
Dodging camera-wielding tourists and seagulls, we still like to marvel at the beauty and expanse of the Mackinac Bridge. Too young to have waited hours for the car ferry that took residents from one peninsula to the other, I try not to let convenience jade me; the 51-year-old structure still amazes. If youre lucky you might see a freighter passing underneath, catch a sunset or be there as the bridges lights come on for the night.
If youre looking for a little hands-on history and dont mind spending the extra money, be sure to visit any of the areas historical landmarks: Colonial Michilimackinac fort, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and sawmill, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse or the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum.
SHOPPING IN MACKINAW
Strolling through Mackinaws shops is a relaxing option and theres always a chance youll find an early gift for someone special in your life.
Mackinaw Crossings hosts more than 40 shops, with items to please everyone on your list, ranging from Nascar, Michigan-made souvenirs, John Deere and Coca-Cola collectibles, pet items, sweets and toys, Canada souvenirs and more. Dont miss Jim Wehrs Mackinaw Outfitters for the latest in outdoor apparel and fishing gear.
Enchanted Knights our personal favorite sells Renaissance clothing, decorative and battle-ready swords and knives, as well as figurines, jewelry, toys, books and games.
Views of the Past offers prints of old pictures from many Michigan towns, as well as memorabilia from the past: Elvis, Betty Boop, Somewhere in Time and more.
Bikers will enjoy an official Harley-Davidson Motorcycle store. Holiday lovers can get started on their Christmas shopping early at Mrs. Clauss store.
Mackinaw Citys main drag offers quality and souvenir shopping as well, with Teysens Gift Shop (since 1926), Mackinaw Clothing, Sign of the Loon nature gifts, fudge, ice cream, trinkets shops and more.
If you stay all day, your dining options range from all-you-can-eat buffets,
to pizza, fish, Italian, American or Irish pub fare.
For a cheap beer, homemade soups and something fried, visit the Keyhole Bar on Central Avenue. Rumored to be a favorite spot of Red Wings player Darren McCarty when hes in town, you can marvel at the most keys ever displayed in one place and maybe even add your own to the mix.
Scalawags Whitefish & Chips, tucked in an alcove off of Central Avenue not far from the northern Crossings entrance, offers many trans-fat-free fried fish choices. With additional locations in Petoskey, Traverse City and Cheboygan, you can afford to get hooked on their fresh seafood fare.
Try a beef pasty (Cornish baked meat pie true Yoopers eat it with ketchup, not gravy) at Cunninghams Family Restaurant a Mackinaw City establishment for over 50 years.
If youre into the all-you-can-eat buffets, head to The Embers (since 1972) on Huron Avenue or the Pancake Chef (since 1964) on Central Avenue serving breakfast and dinner buffets year-round.
For an after-meal treat, one of the best-kept secrets is Mickeys Ice Cream, located on Huron Avenue, which offers 28 flavors of Mooneys ice cream and prices beginning at $2.25 for two scoops.
Take home a slice of my favorite, Chocolate Cherry Cordial Fudge (endorsed by the Red Hat Ladies) from Marshalls Fudge and Candy Company a staple on Central Avenue since 1923. And be sure to grab a bag of Marshalls homemade cheddar cheese popcorn; its a perfect sunset- or laser show-watching treat.
Stay awake long enough to enjoy the nightly laser show held at dusk near the Mackinaw Crossings outdoor stage. And one last drive by the Mackinac Bridge as you make your way out of town, offers the beauty of the bridges twinkling lights reflecting in the water below.
Mackinaw City also offers options for kids. Playgrounds three of them are within walking distance of downtown. The most obvious one is in Mackinaw Crossings and its usually crowded. For gorgeous views of the Mackinac Bridge and Mackinac Island, head north of Sheplers Ferry Dock on North Huron and visit Wawatam Park. A smaller playground, the park features a wood carving of Chief Wawatam and a tiny beach for swimming on those hot summer days.
Tucked away on Henry Street, a few blocks north of Mama Mias Pizza downtown, is Old School Park. Featuring a huge wooden playground, theres something for everyone.
Older kids will enjoy mini-golf, located on Huron Avenue, adjacent to Mackinaw Crossings or the free 40 ft. climbing wall and 10,000 gallon aquarium located in Mackinaw Outfitters, on the west entrance of the Crossings.
And dont forget to visit the Great Lakes Teddy Bear Factory on Huron Avenue, where little ones can customize their own bears, or join in the kite-flying fun usually taking place in Conkling Heritage Park near the waters edge. Mackinaw Kite Company on Central Avenue can set you up with one of your own.
STAY AS LONG AS YOU LIKE
For those wishing to make a Mackinaw City visit into a mini-vacation, there are plenty of hotels, bed and breakfasts and campgrounds to choose from. Just visit any of the Mackinaw City websites for more information. And be sure to check out new venues still on my to-do list: Thunder Falls Family Water Park, the new zip line at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the free Mackinac Bridge Museum first opened in 1979 and located in Mama Mias restaurant recently restored after a fire in August 2005 and a tour of the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.
So, what are you waiting for? Hop in your car and get going. Maybe Ill see you there!