As a former seasonal island worker, I know Mackinac Island like the back of my hand. I spent four months exploring every nook and cranny of the island. I’ve probably ate at every restaurant too. Mackinac is truly a one-of-a-kind destination in Michigan. It takes you back to simpler times, especially since there are no cars allowed on the island. Get ready to explore Michigan’s gem with my recommendations for things to see and do, places to eat, and where to stay.
The only way to get to Mackinac Island is by ferry or plane. There are two ferry companies that make the trek to the island from St. Ignace and Mackinaw City every day. Both Star Line and Shepler’s run about every half an hour during the peak season. Be sure to check the departure schedules before you plan your trip.
Things to do and see
The best way to get around the island is to bike. You can bring your own or rent bikes. One of the most popular things tourists love to do is bike the eight-mile M-185 highway around the island. You’ll see famous landmarks like Arch Rock, Devil’s Kitchen and British Landing. My favorite trip is biking up the interior to the airport, but get ready to sweat the whole way up the Grand Hill.
Horseback riding and carriage tours
Horses are the second most popular form of transportation on the island. You rent a saddle horse or a horse and carriage from Cindy’s Riding Stable or Jack’s Livery. There are also carriage tours you can take through the island with a big group. I personally think this is the best way to see the whole island for first-timers. You can also hail a horse taxi that will take you anywhere on the island.
Main Street is lined with several different boutiques and souvenir stores where you may spend all your money. Get yourself a Mackinac Island t-shirt, buy Michigan-made goods at Little Luxuries, or take a self-guided fudge tour. The island is known for its fudge in every flavor you can think of. Ryba’s is my personal favorite, but others include Murdick’s, Joann’s and the Murray Hotel Fudge Shop.
- Fort Mackinac – This is the site of the original fort and the Seige of Mackinac during the War of 1812. The fort takes you back in time with reenactments and interactive displays.
- Fort Holmes – A secondary fort was built after Fort Mackinac was captured during the war. This Fort is deeper in the interior but gives you a gorgeous view of the island.
- British Landing – This is the spot on the island where British forces landed to capture Fort Mackinac. You’ll see it when you bike M-185. Be sure to stop at the Cannonball for ice cream and fried pickles too.
- Island churches – The island is home to four historic churches: St Anne’s Catholic Church, Little Stone Church, Mission Church and Trinity Church. Each church is beautiful in its own way and worth a visit whether you’re just stopping by or staying for a service.
- Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery & St. Ann’s Cemetery – This is a stop on the island’s carriage tours. If you’re into spooky attractions, these cemeteries are right next to each other and have both beautiful headstones and historical significance.
- Wings of Mackinac – This is also a stop on the island carriage tour. You’ll see beautiful plants and butterflies in a small atrium located in the interior of the island at Surrey Hills.
- Ghost tours – I did this twice during my time on Mackinac and loved it. Your guide will take you to all the classicly haunted spots on the island like the Fort Mackinac, St. Anne’s Church, and Mission Point Resort.
Besides biking, you can also hike through the interior of the island and see both well-known landmarks, like Arch Rock, and lesser known ones like the Eagle’s Nest and Sunset Rock. I recommend getting a trail map from the tourism bureau before you hike. You can rent kayaks and stand up paddleboards from Great Turtle Kayak Tours. Golfing is another popular outdoor activity with three courses on the island.
Places to eat & nightlife
I did my fair share of eating on Mackinac Island and have come up with a list of the best restaurants to test during your trip. The island also has great nightlife and a lot of the restaurants turn into nightlife hot spots once it hits 10 p.m.
- The Mustang – The burgers here are to die for, and the bar is open year-round for trivia and Euchre nights.
- Pink Pony – All the food here is delicious and is easily a staple when visiting the island. Come back at night for a rum runner and live music.
- Horn’s – If you’re craving nachos, dancing and live music, Horn’s is the bar for you.
- 1852 Grill Room and Ice House BBQ – These restaurants are both located inside the Island House Hotel. The 1852 Grill Room is a fabulous fine dining restaurant for wine, fish, and steak. The Ice House serves up delicious pub food and craft beer.
- The Grand Hotel Restaurants – The Grand Hotel owns five restaurants, an ice cream parlor, and three bars throughout the island. You can try their sushi, get the famous brunch buffet in the main dining room, or have drinks at the Cupola Bar with the best view of the island.
- Goodfellow’s – This spot is great for Italian food with an adjoining sports bar for drinks.
- The Pancake House – This is the best cheap breakfast spot on the island and there is an adjoining fudge and ice cream shop.
- Mary’s Bistro – Mary’s offers a large selection of craft beer, delicious appetizers and a patio overlooking the lake.
- Cawthorne’s Village Inn – This spot has some of the best whitefish on the island and features live music at night.
Where to stay
The island is full of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and even Airbnbs now where you can rest your head after a long day of exploring.
- The Island House Hotel – I may be a bit biased since I worked here, but the Island House Hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels on the island and it’s the oldest. The hotel has two onsite restaurants and a spacious front lawn for reading.
- The Grand Hotel – If you’re looking to splurge, The Grand Hotel is a great option. This is the island’s largest and most recognizable hotel with beautiful gardens, a huge pool, and onsite activities. If you still want to experience the Grand without staying here, visit in the evening for dancing in the ballroom for free or you can walk the grounds for a small fee.
- Mission Point Resort – Mission Point is an expansive resort that’s perfect for families. They have several different accommodation options, a pool, and three onsite restaurants.
- Chippewa Hotel – This is the perfect place to stay if you’re coming with a group of friends. The Pink Pony Bar is right downstairs and there’s a hot tub on the deck.
- Hotel Iroquois – This hotel’s waterfront setting is absolutely gorgeous and they have a private sunbathing beach.
- The Inn at Stonecliffe – This Victorian-style inn is the farthest from the action, but it’s perfect if you’re just looking to relax in a woodsy setting.