Meet Me at the Fair
A flock of fun and funky fairs and festivals — all in Michigan.
Looking for a weekend getaway off the beaten path? Whether you seek an entertaining escape with the kids or something a little more far-fetched with the grown-ups, Michigan has an assortment of fantastic fairs and festivals that are fun enough to make a destination on their own — but we threw in a few ideas for side trips just for good measure.
NATIONAL ASPARAGUS FESTIVAL
Friday-Sunday, June 8-10, Oceana County
An arts and crafts fair, asparagus dinner featuring the uniquely tasty veggie in every course including dessert and Mrs. Asparagus Pageant are all a part of this veggie fest. You can also go to a community picnic featuring asparagus brats, a Spear-It 5K run/walk, kids activities, a Fly-In Breakfast (enjoy a pancake breakfast while taking in powered parachute and aircraft displays), a parade, plus an NAF Food Show, where visitors can sample asparagus dishes and vote for their favorites. Last year’s winners include Asparagus White Pizza and Asparagus Bundt Cake. Don’t miss an hour-long Oceana County asparagus farm tour, where you can witness the harvesting and talk with growers about the asparagus industry. nationalasparagusfestival.org.
While you’re there: Just more than a three-hour drive from Metro Detroit, Oceana County is home to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes Area, along Lake Michigan’s sweeping shorelines north of Muskegon and west of the Manistee National Forest. Lofty sand dunes, pristine beaches, go-karts, quaint villages with shops, restaurants and plenty of nearby hotels, cottages and camping options. Thinkdunes.com.
FEAST OF THE STRAWBERRY MOON
Saturday-Sunday, June 9-10, Harbor Island, Grand Haven
Celebrating the 300-year-history of Grand Haven, this blast-from-the-past living-history festival recreates the life of 18th-century Native Americans, French voyageurs, fur traders, craftspeople, military and merchants who would have gathered for feast and fun in a fur-trading camp around 1760 along the tranquil banks of the Grand River on Harbor Island. Experience sheep herding, candle-making, a tomahawk throw, traditional music, jugglers, period crafts demonstrations, 18th-century kids games, magic and more. The festival — named for the Native American term for June’s full moon, which appeared during the strawberry harvest — is sponsored by Grand Haven’s Tri-Cities Historical Museum, itself a family-friendly destination offering a window into the history of Northwest Ottawa County. Exhibits tell the stories of Native Americans and lumberjacks and include Victorian period rooms, maritime, medicine and everyday life. tri-citiesmuseum.org.
While you’re there: Grand Haven joined the ranks of exotic beachy destinations in Turkey, Australia, France and Thailand when Travel & Leisure named it one of the Best Secret Beaches on Earth last March. Soft sand beaches along Lake Michigan, clear fresh water, towering dunes, hiking, biking, kayaking, boating, golf and so much more is just a three-hour drive from Metro Detroit, just south of Muskegon. visitgrandhaven.com.
MICHIGAN CHALLENGE BALLOONFEST
Friday-Sunday, June 22-24, Howell
Jaws will drop as more than 50 balloons fill the skies of Southeast Michigan with brilliant color and drama at the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest. Held on the grounds of Howell High School, the hot-air balloon competition (no balloon rides are offered during the event) features mass balloon launches and fly-ins, kite-team and skydiver performances, fireworks, live performances by Annabelle Road and others, a farmer’s market, the chance to visit the inside of an airplane cockpit, an arts festival, a nighttime balloon jump and more. michiganchallenge.com.
While you’re there: Be sure to save time to meander around historic downtown Howell, where a rich array of architectural styles include Greek Revival, Carpenter Gothic, Italianate, Queen Anne and more. Stately Victorian homes remain resplendent along tree-lined streets. There’s enough spectacular architecture to merit seven different walking tours (buy a copy of A Walk Through Time at downtownhowell.org), with highlights including the original Opera House, built in 1881, and a Dairy Queen built in 1889. Housed in the turn-of-the-century buildings are equally charming one-of-a-kind shops — antiques, jewelry, home decor, clothing — and cafes.
BATTLE CREEK CEREAL FESTIVAL
Friday-Saturday, June 8-9, Battle Creek
Celebrate the storied history of breakfast cereal in Cereal City with Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle and Pop, Toucan Sam and more favorites. Kicking off with a Grand Cereal Parade, the festival features the annual crowd-pleasing World’s Longest Breakfast Table, where you can sample enormous amounts of your favorite (and newest) cereals, Pop Tarts, Tang and more (all donated by the local cereal companies) alongside upwards of 30,000 people.
Check out a Classic Car Show, Cereal City Classic Run/Walk, live entertainment, a kids outdoor movie, healthy-living activities and more. The festival also helps provides food for local food banks, and brings to light the contributions of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who transformed health care in the 19th century, and cereal industry magnates C.W. Post and W. K. Kellogg. bcfestivals.com.
While you’re there: Deservedly known for its cereal, Battle Creek is also much more. The chosen home of ex-slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth, it was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. It was also the cradle of the Seventh-Day Adventist religion and home of its founder, Ellen White, and home to the Battle Creek Sanitarium, opened in 1866 and overseen by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (his brother, W.K. Kellogg, worked as the bookkeeper). Flourishing as a chic-wellness destination among the country’s prominent citizens and known for its water and fresh-air treatments and promoting a high-fiber diet, the “San” hosted notable patients including Warren G. Harding, Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford and Mary Todd Lincoln, as well as impoverished charity patients. It also was host to chronically ill businessman C.W. Post, who later opened his own spa and developed Grape-Nuts Cereal, inspiring a host of imitators and a breakfast-cereal boom; at one time in the early-1900s, there were more than 80 cereal companies in Battle Creek, and one that succeeded was Kellogg’s of Battle Creek. Learn about it all at the Kimball House Museum, housed in a Victorian home. Heritagebattlecreek.org.
Friday-Saturday, July 13-14, Ypsilanti
Long live the King! Dig up your poodle skirt and grease up your pompadour and join in a grand Elvis celebration. Eleven award-winning Elvis tribute artists will shake things up and get crowds screaming in Ypsilanti’s Historic Depot Town, plus visit booths offering memorabilia and festival gear, a candlelight vigil commemorating the 33rd anniversary of Elvis’ death, a Classic Car Show (Elvis loved them!) and plenty of kids events. mielvisfest.org.
While you’re there: Just a 30-minute drive from Ypsilanti, Chelsea is a wholesome, tight-knit community, home to both Jeff Daniels and Jiffy Mix. The former, of course, is the founder of the Purple Rose Theatre Company, a professional nonprofit dedicated to providing a creative home for Midwestern artists and featuring Ernest Thompson’s On Golden Pond June 21 through Sept. 1. purplerosetheatre.org.
Friday-Sunday, Aug. 10-19, Caseville
Key West is more than 1,600 miles from Caseville, Mich., but you’d never know it come mid-August when this Lake Huron beach town summons its
inner Jimmy Buffet and serves up a 10-day tribute to summer fun, music and the almighty cheeseburger. The burger blowout started in 1999 and has since developed into an immensely popular late-summer, family-friendly celebration, offering games for kids and adults, a Parade of Fools, concerts, a beach volleyball tournament and cheeseburgers galore. Be sure to enter the sandcastle sculpture contest — but mind your flip-flops and watch out for pop-tops! casevillechamber.net.
While you’re there: Just 18 miles up M-25 is the town of Port Austin, a picturesque lakeside destination at the tip of Michigan’s thumb, brimming with beaches, parks and recreational areas, and year-round cultural activities. Spend an afternoon exploring three miles of beaches and sand dunes at Port Crescent State Park, take in the feel of a once-thriving logging town at Huron City Museums, book a fishing charter, check out historic Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse or pick up some farm-fresh produce at the Port Austin Farmer’s Market. It’s an ideal side trip or worth the drive all on its own. portaustinarea.com.