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Alpena, MI Ultimate Travel Guide

beach in alpena michigan - ultimate guide to alpena mi

Visit Alpena MI: Top Northern Michigan Vacation Destination

Shhhh…we’re going to let you in on a Michigan best-kept travel secret: Alpena, MI, in northeast Michigan.

It’s one of Michigan’s best beach towns, and it’s tucked away on the Lake Huron coastline in a tiny pocket of northeast Michigan in Alpena County. Set on the dramatically scenic and aptly named Thunder Bay, the city of Alpena, MI is an outdoor-lovers paradise and pure Michigan natural beauty.

In addition, Alpena is surrounded by some of Michigan’s prettiest inland lakes, natural harbors, thickly forested natural preserves and the sparkling clear Lake Huron water, too.

Please trust us when we tell you: the city of Alpena is a must on any Michigan vacation bucket list.

Read on to discover EVERYTHING you need to know about planning an Alpena vacation getaway.

Sunset in Alpena Michigan

Why We Love Alpena MI

We love Alpena for its laid back atmosphere: you’ll find a mix of outdoor recreation opportunities with fun shopping and dining, too.

Also, there’s also a lot to explore both inside and outside in Alpena all year-round, from diverse coastlines and forests and lighthouses to downtown shopping areas to explore and museums showcasing the town’s growth.

Alpena is also home to some top-notch museums to visit. These fun spots offer something for all ages, they’re loaded with interesting exhibits showcasing both the rich natural and nautical histories of the area.

Thunder Bay River

You’ll find find miles of meandering rivers in the Alpena area, too. The Thunder Bay River, which starts in nearby Montmorency County, cuts through the city of Alpena and adds to the picturesque town’s allure for water-lovers.

This river provides a lot of things to do in the way of outdoors recreation, too. Beautiful Island Park and Wildlife Sanctuary sits in the middle of the river. It’s not far from the downtown area and offers visitors the opportunity to kayak canoe and paddleboard in the heart of the city.

A visit to Island Park for a hike (and to see the swans) is always one of our first stops when we visit Alpena.

 A hub for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its pretty setting, Alpena offers endless trails for hiking and biking in the warmer months and snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing in the winter months. 

Above all, whatever the season, there’s always something fun to do in in Alpena.

Kayaking in Alpena MI

About Alpena MI

Another keypoint about Alpena: it’s known as the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes.

Located on the sandy shores of Lake Huron, Alpena also has a rich maritime history. You’ll find seven Lake Huron lighthouses in the area; a testament to the Alpena’s role as a hub for nautical commerce.

Surrounded by abundant natural forest, Alpena was once the “Logging Capital of the U.S.,” and it’s location on the water made it easy to ship timber from Alpena around the world.

You can explore the entire are by both land and sea. . In fact, you can even take a glass-bottom boat tour over shipwrecks.

In the downtown area, you’ll find shopping, farmers markets, art galleries and cafes, too, enough to keep you busy during your vacation or getaway.

PRO-TIP: Michigan’s eastern coast, known as the “Sunrise Side,” of the state doesn’t get quite as much attention as its counterparts Lake Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, but it’s not because it lacks merit. From Tawas north along M-23 to Mackinaw City, you’ll find quiet towns dotting the Lake Huron shoreline, with the surrounding area offering endless opportunities for outdoor activities and some fun indoor ones, too.

Beautiful sandy beach in Alpena mi

Exploring Alpena by Land

In terms of unspoiled, natural beauty, Alpena really does have it all.

With a small town feel and the amenities of a much-larger city, Alpena has long been a vacation destination for folks appreciating it’s unassuming vibe.

Sure, there’s a bustling downtown, but there’s also an abundance of inland lakes, thick forests and of course, miles of Lake Huron coastline.

If you see a historical marker on your visit, be sure and check it out. The Alpena community is proud of their rich industrial heritage and their role in supplying wood, cement and heavy machinery to the world.

Alpena Community College provides education opportunities to residents in Alpena Township, Alcona County, and other nearby areas.

Surrounding areas are great places to explore, too: local county parks abound. Alpena County Parks worth checking out include Maple Ridge Township Park is a great spot to hike, fish and bird watch near the Thunder Bay River Rapids.

Shipwreck in Alpena MI

Explore Alpena By Water

Thunder Bay Shipwrecks

Set on an idyllic bay on the sparkling, sandy shores of Lake Huron, there’s good deal to explore in the water, too. Alpena’s Thunder Bay is home to the natural marine sanctuary which features over 100 historically significant shipwrecks dating back to the 19th century.

If you visit, be sure to take a Shipwreck Tour: the crystal clear waters of the bay provide excellent viewing for visitors hoping to get a peek at some amazing underwater artifacts.

How to Get to Alpena, MI

Alpena is easy to reach by car: It’s located along the US-23 highway, which skirts the Lake Huron coastline in northeast Michigan. However, a regional airport, the Alpena County Regional Airport, makes it easy to visit this area by plane as well.

In addition, other options include flying into Michigan airports in Flint, Saginaw or Detroit and then renting an automobile to drive the remained of the trip. Alpena County Regional Airport (APN) provides an airport shuttle to conveniently located hotels near Alpena.

Greyhound buses also provide service to Alpena.

A Lake Huron lighthouse in Alpena

Alpena, MI is known for…

  • Shallow, clear azure waters of Lake Huron that warm quickly under the hot sun
  • Great Lakes shipwrecks in crystal-clear Thunder Bay that you can dive or boat over to explore the ruins
  • Small-town charm that exudes from innovative shops and restaurants set in historic buildings along a bustling main street
  • Never-ending options for nature and outdoor sports enthusiasts: biking, hiking, swimming, birding, fishing, sailing, paddle boarding, canoeing, power boating…the possibilities are endless
  • Seven Great Lakes Lighthouses within a fifty-mile radius
  • Lake Huron and nearby Hubbard Lake, Grand Lake and Log Lake are fun to explore by kayak or canoe
  • Rockport State Recreation area is home to a dark-sky preserve where you can peer into the universe at night

Alpena, MI Weather

Alpena’s weather is typical northern Michigan: cold and snowy in the winter and delightfully warm in the summer. Expect temperatures to range from 70 to 80 F during the day from June-September. During the summer months, mornings and evenings may be cooler, typically lower 70 – 60 F.

best beaches in Alpena - Alpena Michigan travel guide

Alpena Beaches

The beautiful, clear water in Alpena is perfect for spending a day at the beach; boating, fishing, paddle boarding…or just about anything else you can do in or on the water.

For that reason, Alpena has been the chosen vacation destination for visitors going back generations, as evidenced by the many cabins and cottages that dot the shoreline here.

Alpena is proud of its beautiful shoreline, too, and it shows: the beachfront parks are all very clean and well-kept.

You’ll love the beach front park features that include splash pads; children’s playgrounds; very well-kept tennis courts; basketball courts; picnic shelters and more…all of the things that make for a lovely day at the beach.

There’s a wide variety of beaches in the Alpena area. The popular inland lakes (Grand Lake, Long Lake and Hubbard Lake), are known for their sandy bottoms and clear water as well. From wild and hidden, to rugged coastline to groomed, sandy beach, there’s a beach for everyone in Alpena.

Use our Guide to the Alpena Beaches to find detailed descriptions of the best Alpena beaches including: Bay View Park Beach, Blair Street Park, Mich-E-Ke-Wis Park, Negwegon State Park, Ossineke Beach – Sanborn Park, Rockport State Recreation Area, Starlite Beach, Thomson Beach and Thompson’s Harbor State Park.

Downtown Alpena Mi

Downtown Alpena: A Best Michigan Beach Town

Alpena’s downtown area is bustling in the warm summer months when visitors flock to the coffee shops and sidewalk cafes featuring local wines and Michigan craft brews.

You’ll love the overflowing flower baskets and abundant greenery spilling from planters, too.

They line the streets, adding to the quaint and comfortable feeling of the downtown. The gift shops and boutiques, many of which are located in century-old brick buildings, feature both locally-made items.

These grand buildings with brick and stone facades have gorgeous architectural details still in tact. if you’re into architecture, you’ll enjoy seeing these beauties, as well as the lovely old homes that once belonged to the town’s lumber barons.

The leaded-glass windows, inlaid hardwoods and beautifully-detailed architecture of these old homes, all very well-maintained, are really something wonderful. It’s worth a drive off the main roads to see some of these historic beauties.

Chisholm Street (also known as US-23 here) cuts through the center of town, will lead you north to nearby Long Lake, Grand Lake and Presque Isle. Be sure and plan time to explore these pretty Michigan tourist destinations, which are especially lovely in the fall months.

Mich-E-Ke-Wis Park in Alpena MI

Downtown Alpena Shopping

Shopping in downtown Alpena is fun – thanks to the friendly shopkeepers and boutique owners that are just as enthusiastic about meeting you as they are about the fun and funky items in their shops.

The wide sidewalks along the old-fashioned buildings make for a pleasant trip: it’s easy to wander the stores and meander along the streets taking in the wares which range from homemade fudge and ice-cream to home decor items and everything in between.

If you visit Alpena, be sure and stop in these gems:

Bob’s Bullpen
125 N 2nd Ave, Alpena, MI, United States, Michigan

Bob’s is home to northern Michigan’s biggest collection of new and vintage e-comics, graphic novels, posters, cards, toys, clothes, movies, games and more. It’s always fun to stop in to see what’s new in this incredible collection.

The Local Basket Case
 109 W Chisholm St, Alpena, MI 49707

This fun shop features Michigan-made goods and unique Michigan apparel: sweatshirts, T-shirts, caps and even clocks to show the world how much you love Michigan and Michigan’s beautiful beaches!

Blue Bird Boutique
112 Water Street, Alpena, MI 49707

You’ll find unique women’s clothing and accessories at this fun spot, which carries sizes ranging from clothing in sizes xs-3x.  This is always my first stop in Alpena.
Cedar and Threads
133 E Chisholm St, Alpena, MI 49707

This family-owned gift shop in downtown Alpena offers a fun collection of unique gifts, including T-shirts, sweatshirts, and more.

My Glass Wings Stained Glass Studio and Gifts
106 N 2nd Ave, Alpena, MI 49707

You’ll find original stained glass pieces, supplies, classes, and more at this unique shop located in the historic John Rowe Building in downtown Alpena. It’s definitely worth a stop to browse and check out this cool building.

The Rabbit Hole
312 W. Chisholm St.

The Rabbit Hole offers one-of-a kind gifts, specialty teas, original and reprinted art works and more.

Traveling Ladders
102 N. Second Ave.

You can spend hours here shopping the collection of upscale antiques, home décor, and local art in this boutique that features an eclectic mix of goods.

Connie's Cafe in Alpena - Alpena MI Travel Guide

Restaurants in Alpena, MI

Alpena’s Classic Restaurants

Options for both food and beverages are abundant in the Alpena area. The bars and restaurants that have been around for years have built up a following among locals and regular visitors. Diners looking for fast-casual, high-end or something in between won’t be disappointed.

Don’t miss these favorite Alpena restaurants:

Churchill Pointe Inn is swanky, romantic and just about all of the things that make waterfront dining a special experience. Located just outside of Alpena on beautiful Hubbard Lake, Churchill Pointe Inn features a fine dining experience to make your visit to Alpena unforgettable.

Connie’s Cafe is located on US-23 in Ossineke, just outside Alpena. The giant Cinnamon Rolls sell out fast on summer weekends when hungry vacationers grab one for themselves and one to share.

Twin Anchor’s 19th Hole on US-23 North is known far and wide for the perfectly done Root Beer Pulled Pork sandwiches. Slow-cooked sweet and tangy pulled pork doesn’t get much better than this.

More Alpena Restaurants

Newer establishments – both in town and in surrounding areas – are quickly growing a fan following as well, with casual options featuring standby favorites such as burgers and pizza joining upscale eateries.

Be sure and check out these fabulous Alpena dining spots:

Fresh Palate Gourmet Catering and Nucleus Lounge offers dine-in, take out and delivery of fresh and locally-sourced food. The Baked Truffle Fries, with fingerling potatoes and truffle oil, along with the Warren Beet Salad are some of the most inspired food offerings in northern Michigan.

The Hungry Hippie has two locations (one open only in the summer months). The 60’s & 70’s-themed restaurant is a quick and healthy option with delicious bowls, tacos, sandwiches and more. The Chocolate Thunder Smoothie with raw cocoa, banana, dates and almond butter is not-to-be-missed.

Alpena MI restaurants

Alpena Breweries and Wineries

Local wineries and local craft breweries – complete with tasting rooms – and full-service restaurants are also popping up both in downtown Alpena and the surrounding area.

Don’t miss these one-of-a-kind beverage experiences.

Austin Brothers’ Beer Company offers both lunch and dinner dining, and the food compliments the amazing flavors these northeast brewers are cooking up. From the rich Maple Walnut Coffee Porter to the fruity German Pilsner Cherry Bomb, this microbrewery is a destination in itself.

Knaebe’s Twisted Roots Cider and Twisted Roots Tasting Room is north of Alpena in Rogers City. This seasonal restaurant located at the Apple Orchard and guests can enjoy the tart, tasty cider alongside a wood-fired pizza.

Thunder Bay Winery is just south of Alpena in the little town of Ossineke, set along the fertile farmlands of Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay. Here, 12 varieties of grapes are grown and become delicious white, red, fruit, ciders, and dessert wines. The Michigan wine industry is growing quickly, and you’ll understand why once you try it.

Alpena Lighthouse

Things to Do in Alpena, MI

Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan

This Michigan-focused community museum features a full-dome sky theater, rotating art galleries, science education and extensive history exhibits.

Visitors can explore the lumbering and farming history of Northeast Michigan, and visit the Peoples of Lakes and Forest Gallery, which houses a variety of Prehistoric and Native American artifacts unique to this region.

The museum offers an opportunity to find your own piece of history: museum guests can also explore the historic buildings on the Museum’s property and dig for Devonian fossils in the Lafarge Fossil Park and keep the fossils you find.

Don’t leave this spot without trying your hand at fossil hunting.

Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center

One of coolest things about this museum is the full-size replica wooden Great Lakes schooner and shipwreck where visitors can walk the decks, feel a Great Lakes storm, and touch the massive timbers of the boat resting on the lake bottom…without getting wet.

HINT: If you’re prone to sea sickness, you might want to hold off on lunch until after you’ve toured the ship.

Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary

Picturesque Thunder Bay – with its many small islands – is a prime destination for divers from all over the world.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects the waters surrounding the 116 shipwrecks below the surface.

These shipwrecks, victims of an area of the Great Lakes known as “Shipwreck Alley” due to the treacherous conditions caused by huge gales that can quickly whip up in the area, can be explored by divers or by glass-bottom boats.

Alpena Brown Trout Festival

Alpena is home to the “Longest Running Fishing Tournament in the Great Lakes,” also known as The Annual Michigan Brown Trout Festival.

The 10-day festival combines many different fishing tournaments as sportsmen and women vie for Brown Trout, Walleye, Steelhead, Salmon, and Lake Trout.

Celebrations throughout the city, including Family Fun days, local bands and a beer tent all add to a great northern Michigan summer festival.

northern lights in Alpena MI

See the Northern Lights at one of Michigan’s Dark Sky Preserve Parks in Alpena

Some of the most amazing stargazing in the northern hemisphere can be found at one of Alpena’s nearby Michigan Dark Sky Preserve parks. These parks include Rockport State Park Recreation Area, Thompson’s Harbor State Park, and Negwegon State Park.

These parks are now protected from artificial light pollution and provide amazing nighttime views. A visit to a dark sky park offers one of your best chances to spot the Northern Lights in lower peninsula.

If you’re lucky, you might catch a view of a spectacular show of the Aurora Borealis.

Dinosaur Gardens

Did you know Michigan’s own Jurassic Park is located in northeast Michigan along Lake Huron? Take a walk past enormous T-Rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and tons of other giant life-like prehistoric creatures.

Guests can explore the No-Boundaries exhibits to discover what life was like when dinosaurs ruled the world.

Try the walking or guided tours, play putt-putt golf, or even dig for fossils at this fun-for-all-ages stop along US-23.

Paddle over a Shallow Shipwreck

A number of the shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary lie in fairly shallow waters and can be easily accessed via paddleboard or kayak. Many of these are near the Besser Natural Area. You can also take an Alpena Shipwreck Tour to catch a glimpse.

Take the Alpena Area Seven Lighthouse Tour

The Alpena area is home to seven lighthouses – all unique coastal landmarks – within an hour’s journey. The tour is a great opportunity to see come iconic Lake Huron Lighthouses. Take a day and make a stop at each of these majestic landmarks:

  • The Alpena Light- aka Alpena’s “Little Red” Beacon
  • Middle Island Lighthouse
  • New Presque Isle Lighthouse
  • Old Presque Isle Lighthouse
  • 40-Mile Point Lighthouse
  • Sturgeon Point Lighthouse
  • Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse
Alpena MI hotel

Hotels in Alpena MI

Lodgings in Alpena vary, and you’ll find a good mix of hotels in Alpena, as well as comfortable resorts, cabins and resorts with sandy shores and a sunset views.

You might even a private lake house or lakefront home with sandy shores available for rent. Some beach hotels near Thunder Bay offer picnic tables near the beach for the beautiful sunset views.

Pet-Friendly Hotels in Alpena MI

There are many pet-friendly hotels near Alpena. Pay attention to hotel details: many offer a business center, guest laundry, continental breakfast and swimming pool. With the ongoing coronavirus, be sure and check the property’s Covid19 precautions.

Motels and Hotels in Alpena include:

  • Big Bear Lodge
  • Dew Drop Inn
  • Wyndham Hotels Days Inn by Wyndham Alpena – This spot offers an indoor swimming pool wit breakfast included
  • Holiday Inn Express & Suites Alpena – Downtown – Included is a hot breakfast buffet and indoor pool.
  • Ramada by Wyndham Alpena Hotel & Conference Center
  • Waters Edge Motel
  • 40 Winks Motel

Michigan Beach Vacation Rentals

Beach cabin rentals and Lake Huron beach home rentals especially are abundant throughout Alpena and the surrounding area.

Moreover, options for private Michigan beach vacation rentals range from large, sumptuous lakefront homes to smaller, family-friendly beach cabins on or near Lake Huron. Also, many private Alpena beach rentals are listed on sites such as Airbnb; VRBO and Rentalbug.

Two charming resorts worth checking out in Presque Isle County are:

  • Grand Lake Resort
  • Presque isle Resort

Camping in Alpena, MI

There are many beautiful campgrounds in and around Alpena, MI. Campgrounds range from very remote (Negwegon State Park) to campsites such as Thunder Bay R.V. Park & Campground, which features electronic hookups, showers and more. Also, be sure to check out Campers Cove Campgrounds.

Whether it’s a road trip in the fall to see the Michigan’s fall foliage, a winter getaway for a sleigh ride or a summer vacation on the beaches, you’ll want to visit Alpena MI soon.

Still looking for things to do in Alpena, MI? Use our guide to the best things to do in Alpena and start planning your best Michigan getaway.