Frankenmuth is a city of about 4,838 people in southeastern Michigan, which was originally settled in 1845 by 15 Lutheran Germans who intended to spread the Christian religion to the Native American population in the area. The town today capitalizes on this German background, billing itself as "Michigan's Little Bavaria", and styling its downtown after an idealized image of a 19th-century Germany village. Visitors may find it to be unbearably kitschy, but there's a great sense of fun and an almost theme-park-like feel about the downtown area.
Frankenmuth is situated close to I-75, between Flint and Saginaw. Coming north from Detroit, take exit 136 and travel east on M-54, then north on M-83. Coming south from Mackinaw City, take exit 149 and travel east on M-46, then south on M-83.
You'll need a car to reach the downtown area; fortunately, parking is abundant, even during heavy tourist periods. Most of the main attractions downtown are easily reached by walking, but you might want to pull the car back out to get to some of the more far-flung locations.
Downtown Frankenmuth spans several blocks of shops in Franconian-style buildings, starting from Frankenmuth River Place and the two large hotels, and continuing uphill. It's easily walkable and very pedestrian-friendly. The Cass River runs alongside the downtown area, and there are some very pleasant swathes of grassy tree-dotted hills if you want to take a riverside picnic break.
Military and Space Museum, 1250 Weiss Street, 989-652-8005, . Open weekly until 5 pm, except during January and February. The only museum of its type in the US, including uniform displays for Michigan veterans of six foreign wars and the space program, featuring over 400 exhibits.
Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, 25 Christmas Lane, 989-652-9931, . Frankenmuth is arguably even more well-known for Bronner's than it is for its Bavarian culture. Operating since 1945, Bronner's is the largest store in the world specializing in Christmas merchandise: the buildings alone cover 7.35 acres, with another 27 acres of landscaped grounds. The complex offers over 50,000 trims and gifts, and displays 350 decorated Christmas trees. Open daily year-round, except New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving, and... Christmas.
Frankenmuth River Place, 925 South Main Street, 1-800-600-0105, . Over 34 shops and attractions, including a mirror maze, bumper cars, a laser show at the outdoor amphitheatre, and a paddlewheel boat that runs tours along the Cass River.
One of the main attractions in Frankenmuth is its famous all-you-can-eat chicken dinners, offered at both of its two large downtown restaurants. For $20 per person (as of March 2011), diners are served homemade breads (including stollen), butter, preserves, chicken noodle soup, salad, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered noodles, hot vegetable, and homemade ice cream. The centrepiece, of course, is the mouth-wateringly juicy fried chicken. If you're a non-vegetarian visiting Frankenmuth, don't miss it.
Many other German dishes can be found in town as well, including wienerschnitzel, sauerbraten, and a variety of German sausages.
Other spots to try:
Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, 561 South Main Street, 989-652-6727, . A large cheese shop offering such exotic delicacies as chocolate and strawberry cheese.
Kern's Sausages, 110 West Jefferson Street, 989-652-2684, . Bratwurst, knackwurst, braunschweiger, summer sausage and many other German specialties.
Frankenmuth Brewery, 425 South Main Street, 989-652-6183, . High-quality pub food with a German twist. Over 10 locally craft-brewed lagers and ales, some of them award-winning. $8 (sandwiches) - $20 (pasta and steaks). open as of July 1st 2009 .
Black Forest Brew Haus & Grill, 281 Heinlein Strasse, 800-890-6877, . Pub food including barbecue. Four flagship handcrafted beers, three specialty brews and six seasonal beers. $6 (burgers) - $19 (steaks).
The two major hotels in Frankenmuth are related but distinct entities, each owned by one of the major downtown restaurants and both adjacent to the downtown area:
Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn, 1 Covered Bridge Lane, 1-888-775-6343, . 360 rooms. Features the Bavarian Inn Restaurant ($15.25 - $23.95), a water park with five pools and three whirlpools, 18-hole indoor miniature golf and a children's play village.
Zehnder's, 1365 South Main Street, 1-800-863-7999, . 152 rooms. Home to Zehnder's Restaurant ($15.25 - $21.50), an 18-hole golf course, a waterpark and retail shops.
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