Manistee is an historical lakeside town (population ~6,200), located on the shores of Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Manistee River, in the northwestern lower peninsula of Michigan, about 65 miles southwest of Traverse City. Manistee is also the county seat of Manistee County.
Manistee offers small-town Victorian charm with beautiful beaches, great fishing, and the Manistee National Forest. For vacationers, Manistee does have a lot to offer, but it may be more notable for what it doesn't have: large crowds, high prices, heavy traffic, and tacky tourist traps.
In its late 19th century heyday, Manistee was home to a booming logging industry and had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the United States. After the boom, the people who came to shear the timber -- mostly Swedes and Norwegians -- stayed to develop the "Victorian Port City" and turned to other industries, including the production of salt and paper. Vast brine deposits still make Manistee a primary producer of salt now with three factories on Manistee Lake: Packaging Corporation of America, Morton Salt, and Martin Marietta.
Most visitors to Manistee will arrive by car from US 31 that runs north and south through town or via M-55 that ends just north of town at US 31.
For boaters there is a municipal marina and a deep-draft commercial harbor with easy access from Lake Michigan.
There's also a small airport, Manistee County Blacker Airport (IATA: MBL, ICAO: KMBL, FAA LID: MBL), with scheduled nonstop flights, via PublicCharters operated by Aerodynamics, to and from the Chicago Midway International Airport on a daily basis except for Saturdays.
Manistee is easy to navigate by foot or by auto. The downtown area is bounded on the west by Lake Michigan and on the east by Manistee Lake and bisected from east to west by the Manistee River. The east-west streets are numbered streets south of the river (and River St) and numbered avenues north of the river. The north-south streets south of the river are mainly named after trees, naturally.
US 31 is the main north-south road going through town, and the core of downtown is to the west of US 31 and south of the river.
Manistee Visitor Bureau, 310 First St (on the corner of US 31), ☎ (231) 398-9355; (877) 626-4783, . Mon-Sat 10am-6pm; Sun noon-4pm. One of the first things you should do is to visit the Visitor Bureau and pick up a Visitors Guide, walking tour map, etc. The Visitors Guide is also available online, but the Bureau would have the latest info on what's open and when.edit
You can tour the historic downtown on one of the trolley buses that depart from the Manistee County Transportation Building, 180 Memorial Drive, just north of the Manistee River. The drivers offer some history of the town including the claim that Manistee had more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the U.S. in the late 1800's. The tour passes by some of the old Victorian style homes that housed the lumber barons years ago. Available late June to September. (231) 723-6525.
Ramsdell Theatre, 101 Maple St (corner of First St), ☎ (231) 398-9770; (231) 723-7188, . This opera house was built in 1902-1903 at a cost of over $100,000 by local lawyer, Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell, after two Scandinavian opera houses were destroyed by fire. In 1955, actor James Earl Jones began his career with a portrayal of Shakespeare's Othello in this theater. Today the Ramsdell Theatre is a Michigan Historical Building, owned and operated by the city of Manistee, and home to the Manistee Civic Players and the Manistee Art Institute.edit
Manistee County Historical Museum (inside The A H Lyman Co bldg), 425 River St (near Oak St), ☎ 231 723-5531, . 10am-5pm; closed on Mondays; call to confirm schedule. Museum displays include the Lyman Drug Store (circa 1885), period rooms, and one of the most extensive collections of Victorian antiques and photographs in the State. The museum also includes the nearby WaterWorks Museum.$5 adult; $1 students. edit
WaterWorks Museum, 540 First St (near Tamarack St). noon-4pm, Wed-Sat, July-Aug. The county's first historic museum, this building now houses logging, railroad, and marine exhibits and memorabilia of Manistee from the 19th century.$1. edit
The Riverwalk offers a wonderful way to take in the river and downtown Manistee. It runs along the south side of the Manistee River Channel, behind the buildings on the north side of downtown Manistee, from US 31 all the way to Lake Michigan about a mile and a half altogether. If you're lucky, you'd see a 700-foot lake freighter slowly making its way through the narrow river channel on its way from Lake Michigan to Manistee Lake. You may also access many of the downtown storefronts from the Riverwalk. There are markers every tenth of a mile so you can gauge your distance, and the Riverwalk is handicap accessible.
The City Marina and Triangle has a fountain that provides an anchor to the west end of River Street and the Riverwalk. The Marina provides a beautiful view of the Manistee River Channel and and boat access to Lake Michigan.
The Manistee northpier lighthouse, taken by John Lambrechts
First Street Beach: You can take a nice walk along First St to the beach and walk to the tip of the southpier and view the Northpier Lighthouse. The beach sand is very nice, and on the side of the lighthouse, you can usually see some nice fish since the water is so clear.
Little River Casino, . offers gaming, entertainment, and dining just north of town.
Golf at nearby courses including Manistee National, Arcadia Bluffs, Manistee Golf and Country Club, The Heathlands, and County Highlands.
The S.S. City of Milwaukee, a retired railroad car ferry, in Manistee Lake
Tours of SS City of Milwaukee, 99 Arthur St (US31), Manistee (on Manistee Lake, about half mile north of downtown), ☎ 231 723-3587, . Phone for hours. Guided tours given of this National Historical Landmark, a restored railroad car ferry, at posted time. Self guided at any time during open hours.$7 for guided tours. edit
Manistee National Forest,  Guided tours to view the Kirtland’s warbler are available through the U.S. Forest Service office in Mio from mid May to mid June.
Just north of Manistee is the Michigan Audubon Society Lake Bluff Center, set upon high bluffs that overlook Lake Michigan. Here you can enjoy the wetlands, home to a variety of birds such as hawks and bald eagles. View the giant redwood tree and the colorful lilies, mums and hydrangeas.
Manistee National Forest Festival is Manistee's biggest annual event. It occurs on the first week in July. Enjoy a huge variety of events including a flea market, carnival, entertainment, arts and crafts fair, fireworks over Lake Michigan, and a parade on July 4.
Port City Festival is every year on the weekend after Labor Day. Enjoy the scenic Riverwalk, entertainment, food, antique car show, arts & crafts fair, historic building tours, special exhibits and more.
Victorian Sleigh Bell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend is the first weekend of December. Enjoy an old time Christmas parade and events. The parade has no motor vehicles, everything is pulled with horses. This popular event brings as many as 10,000 visitors to Manistee to experience the wonder of a Christmas gone by. The highlight of the parade is Belgian draft horses pulling 30' Christmas trees down River Street.
Shop downtown on River Street at the many boutique stores, department store, or antique stores.
The Manistee Central Business District is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Historic District Commission reviews changes to all the buildings located in the Historic District to ensure that these treasures are maintained for generations to come.
Local eats include the Tuscan Grille for Italian food, The Glenwood north of Manistee overlooking Portage Lake and River Street Station for good pub grub.
Fast food chain restaurants in Manistee include Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy's, KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and A&W.
Bungalow Inn, 1100 28th St (US 31 South), ☎ (231) 723-8000, . Full service restaurant located in Manistee on US 31 South. The Bungalow Inn has received numerous awards for their food, including Best Breakfast, Best Gourmet Burger, Best Prime Rib, Best Seafood, Best Salads, and Friendliest Service.edit