Winter wanderlust in the mitten


Taylor Stinson

Travel funds can help students prepare for road trips or getaways as the next break approaches.

With the semester in full swing, daydreams of lounging on a warm, sandy beach begin creeping in.

While a tropical getaway may be out of the question this spring break, don’t get discouraged — there are tons of inexpensive things to do right here in Michigan.

A trip to one of these cities will feel like an escape, even if you don’t leave the mitten.

Grand Rapids

With over 60 craft breweries within an hour from downtown, this place is known as Beer City, USA, according to

Feb. 15 begins the month long event Cool Brews Hot Eats, during which restaurants will offer food-and-beer pairing specials. Oakland University’s winter recess officially begins at 10 p.m. on Feb. 18, which happens to be the first weekend of this event.

There are also many free beer tours and inexpensive wine tastings at different joints.

And the deliciousness doesn’t stop there.

Thrillist named Grand Rapids Michigan’s best food city of 2016 because it has made a big impact on the state with its vast variety of restaurants.

Then, there’s its rich art culture. Admire the work of local artists at galleries or visit one of many art institutions.

Options include the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which has free general admission all day on Tuesdays, as well as Thursdays from 5-9 p.m. Admission comes with a free guided tour, according to the museum’s website.

Currently, there is also a landmark exhibit displaying the work of the influential Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The complex is one of the world’s 100 most-visited art museums, according to

Another deal is at the Arts & Carafes Studio, which has open paint from 12:30-5 p.m. from Tuesdays through Fridays. For $10, a guest gets a 10-inch-by-10-inch canvas to create whatever he or she wants.

Or just bundle up and explore the murals and sculptures tucked in corners throughout the city.

Save some time for shopping in downtown stores, boutiques and malls.

Complete the trip by taking in the winter scenery on cross-country ski trails, or enjoy the fresh air while ice skating on Rosa Parks Circle, which is $1 for those 17 and under and $2 for those 18 and up.

Traverse City

First off, this spot has winter sports galore, with indoor and outdoor ice skating rinks, as well as skiing and snowboarding.

One specific event is Snowshoes, Vines & Wines!, held Saturdays and Sundays at Black Star Farms. After roaming the trails, enjoy mulled wine, hot chocolate or a bowl of chili on the Terrace Patio. In addition, guests can purchase wines, ciders and spirits.

For thrill-seekers, there are over 100 miles of trails for exciting snowmobile rides.

“Tubing at the ski hills is something to do with friends that is really fun, accessible and affordable,” said Trevor Tkach, president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism.

The highest hill can be found at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with the famous 260-foot Dune Climb, according to

For the 21-and-up crowd, the city’s location near the 45th parallel makes it great for wine production, according to There are over 30 well-known wineries to check out.

Beer-lovers aren’t excluded, as the city boasts many distilleries, breweries and taprooms.

Of course, the downtown stretch has tons of stores and restaurants, as well as museums, theaters, spas and casinos.

Tkach believes the city is ideal for students, as prices are reasonable in February.

“ even has some special True Escape packages that will give you deals on lodging, dining, entertainment, shopping and more,” he said.

There are certain events going on during Oakland’s break, such as A Whole Brunch of Art on Feb. 18. A $35 ticket includes Scandinavian-themed food, two cocktails, live music and artist demonstrations. The event encompasses the “Hygge: A Winter’s Glow” Art Exhibit, which runs through Feb. 25. This free multimedia art exhibit pays tribute to the different ways people find happiness during these chilly months, according to

Visitors can cheer on those competing in the ICE CUBE – Winter Sports Team Relay on Feb. 25 or the ICEBERG – First Winter Sports Triathlon on Feb. 26. Details can be found at


Although this quaint town is a little over an hour away from OU, its charm transports visitors to old-world Germany.

Of course, one go-to is filling up at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, famous for its family-style chicken dinners.

As of now, it is the country’s largest family restaurant, with seating for almost 1,500 guests at a time, according to

While traveling in that direction, hit the Birch Run Premium Outlets to score some deals. Then, in Frankenmuth, take a stroll through downtown’s Main Street and browse its characteristic boutiques, or the more than 40 stores at River Place Shops.

For those not ready to give up the holiday cheer, visit Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It’s the largest Christmas store in the world, according to

“There’s so much to do here, and a little something for everyone,” said Elaine Smith from the Frankenmuth Visitor and Welcome Center. “A lot of people especially rave about our museums.”

History buffs can get their fix at stops like the Lager Mill Brewing Museum. Admission is only $1 for students and includes entry to the Frankenmuth Historical Museum.

There’s also Michigan’s Military and Space Heroes Museum, which focuses on wartime experiences of men and women from the state of Michigan. College students get in for $5.

And make some time to relax.

De-stress from the hectic semester at Serendipity Day Spa, which offers services like manicures, massages and body treatments. Or get cozy and take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city’s pleasant streets.

For some cheap booze-filled fun, there are many options.

Visit the Wine Garden Tasting Room at the Frankenmuth FunShips to enjoy samples of Michigan wine and handmade chocolate. The pairing costs $5, or $3 for just chocolate, according to

In addition to $5 wine tasting at St. Julian Winery, Michigan’s oldest wine company, there is also free tasting of Michigan spirits at the Grand Traverse Distillery.

Ann Arbor

This place has more than just the average college-town bars and spirit-gear stores.

Meander down Main Street and check out the plethora of shops, bookstores and art galleries. And if you’re a fan of cherries, be sure to stop by Cherry Republic and load up on free samples of abundant Michigan products.

Then, make the difficult decision of where to dine. Of the options is Frita Batidos, offering one of the 10 best hamburgers in America, according to USA Today.

In the evening, catch a stand-up act at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase.

Nationally-touring comic Shane Torres will be there Feb. 16-18, and Bil Dwyer will be there Feb. 23-25, with tickets as low as $9. Or check out local performers and open-mic nights during the week.

Looking for a novel experience?

Hang out at the cat café, Tiny Lions, and sip coffee while making some furry friends.

There’s even Yoga with Cats on Sunday mornings for $10. Those 18 and older can also snuggle during a movie at the event Big Cat’s Night Out on Feb. 18. A $15 ticket includes two alcoholic drinks and popcorn.

Or you can go to Ann Arbor’s historic Michigan Theater to watch a movie like never before. First opened in 1928, its historic auditorium and screening room now play a variety of films, from contemporary to classics and silent-era films, according to the theater’s website.

To keep the brain sharp, check out the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, or one of three escape room companies.

For some exercise, purchase a public skating pass at the Yost Ice Arena to use during designated hours.

Or you can throw on some layers and explore the trails at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. To warm up, stop in the conservatory to view different plants from all around the world.

Mackinaw City

One may only think of Mackinaw City as a summer destination.

However, experience an entirely different side of the area during the winter months.

Mackinaw Crossings is open, with attractions like the Courtyard Cinema. And while many stores are closed, some open at various times or even on request, according to

Then, although service is limited, take a ferry or winter taxi to Mackinac Island. This cozy, secluded spot is perfect for those looking to escape the chaos of life, slow down and relax with friends.

Take advantage of the winter wonderland — there are plenty of cross-country ski trails to explore, as forest covers 80 percent of the island, according to

In fact, the entire east half of the island is reserved for cross-country skiing and is one of the best places for the activity in the country, according to

Trek past Fort Mackinac and make it to Fort Holmes, the highest point on the island, then to Arch Rock and take in the view of Lake Huron.

Or go old-school — not many can say they’ve gone snowshoeing surrounded by snow-covered cedar trees.

And while many restaurants are closed in the winter, there are still some options. This includes the Grand Hotel’s new restaurant Cawthorne’s Village Inn, as well as the Mustang Lounge that offers live entertainment.

Doud’s Market, the oldest grocery store in America, according to its website, is also open year-round. Stop by to stock up on goodies and spend a warm evening in.

One annual event that falls during Oakland’s break is the Great Turtle Chili Cook Off on Feb. 18. Held at Cawthorne’s Village Inn, home cooks and professional chefs compete for first through third place, according to the website.  For a small price, grab a score card and sample some chili made from scratch.

It doesn’t get more up-north than that.