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Features

Explore some hidden gems along Michigan's Thumb coast

The Art Barn in Port Austin.

The Elk Street Brewery in Sandusky

Ice cream is a crowd favorite in Grindstone City.

Point Aux Barques Lighthouse

Dunes in Port Austin



Michigan’s Thumb covers 150 miles of shoreline. The area gets less glory than some other areas of the Mitten State, but it’s no less impressive. Here are some hidden gems as well as some well-known attractions that live up to their reputation, all within a couple of hours from Port Huron. You can easily hit up a few of these in one day.

Port Huron: A starting point

Even if you live inside the city limits, you might not usually take the time to appreciate what makes Port Huron unique.

Blue Water River Walk

In most cities, you can’t watch the freighters go by and marvel at the international commerce in action right in front of you. The Blue Water River Walk, along the St. Clair River’s restored shoreline, is a good place to do that. It runs 4,300 feet along the river and hooks up with the Bridge to Bay Trail.

Huron area history

The Port Huron Museum tells the Lake Huron region’s history, and its sites include the Carnegie Center; Fort Gratiot Lighthouse; Thomas Edison Depot, where Edison worked as a news reporter; and the Huron Lightship. The lightship functioned as a floating lighthouse, and it was the last lightship operating on the Great Lakes when it was retired in 1970.

Something new for dinner

Try a dish prepared by an up-and-coming chef at Courses, the student-run restaurant of the Culinary Institute of Michigan, at the foot of the Blue Water Bridge. The restaurant and the culinary institute are making waves in the community.


St. Clair

Boardwalk and sculpture tour

St. Clair boasts the world’s longest freshwater boardwalk, and because of a sandbar in the middle of the river, the freighters pass almost close enough to the boardwalk for you to reach out and touch them. You can also take a stroll through St. Clair to admire the sculptures situated around the city.


Gagetown

Thumb Octagon Barn

The banker James Purdy had the Thumb Octagon Barn built in 1923 after admiring a similar one he saw while in Iowa. Apparently, no one has been able to find that one, so this octagon-shaped barn may be the only one in the United States. You can appreciate its unique architecture only by standing in the middle of the barn and looking up. It’s now an agricultural museum, and it’s also part of the Thumb Quilt Trail, a network of 65 barns that display large quilt pattern squares.

Port Austin

Dunes at Port Crescent State Park

The modest dunes at Port Crescent State Park cover a pretty, three-mile stretch of coastline along the Saginaw Bay, with a good spot for swimming, and there’s a boardwalk that cuts through the dune grasses.

Ice cream at Grindstone

When the people at the Grindstone General Store say they sell the biggest ice cream cones in the Thumb, they aren’t kidding. The “baby” size is one enormous ball of ice cream; the “kiddie” size is two. Most adults would be unable to finish either. The store has been around since 1886 and is the last existing business from the original Grindstone City, which once produced grindstones that got shipped around the world.

Turnip Rock

Perhaps the Thumb’s most recognizable landmark, Turnip Rock can’t be reached from land. But you can kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or windsurf there.

Public art

The Port Austin area has a few public art installations going on. The “10 Barns in 10 Years” project involves large murals on the sides of barns, including “Walden” (pictured at right) and “American Gothic,” which an art duo called the Hygienic Dress League painted. The Emergency Ark is a huge wood sculpture made from a dilapidated 1890s barn.

 

Port Hope

Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse and museum

The Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse was made of stone from the shore of Lake Huron in 1848. It still serves as an active aid to navigation, ad it’s one of the oldest continuously operating lights on the Great Lakes.

Huron City Museums

Halfway between Port Austin and Port Hope are the Huron City Museums, which tell the history of Huron City as a lumber town in 1854.


Port Sanilac, Carsonville, and Sandusky

Port Sanilac Lighthouse

Built in 1886, the small Port Sanilac Lighthouse is now a private residence, but it still is an active navigation aid. When vessel traffic picked up during the 1860s, ship crews depended on the Fort Gratiot and Pointe Aux Barques lighthouses, but there was a 75-mile gap between them. The Port Sanilac light was built to help fill that gap.

Hi-Way Drive In

In nearby Carsonville, the Hi-Way Drive In is Michigan’s oldest outdoor movie theater. You can take in a movie after hunting for antiques or getting dinner in Sandusky.

Antiques

In downtown Sandusky, Sandusky Antiques is located in 1900 harness shop. Its seven rooms of antiques include glass, pottery, furniture, primitives, and hardware. Denise Kelley Antiques, situated in an antique 1920s Sears and Roebuck mail-order house, includes thousands of antique and vintage items that range from 1870 to 1970.

Elk Street Brewery

You can sample a flight of beers and try some elk dishes at Elk Street Brewery in Sandusky. The brewery uses hops from a Sanilac County hop yard, Barkshanty Hops.

Swinging bridge

The 139-foot-long Croswell Swinging Bridge is purportedly the longest suspension foot bridge in Michigan. A sign at one end of the bridge admonishes you to “be good to your mother-in-law.”

 

Summer Events

This summer, these cities and towns—and their neighbors around the Thumb—are hosting a range of festivals and other special events.

July 14-16: Sandfest

July 21-22: Blue Water Fest, Boat Night, July 21; Bell's Mackinac Boat Race, July 22 Blue Water Fest

July 28-30: St. Clair Riverfest

August 4: Croswell Pioneer Days

August 4-5: Port Sanilac Blues Festival

August 4-5: Bay Port Fish Sandwich Festival

August 5: Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse Festival

August 11-20: Cheeseburger in Caseville Festival

August 13: Antique Boat Show & Vintage Festival in Port Sanilac

September 9 and 10: Fall Family Days at the Octagon Barn

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