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By Scott Winters
As a child, one of my family’s favorite places to visit for vacation was the area around the Straits of Mackinac.
My father was one of those travelers that would have the station wagon packed the night before, and we’d get up in the middle of the night so that we could hit the road for “vacation” no later than 5 am. Dad believed in getting from point A to point B in the quickest way possible…with no stops whatsoever (sometimes requesting potty-breaks even became a challenge).
As we traveled to our destination, I remember seeing the signs for the various roadside attractions and wanting to stop in the worst way. Oh, how many times I would see the tourist attractions pass by the car window… and then fade off into the distance as I sat in that far back seat of the station wagon looking at what was behind us. I tried to imagine what I had just missed.
As an adult, I have found myself trying to make up for all those roadside attractions that I missed while growing up. Now, it seems like I stop at just about everyone along the way – which makes getting from point A to point B a much longer process than what it was when traveling with the family. I actually search out cool places to visit and plan my vacation around them. Many of these roadside attractions have become a favorite – and frequent – stop.
Here are a few attractions within an hour of Mackinaw City…
The Giant Hot Dog
Wienerlicious, 102 Central Ave, Mackinaw City
This 60 foot weiner may be the largest hot dog statue in the United States.
Mackinaw Bridge Museum
Above Mama Mia’s Pizza, 231 East Central Ave., Mackinaw City
The museum was created by the restaurant’s owner – J. C. Stilwell. He was one of many iron workers who helped construct the “Mighty Mac” Bridge. The first artifact in the museum was a spinning wheel that was used to pull the wire across the towers to complete the 24-inch main cables. Soon other iron workers from around the country began donating additional items to the museum – documents, photographs, other tools and a diving suit that were used during construction of the Mackinac Bridge.
Lady Liberty on Mackinac Island
7199 Main St., Mackinac Island (approximately 7 miles northeast of Mackinaw City, accessible by ferry)
This 8.5-foot Statue of Liberty replica was originally donated to the Island in 1950 by the Boy Scouts of America. Over 200 of these statues were donated to communities in 39 different states, but this was the only statue given to the State of Michigan. After battling the elements and overlooking the harbor for over 50 years, the statue was restored in 2014
499 N State St, St. Ignace (approximately 8 miles north of Mackinaw City)
This was the place to stop and get souvenirs as a child! I can still remember most of the items I was allowed to purchase over the years…from the little birch bark canoe and teepee to the rubber tomahawk adorned with brightly colored feathers. And the smell of pine still sticks with me from all of the ashtray, toothpick and trinket souvenirs that were made from wood. The building is said to have been built on the exact spot where missionary Father Marquette landed in 1671 to begin saving the souls of the Chippewa and Ottawa Indians.
Wooden Observation Tower
Curio Fair, 1101-1147 U.S. 2, St. Ignace (approximately 9 miles northwest of Mackinaw City)
This is one of the best views of the Mackinac Bridge. I make this stop every time I’m in the area. It costs just a small fee to climb the tower to see a spectacular view of the “Mighty Mac” Bridge.
N916 Martin Lake Rd, St Ignace (approximately 12 miles northwest of Mackinaw City)
The story of Mystery Spot goes back to the early 1950’s. Three surveyors came to the area to explore the Upper Peninsula. They found an area where their surveying equipment just would not work properly. The equipment only seemed to malfunction in an area about 300 feet in diameter…a place they called the “Mystery Spot”. This roadside attraction was one of similar type venues across the country decades ago. Most have closed, but this one still remains. Visitors get a guided tour of the building that was erected on the “Mystery Spot” and witness balls rolling uphill along with other strange gravitational illusions. They have also added a maze, mini golf and zip lines
N2690 Castle Rock Rd, St Ignace (approximately 17 miles north of Mackinaw City)
Another long-standing roadside attraction, this is one that my family actually would get to stop at from time to time. Castle Rock, a limestone sea stack or sea chimney, is 195.8 feet tall. The property was purchased in 1928 by C.C. Eby and opened as a tourist attraction. The same family runs the site today. You can take the walk to the top of Castle Rock for a small fee. The view is spectacular. Statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox sit next to the souvenir store.
Sea Shell City
7075 Levering Rd, Cheboygan (approximately 14 miles south of Mackinaw City)
Located right alongside I-75 in Cheboygan, this tourist attraction intrigued me for many years. My father would never stop for us to see the “Man Eating Clam” or Davy Jones Locker. (It wasn’t until I visited as an adult that I realized it was the pirate Davy Jones and not Davy Jones from “The Monkees”…I always wondered why people would want to stop and see his locker!) If you want any souvenirs made out of shells, you will probably find them at Sea Shell City.
6425 N. Lake Shore Drive (M-119 – “Tunnel of Trees”), Cross Village (approximately 24 miles southwest of Mackinaw City)
This unique restaurant is quite the site to see. It is stone on the outside and hand-crafted wood on the inside. The restaurant has been run by the same family for 90 years and features authentic Polish food and draft beer. The restaurant gets its name from the old stove legs that were used along the roof of the building.
Cross in the Woods
7078 M-68, Indian River (approximately 29 miles south of Mackinaw City)
The Man on the Cross is made of bronze and is 28 feet tall from head to toe. This is the largest crucifix in the world. The sculpture towers above the surrounding trees. The shrine was declared a National Shrine in 2006. There are only 120 National Shrines in the U.S., and only two in Michigan (the other being the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak). There is also a museum of over 500 nun dolls dressed in traditional habits.
The Grotto to the Archangels
Marian Center, 2680 Maxwell Rd, Petoskey (approximately 44 miles southwest of Mackinaw City)
The Grotto is dedicated to the three archangels: Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. The statues are 9-foot- tall and are surrounded by the huge stone structure. The statues serve as a reminder of the constant protection the angels have in our lives.
Giant Metal Heads of George Washington and Gerald R. Ford
Moran Iron Works, 11739 Hwy 33-68, Onaway (approximately 45 miles SE of Mackinaw City)
See giant metal sculptures of the heads of George Washington and Gerald R. Ford. These works of art were created by Tom Moran of Moran Iron Works. He unveiled his Gerald R. Ford sculpture in 2012 and it was entered into the ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids a few years ago. He has also done a large eagle head and a replica of the Statue of Liberty’s torch. (PS…Moran Iron Works built the Miss Margy, the latest ferry to join the Shepler’s fleet last summer).
Happy Travels around our beautiful state. I’ll see you on the Michigan road!
Make Mackinaw City your home base when traveling around northern Michigan in search of these “roadside attractions.” For lodging options, visit www.MackinawCity.com/stay/
Scott Winters has been a radio personality in Grand Rapids for over 25 years. He is currently on 98.7 WFGR weekdays from 3-8 pm. He is also a licensed realtor in the state of Michigan. He maintains his own blog at www.ScottWintersBlog.com.