10 Things to See and Do in Alpena, Michigan
Alpena is one of the largest cities in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, with a population of more than 10,000. It is a popular summer destination thanks to a wide variety of attractions, with the most notable being the Lake Huron shoreline and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. We’ve put together this list of 10 Things to See and Do in Alpena, Michigan and we hope you enjoy checking out the history, industry, dining, outdoor recreation and maritime attractions in this beautiful “Sunrise Side” city. Given its location on US-23 and M-32, Alpena is a great addition to a trip to Mackinaw City (2 hours north), and it is about a four hour drive from either Detroit or Grand Rapids. Traverse City is 2.5 hours to the west. The 45th Parallel, the line of latitude halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, passes just south of town.
Besser Museum – Celebrating its 50th year of operation in 2016, the Besser Museum is full of exhibits that showcase history, art, and science. Learn about the history of the Lafarge and Besser companies, as well as the lumber industry in the area and Native American history. The Lafarge Fossil Park gives visitors of all ages the chance to dig for and keep fossils. Find out more at: http://www.bessermuseum.org/.
491 Johnson St.
Austin Bros Beer Co – A newer addition in Alpena, Austin Brothers Beer Co has already built a reputation for great beers and good food. We recommend trying the Woody Wheat, a wheat ale with vanilla and hints of orange peel. The food menu includes pizza, sandwiches, soup, and salad. Check out their Facebook page for up to date information.
821 W. Miller St.
Alpena Light – One of Michigan’s most unique lighthouses is this 34 foot tall red sparkplug light at the mouth of the Thunder Bay River. The Alpena Bi-Path provides great views from the breakwater on the opposite side of the river, look for parking east of the intersection of Prentiss St. and Harbor Dr.
NOAA Maritime Museum – The highlight of a visit to this FREE museum is a full-size replica of a wooden Great Lakes schooner that allows visitors to see, hear and feel what it would be like during a storm. There are numerous artifacts and information about the ships that lie at the bottom of Lake Huron, and films are shown daily in the theater.
500 W. Fletcher
Glass Bottom Boat Shipwreck Tours – The waters of Lake Huron just offshore are home to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area filled with more than 200 shipwrecks. This was one of the deadliest stretches of the lake for vessels in the 1800s and 1900s, and visitors are now able to take a two-hour cruise and see some of the well-preserved remains. Depending on weather, you might see the Harvey Bissell, William P. Rend, Shamrock, Monohassett or other shipwrecks. While on board you’ll also see the Alpena Light, World’s Largest Cement Plant, Great Lakes freighters, and the Second Avenue drawbridge. Find out more at: http://www.alpenashipwrecktours.com/.
Get tickets at Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center Museum, 500 W. Fletcher
Parks – There are 20 parks in Alpena, offering just about every kind of outdoor recreation imaginable. Hiking trails, bicycle trails, beautiful scenery, sports fields and courts and more await visitors. Find a full list of parks at http://www.alpena.mi.us/city%20parks.html and be sure to check out favorites like Island Park, Duck Park, Starlite Beach, and Veteran’s Memorial Park.
Paul Bunyan Statue – Michigan is home to a handful of statues of Paul Bunyan, but the campus of Alpena Community College is home to what is possibly the most unique tribute to the legendary lumberjack. Made from Kaiser automobile parts, this colorful tribute stands roughly 30 feet tall and is worth a stop. There are also Bunyan statues to the south in Oscoda and Ossineke, and a stainless steel eagle head by Tom Moran is next door in front of the Besser Museum.
ACC campus, parking lot north of Johnson St. just east of Besser Museum
Worlds Largest Cement Plant – The Michigan historical marker near the intersection of Ford Ave. and Wessel Rd. reads, “Portland cement, so-called because it resembles in color stone from the Isle of Portland in the British Isles, was first produced in the United States in 1871, in Michigan in 1896. Because of Alpena’s location in the midst of immense limestone deposits, the Huron Portland Cement Company, founded at Detroit in 1907, chose this site for its plant. Cement production began here in 1908. Able management and skilled workmen made this the world’s largest cement plant. From Thunder Bay, ships of the Huron fleet deliver cement to all parts of the Great Lakes region.” You can see some of the operation when heading north on Ford Ave. or west on Wessel Rd. A look at satellite images in Google Maps shows just how large the Lafarge complex is. Freighters can often be seen loading here.
JJ’s Steak and Pizza House – This family-friendly food destination is located in the heart of “old town” downtown, and it features an extensive menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Enjoy steak, a pizza buffet, seafood, Mexican and more in a relaxed casual atmosphere. JJ’s is located within walking distance of downtown shopping locations and the Thunder Bay River as well as local parks. Check out the amazing full menu: http://www.jjspizzas.com/home.html.
411 N. 2nd Ave.
Rockport State Park – Established in 2012, this is one of Michigan’s newest state parks. Visitors will find that “the property includes a deep-water protected harbor, an old limestone quarry of approximately 300 acres, a unique series of sinkholes, a dedicated Natural Area (Besser Natural Area), and a broad range of land types, vegetative cover, cultural resources and recreation opportunities.” There is no campground here, but that’s part of what keeps it less busy than other state parks so you can enjoy the mostly unspoiled natural setting.
101750 Rockport Rd.
Special thanks to Brian Blanton, Pauline Peters, and Allison Peters for their help with this post!