Frankenmuth is a city of about 5,500 people (2019) in southeastern Michigan, which was settled in 1845 by 15 Lutheran Germans who intended to spread the Christian religion to the Native American population in the area. The town today capitalizes on this German background, billing itself as "Michigan's Little Bavaria", and styling its downtown after an idealized image of a 19th-century Germany village. Visitors may find it to be unbearably kitschy, but there's a great sense of fun and an almost theme-park-like feel about the downtown area.
Frankenmuth is situated close to I-75, between Flint and Saginaw. Coming north from Detroit, take exit 136 and travel east on M-54, then north on M-83. Coming south from Mackinaw City, take exit 149 and travel east on M-46, then south on M-83.
You'll need a car to reach the downtown area; fortunately, parking is abundant and free, even during heavy tourist periods. Most of the main attractions downtown are easily reached by walking, but you might want to pull the car back out to get to some of the more far-flung locations.
- Downtown Frankenmuth spans several blocks of shops in Franconian (not Bavarian)-style buildings, starting from Frankenmuth River Place and continuing uphill. It's easily walkable and very pedestrian-friendly. The Cass River runs alongside the downtown area, and there are some very pleasant swathes of grassy tree-dotted hills if you want to take a riverside picnic break.
- Military and Space Museum, 1250 Weiss Street, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Open weekly until 5PM, except during January and February. The only museum of its type in the US, including uniform displays for Michigan veterans of six foreign wars and the space program, featuring over 400 exhibits.
Frankenmuth plays host to several festivals throughout the year:
- Bavarian Festival, early June. Bavarian music, two parades, a midway with rides and games, and of course German food.
- Oktoberfest, mid-September. Bavarian music, Dachshund races, German food and lots of beer.
- Frankenmuth Auto Fest, 495 N. Franklin St. Ste. A., ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Saturday from 10AM to 12:30AM and Sunday from 9AM to 2PM. See show cars cruising main street at the Friday "Big Block" party and over 2,000 show cars on display in Heritage Park. $5 per adult or $10 for a 3-day pass; children 12 and under are free.
- Zehnder's Snow Fest, 730 S Main St, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A weeklong winter festival featuring snow and ice sculptures and a variety of other activities. The international competition is located at Zehnder's Restaurant, the state competition at the Bavarian Inn, and the high school competition at the River Place Shops. Occurs annually the last week of January.
- 1 Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, 25 Christmas Lane, ☏ . Frankenmuth is arguably even more well-known for Bronner's than it is for its Bavarian culture. Operating since 1945, Bronner's is the largest store in the world specializing in Christmas merchandise: the buildings alone cover 7.35 acres, with another 27 acres of landscaped grounds. The complex offers over 50,000 trims and gifts, and displays 350 decorated Christmas trees. Open daily year-round, except New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
- [formerly dead link] Frankenmuth River Place, 925 South Main Street, toll-free: . Over 34 shops and attractions, including a mirror maze, bumper cars, a laser show at the outdoor amphitheatre, and a paddlewheel boat that runs tours along the Cass River.
- Birch Run Premium Outlets, 12240 South Beyer Rd (a few miles west of Frankenmuth, just off I-75 exit 136), ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-9PM, Su 10AM-7PM. Large outdoors shopping mall with over 140 stores, including both outlets and regular retail. Stop by customer service for a coupon book.
One of the main attractions in Frankenmuth is its famous all-you-can-eat chicken dinners, offered at both the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder's, its two largest downtown restaurants. For $25 per person, diners are served all-you-can-eat homemade breads (including stollen), butter, preserves, chicken noodle soup, salad, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered noodles, hot vegetables, and homemade ice cream. The centrepiece, of course, is the mouth-wateringly juicy fried chicken. If you're a non-vegetarian visiting Frankenmuth, don't miss it.
Many other German dishes can be found in town as well, including wienerschnitzel, sauerbraten, and a variety of German sausages.
Other spots to try:
- Z Chef's Cafe (Z's Cafe), 730 S Main St. Located in the basement of Zehnder's Restaurant, Z's Cafe offers the same food at a significantly reduced price. Food is served cafeteria style and does not come with all of the extras available with the full family-style chicken dinner.
- Zehnder's Foodstore & Bakery, 730 S Main St. Located in the basement of Zehnder's Restaurant, Zehnder's Bakery features a wide variety of baked goods (including traditional German goods) along with gourmet foods, cheeses, chocolates, etc. Lots of samples!
- Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, 545 S Main St, ☏ . A large cheese shop offering a huge variety of cheeses, including exotic delicacies as chocolate and strawberry cheese.
- Kern's Sausages, 110 West Jefferson Street, ☏ . Bratwurst, knackwurst, braunschweiger, summer sausage and many other German specialties.
- Frankenmuth Brewery, 425 South Main Street, ☏ . High-quality pub food with a German twist. Over 10 locally craft-brewed lagers and ales, some of them award-winning. $8 (sandwiches) - $20 (pasta and steaks).
- [formerly dead link] Sullivan's Black Forest Brew Haus & Grill, 281 Heinlein Strasse, toll-free: . Pub food including barbecue. Four flagship handcrafted beers, three specialty brews and six seasonal beers. $6 (burgers) - $19 (steaks).
There are multiple hotels in Frankenmuth to choose from, with more only a few miles away in Birch Run.
- Bavarian Inn Lodge, 1 Covered Bridge Lane, toll-free: . 360 rooms. Features three restaurants, a water park with four pools and three whirlpools, 18-hole indoor miniature golf, and a children's play village. (The Bavarian Inn Restaurant is a short walk away across the nearby covered bridge, not in the Lodge.)
- Zehnder's Splash Village, 1365 South Main Street, toll-free: . 178 rooms. Features a 50,000 square foot indoor waterpark and two restaurants.
- Marv Herzog Hotel, 501 South Main Street, toll-free: . 38 rooms. A smaller Bavarian-themed hotel in ths central downtown area, featuring memorabilia of musician and Frankenmuth native Marv Herzog. The hotel offers a German-style bier garten on a large riverside patio.
- Birch Run, about 15 minutes south on M-83. Locally renowned for its abundance of outlet stores.
- Saginaw, about 20 minutes west on I-75.
- Flint, about 30 minutes south on I-75.
- Bay City, about 30 minutes north on M-83.
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