Lansing, Michigan: Explore the Capital City’s Unexpected Attractions

By Idoia Gkikas September 27, 2023
Two brown craft cocktails on the bar with mint sprigs.

Colorful local history, quirky culture and artisanal dining in Michigan’s capital city

At the heart of the Michigan peninsula, conveniently located between Grand Rapids and Detroit, is the capital city of Lansing. At once historic and modern, urban and quaint, Lansing has a distinct vibe that can be felt in its diverse attractions and hidden gems. Must-sees include the sophisticated Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum and downtown’s stunning State Capitol Building – but don’t forget to branch out and enjoy the funky arts scene in Old Town, craft cocktails at a local distillery, coffee in historic REO Town and a little bit of outdoor adventure along the Grand River.

Street Art and Creative Dining in Old Town

The heart of Lansing, the Old Town district dates to the city’s founding days of the mid-1800s. Over the past three decades, dedicated citizens have revitalized this historic center. You’ll find colorful storefronts in the century-old buildings, elevating the best of Lansing’s creative and unique vendors – from tattoo artists and art galleries to pubs and restaurants. Every other month, the Arts Night Out event springs to life with music, dance, pop-up theater and public art. When hunger strikes, grab a bite to eat from Punk Taco, offering traditional and modern flavors in combinations such as mojo pork with carrot-mint salad and smoked cauliflower tacos. Bonus: The tortillas are handmade. Walk off your meal while enjoying views of the Grand River along the Lansing River Trail, a 21-kilometer path connecting parks, attractions and activity hubs along the riverfront.

Lansing’s Cocktail Scene at American Fifth Spirits

Craft distilleries are on the rise throughout the USA, and Lansing’s first distillery is one of the most distinguished. Located just around the corner from the home stadium of the minor-league baseball team, the Lansing Lugnuts, American Fifth Spirits serves award-winning bourbon, gin, vodka and whiskey made with Michigan-sourced ingredients. Due to state laws, the distillery can only serve its own liquors, meaning every last drop of your cocktail is crafted in-house. The cocktail menu changes monthly to reflect seasonal ingredients as well as the bartenders’ creativity. Order a plate of artisanal cheese or popcorn from the snack menu to accompany your beverage. American Fifth Spirits hosts behind-the-scenes distillery tours and craft cocktail classes to hone your own bartending skills.

Sightseeing in REO Town

Discover Lansing’s up-and-coming neighborhood of REO Town, named after automobile magnate Ransom Eli Olds – founder of Oldsmobile and the REO Motor Company. At the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, see priceless and exquisitely restored cars, including the curved-dash Olds that predates the Ford Model T. Start the day with a cup of perfectly roasted coffee and a homemade muffin from Blue Owl Coffee, a Lansing favorite for breakfast drinks, as well as local music and art. Let the caffeine fuel a kayaking trip on the Grand River. Rent a kayak from River Town Adventures and take a sightseeing tour of Lansing’s top waterfront sights, including Rotary Park, Potter Park Zoo and the State Capitol. The outfitter also offers bike rentals and river cruises on a steamboat.

Getting There

The Capital Region International Airport (LAN) offers several international and domestic flights. For more destinations, fly in to Gerald R. Ford International (GRR) in Grand Rapids or Detroit Metropolitan (DTW), both a little over an hour away. Pick up a rental car to explore the city, or hop on the free Grab & Go Trolley between downtown and Old Town Lansing.