By Dianna Stampfler
Midwestern hospitality, history, and culture are found at every turn throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region – encompassing three counties (Bay, Midland, and Saginaw) and six communities (Bay City, Midland, Saginaw, Chesaning, Frankenmuth, and Birch Run).
Combined Population: 376,033 (2020 census)
Transportation: MBS International Airport in Freeland provides daily service for the Great Lakes Bay area to Detroit via Delta and O’Hare International in Chicago aboard United Airlines. Other regional commercial airports within a 90-mile drive include Bishop International Airport in Flint, Capital City Airport in Lansing, Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, and Detroit Metro in Detroit.
Vibe: “Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region offers a laid-back and relaxed vibe that perfectly complements its stunning natural beauty. With its charming small towns, vibrant cities, and picturesque waterfronts, the region invites visitors to unwind, explore outdoor adventures, and indulge in local cuisine and culture,” says Annette Rummel, CEO for Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Regional CVB. “Whether strolling along the beaches, exploring art galleries, or enjoying outdoor activities, the Great Lakes Bay Region exudes a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. See for yourself by visiting GoGreat.com”
Hotels: From historic inns, quaint bed-and-breakfasts, hotels and resorts, the Great Lakes Bay Region consists of about 5,000 total guest rooms, many with accompanying meeting space, on-site dining, and other unique amenities.
A major expansion of the family entertainment spaces is underway in the lower level of the Bavarian Inn Lodge in downtown Frankenmuth. When unveiled in the fall of 2024, it will be Michigan’s largest indoor water park with more than 140,000 square feet including slides, a wave pool and an adult swim up bar. The property also features 360 European-themed guest rooms, dining facilities, two lounges, arcade, and 15,000-square-feet of meeting space.
Located along the Saginaw River in downtown Bay City, the 150-room DoubleTree by Hilton Bay City-Riverfront can handle groups of up to 550 with 14 meeting room configurations (17,000-square-feet in all), including a 7,630-square-foot Grand Ballroom. This full-service property also includes the Riverfront Grill and Lounge, on-site market and more, all within walking distance of the newly developed uptown area.
The H Hotel, a Dolce by Wyndham graces downtown Midland, delivering an upscale boutique feel. This AAA Four Diamond property (2013-2023) offers 103 guest rooms and suites, 12 meeting rooms (10,000-square feet, accommodating 270), on-site dining, and special small group events including wine tastings and iron chef competitions.
Venues: From large spaces like the Great Hall Banquet & Conference Center in Midland, Horizons Conference Center in Saginaw, and Dow Event Center in Midland to intimate facilities like Fishers Hall inside the Frankenmuth Historical Museum or the Pere Marquette Depot in Bay City, the Great Lakes Bay Region can accommodate all types of conferences, retreats, and events. Saginaw boasts distinct cultural event centers like Saginaw Art Museum, Andersen Enrichment Center, or Temple Theatre, and nearby The State Theatre in Bay City or Midland Center for the Arts also offer an artistic flair. Spaces like Apple Mountain Resort & Conference Center or Back Orchard Barn, both in Freeland, and The Golden Glow Ballroom, southwest of Saginaw, offer a rural event experience.
Restaurants: Experience farm-to-table cuisine at Aster, where the locally sourced seasonal menu is delicately crafted by former Chicago chef and Midland native, Evan Sumrell. Prost! Wine Bar & Charcuterie in downtown Frankenmuth and now also in Bay City, specializes in just what its name implies, served alongside accompaniments like onion jam, cornichons, specialty mustard and olives. Live music is also hosted on select nights. Located in the historic Graebner Building in Old Town Saginaw, Artisan Urban Bistro features a fine dining experience in an intimate, casual setting. Owner and chef Lonnie Paser uses local ingredients to curate her mouth-watering entrees (including Wednesday evening’s “Unlimited Grateful Pasta” which benefits local non-profit organizations.
The Great Lakes Bay Region is also home to more than a dozen wineries, breweries, and distilleries, along with an impressive array of pubs, tap rooms and cocktail bars. Among the longest operating establishment is Frankenmuth Brewery which was originally founded in 1862 and still serves up fine German beer and cuisine. Groups of up to 300 can be hosted in the “River View” room overlooking the Cass River, while the “Hops Room” provides a smaller space for receptions and social gatherings.
Must-Sees and Must-Dos: The highlight of Midland’s Whiting Forest is the 1,400-foot long, 40-foot high elevated “Canopy Walk” – touted as the longest elevated pathway in the country. Admission is tied to the 110-acre Dow Gardens, both of which are open year-round. The Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum in Bay City offers self-guided tours of the USS Edson, the only surface warship in the Midwest, between March and December, while the Michigan Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth serves as the only museum devoted exclusively to the personal wartime and in-space experiences of service men and women from Michigan. Housed in Saginaw’s original 1898 French Renaissance Revival style post office, Castle Museum features three floors of history including the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame and a permanent exhibit on Pulitzer Prize winning poet Theodore Roethke, whose former Saginaw home is also open for tours. Other noted attractions worth checking out include the Alden B. Dow Home & Studio and Chippewa Nature Center, both in Midland; Birch Run Premium Outlets (the largest shopping complex of its kind in the Midwest); and Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland (the world’s largest Christmas Store) in Frankenmuth.
How the CVB Helps: Representing a three-county area and formally organized in 2011, the Great Lakes Bay Region CVB is a collaborative leader for tourism related businesses, focused on marketing, promotion, leisure and business travel, and legislative efforts which benefit the hospitality industry and regional commerce.