Today’s post is about my hometown of Lansing, Michigan. Lansing is a medium-sized city located in mid-Michigan and is also the capital of that state. It was once one of the centers of the automotive industry; current major industries include manufacturing, education, and of course government.
When people ask me what to visit in Lansing the first thing that springs to mind is the capitol building itself. The capitol is a historic landmark full of ornate furnishings and state history as well as the center of the Michigan state government. As a public building, it is open to everybody to simply go inside and walk around. There is a self-guided tour which does a good job of pointing out some of the interesting quirks of the building as well as explaining how the government works, and tour guides are also sometimes available. It is also possible to observe both the Senate and the House of Representatives while they are in session.
The capitol is located in downtown Lansing. The area around the capitol is full of bars, restaurants, and shops but somehow it’s not a particularly interesting area… despite the fact that there are a lot of businesses there, in general it seems rather tacky to me. In order to get a feeling for the ‘real’ Lansing it’s necessary to walk East along Michigan Avenue where you will cross the river before passing the Lansing Lugnuts baseball stadium and finally entering what might be described as the ‘heart’ of Lansing-an area with many little local bars and restaurants.
This part of Lansing is definitely a working class area so if you’re looking for a more cultured experience, a more interesting place to go is Old Town, which is located northwest of downtown. In fact Old Town was once the center of business of Lansing and has now been revitalized into a trendy area full of art galleries and quirky little shops. Some of these are very interesting-my favorites are Scoops Ice Cream, located in a historic filling station (the ice cream is from the MSU dairy store and it’s pretty good, but what really makes the place is the historic building), and Bradly’s Home and Garden, a tasteful and modern home furnishings/art/jewelry store.
There are a couple of other attractions in the Old Town area including the Brenke Fish Ladder, which is a very cool place to visit not only because you might see some salmon jumping up the river but because it is part of the Lansing River Trail, which is probably one of the jewels of the town. The river trail runs through all of Lansing from Old Town east to the Michigan State University campus, with another branch heading south from Potter Park Zoo to Hawk Island County Park. The river trail is popular with cyclists and walkers as a recreation trail and is a good commuting route as well.
Part of the river trail is quite urban, particularly where it follows the river back through downtown Lansing. Here, the river passes quite close to Lansing City Market, which is apparently the oldest continuously-operated indoor farmer’s market in the United States, but which currently contains mostly touristic shops selling clothing and the like.
On the other hand something which you can do here which is very cool is to rent a canoe or kayak from River Town Adventures, who will take you up the river and let you paddle back down at your leisure. I once rented a canoe from them and they dropped me at Michigan State University, which allowed me to paddle through the natural part of the river found east of Lansing where I was able to observe a lot of wildlife such as kingfishers and bald eagles within a stone’s throw of downtown Lansing.
There are some interesting buildings in Lansing as well but after the capitol the most striking has got to be the old Board of Water and Light building (Ottawa Street Station), which is currently owned by an insurance company. Although I think that much of downtown is quite touristy, it is worth walking around and taking a look at some of the old architecture-other neat buildings include the old churches near the capitol and the Capital Bank Tower.
You wouldn’t think it, but mid-Michigan is a center of independent live theater. There are many theaters in the region such as the Riverwalk theater in downtown Lansing as well as even smaller community theaters such as the Williamston Theater located in the small village of Williamston, east of Lansing. The shows put on at these theaters are usually of excellent quality, but if you are looking for something more like a broadway show there is also the very good Wharton Center on the Michigan State University campus.
Speaking of Michigan State University, it’s impossible to talk about Lansing without talking about MSU, even though it is mostly located in East Lansing. MSU is the first land-grant university and is also one of the largest universities in the country with over 50,000 students. The university feels like a city and the campus is a tourist attraction in and of itself. There are many historic buildings here and due to its age and the presence of many large trees parts of the campus feel like a giant park. Attractions located on campus include the free and very beautiful W. J. Beal Botanic Garden as well as the Planetarium, which puts on shows open to the public on weekends. There are quite a lot of bars and restaurants on campus as well.
The last thing I want to mention about Lansing is the ease of access to nature and the outdoors. I have already discussed the river trail which is accessible from anywhere within the city, but there are a lot of parks in the area as well, some of which are quite big. One of my favorite parks is the Fenner Nature Center, which is a haven for birds, deer, and other wildlife within the city limits. The Fenner Nature Center is located in an interesting part of the city south of downtown, close to several large cemeteries, two woodland park, Hawk Island County Park, and Potter Park Zoo. I have never been to the zoo itself but I love this entire area because it is so green and natural, and it is highly accessible because everything here is connected as part of the Lansing River Trail.
I think that Lansing is a pretty nice little town and well worth a visit if you are in the area. The places I have mentioned in this post are some of the things I enjoy about Lansing but there is a lot more here as well. In particular there are quite a lot of museums in Lansing which I have not talked about because I have not had the chance to explore most of them myself. Lansing may not have as many attractions as a big city like Chicago but it’s still got some culture, some interesting historic districts and buildings, and best of all the river trail has a lot of potential for recreation, nature observation, and outdoor activities right in the heart of the city.