Rising from the waters of Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas sits an iconic destination suspended in time. Mackinac Island, spanning 4.35 square miles with a year-round population of fewer than 600 people, honors its heritage by banning motor vehicles and preserving its quaint Victorian downtown.
High season is May through October and brings troves of visitors from around the world. With its eclectic shops, historic sites, and natural beauty, the island presents the perfect spot to host a one-of-a-kind event.
Half the fun is getting there—with 90% of visitors taking the 20-minute ferry ride to get to the island.
Upon arrival, there are three options: walk, rent a bicycle, or reserve a horse-led taxi. “Transportation is one of our unique selling propositions,” says Tim Hygh, executive director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. “It’s quite fun.”
When it comes to meetings, Mackinac Island is a scene-changer. As water laps against the shoreline and the breeze blows in off the lake, you’ll see bicycles and pedestrians everywhere, hear the clop of horse hooves on the streets, and take in the smell of fragrant and buttery fudge wafting from shop doors.
“It’s nothing like where you work on a daily basis or meet anywhere else,” Hygh says. “If your goal is to have a getaway, to think clearly and differently than in a normal day-to-day routine, that island vibe is why we get so many meetings and conventions and why so many companies come back after they meet here once.”
You won’t find big brand-name hotels on Mackinac. In lieu of Marriotts or Hiltons, there’s a diverse mix of resorts, inns, and bed-and-breakfasts. Two standouts for meetings and events are the Grand Hotel with its huge porch and colorful, Old World charm, and Mission Point Resort with its beachy aesthetic and sprawling green space dotted with lawn games and Adirondack chairs. The two hotels offer a combined 100,000 square feet of meeting space.
The artsy Watercolor Cafe has a 300-square-foot room for small groups. The Station 256 Conference Room above the Mackinac Island State Park Visitors Center, housed in a former U.S. Coast Guard Station, features views of the harbor, down- town, Marquette Park, and Fort Mackinac.
Event-goers will find farm-to-ferry meals at Mission Point Resort’s Chianti and the Grand Hotel’s Main Dining Room overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. Start your day with flapjacks at the Chuckwagon, a long-time local favorite. Have lunch under a pink umbrella at the Pink Pony or perched at the island’s highest lookout, the Fort Mackinac Tea Room. For dinner, make a reservation at the Woods Restaurant, nestled in the forest. Wherever you go, keep an eye out for smoked whitefish dip, an island specialty served at several establishments.
MUST-SEES AND -DOS
Mackinac offers no shortage of entertainment. And according to Hygh, there are three things to prioritize during a stay: “You have to do something horse- related, that’s what we’re known for. You should probably ride a bike—when was the last time you rode a bike? And you’ve got to buy some fudge and take some home for your family.”