Alpena is situated in northern Michigan, on the shores of Thunder Bay in Lake Huron. It is the largest town in this sparsely populated region. Tourism dominates the summer economy with population numbers swelling. The limestone quarry is an attraction with its bat cave, fossils and limestone formations. The quarry is also the reason why the world's largest cement factory was established in Alpena. A related industry is the manufacture of machinery used to make concrete blocks. Thunder Bay is renowned for its unpredictable weather which has been responsible for over 200 shipwrecks. The area has been declared a marine sanctuary. Restaurants and theatres abound in the town.


1.Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
© Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

The 4300 square mile marine sanctuary is situated in northwest Lake Huron, one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the Great Lakes. Mist, fog, gale force winds, ice and rocky shoals have made shipping hazardous in the area. Coupled with human error, the unpredictable conditions have been responsible for over 200 shipwrecks, involving a variety of vessels. More than 100 have been discovered and, with modern technology, more are being found. The sanctuary is mandated to research, monitor and protect this maritime heritage, along with the many historic buildings on shore, such as lighthouses, lifesaving structures, docks and boats. The sanctuary is open year round.

500 W. Fletcher, Alpena, Michigan 49707, Phone: 989-884-6200

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2.Rockport State Recreation Area

Rockport State Recreation Area
© kitty45/stock.adobe.com


Situated on the shore of Lake Huron, this 4237 acre park has a host of attractions. There is a limestone quarry and formations, fossils, sinkholes, a bat cave and a ghost village. The night sky is ideal for photography as there is no competing light. There are long and short hikes, opportunities for fishing, and shipwrecks close by, ideal for scuba divers. Picnic areas and a boat launch have been provided. A State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources Recreation Passport is required to enter.

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3.Besser Museum

Besser Museum
© Besser Museum

The museum is named after Jesse Besser, an engineer and businessman whose family owned the Alpena Portland Cement Company. Jesse designed machines that make concrete blocks. The museum has 47000 artifacts housed in a 42000 square foot facility, on the 8 acre campus. Art, history and science are the main focus areas. A planetarium and a two-story pendulum are star attractions. Five structures, all more than 100 years old, are on the premises. The 1890s avenue of shops is another highlight. Works of the masters, such as Dali, Renoir, Picasso, Cezanne and Warhol are rotated through the art exhibit. The museum is open 7 days a week.

491 Johnson Street, Alpena, MI 49707, Phone: 989-356-2202

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4.Thunder Bay Theatre

Thunder Bay Theatre
© matusciac/stock.adobe.com


The theatre was started in 1955 by the aptly named, Homer Story, a high school teacher. He directed 11 plays up until his resignation in 1961. The theatre is housed in a century-old building, that was formerly the Candy and Cigar Company and requires constant maintenance. Finances have often been stretched with the cost of conversions and updates but the company has survived. There are six apartments above the theatre that house the professional staff. Productions are offered all year and local amateurs are given opportunities to perform with professionals. There is a vast collection of costumes and props which are loaned to other productions and rented to the public.

400 N. 2nd Ave, Alpena, MI 49707, Phone: 989-354-2267

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5.Thunder Bay Arts Council and Gallery

Thunder Bay Arts Council and Gallery
© Thunder Bay Arts Council and Gallery


The Thunder Bay Arts Council and Gallery promotes visual and performing arts. The gallery exhibits the work of more than 20 visual artists, including young local talent. Each month a different artist is featured. Outdoor events include the annual Art on the Bay which showcases the work of artists, crafters and other vendors. The local Film Society hosts an annual Film Festival and a Summer Series of films as well as concerts and music evenings. Children and students enter free. The facility is closed on Sundays. The Council is committed to the development of the arts and has helped found several other organizations in the region.

127 W Chisholm, Alpena, Michigan 49707, Phone: 989-356-6678 or 989-354-2586

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6.The Center Building

The Center Building
© The Center Building


The Center Building, built in 1903 in Downtown Alpena, was first known as the Daylight Store because of its large storefront windows and many skylights. In 1997 the current owners bought the building and embarked on an extensive renovation and restoration campaign. The building has been brought back to life with the Fresh Palate Restaurant, Thunder Bay Winery and Nucleus Bar on the first floor. Changes made to the frontage in 2014 have made indoor / outdoor dining possible with the addition of sidewalk café seating. Businesses occupy the second floor and Art in the Loft is housed on the third floor. A conference on the lower level can be hired for a daily rate.

109 N. Second Ave, Suite 200, Alpena, MI, Phone: 989-356-6128

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7.Alpena Civic Theatre

Alpena Civic Theatre
© Alpena Civic Theatre

Alpena Civic Theatre, aptly abbreviated ACT, is across the Thunder Bay River from the other theatre that lays claim to Homer Story as its founder. It is a community initiative, run by volunteers. Its home is in a mid-century brick building owned by the city. Several sponsors have enabled the theatre to remain in production since 1964. The most recent refurbishment involved insulating and heating, most welcome in winter. Newcomers are always welcome and auditions are held throughout the year. Season ticket holders can book their seats for the duration of the season.

401 River Street Alpena, MI 49707, Phone: 989-354-3624

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8.Courtyard Ristorante and Old Roost Lounge

Courtyard Ristorante and Old Roost Lounge
© Courtyard Ristorante and Old Roost Lounge

The Courtyard Restaurant serves fresh food, made from scratch and sourced from the finest suppliers in the area. The owners have retained the relaxed, welcoming ambiance that their mentor, and previous owner, established in the early '80s but kicked it up a notch or two. Seafood features prominently on the menu but there are also steaks, burgers, pasta, pizza and Mexican food on offer. Live music happens every Thursday evening. The restaurant is open 7 days a week from 4 pm.

2024 US 23 South, Alpena, Michigan 49707, Phone: 989-356-9511

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9.The Fresh Palate and Nucleus Lounge

The Fresh Palate and Nucleus Lounge
© The Fresh Palate and Nucleus Lounge

Eric Peterson grew up in Michigan and after a circuitous route, gaining experience along the way, returned to open his own restaurant in Alpena. His grandmother instilled in him the love of cooking and baking and now sells her Grandma Goodrich's biscuits at the outlet. The Fresh Palate offers an extensive menu of gourmet foods and a catering service. Items have intriguing names such as Northern Lights, Velvet Hammer and Plain Jane. Craft beers, wines and cocktails are available from the Nucleus Lounge. Patrons can sit down, order take-out or have food delivered within the city limits. A shop on the premises sells branded merchandise. The venue is open 7 days a week, from 9 am until late.

The Center Building, 109 N. 2nd Ave., Alpena, MI 49707, Phone: 989-358-1400

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10.JJ's Steak & Pizza House

JJ's Steak & Pizza House
© JJ's Steak & Pizza House

Father and son, John and Jon Benson, started a small restaurant, with a pass through window, in downtown Alpena in 1993. The restaurant expanded, they added catering services and then a live DJ. Then they bought the building. The menu is large and can be downloaded off the Internet. The tried and tested pizza, steaks, burgers and combos still prove popular. There is a list of over 20 colorful cocktails on offer. JJ's presents a sit-down option, take-outs and delivery. Groups can be accommodated in the private party room.

411 N 2nd Ave,Alpena, MI 49707, Phone: 989-356-1666

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10 Best Things to Do in Alpena, MI