Fun pit-stops (US/CAN) between Rochester, NY & Grand Rapids, MI?
March 24, 2013 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Are there any fun, weird, or tasty roadside attractions on the drive from Rochester, NY to Grand Rapids, MI? We're going through Canada (Hamilton, London, etc.) then crossing back into the US at Sarnia (?) and going through Flint and Lansing. Relevant info:
  • we've got 12 and 9 year old boys
  • we're mainly trying to just get to our destination in one day, but would love some fun stops
  • traveling in early April, so warm weather is not expected

posted by chr1sb0y to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Bronners Christmas horror store right north of Flint. You can get some great kitschy pics with giant santas and snowmen... And a bit south of your route at Lansing would take you to Hell, MI which is another ridiculous place with great photo ops.
posted by phytage at 6:36 AM on March 24, 2013

It's not open until May, but if you ever make this drive in the summer and don't mind a bit of a detour, the Canada Donkey Sanctuary is a lot of fun.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:44 AM on March 24, 2013

Oh, and if you want to do something kind of fun that'll break up the trip and let you stretch your legs for a bit, you might consider using the Marine City-Sombra Ferry across the St. Clair River rather than one of the bridge crossings. I've been both a twelve- and a nine-year-old boy, and I think they'd find it fun.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:48 AM on March 24, 2013

1. Original anchor bar in buffalo
2. Chucks burger bar in Hamilton (totally awesome and cool, and a cupcake store across the street)
3. Hamilton royal botanical gardens
4. Niagara Falls (too obvious?)
5. Wave hello to me as you go by Hamilton to 401 or 6...
6. In mi: Greenfield village
7. In mi: Henry ford museum
8. Frankenmuth Christmas village

Probably easy to spend more than a day making the drive.... numbers 2 6 and 7 are my faves. (and number 5 of course!!)
posted by chasles at 8:36 AM on March 24, 2013

The Henry Ford/Greenfield Village etc. combo is AWESOME, but it's difficult to spend less than a full day at either one, let alone both (which is tempting because the other one is right there). If you can spend the night nearby it would be 100% worth it, but absolutely do not try to cram even one of these into a day with a seven hour drive.
posted by pullayup at 9:53 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're doing this on a Sunday, you might get a chance to stop at the Wills Sainte Claire antique auto museum, in Marysville MI (near Sarnia), the short-lived super-engineered luxury car made by Henry Ford's chief engineer C.H.Wills, in the 1920s after he left the Ford company. [Disclosure: I am related to Wills.] There are lots of little places like this in Michigan where you can learn about lesser-known early cars and their inventors/engineers/entrepreneurs.

In downtown St Clair you can eat at a diner-esque restaurant with a view of the river and watch the big freighters go by.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:12 AM on March 24, 2013

I think that the best stop that you could make in the Hamilton area, since you're probably coming in off the Q.E.W., is Hutch's On The Beach. It's a beachside diner with big windows facing Lake Ontario, and lots of ephemera on the walls. It's not out of your way even a little bit, it's super kid-friendly, and it's comfortable with a lot of seating. If you want to stretch your legs, walk out to the shoreline and see if you can make out Burlington, or if it's a clear day, Toronto.
posted by to recite so charmingly at 10:18 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bronners is insane, but (to me) it got old quickly. I guess it depends on how many hours you enjoy looking at ornaments. But the town of Frankenmuth was a fun diversion. You can at least eat some cheese and sausage.

Totally agree with Henry Ford/Greenfield Village being amazing. It's my favorite museum in the US. It would be easier to do the Henry Ford museum for a shorter amount of time than the village if you stuck to one or two exhibits, but as it's out of the way, I would still only go if you could budget 3-4 hours.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 10:19 AM on March 24, 2013

Impression 5 is an amazing hands-on science museum in the Lansing area.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:49 AM on March 24, 2013

Lansing MI native. The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village are not on either of your routes (94 if you take the tunnel into Detroit, which is a crummy drive both in Detroit and in Windsor, or 69 out of Sarnia) and both are a good full day attraction on their own, so maybe not on this trip. Impression 5 is AWESOME and great for those ages, but it is a good half-day trip. It is right in downtown Lansing, so if you take 69 it would be on the route- maybe on the way home if you don't mind driving the last few hours as the kids sleep. Frankenmuth /Bronners Christmas Wonderland is closer but still a little off your path (like a 30 minute detour). Again, it's more of a "spend a few hours having a sit down meal and shopping destination" than a roadside attraction where you stretch your legs for 20 minutes. Hell is about 45 min south of Lansing and the attraction there is a liquor store with a devil statue in the parking lot; more of a photo op than anything else. And niagara falls is The Worst border crossing; st. Catharines is the best choice.

I have done this drive many times- my sister went to school in Rochester while I lived in MI- there really isn't much good stuff, sorry to be so negative. I would pack up good tunes or audiobooks, pack lunch, and haul ass. Let the kids have something forbidden to occupy them. Also if you have not driven through Canada before, they do highways different- they are a good 20 miles from the nearest town, not through cities and right alongside towns as is the US. They have gas and food oases on the highway every few hundred kilometers, but if you miss those and need food or gas, you'll have to exit and drive a good ways to find a gas station. So stop at every oasis, even if you only need half a tank or just want a little water.
posted by holyrood at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Always consult for good roadtrip dining opportunities.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:25 PM on March 24, 2013

I do this drive fairly often (between western Mass. and GR or Kalamazoo). I do recommend the Lewiston-Queenston crossing, not Niagara Falls, unless you want to see the falls. The Sarnia-Port Huron crossing is usually quick, but I did wait there once for nearly an hour. (More usual is 10-15 minutes.)

The Welland Canal, just east of St. Catharines, might be worth a visit - kids (and many adults) are often fascinating by watching ships go along the canal.

Unfortunately you'll be too early for the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington, Ont. (near Hamilton). Any chance you could hit it on the return trip?

I've never visited the Petrolia Oil Museum, between London and Sarnia, though I've been tempted.

Durand, just off of I-96 between Flint and Lansing, has a railroad museum and historic depot. Again, I've never visited.

That's about all that occurs to me, without straying too far from your route. Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford museum are worth visiting, but you'd need to take I-94 south from Port Huron to get to them, but it would add about 45-60 minutes to the trip, depending on traffic, and they really deserve at least a day, as pullyaup said.

I've had decent food in Port Huron at Fuel Woodfire Grill (on Huron Ave.) and at the Quay Street Brewing Company - nothing fancy, but warm and tasty.
posted by brianogilvie at 3:43 PM on March 24, 2013

FYI, here are the sites for getting the waiting times for border crossings from the US to Canada and from Canada to the US. It's handy to bookmark them.
posted by brianogilvie at 3:45 PM on March 24, 2013

Just saw this and thought I would add it here -- a nice recent article describing a trip to the Wills Ste Claire museum in Marysville MI, and the Atrium Cafe + Ice Cream Parlor and the Port Huron Museum in Port Huron.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:34 PM on March 27, 2013

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