Last week, I gave you a little tour of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland  in Frankenmuth, Michigan. But, as incredible as the world’s largest Christmas store is, that’s not all Michigan’s Little Bavaria has to offer visitors, especially families on vacation.
What began as a quiet farm town in the mid-1850s has since become the state’s most popular tourist attraction, and although some dismiss Frankenmuth  for its commercialized kitsch, this German-style village can be a charming place to spend the day, no matter the season. Home to the largest congregation , east of the Mississippi, of the conservative Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, Frankenmuth is also known as a shopper’s paradise. A two-mile-long stretch of Main Street in the downtown area houses a cornucopia of curious toy stores, fudge emporiums, and other unique boutiques. Some of my favorite places include McClellan’s Frankenmuth Woolen Mill  (570 S. Main St., 989/652-6555, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily), where you can watch the state’s oldest working woolen mill in action; the gift shop inside the Frankenmuth Historical Museum  (613 S. Main St., 989/652-9701, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 10:00 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.), which contains sophisticated crafts and vintage-style toys; the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus  (561 S. Main St., 989/652-6727, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, longer summer hours), which offers delicious free samples; and the Frankenmuth Clock Company  (966 S. Main St., 989/652-2933, 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily), an importer of genuine, ornate Black Forest cuckoo clocks.
Of course, no visit to downtown Frankenmuth would be complete without sampling the all-you-can-eat, family-style chicken dinners available at Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth  (730 S. Main St., 800/863-7999, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily, $15-22) and the Bavarian Inn Restaurant  (713 S. Main St., 989/652-9941, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., $20-23), two vast, historic establishments situated directly across the street from each other. With nine dining rooms and a lower marketplace, Zehnder’s constitutes America’s largest family restaurant. While its chicken dinners (which are admittedly on the bland side) are indeed popular, those who don’t like poultry will find a full-service menu that includes seafood, steaks, and European desserts. As with Zehnder’s, the Bavarian Inn also offers alternatives to its famous chicken dinners, including German specialties like strudel and sauerbraten.
Kids will especially enjoy the hotel counterparts of these two restaurants: Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark  (1365 S. Main St., 800/863-7999, $218-358 d), a whimsically decorated structure that houses a 30,000-square-foot aquatic wonderland, and the Bavarian Inn Lodge  (1 Covered Bridge Ln., 888/775-6343, $105-255 d), a castle-like edifice alongside the Cass River that offers an indoor water park, four tennis courts, an 18-hole miniature golf course, an enormous video arcade, and a play area for children. Both hotels offer complimentary shuttle service to their world-famous restaurants, and Zehnder’s even provides service to its 18-hole Fortress Golf Course  (950 Flint St., 989/652-0460, daily May-Oct., $35-65 w/cart). In addition, if shoppers haven’t gotten their fill on Main Street, there’s always the European-style Frankenmuth River Place  (925 S. Main St., 989/652-9043, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, shorter hours Sept.-June), the community’s only mall, as well as Birch Run, a nearby town that purports to have the largest outlet mall  (12240 S. Beyer Rd., 989/624-6226, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.) in the Midwest.
For more information about Frankenmuth and other family-friendly attractions  of the Great Lakes State, consult the latest edition of Moon Michigan . Tourism offices like the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau  (635 S. Main St., 800/386-8696, hours vary seasonally) are a helpful resource, too.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.