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I am a massive fan of outdoor adventure and have spent years exploring all over, including time as a full-time RVer and Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. (I’m also a born and bred Michigander!)
Years of adventuring have taught me one fundamental lesson: locals ALWAYS know best.
Locals Know Best Podcast Ep. 010: Frankenmuth, Michigan, Best Known for Chicken and Christmas
This article is a summary of the tenth episode of the Locals Know Best podcast!
Every podcast episode dives into one local’s perfect day of outdoor adventure in their town.
This episode embraces the winter holiday season. Join local insider Jamie and me as we discuss what to do at Frankenmuth, Michigan – one of the United States’ most magical Christmas towns!
There’s just something about this city that awakens the holiday season for me and many others!
We start our day out at one of Frankenmuth’s amazing waterparks, make sure all of our holiday shopping is finished around town, and enjoy a world-famous chicken dinner, all while also taking in all of the town’s holiday feels!
This episode may feel a bit more festive than outdoorsy at times, but don’t worry; at the end, we also discuss how to best spend an outdoorsy summer day in Michigan’s Little Bavaria!
About Jamie Furbush
Jamie is the President & CEO of the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce & Convention and Visitors Bureau. She has been in that role for over 12 years and has worked for the organization for 19 years.
She’s a born and raised Michigander who loves living in Pure Michigan and representing the Michigan travel industry.
Jamie and her husband were engaged and married in Frankenmuth. It’s the only home her family and kids have ever known.
Frankenmuth’s Entrepreneurial Roots. How They Make it an Outstanding Place Not Only to Visit but also to Live.
Jamie starts the episode by pointing out that working and living in the city for so long has shown her that hospitality is an important piece of what people love about the charming community of Frankenmuth and why people continue to come back generation after generation.
That hospitality is rooted in the people who live and run their businesses in the city.
Most of the businesses in Frankenmuth are family-owned and operated. So, it’s a community of entrepreneurs who continue to reinvent themselves, support community causes, and make it great.
It’s a place where neighbors help neighbors and look out for each other. In Frankenmuth, you’re surrounded by people who care about each other.
Jamie appreciates that as a resident and knows that it trickles into the experience that the city visitors have because it’s the area’s culture.
What is Frankenmuth Known for?
Frankenmuth is best known for chicken and Christmas!
The city has two restaurants that serve world-famous chicken dinners and the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.
What is so Special About Frankenmuth, Michigan?
Frankenmuth is known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria.
15 German Lutheran missionaries settled the city. And so the community’s roots and heritage have always been German. You can see that and feel that as you walk the streets.
Since a big part of going to Germany is the festive atmosphere, it’s also very festive in Frankenmuth all year.
The city has a lot of Bavarian festivals throughout the year, such as Octoberfest and Snowfest.
The community is also very much into decorating for every time of the year and season.
In early fall, you’ll see a lot of mums, scarecrows, cornstalks, and beautiful fall festive decor. Then, by hunter’s weekend (November 15th), Frankenmuth is transitioned into full-blown Christmas decor, with lit-up tree-lined streets, overhead banners on Main Street, and all the businesses decked out.
When is the Best Time to Visit Frankenmuth, Michigan?
There’s no wrong time to visit Frankenmuth! Anytime’s a good choice.
That said, Jamie’s favorite seasons, especially if we’re doing outdoor adventurous things, are summertime and Christmas.
During the summer, there are some awesome things to do that are unfamiliar to a lot of people.
Then, the Christmas season is, of course, the most wonderful time of the year here in Frankenmuth.
What to Do at Frankenmuth, Michigan, in the Winter
These are Jamie’s favorite ways to take in all of the holiday feels while in town during the winter:
Enjoy the Shops
This time of the year, shopping is so popular! Why not take some time to enjoy some of the shops?
Insider tip: The entire city of Frankenmuth is only about two and a half square miles from one end to the other. It’s small and walkable.
Many shoppers stay near the zone where the visitor center, Zehnder’s, and the Bavarian Inn are, but there’s a hill that goes up to the north, and there are some fantastic shops and things up there!
It is not a difficult hill or very far, just another block. If you keep walking up it, there are many more treasures, and you’ll likely find your new favorite spot.
Frankenmuth Fudge Kitchen
A popular pick for many people is to go into the fudge shops, such as Frankenmuth Fudge Kitchen, and the candy shops and find those unique things you don’t find at other stores.
Another guaranteed to please stop for any Michigan visitor is Amazin’ Mitten. This unique kind of custom shop is full of Michigan-specific things!
It’s different than the shops you find in the big cities.
Kernel Benny’s Popcorn
Another excellent spot to stop is the small-batch popcorn shop called Kernel Benny’s for kettle corn and many other locally crafted food products.
Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland
Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland is the biggest Christmas store in the world, and it’s what most people come to Frankenmuth for during the holidays.
There’s no Christmas visit complete without a stop at Bronner’s.
While there, be sure to look at all their personalized ornaments and check out the many different types of really cool Christmas mini-villages.
Also, be sure to look up. It’s just so charming to see all the fabulous displays and a great way to get ideas for your house.
If you have kids traveling with you, see the awe in their eyes when they look up. There’s a surprise around every corner, and there’s something magical about that.
Silent Night Chapel at Bronner’s
Bronner’s isn’t only great indoors, either. Outside, on the south side of their property, they also have the Silent Night Chapel, which is a very serene place.
It’s an exact replica of the one in Obendorf, Austria, and they had to get permission from the government there to replicate it in Frankenmuth.
It talks about the Hym Silent Night and is a charming thing to do during the holiday season. It really sets the mood.
Downtown Christmas Tree
In the winter evenings, you can’t go wrong with enjoying a stroll at night when the lights are on.
Be sure to stop by the Christmas Tree downtown, which has a music and light show.
The show is once every half hour in the evening, and there are also a couple of shows during the day.
It’s a great way to experience the outdoors, take in the atmosphere and holidays, and be part of something that feels like a celebration!
Frankenmuth Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride
Another way to experience the holiday feels is to take a nostalgic horse-drawn carriage ride through the enchanting streets of downtown Frankenmuth with either the Fantasy Carriage Company or the New Frankenmuth Carriage Company.
All the senses will be going as you travel through the historical streets, listening to the jingle bells on the horse carriages.
If you can’t get to Frankenmuth by Christmas, they have a winter snow festival on the last weekend of January known as Zehnder’s Snowfest.
Snowfest features massive 10- and 20-foot snow blocks from which sculptures are created, as well as detailed ice carvings sprinkled around town.
You can walk around and admire all these amazing sculptures around town at many of the different businesses and in the Zehnder’s and Bavarian Inn parking lots. The festival also hosts other activities, such as a petting zoo, warming tents, and bands. In the evening there are also fireworks!
The festival is a great way to enjoy not Christmas but the winter season and the outdoors in Michigan in the winter.
And here’s an insider tip from Jamie: Depending on the weather, usually, those snow and ice sculptures stay up an extra couple of days. So when talking about the best time to come, she encourages people to consider coming midweek because you can still get the same experiences without the crowds.
What to Do at Frankenmuth, Michigan, in the Summer
The activities change in the summer. Frankenmuth has many cool seasonal businesses.
These four outdoor adventures should not be missed during a summer trip to Frankenmuth.
Kayaking the Cass River
One thing Jamie loves and considers a hidden treasure is kayaking the Cass River.
Since there’s so much going on on Main Street, a lot of people don’t even realize Frankenmuth has a river running behind the visitor center between it and the Bavarian Inn Lodge.
Enjoying a day on the river is a fantastic way to spend a warm summer’s day. It’s neat to suddenly get on the river and have this outdoor adventure experience right in the heart of little Bavaria.
Frankenmuth has a kayak rental company if people can’t bring their own.
Bavarian Belle Riverboat
A boat tour is another activity Jamie loves to participate in during the summertime.
If you have kids, she recommends cruising on the Bavarian Belle Riverboat paddle wheel, where throwing popcorn off to the ducks is popular.
Another boating option is to book one of the small, charming electric Duffy boats, the Frankenmuth FunShips.
They have a ceiling and windows that can be opened or closed. They’re generally open in the summertime, but they can zip them up if inclement weather occurs. So you can still go on it when it’s raining.
Jamie recommends doing one of their wine and chocolate tours!
She says it’s incredibly serene once you make it around the bend on one of the boats. You almost don’t even realize the hustle and bustle of Main Street is right around the corner. It’s incredible to get that kind of experience right in the heart of all this other fun stuff.
While on board in the past, Jamie has seen bald eagles, deer, and all kinds of wildlife.
Frankenmuth Aerial Park
Frankenmuth also has the Frankenmuth Aerial Park, a zip line and ropes course up in the trees for those looking for even more adventure.
It’s located behind Bronner’s and is considered a hidden treasure. Many people don’t know of it because it’s back in the trees, but it is a very fun experience.
Another fun activity to enjoy in the summer is jumping aboard one of the PedAle Trolleys!
You get on the trolley and pedal to and stop at various bars with your group or a group tour.
Where to Take Your Frankenmuth Christmas Photos
There are lots of photo spots in the city! These are what Jamie considers the best places for photos around Frankenmuth:
Photo Stop Stations Around Town
Many businesses have cozy little benches and places to get your family photos done during the holidays.
To see the photo spots, check out Frankenmuth’s Christmas Guide.
Tons of people enjoy having their picture taken with that Giant Santa outside Bronner’s.
Frosty the Snowman
Right across the street from the Visitor Center, there’s a giant Frosty the Snowman that you can get your picture with, plus an ornament bench and giant wreath that you can get your picture in.
The train at the top of the hill is another beloved photo spot.
River Place Shops
Many people enjoy grabbing a picture of the beautiful skyline of the River Place Shops, which are all Bavarian architecture and very lit up during the holidays.
Holz-Brücke Wooden Bridge
One of the town’s most popular and picturesque spots is the Holz-Brücke Wooden Covered Bridge.
It’s very charming, and you can get the photo from several different angles.
Many people will do something close up, right in front of the bridge. But if you’re standing in the River Place Shops, you can get it from far away.
There’s also a pedestrian bridge that goes from Main Street to the River Place Shops, and that’s also a beautiful angle of the covered bridge.
Frankenmuth Places to Stay
For those looking for the adventurous Frankenmuth experience, Jamie recommends staying in one of these places while in town: Zehnder’s Splash Village or the Bavarian Inn Lodge, both of which have indoor water parks.
Bavarian Inn Lodge
The Bavarian Inn Lodge is full of fun activities, including indoor play places, an arcade, and an impressive indoor putt-putt course with high ceilings and theming that makes you feel like you’re outdoors even though you’re not.
In the winter, it’s fun to be able to go inside and still be able to play putt-putt all winter long.
Zehnder’s Splash Village
Zehnder’s Splash Village has a family water park and a leveled-up adventure area featuring some incredible slides!
At various times of the year, it’s different. Their water park has a retractable roof, so if it’s nice outside in the summertime, you feel like you’re in an outdoor water park. But all winter, when the weather’s not as good, it’s closed and an indoor water park.
Frankenmuth Places to Eat
The Harvest Coffee House
Jamie notes you should grab a coffee at Harvest Coffee House, a popular place to stop and get a coffee downtown in the morning.
It’s a beautiful little stroll from any of the hotels on Main Street, and it’s just right in the middle of everything.
Honey B’s Eatery
If you’re looking for a heartier breakfast, Honey B’s is an incredible place to stop for breakfast or brunch.
It has one of Jamie’s favorite breakfast meals, their Quinoa and Cauliflower Hash.
Frankenmuth Chicken Dinner
A must-do, whether it’s for lunch or dinner, is to make a stop at one of Frankenmuth’s two world-famous fried chicken dinner restaurants, either the Bavarian Inn or Zehnder’s because, just like a stop at Frankenmuth is not complete without Bronner’s, it’s also not complete without a chicken dinner!
What Jamie loves about both restaurants is the style in which the meal is served. The dinners are served family style, with everyone gathered around the table.
She finds it feels warm, close, and friendly to dine in that traditional way, gathered with your family and friends.
At both spots, you’ll first get a course of wonderful salads and bread from their bakeries, then they’ll bring out soup, and then they’ll bring out your main entree, the world-famous chicken.
Of course, it’s so good. And all the traditional sides are also served with it: mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and seasonal vegetables.
Jamie’s favorite seasonal vegetable is the Blue Hubbard Squash. It’s grown locally at a farmer’s field, and both the restaurants serve that in the fall and winter.
What’s the difference between Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn?
Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn are very similar in what they serve. Both locations serve the world-famous chicken dinner; it’s just their atmospheres that are slightly different.
What’s funny is many Michiganders have their favorite, and their loyalty lies with one or the other. You’re either a Zehnder’s family or a Bavarian Inn family, but the same extended family actually owns both!
Also, Jamie says when you’re local like she is, you definitely go back and forth.
Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth
The Zehnder family started at Zehnder’s restaurant, which is Early American-themed.
It looks like Mount Vernon because Grandpa Zehnder liked that building style.
Bavarian Inn Restaurant
When the Fisher’s restaurant across the street went up for sale, the Zehnder family decided to purchase it. One of the brothers, Tiny Zehnder, and his wife Dorothy took over operations there at what is now known as the Bavarian Inn.
The Bavarian Inn, from an architectural perspective, as you would imagine, is Bavarian-themed.
They have costumed waiters and waitresses in the lederhosen and dirndls and often have an accordionist playing throughout the restaurant as well.
You’re definitely getting the full immersion experience when there.
Other Frankenmuth Spots for Lunch or Dinner (After You’ve Had the World-Famous Chicken Dinner)
Tiffany’s is a great place. It’s kind of a local hangout. They’re known for their pasta pizzas. That’s a fantastic place to go if you want the local experience.
Another popular option with locals is Frankenmuth’s Italian restaurant, daVinci’s, on the north end of town.
Michigan on Main
Michigan on Main is another excellent restaurant to check out. Their meals are all made from Michigan products.
Willi’s Sausage Co
If you’re looking to grab a quick brat, Willi’s Sausage Company is a sausage market that sells meats and cheeses but also does a grab-and-go lunch special.
They’re not so much a restaurant, but they’re great for those times you want to grab a brat and keep going on your way—a very Frankenmuth experience. You must get a brat while in Michigan’s Little Bavaria!
Are there any Overrated Spots in Frankenmuth?
These are the two most popular spots in Frankenmuth that always surprise Jamie:
Klaus the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus Mouse
One of her kids’ favorite spots to visit is the Cheese Mouse by the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus.
It’s a giant block of cheese with a mouse attached to it, right outside the Cheese Haus. His name is Klaus, and he’s famous.
Jamie’s not exactly sure why he’s so iconic, but getting a picture with Klaus is something people do repeatedly, and the kids love it.
Thousands of families get their pictures with Klaus the Cheese Mouse!
The Bavarian Inn Glockenspiel
The second tradition that sometimes surprises Jamie is the lure of the Glockenspiel at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant.
She admits the Glockenspiel is a beautiful attraction, and the clock tower is iconic and cool in its function.
It’s a 35-bell carillon that plays music, but also, at various times throughout the day, a window opens, and characters come out and tell the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin.
Most German communities in Bavaria have a Glockenspiel in their city center. So it is very appropriate for the building and for the community. It is something unique and rare to see in the United States.
People stand outside the restaurant daily to watch the Glockenspiel tell its story.
What surprises Jamie is how many people who have seen it before return to watch it. For so many, it’s a tradition; there are things in Frankenmuth that are just about tradition, and many people have to do it every time because it’s part of their annual trip.
And I (Cindy) must agree! I am one of those people! For me, it’s tradition. It’s something I stand and watch every time I go to Frankenmuth.
However, I also remember being a kid watching it and realizing that this guy was leading children away. It’s a creepy story.
And that’s the part that baffles Jamie a bit. However, it’s just one of those traditional things people do.
And, if you love the Glockenspiel, Jamie also mentions Frankenmuth now has a relatively new figure in spiel at the Cheese Haus by Klaus. It has characters built after family members of the business, and it tells stories about cheese.
FAQs About Frankenmuth
What time of year does Frankenmuth switch over to Christmas decor?
By Hunter’s Weekend (November 15th), Frankenmuth has switched to full-scale Christmas decor.
What is the best time of the week to visit Frankenmuth?
If you want to avoid crowds any time of the year, mid-week is better than the weekends.
Where Can You Find Out More About Frankenmuth?
For more information about Frankenmuth, visit Frankenmuth.org or call them at 1-800-FUNTOWN. Someone is available seven days a week to answer questions.
Jamie’s Frankenmuth, MI Travel Itinerary Map
Conclusion: Is Frankenmuth Worth Visiting?
Yes! A trip to Frankenmuth is an experience people remember. It’s an opportunity to create memories with your loved ones, whether with family or friends. That’s what it’s all about – families and people connecting.
It’s the kind of place where fathers let their guard down and skip with their kids, and family members simply enjoy each other’s presence.
That’s what’s special about Frankenmuth. The city brings out that magic. It’s part of the charm of the community.
It doesn’t matter what you’re doing when you’re here. It’ll be a memorable experience that you’ll all remember together, and you know, that time together is what’s most precious.
Thanks for Listening!
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