A beautiful night scene at Dow Gardens

Little Bavaria

Around this time of year, who doesn’t love a good glockenspiel, a frosty mug of Munich Dunkel, and a strapping waiter in lederhosen? Frankenmuth, Michigan celebrates its Teutonic roots year-round—founded, as it was, by 15 Lutheran missionaries intent on converting the Native Americans; when the natives fled west, the area became a German farming village. The town kicks the theme into high gear during the holidays. The downtown area is a nest of shops where you can buy everything from German made cuckoo clocks to Munich-made beer. Stops worth considering:

  1. To find the Bavarian Inn restaurant (713 S. Main St.; 800-228-2742, bavarianinn.com) just listen for the glockenspiel, adorned by hand-carved wooden figurines that act out the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, when the bells chime at noon, 3, 6, and 9 p.m. Daily pretzel rolling classes are offered at 2:30 p.m. ($4.50 per person).
  2. Wine and chocolate tastings get underway every day at 10 a.m. at the Wolcott Winery (445 S. Main St.; 989-652-3400, wolcottwinery.com), except on Sundays, when they start at noon; $4 per person.
  3. For 147 years, the Frankenmuth Brewery (425 S. Main St.; 989-262-8300, frankenmuthbrewery.com) has supported the company motto “Ist Gut Für Sie” (It’s good for you).
  4. If you’re a true Christmas nerd, Bronner’s (25 Christmas Ln.; 989-652-9931, bronners.com) is more than two acres (yes—two acres) of Nativity Scenes, lighting displays, artificial trees, and other Christmassy accoutrements. There is also a chapel, should you want to pray before you purchase.

Where to stay: For all-in-one convenience, Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s (730 S. Main St., 800-863-7999, zehnders.com) have water parks and hotel rooms in addition to their restaurants. But for something more lavish, try the Historic Webster House (900 Fifth St., Bay City; 989-316-2552 historicwebsterhouse.com), about a half an hour from Frankenmuth; rates range from $105 to $180 a night.

Where to eat: In 1899, one Mrs. Kern served up Frankenmuth’s first all-you-can-eat chicken dinner to a Saginaw bridal party. These days, the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s serve two million “world famous” chicken dinners annually. Opened in 1929, Zehnder’s is the elder of the two fowl-driven mainstays. Neither offer strictly authentic Bavarian fare, but the chicken is decent. And there are often accordion players! And yes, the wait staff at both places sports German dirndls and lederhosen.

GO Frankenmuth, Michigan. The visitors’ center (989-652-6106, frankenmuth.org) is at 635 Main Street, and it’s open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays; and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Moonlight in Midland
About an hour northwest of Frankenmuth in Midland, Dow Gardens (1809 Eastman Ave.; 800-362-4874, dowgardens.org) presents Silent Nights, a hushed stroll through an illuminated conservatory landscape of poinsettias and evergreens, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 17th, and Saturday, December 18th. The garden walk also features 10 pieces by artist Linda Deming, including “The Medicine Woman,” a cement sculpture, and “Green Petal,” a cement and metal table piece. Should you want to try something a bit more rugged, make time to hike the two miles of trails that wind through Whiting Forest (2303 Eastman Ave.), a 40-acre mini-wilderness maintained by Dow Gardens and located about half a mile away. A 21-foot observation tower will give you a bird’s-eye view and ensure you don’t miss the forest for the trees.