Family Travel: Four Reasons To Visit Frankenmuth

There’s something cool, full-circle, and organic about passing a familial tradition down to your own children for the first time.  In movie form, I’ve written about this in the past:

Being a conduit to your heritage, where you’ve come from, and where you’re going can help provide your children with a sense of self and a sense of the niche they fulfill in this huge world.

As a child, I visited Frankenmuth, Michigan, about once a year to once every other year en route to Ontario, Canada, or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for family vacations and fishing trips.

Driving through Michigan can be a chore.  While you can move at a high rate of speed on the highway, it’s a monotonous journey filled with pine trees, flat roads and semi-truck after semi-truck.

The exits and rest areas pop-up in a rhythmic nature and can lull you into a hearty daydream.  Even before Interstate 75 was paved going north/south through Michigan, this was still the case.  My grandparents realized this and planned their vacation to often times begin and end with meals at the world famous Zehnder’s Restaurant in Frankenmuth.  My grandparents passed this tradition on to my parents and my parents passed this tradition down to me.  After I was married to my wife, I passed this tradition down to my wife.  Everyone in my family has embraced the stop in this town and embraced the meal.

This year, I was able to expose my children to the experience of Frankenmuth.  The decision to visit was not a tough one.  In Ohio in the winter time, it’s easy to get stir crazy watching football, shoveling snow, and watching movies on television.  It’s healthy to plan trips and experience new things and visit new places.

While Frankenmuth was not new to me or my wife, it was fun introducing the tourism attraction to our children and some friends who accompanied us on the trip.  Additionally, Frankenmuth has evolved.  The town has added attractions and events and now brings in visitors year round for reasons other than German heritage and chicken.  A visit this March for me was the first visit in the last ten years, but the fun we had will motivate us to stop in on a more frequent basis over the coming years.


Below are four reasons to visit Frankenmuth if you have never been before in the past.

  1. The Chicken – In Frankenmuth, it was, it is, and it always will be about the fried chicken. The first chicken dinners were served at an Inn in Frankenmuth in 1856, about 11 years after the city was founded by a group of German immigrants.  In 1929,  Zender’s Restaurant opened and served 312 dinners on Mother’s Day at price of $1 a piece.  Today, the family has split the chicken dinner franchise between two dueling enterprises, Zender’s and The Bavarian Inn.  The two restaurants feature old world Bavarian architecture and decor, with the cuisine revolving around a family style, all you can eat, fried chicken dinner.  Zehnder’s has evolved into America’s largest family style restaurant.  It can serve up to 6,000 guests in one evening.  The standard family style traditional meal includes: Frankenmuth fried chicken, garden salad, chicken liver pate with toasty bread, creamy mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, dressing/stuffing, buttered egg noodles, seasoned garden vegetables and ice cream or sherbet  for dessert.  The best way to describe the meal is a Thanksgiving feast, but with crispy, piping hot fried chicken, and ending only when you say so.  Currently, the family style traditional dinner at Zehnder’s costs $20.95 with discounted options for children and senior citizens.
  2. The Splash – Not unlike other cold weather winter destinations in the Midwest and Northeast states, Michigan and specifically Frankenmuth has ways to attract tourists during the non-peak cold weather seasons.  Zehnder’s has accomplished this by building one of the largest indoor water parks in the state of Michigan.  Zender’s Splash Village rivals the indoor splash mecca of Sandusky, Ohio, where Kalahari, Great Wolf Lodge, and Maui Sands dominate the indoor waterpark scene in Northern Ohio.  The new complex, down the road from the restaurant/hotel, adds 178 additional hotel rooms and over 50,000 square feet of indoor water fun.   What better way is there to work off the chicken dinner than with some water sports?
  3. The Christmas –  Outside of the chicken, old world Bavarian downtown, and the water park, another big tourist attraction that you have to at least visit once is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.  Bronner’s is America’s largest Christmas store.  For many Americans, Christmas is the favorite holiday.  You can literally celebrate Christmas 365 days a year at Bronner’s.  Over two million Christmas shoppers visit Bronner’s each year.  They visit for the decorations and lights both indoor and out.  In addition to their store which is over 7 acres large, they have an additional 27 landscaped and decorated acres outdoors.  We purchased personalized decorations for our nieces and nephews there this year and they will surely be impressed with the detail that can go into these ornaments.  They, by no means, are just ornaments with names on them.
  4. The Beer – How can you celebrate German heritage without beer?  You can’t.  That’s the answer. Frankenmuth has two main beer attractions, which can provide adults a respite from the kids family responsibilities throughout your visit.  Frankenmuth Brewery is one of the oldest breweries in the country as it first opened in 1862.  The brewery has been destroyed by tornados and changed ownership and was completely renovated in 2009.  Today the beautiful brewery is located in downtown Frankenmuth, overlooking the Cass River.  The brewery includes a restaurant as well.  Try one of their traditional German brews, their hand crafted wines or sip on their in-house (non-alcoholic) homemade “Root Bier.”  In addition to the Frankenmuth Brewery, there is also a craft beer store in downtown Frankenmuth called Lager Mill. They sell over 400 labels of beer from the state of Michigan and beyond and there’s also an attached beer museum which commemorates the rich brewing history of Frankenmuth.

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