The Community Culture of Marquette, Michigan

Whether you’re actively pursuing a residency, or just painfully curious, there’s a lot to discuss when it comes to the culture of Marquette. Surely, it can’t be so different from the rest of Michigan, right? Well, yes… and no.

There’s no denying that Marquette shares many of the same qualities that the rest of the greater state of Michigan has to offer; such as a love for its seasons, its friendly demeanor, a lakeshore lifestyle, and an inescapable sense of adventure. What marks our small city as unique is our endless pursuit to incorporate, refine & infuse those qualities into our regular day-to-day lifestyles and within our community. Marquette is a bustling, impactful place, but what stands it apart even further, is where it’s nestled – in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The Yoop, as we like to call it (the northern half of our state known as the Upper Peninsula), embodies its own striking individuality within Michigan. Its dense forests & breathtaking natural landscapes are often reason enough to attract most tourists, but it’s the unique regional accent, immigration history & isolated geography that have all played a more vital role in shaping an environment that’s detectable mere seconds after crossing into its territory. There’s a reason why there’ve been a handful of attempts to break Upper Michigan off into its own state, and furthermore, why Marquette’s cultural individuality just wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else. It’s so unusually distinctive, that it requires entire articles (just like this one!) to detail exactly what’s going on in this lakeside town.

Marquette channels its simplicity & its potential in ways that make it a humble, Midwestern competitor for livability.  And that ‘northern’ lifestyle is something that’s becoming more and more attractive to outside observers, not only among generations who are fearless in their pursuits of redefining the modern workday but for those who are looking to redefine their lifestyle as a whole. And while you can find enticing elements & natural, clean, almost spiritual livability in different parts of the world, we welcome you to consider testing pursuits here in Marquette, because as our existing residents already know, being “northern” is particularly concentrated here in our neck of the woods. So, if you’re planning that visit, or keeping an eye on some listings, what do you need to know? What can you expect from a typical day here? What are the Yoopers here like? And why in the darn heck are we wandering around outside so much?!

The first thing you need to know is that Marquette is a major port city in Michigan, and has been instrumental to the iron ore & Great Lakes shipping business for well over 100 years. Over time, our small town’s growth has been accentuated by that industry and you’ll find it totally interwoven throughout our cultural roots. Our ancestors, in the face of that looming advancement, wrestled their excitement into significant, mutually beneficial standards on community development & innovation. And so, Marquette has come to boast a culture that respects & uplifts artists, tradesmen, educators, and hobbyists. If that’s not enticing enough, we’re also avid believers in a proper, sustainable work-life balance. Simply, if we could describe Marquette with a single word, it would be ‘potent’. But, what gives us that potency? What makes this such a perfect place to live? Well, it’s our job here today to help you find out:

Marquette Festivals [Yoopers Love to Celebrate]

The best examples of our potency can absolutely be found within our rich, community practices. While their individual origins do vary, they often retain their liveliness by way of some kind of neighborhood festival. There’s much to celebrate here in Marquette, but as far as what gets us out mingling in the streets, these annual events give are at our cultural center:

The most famous of which is our Blueberry Festival, which garners such widespread attention that flocks of people throughout the Midwest will scramble northwards hoping to squeeze into our packed downtown. Taking place every summer, always on the last Friday in July, the Blueberry Festival is a must-attend event that has something to offer for every single one of our community members. With origins as, well, a unique way to purchase mountains of blueberries from our local farmers, the festival has also transformed into an amazing place to see art, play games, and listen to live music, as well as sample some ‘blue’ & ‘blueberry’ themed culinary inventions from the local eateries that populate the very downtown stretch that hosts this event.

Beer Fest, which is another example of that sizzling cultural potency, has found an incredible life here in Marquette as well and has grown exponentially over the years alongside our swelling family of local breweries & distilleries. Some other notable events also include Music on Third St. (a monthly sidewalk festival that takes place June through September that celebrates local musicians), Art on the Rocks (a celebration of local artists & their work, right on the Lake Superior shoreline) & Plaiderday (exactly what it sounds like, a worldwide celebration of plaid with some added local Yooper fun).

We’ll also briefly mention some of our notable winter traditions, which absolutely shouldn’t be ignored. Among others, that densely populated list includes: a nationally-recognized dog sledding race that kicks off in our very own downtown Marquette called the U.P. 200, the Hiawatha Music Festival, as well as a hilariously community-founded Finnish Snow God legend that’s unique to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; Heikki Lunta (trust us, you’re gonna want to do some extra digging on this one). You’ll find that at their core, our festivals & traditions are wildly unapologetic cultural celebrations, and while a number of them might be mildly ridiculous, they’re an unfading aspect of our truest nature and showcase the very best of the amenities we’ve got on offer.

The Typical Yooper [A Day in the Life]

If you’re fresh out of local festivals to attend, there’s no need to panic! Outside of our annual community events, our residents have become quite inventive with their spare time, so rest assured that there’s plenty to do on almost any day here in Marquette. Here are some of our favorites:

There’s an avid community of runners & joggers here in town, which you’ll see at all times of the day throughout places like Presque Isle Park, or along the Iron Ore Heritage Trail on the Lake Superior coastline. A locally owned athletic shoe fitting company, Queen City Running Co, even helps to organize community runs! But you don’t need to be a runner to enjoy these outdoor locations. They also make great scenic destinations for biking, photography, longboarding, or even if you’re just out for a walk with your canine companion. In addition to being easy to access, our public trails & pathways are super versatile, the sky’s the limit!

For some indoor fun, there are places downtown like HOTplate Clayworks, a popular DIY art studio where you, your family, or some close friends can craft some mugs, bowls, or various home decor items. There are also various local art galleries, as well as a plethora of coffee shops, local retail shopping, restaurants & bars all within walking distance of each other. This part of town is particularly lively, and our locals like to keep it that way, so expect to find something fun to do around every corner!

Just outside of our downtown, there’s access to the Lower Harbor Park which, just like any of our local parks, is a great place to spend an entire afternoon with your family. Throw out a blanket for a picnic, play fetch with your dog, toss a frisbee around, or, if you’re lucky, you’ll have managed to snag a great spot to watch fireworks on July 4th! There are also numerous boat charters nearby and jaw-dropping views of Lake Superior, just to make things even more interesting. Since Marquette is a college town, you’ll find no shortage of sporting events as well, if that’s your thing. Some rowdy hockey games and absolutely massive football games within the energetic NMU Superior Dome are the most noteworthy, but there’s something for everyone! 

It’s important to note that between each and every one of our local Yoopers, there’s an ongoing battle for balance. That balance is delicate, always in flux, and ensures our days are kept lively, so you should have no trouble finding ways to make sure any amount of time you spend here is both unique and fulfilling. And at the tail-end of our busy days, almost when you least expect it, you’ll discover even more of what makes us so unique. Yoopers like to wind down their evenings with games, a walk outside, a sauna, or even some light social drinking. Where places like the Delft Bistro or the Zephyr Wine Bar can offer a more relaxing transition into your evening, there’s also a wonderfully wholesome brewery scene in our downtown neighborhood that we’re always ready to embrace. And just in case a social end to your evening isn’t quite what you’re after, although it’s at its best with groups of friends, star-gazing next to a bonfire is a straight-up Yooper requirement (yes, even in the winter).

Plainly, our aim is to support & encourage a healthy infusion of work and life. Opposite even our busiest workdays, exists opportunity & encouragement throughout every facet of our community to do something that makes us happy and brings us a sense of fulfillment. For many Marquette residents, that fiery national reputation for outdoor activities is often warranted, but it doesn’t quite encapsulate what we’re really all about.

Community Rooted [Know Your Neighbors]

Strengthening those values, are the very same Marquette residents that you’ll find at the epicenter of our cultural foundations. We may not be the originators of our culture, but we all share a portion of the continued responsibility to help keep it bound together (honestly we’re surprised we don’t just have a festival that celebrates our residents for that very reason). The people that live here in our beautiful town give our culture its purity, as well as its substance, and we’d be swiftly punished if we undersung that significance, so let’s talk about the very people that make Marquette one of the most incredible places to live; your neighbors.

Yoopers are prideful, and yet, also humble. We take things as they are, challenge our own beliefs, and famously apologize at almost every opportunity possible (especially for things out of our control). Here in Marquette, those core values are not only heightened, they often take on even greater meaning. Our pride shines through in parallel with empathy,  humbleness is housed within our capacity to achieve impossibilities, and quite plainly, the friendly nature of our residents with compassion, is singularly remarkable.

When our community members open new businesses you’ll know well in advance, without even needing to look, that woven throughout their own foundations and planning will be an ensuing effort to just give back. The reason why our community stands apart from even the highest of celebrated cuts of the United States is that we’ve cultivated an environment that we’re just darn proud of. Working here, living here, existing here is just always better when you know that friendly neighbors have your back every step of the way. Your efforts, your endeavors, your creative ideas, your education.. .it’s fueled by a shared vision and an unwavering persistence that is completely unrivaled.

Our residents not only understand but practice the concept of mutual beneficially like its religion. We know that if we put work into our schools & universities to bolden our ideals, that the very same students that benefit from those teachings, will always come back around (or at the very least, invite some worthwhile friends to come and check out what we’ve got). Northern Michigan University is a staple example of that effort, which offers classes stitched throughout their curriculum that aims to promote that coveted lifestyle that we talked about earlier. Among your typical academics, NMU offers degrees in Arts, Entrepreneurship and Business, Coaching, Sports Sciences & even Outdoor Recreation, to name a few, and between them, all are a multitude of classes that take you out of the classroom & push you through the mud (quite literally in some cases). The university breathes fresh life into Marquette every day, works to embody the beliefs of the local residents, and offers unique majors & studies for the coming generations that have a positive impact on the natural world in & outside of Marquette.

A Farm to Table Life [Know What’s on the Table]

Within everything we’ve talked about so far regarding our culture, you may have picked up on some shared elements of sustainability. If you look closely, you’ll start to notice it everywhere! From the celebrations, all the way down to the general day-to-day shenanigans, ensuring that our beliefs, ideals & traditions will last is a large part of who we are. One of those chief areas that we haven’t spent enough time talking about is our growing agriculture and local food & farmers markets. Celebrations not unlike the Blueberry Festival are integral to our local farmers & tradesmen, but outside of those annual events, what options do they have to bring their fresh, homemade products directly into our homes? Without even mentioning how corrosive superstores can be to local businesses, community members are having an increasingly difficult time competing with these modern-era ‘machines’. Admittedly, we do have a number of those very establishments in Marquette, however, we’ve made it a community effort to ensure that they’re being pushed further & further back from our shores & away from areas that we aim to protect most. But rest assured even the largest of locally owned grocers will carry a wide variety of regeneratively raised local eggs. The downtown area in Marquette, specifically, has been largely free of influence from national corporations since its foundations. And so, instead, you’ll find establishments like Thil’s Fish Market, Lakeshore Depot (a smaller, locally-sourced grocery store), and the full-service Marquette Food Co-op spearheading not only a movement to bring farmers closer to our homes but also an effort to arouse the entire agricultural industry surrounding the greater Marquette area.

The Marquette Co-op’s numerous committees, outreach events, tours & classes are what make us most proud to support this community-owned grocery, but it’s the fast access to organic, farm-fresh foods and products that keeps bringing us back. Additionally, the co-op’s board of directors is publicly elected every single year, so we’ll always know that our community’s values are properly represented at every stage. Near and far, there are efforts throughout our region to capture the essence of what this local co-op grocery has accomplished, and while they are all independently successful, MFC is where the movement today is firmly rooted.

Standing right alongside Marquette Co-op is Drifta Brewing Company, which is not just Marquette’s, but Michigan’s first-ever co-op brewing company. Tethered through these (and many more) noteworthy endeavors is that ever-familiar sense of confidence & pride that pulsates throughout our local community. It’s infectious and powerful, and openly encourages innovation & the implementation of fresh, new ideas. Our farmers’ markets are wickedly popular too, giving not only farmers a place to barter & show the faces behind the labels, but also artists & craftsmen too. You’ll find no short amount of those ideals represented within our most popular market venue, The Downtown Marquette Farmers Market, which makes a notable effort to incorporate more than just musicians, but activity instructors, and the like, into their highly-trafficked season. It’s friendly, open invitation to apply for a vendor position in the market, alongside many other amenities, makes this farmers market amazingly approachable for any of our community members. Even if you’re just stopping by for a visit (it’s right on the downtown bike trails!), you’ll quickly fall in love with its regular vendors, like the Barrel & Beam Brewery (specializing in farmhouse ales & ciders), Tonella & Partridge Creek Farms (providing some of the freshest produce in the area) and Nagelkirk (an events/landscaping floral greenhouse), just to name a few. This market even features a flower delivery service via Shaila’s Flower Garden, so there’s plenty to be excited about, and why The Downtown Marquette Farmers Market has grown to become the largest farmers market in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This volunteer-ready farmers market, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has also curated a fascinating online presence, so even in the face of looming uncertainty, it’s a real comfort to know that our community proudly uplifts itself in absolutely any way it can.

Saving Da Best for Last [In Conclusion]

At the end of the day, what makes Marquette’s growing influence so seemingly effortless & notable, is just how humble, yet firm our community is. We love our friendly neighbors and our town fiercely and won’t ever compromise on those qualities. We’re persistent, maybe even a bit stubborn, but no matter how far that may appear to set us back, we’ll just keep pressing on. So don’t ever expect to catch our Yoopers trading minor convenience for our rigorous work ethic; we’ll own that ideal every single day of the year, and here in Marquette, that’s what raises the bar on what’s possible for our region.

We hope to see you around.

Make it Marquette