From gardens to greenhouses, sculptures to wildlife, Michigan abounds with outdoor cultural attractions. For planners, that means a variety of venues from which to choose when searching for the perfect outdoor spot for a private event.
How would you like to dine with polar bears and seals swimming around you? You can, at the Arctic Ring of Life at the Detroit Zoo. “It’s one of many unique private event spaces the zoo offers,” says Sherri Chmiel, sales manager for the Detroit Zoological Society.
The Detroit Zoo sits on 125 acres of naturalistic habitats for 2,500 animals, from aardvarks to zebras. “For every event, guests want to check out an animal habitat,” Chmiel says. The Zoo’s six outdoor venues for private events can accommodate from 20 guests all the way up to 10,000, the latter for when a group rents the entire property. Events can be hosted 362 days of the year during and after zoo hours. Catering is provided in-house.
A venue bound to be popular is the newly opened Polk Penguin Conservation Center, the largest penguin facility in the world, which is home to more than 80 penguins. The center can host a seated event for up to 170 guests.
“While there, guests can experience penguins’ deep-dive, something that’s otherwise impossible to see, even in the wild,” Chmiel says.
Also popular is the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery, home to a lush, tropical butterfly garden. The gallery can host up to 200 guests seated.
Belle Isle Conservatory, Detroit
The Belle Isle Conservatory is located on a nearly-1,000-acre island park nestled in the Detroit River between Detroit and Canada. The conservatory, built in 1904, offers a lush atmosphere highlighted by a greenhouse and a botanical garden.
“It’s the oldest continually running conservatory in the United States,” says Latricia Pelt, general office assistant for Belle Isle Park. “It has 13 acres of plants, including a formal perennial garden, seasonal floral beds, a lily pond garden, a palm house, a tropical house, a showroom and a cactus house.” The conservatory’s crown jewel is an 85-foot-high domed center that houses exotic palm trees and plant life from South America to the jungles of Southeast Asia.
The conservatory can accommodate up to 35 guests indoors, while its front lawn can host up to 150 for a standing event.
Greenfield Village, Dearborn
The Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village is an outdoor living-history village of historic homes and structures: the Wright brothers’ residence; Firestone Farm; Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory; and Noah Webster’s home, where he wrote the first American dictionary.
What a spot to host a private event. “It’s a unique venue,” says Amy Cox, The Henry Ford’s director of sales, of the village.
One of the more popular spaces for a private event is the Pavilion, which has a roof on four pillars and walls that roll up into the soffits in order to turn the event into an outdoor affair. The Village Pavilion also has a beautiful paved patio area, and can seat 300 guests, or host 1,000 standing.
Another popular outdoor event space is the Main Street District that has, among other things, carriages, Model T’s and the Herschell- Spillman Carousel, all of which can be incorporated into your event and which combine to create a festival-like atmosphere, Cox says.
Need a place to entertain 5,000 guests? The entire village can be rented, too.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids
The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is one of Michigan’s most spectacular outdoor attractions. “The complex was founded on a love of sculpture and horticulture by Fred Meijer and his wife, Lena,” says Public Relations Manager Andrea Wolschleger. “It’s really a good mix of sculpture and horticulture. They complement each other.”
The park’s main building can accommodate up to 2,000 guests, while its outdoor amphitheater can host up to 1,500 for a strolling event. The DeVos Van Andel Piazza can host 1,000 for a seated event and 1,500 standing, and Michigan’s Farm Garden can hold 100 seated, 300 standing.
Two Japanese Gardens—the DeVos Cherry Tree Promenade and the Main Gate—are wellsuited to smaller, more intimate affairs.
Meadow Brook Hall, Rochester
An event at the former residence of automotive heiress Matilda Dodge Wilson isn’t your ordinary house party. The home of the founder of Oakland University is preserved today as a National Historic Landmark, and is available for private events.
“We have our garden tent that’s a semipermanent structure,” says Shannon O’Berski, director of marketing and community relations. “It can hold 350 guests. It’s got French doors, chandeliers, a concrete floor. It’s quite nice.”
Both the Pegasus Garden and the Loggia Terrace can accommodate up to 100 guests for a seated event and 200 for a standing affair. The English Walled Gardens can host 300 for a seated event, 400 standing.
Event space indoors can accommodate from 20-450 guests; 450 with the garden tent and 275 without (house only). The entire complex can also be rented. Catering is done in-house.