Ann Arbor has always been one of the top 10 college football destinations in the country. One of the main attractions of a college football game at Michigan Stadium is its capacity of 107,601. (It was recently reduced from 109,901). That means you’ll be watching the game with more people than is possible at any other college football game in the country. Ann Arbor has a lot to offer as well and truly shines in its beauty come the fall season. Everything is within walking distance because the town is built around the campus.
With plenty of places to eat and drink, you’ll certainly be entertained for the weekend.
When to Go
Given its location, Ann Arbor is best visited during the first two months of the football season. After that, it becomes quite cold. If you do happen to travel there outside of that time, it’ll likely be for the best game on Michigan’s schedule. The annual game against Ohio State takes place in Ann Arbor on odd numbered years matching the two biggest rivals in the Big Ten. You just might freeze some body parts off while watching the game. Otherwise Michigan plays the other members of its East division every year including Michigan State and Rutgers in odd numbered years and Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State in even numbered years.
Teams from the West division make their way every so often, so look out for when Nebraska, Wisconsin, or your favorite team come to town. The non-conference schedule at home isn’t exactly appetizing, but maybe one of those contests could entertain you as well.
Getting Game Tickets
As you’d expect, tickets aren’t the easiest things to come by. You generally won’t be able to find tickets on the primary market through Michigan because most tickets are sold to alumni or students. You’ll likely end up having to look at secondary ticket options like StubHub or a ticket aggregator (think Kayak for sports tickets) like SeatGeek and TiqIQ. Craigslist is another option for deal-making but doesn’t have the same security of knowing you’re buying real tickets. You can also try working the tailgates or walking up and down the main tailgate before the game to see if anyone’s selling, but it’s probably worth securing the tickets earlier if you’re traveling all that way.
Since Ann Arbor is located less than an hour from Detroit, it’s easy to get there. Detroit is a hub for Delta, so they offer flights from many locations around the country. Spirit also offers low-cost fares from many cities. Every other major airline will fly there from their own hubs. Use a travel aggregator to compare prices on flights to Detroit. Ann Arbor is also a three-hour drive from Cleveland and Columbus or a four-hour drive from Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh. Those cities aren’t exactly close enough to fly into and then drive, but that decision is up to you if it’s more financially viable.
Where to Stay
Finding a hotel in Ann Arbor could be a little challenging. The main hotels on campus are the Bell Tower Hotel and the Graduate Ann Arbor, but they'll cost you an arm and a leg during football weekends. They also book very far in advance, as early as one year before a game. If you can't afford the prices and still want to stay at a hotel, you can stay at one of the many hotels near I-94. It's about two to three miles from downtown, so you'll have to factor that travel into your weekend's activities.
There are some cab companies you can call or you can drive back and forth in a car. You'll at least have options, however, as there's a Holiday Inn, a Residence Inn, a Sheraton, and some lesser known hotels to choose from. Wherever you stay, you can compare rates and read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Another option would be renting an apartment or house in town for the weekend. Try for something north of Michigan Stadium, south of Fuller Street, east of Main Street, and west of Baldwin Avenue. You should constantly be checking websites like AirBNB, Gameday Housing, HomeAway, or VRBO to find the best deals.
The golf course has become the primary tailgating option at Michigan football games for alumni and casual fans. You’ll be able to find space if you get there early enough. (The lots open around 6:00 a.m.) You’re even allowed to park your car on the golf course to aid in your tailgating situation. People go all out with professional-like grilling set-ups, TVs, and games for their tailgate. The bathroom situation can get quite crowded as the porta potty line gets quite backed up as the day goes on.
The second tailgating option for the older crowd is in the parking lot of Pioneer High school located across from the golf course. People set up their RVs a few days before each game and it turns into a tailgating scene on game days. The students tailgate near the houses within the “Student Ghetto,” which is bordered by Forest Street to the East, State Street to the West, Packard Street to the South and Hill Street to the North. Students crowd the lawns in front of each house with keg parties a plenty.
The parties are thrown by the upperclassmen of each fraternity, who live outside the chapter houses. It’s easy to join in on the fun even if you’re not part of the frat. Just remember to be careful if you wander out to the street while carrying a beer on public property. You will get ticketed.
Food in Ann Arbor
Zingerman’s Deli is the most well-known place in Ann Arbor and the lines to get in show as much. People stuff their faces with Jewish delicacies including the famed Reuben, the Cuban Conundrum, or Oswald’s Mile High. The best way to enjoy it for yourself is obviously to hit it during off-peak times, which include mid-morning, early afternoon, and right before they close. You’ll be best served to finish off your meal with some of their cakes and cookies. Maize and Blue Delicatessen offer similar options without all the fuss.
You might not need another meal after you take down the “Triple Play Reuben,” which includes corned beef, pastrami, sauerkraut and two types of Swiss cheese. (It’s a favorite of some of the football players as well.) Those chasing down the best burgers in town can head to Blimpy Burger, where your meal is fully customizable and make sure to get the onion rings as a side. Frita Batidos also offers enjoyable burgers to go with their Cuban menu. Prickly Pear has become a local favorite with their upscale Southwestern food if you’re up for it.
You have a few options if you’re looking for pizza. Those in the mood for fancier pies can head to one of Bigalora Cucina, Jolly Pumpkin Café and Brewery, or Mani Osteria & Bar. (Sidenote: Arbor Brewing Company and the Ravens Club are two other breweries besides Jolly Pumpkin that offer good food with their drink.) All are good options, but you’ll want to know Mario Batali chose Mani Osteria as his favorite. The students love Pizza House, but not necessarily because of their pizza. Female students thoroughly enjoy their chapatis, which are pitas stuffed with salad.
The breadsticks with the chapatti sauce are a hit among the students as well. It also does a lot of business after the bars close because it’s one of the few places that deliver that late.
You have a few good choices for breakfast other than Zingerman's. Café Zola has the best brunch in town and the Complete Crepe, basically a breakfast sandwich wrapped in a crepe, is the best thing on the menu. Lines form early and often at Angelo's and once you will understand why when you eat their raisin French toast or their deep fried French toast. If you don't mind moving a little further away from campus, Northside Grill is an under the radar spot that offers a nice alternative.
There are plenty of other late night options. Panchero’s offers the best late-night local burritos. BTB, which had to change its name from Big Ten Burrito, has burritos as well but is favored for its quesadillas. There’s also Mister Spots serving up cheesesteaks and the chain Jimmy John’s offering up thier usual menu of sandwiches. Fleetwood Diner is open up 24 hours and keeps people coming back with their variety of hash browns. And finally, we end the food tour of Ann Arbor on a sweet note. Students love the colliders at Rod's Diner, where you mix and match as many toppings as you'd like with your frozen yogurt.
Bars in Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor certainly doesn’t lack a bar scene. The most enjoyable place for day drinking is Dominick’s, which actually is one of the original locations for Domino’s pizza. They serve up sangria or Constant Buzz, which is a strawberry daiquiri and a piña colada mixed together, in huge mason jars. Don’t enjoy too many while sitting outdoors on the patio or else you won’t remember the rest of your day. The Brown Jug honors Michigan legends and is seen as a must-see when touring the bars in Ann Arbor.
It can get pretty crowded, so you’ll want to grab a table if possible. Conor O'Neill's provides an enjoyable time for an older crowd in a typical Irish bar setting but is slightly further away from campus. The aforementioned breweries have you covered on the beer front as well as Ashley’s for the widest variety of tap beer, Heidelberg for boots and World of Beer for 500 bottled beers and many on tap as well.
The younger crowd ends up at two spots for the most part: Scorekeepers (aka Skeeps) and Rick’s. Scorekeepers has all the local area teams on the big screens, but it turns into a more clubby setting on the weekend as it fills up with students. It’s the easiest place for fake IDs to work in town, so it skews rather young. Rick’s has a similar scene with drink specials every night and a crowded scene of fraternity brothers and sorority sisters on the weekend. Athletes like Derek Jeter and Michael Phelps have been known to make appearances when they’re in town.
They enjoy the drunk girls singing Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” every night right before the bar closes. If you want a DJ scene, but would prefer a slightly older crowd then head over to Rush Street where DJs will be spinning tunes all night.