Just 45 minutes west of Detroit, Ann Arbor charms visitors with college-town energy, outdoor recreation, great restaurants and its own unique interpretation of Midwestern culture. Whether you're in town to visit University of Michigan, on a day trip from Detroit, or just want to see what's going on, here are the top 12 things to do during a visit to A2.
Cheer on the Wolverines
If you’re visiting Ann Arbor in the fall, set aside a full Saturday to tailgate in the morning before attending a University of Michigan football game at the “Big House” (also known as Michigan Stadium). You haven’t really experienced the roar of the crowd until you’ve heard 100,000 people cheering for the home team in one of the biggest athletic venues in the world. Originally built in 1927, the stadium also hosts University of Michigan commencement ceremonies, movie screenings, tours, yoga classes, and other special events throughout the year.
Feast on Local Flavor
No self-respecting foodie would dream of passing through Ann Arbor without a meal at Zingerman’s Deli. Co-founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweigteamed up to open the iconic dining institution in 1982, building their reputation on outstanding pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, chopped liver, smoked fish, and other traditional Jewish fare. The Zingerman’s Bakehouse joined the family in 1994, progressively followed by a creamery, Zingerman’s Roadhouse, a candy manufactory, a coffee company, and a Korean restaurant called Miss Kim in Kerrytown. In addition to all that, there's a teaching bakery and mail order services for long-distance fans who just can’t get enough.
Take to the Water
On hot summer days, Ann Arbor locals and visitors alike gravitate toward the scenic Huron River Water Trail to cool off with water recreation. Canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, rafts, tubes, and stand-up paddleboards are all available to rent for individual outings. You can also sign up for a friendly guided group adventure if you’re looking for some camaraderie.
Celebrate Creativity and Art Appreciation
Absorb some world-class culture at the on-campus University of Michigan Museum of Art. The facility dates all the way back to 1856 and moved to its current home in 1910 where it now holds a vast encyclopedic collection of works more than 20,000 pieces. The collection covers African, Asian, and Western art as well as photography, modern/contemporary art, decorative arts and design, traveling exhibitions, and educational programming.
Feel Like a Kid Again
Pay a visit to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum situated inside a historic downtown firehouse to check out more than 250 interactive STEAM-focused (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) activities and displays spread across 20,000 square feet of exhibit space. The Michigan Nature Gallery, a MediaWorks section, the old-fashioned Lyons Country Store, a bubble capsule, and climbing wall capture the imaginations of kids—and adults—of all ages.
Commune with Mother Nature
Ann Arbor extends a warm invitation for visitors to come outside and play at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. The gardens propose a series of verdant green spaces to wander, explore and enjoy including a Bonsai and Penjing Garden, a children’s garden, walking trails, and a three-biome conservatory. Meanwhile, the Nichols Arboretum maintains even more gardens, walking trails, natural growth areas, and a gorgeous seasonal peony garden. Or, marvel at beautiful birds of prey in the raptor enclosures at the Leslie Science & Nature Center.
Corner the markets.
In addition to a vibrant restaurant scene and charming selection of boutiques to browse, the Kerrytown neighborhood hosts the popular Ann Arbor Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, keeping the local community stocked up on fresh produce, baked goods, dairy products, honey, flowers, and more from a dedicated roster of more than 100 vendors. A Food Truck Rally ups the ante of offerings on the first Wednesday evening of each month from May through October. Launched by a collective of artists and crafters in 1991, the Ann Arbor Artisan Market takes over on Sunday afternoons between April and December to showcase paintings, jewelry, leather goods, soaps, glass and metal art, candles, and other handmade goods from 50 local makers.
Learn all about the life and legacy of the 38th United States President and First Lady at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. A smaller outpost of the larger Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, lobby exhibits, a repository of archived documents and materials, and a timeline wall here usher visitors through an informative examination of Ford’s upbringing, college years, and political career culminating with his term as President from 1974 to 1977.
Sample and Savor the Local Food Scene
There’s absolutely no chance you’ll go hungry in Ann Arbor. The local food community spans a world of flavors and cuisines, making it easy to find something sure to appeal to any palate. To pack in as much sampling into a short visit as possible, consider signing up for one of several curated food tour options. Savor Ann Arbor customizes private tours according to customer interest; themed outings include brewpubs, vegetarian dining, girls’ nights out, Ann Arbor highlights, mixology, and sweet treats. By the Sidewalk Food Tours take guests through Ann Arbor and Kerrytown to local favorite dining spots with a hearty helping of history and culture thrown in for good measure. Just a quick drive away in Chelsea, “JIFFY” factory tours provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the production of America’s favorite baking mixes.
Catch a Movie
Movie buffs will definitely want to include the historic Michigan Theater on State Street in any Ann Arbor itinerary. Equipped with a restored 1927 Barton Theater pipe organ, this showy gold-leafed movie palace hearkens back to silent film era when it opened in 1928. Today, the acoustically awesome 1,700-seat main auditorium hosts performances by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, along with contemporary and retro movie screenings and other events. Likewise, the State Theatre lures cinephiles to downtown Ann Arbor to take in art films and cult classics inside an Art Deco facade.
Escape to the Country
Ann Arbor maintains several attractions that let visitors see what rural life was like down on the farm. At one time a two-family home for a U.S. Naval surgeon and a local politician/farmer back in the mid 1800s, Cobblestone Farm house opens its doors to showcase the lovingly restored residence for guided weekday tours by appointment. Or, mix and mingle with the barnyard residents at the 20-acre Petting Farm at Domino’s Farm, where on any given visit, you might get the chance to get up close to alpacas, horses, sheep, cows, pigs, goats, llamas, and chickens.
Shop Until You Drop
The visually stunning Nickels Arcade between State Street and Maynard on the U of M campus is an Ann Arbor landmark built in 1918, leading visitors through an enclosed European-style shopping corridor all dressed up with mosaic tile and an airy greenhouse-glass ceiling. Tenants range from antiques dealers and specialty shops to boutiques and a coffee shop. Don’t forget your camera—this is one of the best selfie backdrops in town.