Ann Arbor is home to the prestigious University of Michigan, a fierce Big 10 Conference athletics competitor. But it’s also rich in cultural attractions, boutique shopping and fine arts. The dining possibilities are outstanding–from local favorites to international cuisine.
One of the things I like best about Ann Arbor (affectionately referred to as “A2”) is how the U-M campus is integrated into the downtown. So much of what this Midwestern city offers is clustered closely, so you can pack a lot activity into a short visit.
And because I was born without a sports gene, here I offer you my top 9 non-football ideas for your girlfriend getaway or couples’ jaunt in Ann Arbor:
Cherries are always in season in Ann Arbor, and that might be my favorite reason to visit. I simply love cherries. Michigan is one of the nation’s leading producers, so you’ll find them often on menus as sauces, toppings and glazes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails.
Bring the sweet taste home with a stop at Cherry Republic. The boutique retailer carries more than 175 products and gift items made from sweet and tart cherries including salsa, barbecue sauce, mustard, candies and wine.
A Major Scene for Cuisine
Ann Arbor’s vast foodie culture is a mix of international flavors and locally sourced ingredients. Michigan, after all, is one of the country’s largest agricultural centers.
A few of my faves are Taste Kitchen, where Chef Danny Van serves a fusion of French, Asian and American dishes. Ayse’s Turkish Cafe is a homey, sit-down and carry-out eatery with new menus daily. The allspice cinnamon chicken is divine.
How do you like your barbecue? Red Rock Downtown Barbecue in Ypsilanti delivers all styles–Kansas City burnt ends, St. Louis ribs, Texas brisket and others.
Fleetwood Diner is a long-standing institution with locals and students alike. Built from a kit in 1948 and open 24 hours, it’s advertised as the “hippest little diner.” Try the hippie hash for breakfast.
The highly walkable downtown Ann Arbor is a hive of galleries, boutiques and specialty shops. At Rock Paper Scissors, you’ll find artsy stationery, home decor and gift items. Shinola carries fine American-made watches, leather goods, bicycles and more.
I was told the city has 35 used bookstores, but I didn’t count them.
Just a few blocks from downtown is the Kerrytown Historic Market District, a unique neighborhood with lots of distinctive one-of-a-kind shops. Any writer or reader will love Hollander’s for decorative papers and cards. V2V (stands for “Vintage to Vogue”) sells contemporary and vintage women’s apparel and home decorating items.
Found is an eco-friendly gift shop featuring local artists who use recycled materials to create handmade gifts and and jewelry. Spun carried yarn in more colors than the rainbow. Other shops sell wine, spices and other food products.
Art is All Around the Town
An immense collection of public art, owned by the University of Michigan, is scattered about the campus. Among the most Instagram-worthy are The Cube, a 15-foot steel cube by Tony Rosenthal that will rotate on its axis when given a gentle push. (Don’t worry. It won’t fall on you.) The Wave, by Maya Lin, is a field of large grassy moguls.
Don’t miss Graffiti Alley, an L-shaped corridor washed in graffiti artwork. The creation is ever-evolving as new artists leave their expressions and spray paint. Enter the alley on Liberty Street next to the Michigan Theater.
Fabulous Outdoor Markets
The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is a year-round, open-air producers-only market in the Kerrytown neighborhood. All items are grown, baked or crafted by the vendors who sell them. Among the wares are cheese and baked goods, fresh-picked veggies, artisanal yogurt, plants and flowers, maple syrup, fruits and nuts.
The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is open year-round on Saturdays. It’s also open on Wednesdays from May through December.
On Sundays, the space is transformed into the Artisan Market. More than 70 creators showcase their handmade crafts and fine art. The Sunday Artisan Market runs from April through mid-December.
In Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s is synonymous with good eating. A small deli opened in 1982 has grown to more than a dozen food-related businesses: restaurants, a creamery, bakery, candy-maker, coffee roaster and more.
The flagship deli is well-known for its Reuben sandwich on hand-sliced Jewish rye bread. Do indulge, but you might want to skip breakfast first. These sammies are humongous.
Libations for Your Leisure
The Beer Grotto is a bar and retail store selling wine and mostly Michigan craft beers. A helpful Beer Geek will make recommendations to suit your tastes. In nearby Ypsilanti, the Ypsi Alehouse is a microbrewery that serves upscale pub fare. Perhaps you’ll try the Blue Racer–a honey wheat beer with Michigan blueberries.
VinBar specializes in Northern Michigan wines by the bottle, glass and flight.
Ann Arbor Distilling Co. produces gin, vodka, whiskey, rum and coffee liqueur with local grains and friends in German-made stills.
Or head to the upstairs bar at Grange Kitchen & Bar for a handcrafted cocktail. I recommend the GKB Manhattan, their signature drink with bacon-infused bourbon, orange bitters and in-house brandied cherries.
On the non-alcoholic score, if you’re hankering for a cup of freshly brewed tea, head for the TeaHaus. Certified tea sommelier Lisa McDonald offers more than 180 different kinds of loose teas. Sandwiches and pastries, too.
Within the vast, light-filled space of the University of Michigan Museum of Art is one of the oldest university collections of art in the country. Founded in 1856, the museum owns more than 20,000 objects from Western, Asian and African traditions as well as modern and contemporary artworks. Among the most notable are works by James McNeill Whistler and Pablo Picasso, Chinese and Japanese paintings and ceramics, and sculpture from Central Africa.
Special short-term exhibits are frequent delights. Past exhibits have included architectural photography and Tibetan book covers. On the docket for 2018 are contemporary Japanese posters and Henri Matisse drawings.
Christmas Spirit and Merriment
Prepare to be dazzled if you’re in Ann Arbor during December. This city knows how to celebrate the season! It’s decorated to the hilt, indoors and outdoors. Special events go on all month, but the biggest happens the first Friday in December: KindleFest and Midnight Madness.
KindleFest is an outdoor market of jolly artisans, entertainers and food purveyors.
Handcrafted holiday wares are for sale at KindleFest.
Midnight Madness is when the city’s retailers to extend their hours until midnight. They attire their stores in holiday finest and offer special pricing. Shoppers stroll through town, knocking off their holiday gift lists while enjoying musical entertainment and light bites.
Downtown Home & Garden roasts chestnuts and brings in farm animals for petting. They’re a big hit.
What are your favorite things to do, see and eat in Ann Arbor?