Ann Arbor holds a special place in my heart, as I spent four unforgettable years at the University of Michigan. While I could write a full post about the things to do and see on campus, the city of Ann Arbor is remarkable in its own right with cultural events and delicious restaurants. If you’re headed to Ann Arbor – whether for a football weekend, the famous Art Fair in July or to explore more of the Michigan mitten – read on!
Ann Arbor is the sixth largest city in the state of Michigan and is located approximately 40 minutes west of Detroit. Founded in 1824, Ann Arbor rapidly began growing once the University of Michigan moved from Detroit thirteen years later. In more recent years, Ann Arbor is known for its liberal political activity and was a site for numerous anti-war and student movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, Ann Arbor is home to one of the best public universities in the country and is becoming a popular site for technology start-ups. In fact, Ann Arbor is consistently ranked highly as one of the top cities to live in the United States.
University of Michigan
It would be near impossible not to step on campus while visiting Ann Arbor, so make sure you’re hitting the best spots to mingle with the lively student population. The Law Quad boasts Gothic style buildings and is often the site for alumni weddings due to its grandeur and beauty. The Diag is the center of central campus and is a busy spot to see students performing, fundraising or relaxing in the grass. Careful not to step on the brass M in the center or you’ll fail your first blue book exam!
The winningest football team in the country is housed in the largest stadium in the United States and second largest in the world. Appropriately named the Big House, a visit on a fall Saturday is a must or you can schedule a tour for just $15 per person.
Nicknamed the “Arb”, the Nicholas Arboretum occupies 123 acres of land and is open daily to visitors for no fee. With maps on site, explore the vast collection of flora, especially the peonies. Go for a run on a marked trial or bring a picnic to sunbathe!
A historic district in Ann Arbor, Kerrytown is known for its brick streets and diverse shops. Head to the Market & Shops, a two-level building with grocery merchants and locally owned shops. Or be sure to visit the Farmers Market every Saturday (and Wednesdays from May to December)!
More upscale than State Street on campus, Main Street is home to some of the best restaurants and bars in Ann Arbor as well as boutiques and art galleries.
Eat & Drink
While I could do a whole other post on cheap campus eats (and I just might!), the following are the best of the best in town:
Gandy Dancer was my go-to restaurant for celebrations. Located in the historic 1886 Michigan Central Depot, the restaurant is an architectural landmark. Serving seafood creations, you can’t go wrong with the fresh catch of the day.
Arguably Ann Arbor’s most famous spot, Zingerman’s is both a deli and a restaurant called the Roadhouse. I always opt for the deli in Kerrytown and it is worth the wait outside (don’t worry, they provide samples of breads and cookies!). Choose from their selection of made-to-order sandwiches or peruse the small aisles of local cheese, smoked fish, salami and much more.
La Dolce Vita
Located below the steakhouse The Chop House, La Dolce Vita is dedicated to dessert, after-dinner drinks and cigars.
Ann Arbor is home to great breweries, and I always enjoy my time at Jolly Pumpkin. With more upscale pub fare (I dream of their truffle fries) and sour beers (Belgians and ales – you won’t find stouts here).
Before becoming Michael Phelps’ favorite place to fuel up, Angelo’s has been serving Ann Arbor since the 1950s. With homemade raisin toast that you can buy at the adjoined bakery and fresh eggs, there is always a line around the corner.
Serving Italian and French food with an extensive wine list, The Earle is an Ann Arbor staple. With live music five nights a week and a wine bar, The Earle can be an upscale or cozy experience.
A seafood restaurant downtown, Black Pearl turns into a cocktail lounge after 9pm with music and dimmed lighting.
While I never had to stay in a hotel – even as an alum, we try to book larger Airbnbs for reunion weekends – these are a few of the best in each star category:
★★★★: Weber’s Inn, Graduate
★★★: Bell Tower, Hilton Garden Inn
★★: Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Hampton Inn
Have you ever been to Ann Arbor? What was your favorite part? Did I miss anything?
I’d love to hear from you!
xx Jet Set Steph