One of the characters in my book isn’t a person but rather a place. And that place is my adopted hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan!
I love our small city (or large town, depending on how you want to look at it) and I am very interested in our history. I have written two history books and am working on a third. I also give out little history tidbits on my blog.
Until my book comes out, I’d like to introduce you to Ann Arbor as I see it!
It has been said that Ann Arbor, Michigan, is “six square miles surrounded by reality.” Whether that is a reference to the almost 45,000 students who are ensconced in the academic “bubble” provided by the University of Michigan, or to the other-worldly charm of one of the best college towns in America, Ann Arbor is a special place.
There’s nothing like driving into town on a bright, hot summer day. Or on a brisk, crisp fall afternoon. Or a warm spring morning. Or even a blustery winter night. On any given street, you are likely to hear music from a street musician or a local vendor. People are happy to be here and are pleasantly friendly. It’s the kind of place where you may well make a new acquaintance while hanging out in a coffee house. But there is something different about summer in this town. From festivals to live music and dancing to patio dining to craft beer sipping, there are all kinds of things to do in Ann Arbor when the weather turns warm.
Fun Times, Ann Arbor
For indoor and outdoor enthusiasts, Ann Arbor offers a wonderful variety of fun.
July welcomes annual art fairs to the downtown area, which merges seamlessly with the adjacent University of Michigan campus. With four events over four days, Ann Arbor Art Fair (July 20-23) is one of the largest art fairs in the country, drawing upwards of 350,000 attendees. There is something for the sophisticated art collector as well as for those just looking for a yard sculpture or souvenir.
If you visit on a Thursday, plan for lunch on Liberty Street with Sonic Lunch — a free, outdoor music concert featuring local and national acts. From the end of June through early July, visitors can enjoy Summer Fest, which includes performances of popular, nationally known acts at the Power Center, plus free outdoor concerts and movies.
For active outdoors enthusiasts, the Huron River offers canoeing, kayaking and fishing throughout summer. The Nichols Arboretum, established in 1907 by the University of Michigan, is best known for its Peony Garden which blooms in late May. The nature lover will find unique trees and shrubs all year round and will soon be delightfully lost among the many paths, trails and river views.
A hidden gem is the Wave Field, located on the north campus of the University. This earthen sculpture’s appearance changes based on the time of day and the amount of sunlight that shines upon it.
If your preference is to stay downtown, consider taking a self-guided tour of Ann Arbor’s famed fairy doors. This series of small doors and tiny treats (maybe left by the fairies themselves?) magically reveal themselves to visitors throughout the lovely downtown area.
On a rainy day, plenty of places offer hours of entertainment, from the Hands-On Museum, where children of all ages can learn about everything from optics to echoes — be sure to run up the musical stairs — to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, where you can examine amulets, mummy’s coffins and pottery. The artistically inclined may want to make time to visit the University of Michigan Museum of Art, one of the premier museums of its kind in the country.
Evening entertainment options are plentiful too. The venerated Ark offers live music almost every night of the week. The live theater scene is thriving with plays at the Yellow Barn theater, the Civic Theater and the theaters on the Michigan campus. Or catch a movie at the historic Michigan Theater on Liberty Street.
On Wednesday evenings, check out the Ann Arbor Civic Band, which plays outdoors at the bandshell at West Park Sometimes plays are performed there as well.
Within Easy Reach
Less than 15 minutes drive from Ann Arbor, nearby Ypsilanti makes for a great lunch spot and is also home to several museums. The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, housed in the last Hudson dealership, lets visitors enjoy a collection of vintage cars. At the Michigan Firehouse Museum, visitors can peek into firehouse life as it was in 1900. The Ypsilanti Historical Society is located in a 1860s brick mansion and includes local Native American artifacts and items from long-gone businesses, including the Ypsilanti Underwear Factory.
Channel your inner Rosie the Riveter and check out the Yankee Air Museum, which focuses on the famed Willow Run B-24 Bomber Plant. At the height of production during World War II, it rolled out a bomber an hour around the clock. Guests can see the historic planes or even schedule a flight in one of the aircraft.
From Korean banh mi to artisanal cheeses to Hippie Hash to Eastern European specialties, Ann Arbor boasts a broad selection of restaurants. The toughest choice may be deciding on where to go.
For continental fare, locally owned Ayse’s Café offers a variety of Turkish dishes, including Yayla (a yogurt-based soup), Ekmek kadayifi (a bread pudding dessert) and, of course, Turkish coffee. Amadeus offers a “taste of Europe” from soup — Ogorkowa (dill pickle soup) and Barszcz (vegan beet soup) — to beverages (beers and wines from all over Eastern Europe) to French and Austrian desserts.Diners seeking Italian or Mexican fare can check out “sibling” restaurants Mani Osteria & Bar (Italian specialties) and Isalita (Mexican Catina), conveniently located next door to each other.
Tomukun offers adjoining restaurants focused on Korean dishes. The Noodle Bar features pho, udon, ramen and buns while the Korean BBQ offers tabletop grilling of classic Korean soul food.
For fresh, farm-to-table dining look no further than the Grange Kitchen & Bar. Emphasizing sustainable, local and fresh menu items, the Grange features everything from a fried pig’s head appetizer to duck fat fries to Michigan-farmed shrimp. Spencer’s, which has complete lunch and dinner menus, is popular for its cheese and charcuterie boards, as well as its wine offerings.
Those seeking casual eateries may find what they are looking for at the legendary Fleetwood diner. Opened in 1971 (and previously named Dagwood), the diner serves up its famous “hippie hash” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
No dining adventure in Ann Arbor would be complete without a trip to one of the eateries that make up Zingerman’s community of businesses. The original deli, located in a historic building on Detroit Street, offers the best of the best in sandwiches, ranging from pastramis to corned beef to turkey to vegetarian options. (President Obama reportedly had the classic Reuben sandwich when he was in town).
The west side boasts Zingermans’s Roadhouse, a multiple award-winning restaurant focusing on classic American fare with its own drive through service.
On the south side of town, visitors can choose from hand-pressed coffee from the Coffee Company, fresh cheese from the Creamery, or pastries from the Bakehouse, all Zingerman properties.
In the mid-1990s, two brewpubs opened downtown — Arbor Brewing Company and Grizzly Peak Brewing Company. Both continue to thrive on Washington Street — Grizzly Peak is
affiliated with the Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery, also on Washington Street — along with many other additions to the ever-expanding craft beer scene.
Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery specializes in sour beers, Wolverine State Brewing Company features mostly lagers, while Biercamp and Pointless Brewery & Theater focus on small batches of beer made from unusual ingredients.
Glasshouse Brewing and Homes Brewery round out the many choices by offering their own specialties. Nearby Ypsilanti, Dexter, Chelsea and Saline all have at least one brewpub.
Coffee on Trend
Coffeeshops are prevalent in Ann Arbor. From the locally owned Roos Roast, Mighty Good Coffee, Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, Comet Coffee, Literati Coffee and Café Verde, to small chains like Espresso Royale, to Michigan chain Biggby, caffeine seekers will have no trouble finding a latte, macchiato or plain old dark roast. For those seeking familiar places to enjoy a cup of joe, chains like Starbucks are also omnipresent.
A Bookish Habit
It has been said that there are more books per capita in Ann Arbor than any other city in Michigan — possibly even the Midwest. Used book lovers can lose themselves for hours in Aunt Agatha’s —specializing, as the name implies, in all things mystery — the West Side Bookshop, Dawn Treader or Motte & Bailey’s. Common Language bookstore is one of the last shops in the country specializing in feminist and LGBT books and is located in the historic Braun Court.
The locally owned Bookbound, Literati and Nicola’s Books are also not to be missed.
Shop and Browse Ann Arbor
Since 1946, Sam’s Clothing has dressed students, townies and visitors alike. If you forget a sweater or need something flannel for a cooler than average day, Sam’s has you covered — literally and figuratively.
Visitors can stop by Ragstock for vintage styles in new and used clothing or grab a hat or sunglasses for a sunny day. North Fourth Avenue boasts a variety of clothing stores, including Fourth Avenue Birkenstock, Dear Golden (an upscale consignment shop), and Heavenly Metal (apparel, shoes, jewelry and other gifts). Plenty of vintage and resale shops are located outside the downtown area, including the PTO Thrift Shop, the Salvation Army and the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop.
Take a Little Piece of Michigan Home
Find fair trade goods at Ten Thousand Villages or the Himalayan Bazaar, both located on Main Street. Browse graphic novels, games and comic-related goods at the Vault of Midnight. Or walk north a bit to the Kerrytown Shops, which are as varied and unique as the people who shop there. Find herbs, spices and a variety of teas at the Ann Arbor Spice Merchants, or peruse foreign and domestic wine at Everyday Wines.
Fustini’s Oils & Vinegars offers tastings of its 30 aged balsamic vinegars and 20 extra virgin olive oils. For the knitter, Spun sells the yarn and tools for any project. If you want a handmade gift that you don’t make yourself, check out 16 Hands for artisanal crafts and artwork. Hollander’s sells beautiful decorative paper, cards and gift wrap that you can use to wrap the vintage gift you can find at Found, a gift shop offering a range of new and vintage items.
There are just as many options for the shopper with a chef’s palate — from smoked salmon at Durham’s Tracklements or bi bim bap at Kosmo to Monahan’s Seafood Market, Sparrow Meats and vegan fare at the Lunch Room.
You can find a farmers’ market almost every day of the week in the area. If you are in town on Wednesday or Saturday, check out Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market, located right outside the Kerrytown Shops. On Tuesdays, historic Cobblestone Farm hosts its own market at its east-side location. The Westside Farmers’ Market is open on Thursdays in the parking lot of Zingerman’s Roadhouse. Dixboro, a village located east of town, hosts a weekly market on Fridays, while nearby Pittsfield Village’s market runs on Thursdays.
The Evolution of a Socially Conscious University Community
On a cold February day in 1824, John Allen and Elisha Rumsey registered a claim with the federal land office in Detroit — a settlement named “Annarbour.” Whether it was named for the men’s wives (both were named Ann) or not, it certainly offered the notion of a settled and civilized place. Three months later, Allen and Rumsey registered the town’s original plat.
Over the next decade, a town began to emerge around the growing settlement. But it was the arrival of the University of Michigan, which moved to Ann Arbor from Detroit in 1837, that ultimately put the city on the map and most influenced its future. As the university grew, the city expanded accordingly. A hotbed of social and political activism in the 1960s and 1970s, Ann Arbor became known as a socially conscious, world-class university town, a reputation which it continues to build upon today.
College football fans — and even non-fans — have likely wondered about the Big House. For several Saturdays in the fall, arena attendance doubles the population in the city of Ann Arbor. Alums come back days in advance to camp, tailgate and root for the home team. While it’s exhilarating to watch the game amidst more than 100,000 cheering fans, the stadium is also thrilling in its noiseless moments. You can share in those tranquil times by taking a mid-summer tour of the stadium. For $15 per person (seven person or $100 minimum), fans can tour the field, the game-day locker room, the club and suite level seating and the press box. Maybe you can’t sack the opposing team’s quarterback, but you can see where all the action takes place on beautiful fall afternoons in Ann Arbor.