Ann Arbor, Michigan is the quintessentially cool Midwest college town, intelligent with just a hint of granola around the edges. It combines small-town charm with amenities that you might think exist only in big cities. Though the year-round population is just over 100,000, the town is a magnet for the arts, shopping, nightlife and farm-to-fork dining, while remaining blissfully void of urban hassles.

These cultivated diversions somehow mesh perfectly with the football-fever that infuses the town each autumn, when the University of Michigan Wolverines play to a packed stadium of passionate fans. Ann Arbor’s eco-conscious citizens bike everywhere, but it’s so compact and full of urban flair that its streets are made for walking.

The Arts

The Ann Arbor Art Center is nestled in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Ann Arbor Art Center stands as a vibrant hub for artistic expression and creative exploration. Established in 1909, this cultural institution has been a cornerstone of the local arts scene, fostering a dynamic space where artists and art enthusiasts converge. The center’s mission transcends mere exhibition; it is a dynamic catalyst for community engagement, providing a platform for emerging and established artists to showcase their work and connect with a diverse audience.

The Ann Arbor Art Center is not merely a gallery space but a comprehensive art destination, offering a myriad of programs and services. With a commitment to accessibility and inclusivity, the center hosts a range of classes, workshops, and events catering to all ages and skill levels. From painting and sculpture to digital media and photography, the Art Center embraces the vast spectrum of artistic mediums, ensuring a rich and diverse tapestry of creative expression. Whether it’s the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair, a captivating exhibition, or an educational workshop, the Ann Arbor Art Center stands as a testament to the transformative power of art within the community, weaving a narrative that reflects the city’s cultural vibrancy and artistic vitality.

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For something a bit more formal, head over to the University of Michigan Museum of Art. A visit there promises an enriching journey through the expansive realms of global artistry and cultural heritage. With a collection that surpasses 18,000 works, UMMA stands as a testament to the diverse expressions of human creativity spanning centuries and continents. The museum’s galleries house a remarkable array of artworks, ranging from ancient civilizations to contemporary masterpieces, providing visitors with a dynamic encounter with the evolution of artistic expression.

Upon entering the hallowed halls of UMMA, art enthusiasts are greeted by a kaleidoscope of genres, styles, and narratives. From classical sculptures and Renaissance paintings to avant-garde installations and modernist creations, the museum’s global collection reflects a commitment to showcasing the breadth and depth of human imagination. Visitors can explore the nuances of art movements, discover the stories behind each piece, and appreciate the cultural contexts that have shaped these masterworks. With engaging exhibitions, educational programs, and a commitment to fostering a deeper understanding of art’s impact on society, UMMA emerges as a cultural haven that transcends traditional museum experiences, inviting patrons to embark on a visual odyssey that spans the vast tapestry of global artistic heritage.

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Shopping in Ann Arbor

If you are looking for chains, you won’t find many here.  Independently owned stores crowd the town’s two distinct shopping zones. The Kerrytown Market is home to an eclectic mix of some 20 shops under one roof. Most unique is Hollander’s, which stocks over 1,500 different types of decorative paper. Savory scents will entice you inside Spice Merchants. They sell 150 exotic spices, including exquisite Himalayan pink salt and potent habanero powder. If those aromas have kicked up the hunger pangs, mosey on over to Fustini’s next door. The staff encourages you to sample from its huge selection of barrel-aged balsamic vinegars and small batch olive oils.

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The Downtown/Main Street area enjoys an energetic sidewalk culture. This neighborhood is a treasure trove for those who delight in the written word, with scores of bookstores inviting you to get lost in literature. You’re sure to find something to peak your interest at the Dawn Treader Book Store. It sells over 70,000 rare titles and encourages finding a comfy corner and getting cozy with a book.

Michigan is the primary producer of tart cherries in the U.S. You may ask to sample anything that catches your eye, but don’t miss the best-selling cherry salsa or crunchy cherry almond biscotti.  

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Michigan Stadium, aka “The Big House”, is the nation’s largest stadium, seating crowds in excess of 110,000.  Tickets to see the Wolverine’s in action are tough to come by, so the prudent sports fan will reserve ahead.  To see the ultimate sports rivalry in action, come here when Ohio State is in town for the season’s finale, which often determines the Big Ten Championship. Even if you can’t score a ticket, sports enthusiasts will want to catch a glimpse of this mythical venue.

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Farmers Market

Held on Saturdays year-round as well as Wednesdays during warmer months, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market will tantalize the most discerning foodie and please the most committed locavore. This is a producer’s only market, so each of the 170 vendors is the grower of what he or she is selling.

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Most everything sold is from Michigan, but products from bordering states are permissible. Michigan rates second highest in agricultural diversity in the entire country, topped only by fertile California, so the range of goods is noteworthy. Heritage meats, farmhouse cheeses, home-baked breads and fresh produce provide perfect picnic provisions. If the weather cooperates, head over to Nichols Arboretum or the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and find a plum al fresco dining spot.

Eating in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor’s vibrant culinary scene is a utopia for diners who like knowing the origin of their food. Embarking on a culinary journey in Ann Arbor, Michigan, promises an array of delightful experiences with a rich tapestry of flavors to explore. Begin your gastronomic adventure at Zingerman’s Delicatessen, an iconic establishment renowned for its delectable sandwiches and artisanal products. For those craving farm-to-table excellence, The Lunch Room, nestled in Kerrytown, emphasizes plant-based, locally sourced ingredients, crafting dishes that appeal to both vegetarians and omnivores alike.

If your taste buds yearn for authentic Italian flavors, Mani Osteria & Bar on Liberty Street is a must-visit, offering a menu brimming with fresh pasta and wood-fired pizzas. For a cozy and intimate atmosphere coupled with French-inspired cuisine, visit Café Zola, a beloved spot on Washington Street serving up breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a touch of European flair.

Ann Arbor is also home to Frita Batidos, an eclectic eatery on West Washington Street, celebrated for its Cuban-inspired burgers and tropical milkshakes. Concluding your culinary exploration, venture to The Grotto on South Ashley Street, an enchanting speakeasy-style restaurant tucked away below street level, known for its craft cocktails and delectable small plates. These recommendations encapsulate the diverse and flavorful culinary landscape that awaits in Ann Arbor, making it a destination where every meal becomes an unforgettable experience.

At Grange, Chef Brandon Johns creates his nightly menu from products sourced from within a 100-mile radius. Expect a nose-to-tail feast, as Johns doesn’t waste an inch. Start your meal with a vintage Manhattan made with bacon-infused bourbon. The wine list includes some Michigan bottles as well as a selection of organic and biodynamic wines.

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Night Owls

Nightlife thrives in Ann Arbor. If your taste runs towards classical music, Hill Auditorium attracts marquee names, thanks to its reputed acoustical perfection. Trend seekers will enjoy an evening at the Blind Pig, where indie bands rock the house. If a mellower sound is your favorite note, the Ark is one of the nation’s top folk music venues. Craft cocktail aficionados should have a sip at the Last Word, where potent concoctions made by expert mixologists are the perfect nightcap. Try one of their nostalgic classics made with locally distilled spirits.

Where to Stay in Ann Arbor

If you’re looking for downtown digs, the elegant Bell Tower Hotel offers guests 66 comfortable rooms that are located in the middle of campus. The super-central Graduate Ann Arbor is another good choice. The lobby has lush marble and brass accents that hint at the luxuries you will find once you head up to your room.

Getting around town

There are many bike rental shops in town, but Campus Student Bike Shop is a good place to start, thanks to its low prices and helpful staff. The Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society organizes daily group rides. The Ride is Ann Arbor’s easy-to-navigate public transportation system, costing a modest $1.50 per ride.

How to get there

Ann Arbor’s closest major airport is in Detroit, which is just over an hour flight from LaGuardia Airport. Delta, American and Spirit Airlines all fly here. The Ann Arbor AirRide gets you to and from Detroit Metro Airport in 30 minutes for only $12. Visit and select the calculator tool to offset a roundtrip flight. (For two travelers: 976 miles/.45 tons of CO2 = $4.47)

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Photos: ifmuth, UMMA, Visit Ann Arbor, Grange, Zingerman’s, Jolly Pumpkin, Andypiper

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