Disclaimer: Our visit to Ann Arbor was hosted by Destination Ann Arbor. The opinions expressed in this piece are strictly our own and are based on our experience.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a college town with tons of personality. There’s so much great food, shopping, and entertainment that you’ll never have a dull moment.
Here are some of the best things to see and do on a visit to Ann Arbor.
Tour The Big House
Michigan Stadium, known as the Big House, is the largest football stadium in the United States and one of the biggest in the world. It can accommodate more than 100,000 fans and is the most impressive modern stadium we’ve ever seen. Though it’s not open for general viewing, you can arrange a guided tour for $20 per person. Avid sports fans can choose tours that also include the Crisler Center or Yost Ice Arena. For a real thrill, visit during the college football season to soak up the atmosphere all over town. If you want to see a game in the Big House, be sure to secure tickets far in advance for the best seats and prices.
Visit The University Of Michigan Museum Of Art
The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) houses more than 20,000 pieces and offers special exhibitions, educational programs, and unique events. One of the finest and largest art museums in the United States, UMMA exhibits works by artists such as Whistler, Kline, Picasso, and Monet. Its several galleries display a wide range of ancient and contemporary pieces, but the website’s floor plans make it easy to decide what to see and do. Admission to the museum is free, but a $10 donation is appreciated.
Spend Some Time At The Matthaei Botanical Gardens
The Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum are some of the best places to enjoy Ann Arbor's natural beauty. The Matthaei Botanical Gardens feature gardens, walking trails, and artwork, while the Nichols Arboretum showcases trees, flowers, and other plants as well as special seasonal exhibits such as a cheerful peony garden in the spring. Admission is free, and the hours vary by season. For the best displays, visit during the spring, summer, or fall.
Stroll Down State Street
While you’re in Ann Arbor, be sure to take the time to stroll down State Street. This hub of activity on the east side of downtown is a center for arts, culture, shops, restaurants, and more. The Michigan Theater and State Theatre are both wonderfully restored venues for live performances and film. The Michigan Theater even houses an original theater organ, one of only a few that are still played on a regular basis. The Ann Arbor Film Festival takes place in the spring, while many summer festivals celebrate arts, crafts, music, and food.
We had a great time visiting the shops, restaurants, and bars that make State Street a convenient place to enjoy a bit of everything.
Experience History At The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
History and politics take center stage at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum. This large library focuses on politics, foreign affairs, and domestic concerns during the Cold War era. Collections include photos, film, digital collections, and many curated documents not available elsewhere. A special exhibit highlights Betty Ford’s commitment to women’s rights, children’s healthcare, and the arts. A visit is a great refresher on the people and events of this important time in history.
Take A Class At Zingerman’s Bakehouse
The baking classes offered by Zingerman’s Bakehouse are a delightful hand-on experience in Ann Arbor. If you love to bake or are just looking for something different to do, then you will have fun at Zingerman’s. The classes are all different, focusing on techniques and recipes for breads, pastries, cakes, and other special treats. Go online and see what’s happening during your visit. Class sizes are limited, so the best way to avoid disappointment is to book your class in advance.
Eating And Drinking In Ann Arbor
MANI Osteria & Bar
As someone in our family says, there’s Italian food, and then there’s everything else. MANI Osteria & Bar is the perfect spot to indulge in Italian favorites; the vibe is welcoming and comfortable. This place covers all the bases in a delicious and unique way. The handcrafted pasta includes fun choices like duck rigatoni and king crab tortellini, and the wood-fired pizzas are wonderfully different, with toppings like black truffles, pistachios, and garlic cream. Trust us, pistachios on pizza are amazing! You can enhance your pie with eggs, burrata, or forest mushrooms if you’d like. Soups, salads, and large plates and special drinks featuring house-infused spirits make for a tasty evening.
It’s hard to discuss Ann Arbor’s food without mentioning the world-famous Zingerman’s Deli that opened in 1982. It truly has become an institution. Locals and visitors alike flock to this flagship spot known as much for its world-class service as its irresistible sandwiches. Zingerman’s serves up the classics as well as new favorites, and the vibe is fun, funky, and authentic. It does get busy, as you can imagine, so try to avoid the lunch rush if you can. If you don’t mind waiting, there’s plenty to keep patrons busy. We spent our time happily exploring the jam-packed store.
Metzger’s German Restaurant
We’re pretty picky when it comes to German food. So many places try to be authentic, but miss the mark. Metzger’s German Restaurant is quite the opposite. Not only is the ambiance authentic, but the food is absolutely delicious. The restaurant takes a traditional approach to German fare while offering tasty non-German dishes as well. If you’re all about authentic German schnitzel, sauerbraten, bratwurst, and kassler rippchen, then you’ll love Metzger’s. You’ll also find options like fresh Lake Superior whitefish, prime rib of beef, and chicken sautée. We just love the friendly service and comfortable ambiance of this place. It’s been around for 90 years and is run by the fifth generation of Metzgers. No wonder they make you feel like family.
Emphasizing local products can turn a simple dining experience into something special. That’s exactly what chef Danny Van does at Taste Kitchen: He fuses flavors from his native Vietnam with French culinary techniques and the best local ingredients. Satisfying dishes like butternut squash soup and mushroom paella keep plant-based eaters happy, while carnivores can enjoy grilled Berkshire pork and duck tacos among other meaty options. We loved the farm-fresh beet salad with goat cheese, arugula, frisée, and walnuts in balsamic vinaigrette. Top it all off with a classic crème brûlée or a modern lemon meringue with raspberry coulis (our favorite!), and your evening will be happily complete.
“Really Great Korean Food And Drink” is how Miss Kim bills its Korean cuisine. And that’s right on the money. Chef Ji Hye Kim grew up in Seoul, where she learned the art of Korean cooking. The restaurant is part of the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, an effort to provide opportunities to worthy business pursuits. We think the investment paid off, because Kim, a graduate of the University of Michigan and a Zingerman’s Deli alum, works with local farmers to craft creative, fresh, and delicious seasonal dishes. Pork buns, tteokbokki, and KFC (Korean fried chicken) share the stage with delicata squash, mashed potatoes, and other local produce. The restaurant is conveniently located in the Kerrytown District.
In between sampling all that great food in Ann Arbor, you can visit some of the city’s breweries and distilleries. The Michigan brew scene is very active, and Ann Arbor is no exception. Sample some HOMES beers and pair them with one of the brewery’s amazing Korean dishes. (This brewery has seriously good food!) Head to Wolverine State Brewing for handcrafted lagers and Blom Meadworks for some delicious meads. You’ll find delicious handcrafted cocktails at the Allen Rumsey cocktail lounge in the Graduate Hotel, The Last Word, and the Nightcap lounge.
Shopping In Ann Arbor
We’re always happy when we find a one-stop shopping district loaded with lots of different shops. Kerrytown Market & Shops in the Kerrytown District fits the bill with unique stores in a charming historic setting. The two floors are full of shops offering handcrafted gifts, modern apparel, home furnishings, toys, and vintage goods.
TeaHaus is a favorite of ours that tea lovers will adore. With more than 170 loose-leaf teas in stock and a tea sommelier to guide you, you could spend all day here.
Another treat in the Kerrytown District is the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. This year-round market features more than 100 local producers of plants, cheese, fruit, baked goods, coffee beans, flowers, and more. Typically open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the market also hosts fun events like food-truck rallies, harvest festivals, and cooking demos. Check the website for hours and events during your stay.
The Himalayan Bazaar
We hit the jackpot at The Himalayan Bazaar, a fair-trade marketplace offering imports, gifts, and gear from Nepal. The owners are trekkers who lead trekking tours of the Himalayas in Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. There’s a neat Mount Everest-focused museum in the store that features trekking gear, photos, and other intriguing items. Most of the items at the market are handcrafted imports, and the owners are sensitive to spiritual, cultural, and ecological matters. A visit to this unique spot is an educational and inspiring shopping experience.
Cherry lovers, rejoice! Cherry Republic is a purveyor of all things cherry. The Ann Arbor store offers the great taste of Michigan’s Montmorency tart cherry in more forms than you can imagine, including sauces, jams, butters, sweets, dried fruit, salsas, and baked goods. Try some samples and, if you enjoy cooking like we do, keep an eye out for the cool recipe cards showing what to make with some of the products. There’s a wine- and soda-tasting bar where you can try different cherry-flavored beverages. The shop also hosts tailgate parties and Wine-Down Wednesdays.
Ann Arbor is a wonderful place to visit to experience the fun and diversity of a great college town. The many shops, restaurants, and natural and cultural attractions will keep you busy in any season.
After your trip to Ann Arbor, head over to its underrated neighbor, Detroit -- the Motor City has a lot to offer!