College towns are always a lively destination, full of youthful energy, stately campus buildings, and a high concentration of culture. Ann Arbor, Michigan, has all of that, with its own culinary twist. Most towns these days tout their status as a foodie destination, but Ann Arbor can back that up with 300 restaurants and breweries within a 20-mile radius of its city center. The wide variety of cuisines — from Turkish to Vietnamese, with a lot in between — can be traced to a wide influx of generations who came this way to work in the auto industry, as well as a diverse international student population at the University of Michigan. A thriving cultural scene and outdoor attractions make this charming city a well-rounded destination.
If you want to head north to experience Ann Arbor for yourself, here are some suggestions for how to spend your time there.
48 Hours in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Visitors access Ann Arbor through Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a convenient 25 miles away. Check into one of two recommended hotels. Graduate Ann Arbor is a clever boutique hotel (one of a collection located in college towns) in the heart of downtown. Families may prefer The Kensington Hotel a few miles from downtown in exchange for spacious rooms and suites with club-level access (complimentary breakfasts and more).
Spend the morning strolling the energetic downtown area, home to an eclectic mix of stores and eateries. Pop into Literati Bookstore, recently named by Publishers Weekly as the bookstore of the year. Walk by The Michigan Theater, a historic theater established in 1928, but known to all for its yellow and blue sign. Nickels Arcade draws visitors to its arched promenade with a glass ceiling and spacious walkway. (Don’t miss the edgier “Graffiti Alley” next door, with its ever-changing street art.) Lunch one day needs to be at the iconic Zingerman’s Deli, where locals celebrate its famous Reuben sandwich (there are plenty of other options on the menu for vegans and other taste buds). A lot of the restaurants around town can be traced back to the Zingerman brand, which helped launch all types of eateries and chef/owners.
Explore the University of Michigan two ways. The University of Michigan Art Museum, with its 21,000 pieces of art, is one of the largest college art galleries in the nation. It’s free and ever-changing, with works of art both familiar and provocative. Sports lovers may be drawn to tours of the university’s stadium, commonly known as “The Big House” and also the largest stadium in the United States.
It’s always packed at Taste Kitchen, for good reason, so get there early or make reservations for dinner. The innovative menu includes tasty starters such as duck tacos, asparagus soup and octopus before even getting to the main entrées. The downtown location of Taste Kitchen makes it easy to stroll down for some jazz afterward. Blue Llama Jazz Club has been packed since opening, drawing fans into the retro-sophisticated spot to hear some riffs while enjoying a martini.
The “arbor” in Ann Arbor refers to an abundance of trees, and a good way to enjoy this leafy city is in a kayak along the Huron River. Rental canoes and kayaks from Argo Park Livery offer a fun way to see both natural beauty and tall buildings poking above the trees. A 1.5-hour trip is available when the weather is good, and be warned that the river has several small rapids.
For lunch, head back downtown for a treat. The owner/chef of Miss Kim’s grew up in Korea, so she combines a skillset from her background (including fermentation taken to a higher level) with fresh Michigan produce for a healthy, delicious meal. Another local expert, Lisa McDonald, is a certified tea sommelier (which takes years to learn). Stop by her tea shop Tea Haus and eatery to sample one her 180 kinds of teas for sale, as well as snacks made from tea or meant to complement a cup.
Speaking of beverages, Ann Arbor’s microbrewery scene is impressive. Places like Jolly Pumpkin, Wolverine State, Homes Brewery, and many more provide plenty of local ale options from which to choose. When it’s time to eat again, The Standard Bistro offers an elegant upscale experience just outside of town. Here, standards such as beef bourguignon, duck a l’orange and shrimp remoulade are given a fresh take. For a more casual dinner, stick with a favorite downtown restaurant, Mani Osteria & Bar, loved for its brick-oven pizzas and innovative pasta dishes. If you’re not too tired yet, head to The Ark, a nationally renowned music venue that’s non-profit, small(ish) and authentic. Musicians range from up-and-comers to well-known artists who are drawn to this sort of venue.
Another day, another opportunity to eat. If you like your breakfast hearty, but healthy, the downtown restaurant Wilma’s will do you right. The boho vibe in here continues with the menu: avocado toast on homemade sourdough, a breakfast burrito with chicken sausage, or sweet potato toast, as well as smoothies and rich coffee. If there’s time, explore the nearby Kerrytown Market, which hosts the impressive farmers’ market on Saturdays year-round.
When you’re ready to head to Ann Arbor, start your planning at visitannarbor.org. All photography by Lisa Mowry.
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