The Michigan Day Trip Tour, No. 7: At Home in Ann Arbor
*The Michigan Day Trip Tour is a series of posts all about the Great Lakes State and the many natural and physical wonders it contains. Most destinations included in the series are located within a two-hour drive of Grand Rapids, though some, like St. Ignace and the Soo Locks, are a little further. Hopefully, these posts will encourage you to go out and do some exploring of your own — or at least prove to be mildly entertaining. Enjoy!
In most cases, you only get one hometown, one place that plays host to all your formative years. It’s the place you return to once in a while after you’ve moved on, found your first real job, settled down in some other town; found those greener pastures. Sometimes, however, you’re lucky enough to find a home away from home when you head off to college, beginning that first adventure all your own in this wide, wide world.
Between the fall of 2012 and the summer of 2016, that home away from home for me was the city of Ann Arbor. These days, I typically make my way back to Ann Arbor once or twice a year, usually during football season (go figure). Although I thought the feeling would only ever surface when returning to my actual hometown of Manistee, every return trip to A2 has that homecoming kind of feel. I’ve got my particular haunts, of course, but if you’re ever in town, here are a few ways you might want to spend your day.
Breakfast is Served
As any University of Michigan student or alumni would tell you, one of the most popular places in town to grab the most important meal of the day is Angelo’s. Sitting on the corner of Catherine Street and Glen Avenue since the 1950s, Angelo’s is often packed on weekend mornings, people lining up to sit down for a classic diner-style breakfast in a cozy setting. If breakfast to-go is more of what you’re after, though, don’t worry: Angelo’s on the Side has got you covered. The bakery/coffee house, an expansion that opened right next door to the main restaurant in 1993, has all the baked goods you could possibly want, plus that all-important cup of Joe.
Another solid breakfast option, The Broken Egg, can be found over on Main Street, but if you prefer a breakfast solely of the liquid variety, you might try the Mighty Good Coffee Roasting Co. right next door. The black nectar of the gods is also on tap at Comet Coffee, over in Nickels Arcade between State and Maynard streets.
An A2 Afternoon
With your morning fuel taken care of and the sun quickly approaching high noon, there are a lot of different ways the day could go — it just depends what you’re in the mood for. Most everything you’ll want to see or do is within walking distance (given that you consider 30 minutes or less to be walking distance), and if you can swing it, it truly is best to leave the car parked for most of the day. It’s a well-known fact that parking in Ann Arbor comes with a high degree of difficulty, regardless of the season. Perhaps that’s why the blue buses are free not just for students but for everyone? Could be.
Making use of those legs, you could get things started by taking a leisurely stroll through the University of Michigan campus. Ingalls Mall, surrounded by Rackham and Hill auditoriums, the Modern Language Building, and the Michigan League, among other buildings, and the Diag, which demarcates the very center of campus, are at the heart of it all, but something that is surely not to be missed is the Law Quad.
Should you run into a campus tour, you might hear the guide mention that the Law Quad was highly considered by location scouts for the Harry Potter films. While the veracity of that claim may not bear out, it isn’t difficult to see why they can get away with it: the Law Quad has an almost magical feel to it, especially when you step inside the Law Library, a favorite study spot for many students (whether they study law or not).
Nearby the Law Quad can be found the University of Michigan Museum of Art, which, on top of plentiful exhibitions, often will have some kind of educational discussion or live performance going on. There are many rotating exhibits that come through the museum, but some of the permanent galleries include the Marvin H. and Mary M. Davidson Gallery, where you’ll find European and American art from the 17th through the 19 century; the Japanese Gallery, featuring paintings and ceramics from the early modern era; and the Modern Art Foyer, containing numerous galleries with contemporary pieces. Admission to UMMA is always free (though a $10 donation is suggested).
If the art museum isn’t enough to quench your educational thirst, there’s no need to fret. There are several other museums in the area, as well, to include: the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry, and, for something a little more interactive, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, which is great for the kids, as well as your own inner child.
But enough about museums — what about a little shopping? Ann Arbor has plenty of that to go around, too. Some of my favorite stops, as far as local shops, would be Literati, home to plenty of good books, an upstairs cafe, and a typewriter ready to receive your anonymous musings; Underground Sounds, which is filled to the brim with vinyls new and old; and the fine offerings available in the aforementioned Nickels Arcade, where in addition to Comet Coffee, you can find Arcadian Antiques, Maison Edwards Tobacconist, and others.
Other than museums and shopping, a third option might be catching a show at one of either the State Theatre, an art deco cinema constructed in the 1940s; the Michigan Theater, an historic venue that shows diverse films and also hosts live performances; or the Power Center for the Performing Arts, where the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance regularly puts on theatrical performances. If it’s simply too nice to be cooped up inside, however, a solid outdoor option would be Nichols Arboretum, a large natural area on the eastern edge of U-M’s campus containing trails, fields, and gardens.
Lunch & Dinner Options
I’m not sure that Ann Arbor quite rises to the level of a foodie’s paradise — or whatever term you’d want to employ — but it certainly isn’t lacking when it comes to good eats. Zingerman’s, of course, has become one of the most well-known establishments in town (even President Obama ate there when he visited), and while their sandwiches and what-have-you are good, their prices are also a little pricy. That’s not to say you’ll find much cheaper food elsewhere — Ann Arbor is kind of a ritzier town all around — just that choosing wisely is in your best interest.
One popular lunch spot that’s come on the scene within the last decade is The Lunch Room, located in the heart of the Kerrytown district. Phillis Engelbert and Joel Panozzo opened the place in the summer of 2013 with a stated mission of preparing “high-quality, nutritious vegan food,” and demonstrating “the breadth and versatility of plant-based whole foods.” They’ve accomplished this goal so successfully that they’ve since opened two more locations, The Lunch Room Bakery & Cafe and the Detroit Street Filling Station, within the last few years. All three are worth checking out.
Other awesome spots to stuff your face? Give any one of these a try: Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger (self-proclaimed oldest hamburger stand in town), Frita Batidos (Cuban-inspired street food), The Fleetwood Diner (American classics, open late!), Tomukun Noodle Bar (ramen, pho, udon, stir-fry — you name it), Dominick’s (an Italian eatery with outdoor seating).
Ann Arbor is a college town, and that means when it’s time to go out, you’ve got options. The city’s bars, clubs, breweries, and various other houses of debauchery are centered around three different areas, which I’ve always thought of as Ann Arbor’s three “downtowns.”
The first to make note of is the city’s actual downtown area: Main Street. Stretching, roughly, north-south from Catherine to East William and west-east from South 1st to 5th Avenue, the Main Street area is brimming with hot spots, some of which include Mash, a below-street-level whiskey lounge that often has live music on the weekends; Nightcap, a cocktail bar right in the thick of things; and LIVE, a lively nightclub toward the northern edge of downtown.
One of the best places to find yourself when roaming about the Main Street area, though, is the Bling Pig, which can be found on South 1st between Washington and Liberty. First opened in 1971, the Bling Pig is the place to go when it comes to catching live music in Ann Arbor. Numerous artists and bands have graced the Pig’s stage throughout the years, some of them going on to huge fame and acclaim. Names you may just recognize include Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and The Smashing Pumpkins.
Next door to the Blind Pig is another establishment I’d highly recommend checking out. Formerly called Circus Bar, it came under new ownership within the last couple years and is now known as The Circ Bar. Though that’s undoubtedly ushered in plenty of other changes as well, one thing that hasn’t changed is that it remains one of the most popular karaoke spots in town (and in all of Washtenaw County, so they say), with the mic open from 9 p.m. to close, every Wednesday through Sunday.
The second “downtown” of Ann Arbor is centered around State Street, where you can find another handful of worthwhile watering holes. The biggest player here would be Scorekeepers — Skeeps — which typically has a line running all the way down the sidewalk on weekends. Despite recent legal troubles, the good folks down at Skeeps have been able to keep the party going. With a fairly large dance floor and plenty of TVs, it certainly isn’t the worst place to be on a college football Saturday either.
Two other options in the State Street area would be Ashley’s, which is more of a low-key, sit down kind of bar snuggled in between a couple of other businesses near the corner of State and East William, and Necto Nightclub on East Liberty, where you can find three levels of fun and weekly theme nights.
Finally, Ann Arbor’s third “downtown” can be found along South University Avenue, referred to simply as South U. An Absolute stalwart in this area is Good Time Charley’s, known for their burgers and extensive shot selection. Charley’s does a little bit of karaoke themselves, along with weekly trivia nights. Directly above them you’ll find Cantina Taqueria + Bar, which is exactly the kind of place you want to be after downing a few shots at Charley’s. Grad student favorites include the nearby Study Hall Lounge and The Blue Leprechaun, but if you’re looking to go all out with the young guns, there’s always Rick’s American Cafe.
Whatever your poison, ending the night with a stop at Pizza House is never a bad choice.