Monday, January 20, 2020

Ten Amazing Things To Do In Ann Arbor, Michigan That Don't Involve Football

Ann Arbor is so much more than just the home to the University of Michigan (photo c/o Destination Ann Arbor)

When I told my husband I was going to Ann Arbor for a getaway, he stared at me perplexed. “But, you hate the cold,” he sputtered. “And, you don’t even like college sports.” He had a point, but I also have a slight obsession with outerwear and this trip would give me a chance to break some of my favorites out of the closet where they generally live in hibernation. Located in southeast Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Ann Arbor lies at the center of a greater collection of communities in Washtenaw County. Southwest and American Airlines both fly direct to Detroit, and Ann Arbor is a mere 30-minute drive from the airport, making it an easy destination.

Ann Arbor might be best known as home to the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) which boasts a student population of about 45,000. The University was founded in 1817 in Detroit but was moved to Ann Arbor in 1837. The University’s football stadium is known as “The Big House” and can seat 107,601 fans – making it the second-largest stadium in the Northern Hemisphere and the second largest in the world. While many know of their football prowess, what you might not be aware of is that as of October 2019, 25 Nobel Prize winners, 6 Turing Award winners and 1 Fields Medalist have been affiliated with the University of Michigan making them an academic force to be reckoned with as well. The University is an undeniable presence in Ann Abor, but after spending four days there, what I discovered that it’s far more than just a bustling college town.

With so many thriving communities nearby, Ann Arbor has become a cultural melting pot and urban oasis. What I discovered is that Ann Arbor is many things, including a bustling university town, diverse culinary hotspot, and a tech hub with a walkable downtown that includes world-class arts and culture. With so much to see, do and eat, let’s dive in as I share my top picks (in no particular order) to ensure a fun and fabulous trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A pair of Mastodon's greet visitors at the newly renovated Museum of Natural History

1) Soar, roar and explore at the Museum of Natural History
UMMNH closed in 2017 for a major makeover costing $261 million. They recently reopened a brand-new 312,000 square-foot Biological Sciences Building, one of the largest and most interactive teaching and research facilities of its kind among higher education institutions, so you can now see "old bones in a new home". Upon entering, guests are greeted by the museum’s iconic mastodon couple, will view prehistoric whale skeletons, and can walk through 4 billion years of the history of life on Earth, where you can see and touch real specimens - even a T. rex skull! That’s cool. Some of the museum’s newest features include a 25-foot Quetzalcoatlus pterosaur flying high in the Biological Sciences Building atrium; a high-tech planetarium with a dome theater; and an interactive, multimedia “Tree of Life” display to illustrate the connections among all living things. 

2) Dine at Miss Kim’s Korean Restaurant
Chef Ji Hye Kim grew up in Seoul, South Korea and is obsessed with ancient Korean culinary texts and the finer points of fermentation. The food is rooted in Korean tradition and adapted to showcase Michigan’s bountiful produce. Chef Kim works with local farmers to build a menu that shines seasonally. The menu features small, medium and large plates that are meant for sharing. They are a One Fair Wage restaurant, which means that servers are paid fairly and do not rely on tips for their living. Tips are never expected but always appreciated. I recommend you try the Tteokbukki, Bibimbob and Korean Fried Chicken.

Motawi Tiles are coveted the world over (photo c/o Destination Ann Arbor)

3) Tour Motawi Tileworks
Founded in 1992, Nawal Motawi started making tiles in her garage and selling them at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market next to the rutabaga sellers. More than 30 artisans now make tiles in a 12,900 square foot studio and sell them through 300+ stores spread across the United States. Motawi tiles inspired by works of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and include such subjects as nature, art, and architecture. Some of the artists whose work has been adapted by Motawi include Charley Harper, Dard Hunter, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Most tiles produced by Motawi are either styled in “Relief”, a low-relief sculpture colored with a single glaze, or “Polychrome”, a separation of several colors by a small ridge of clay. Free tours are offered Tuesdays at 1pm and Thursdays at 11am. Tours typically last 60-90 minutes and are best for ages 8 to adult. Reservations are not required. Every Saturday at noon and at 3pm, they offer a free docent-led factory walk-through of the Tileworks. Walk-throughs typically last approximately 20 minutes.

Kerrytown Market and Shops is home to many boutiques and specialty stores (photo c/o Kerrytown)

4) Shop Kerrytown District 
Just a few blocks from the heart of downtown Ann Arbor is a neighborhood with distinctive, one-of-a-kind stores, and the charm of an earlier time. Kerrytown Market & Shops stands out as the most unique collection of shops in the area. From jewelry, paper and toys to delicious sausages, smoked fish, soups and salsas, shopping here is a different kind of experience. Don't miss Fustini's which offers a wide array of oils and vinegars, pasta, tapenades, honey, and more. They also offer cooking classes to teach you new and better ways to incorporate oils and vinegars in your cooking. Found is where vintage meets modern. Browse their unique selection of jewelry and home d├ęcor. V2V was my favorite clothing boutique showcasing beautiful clothing and accessories for every day and evening wear.

Zingerman's Creamery offers cheeses for purchase and fun tasting classes

5) Cut the cheese at Zingerman’s Creamery 
Zingerman’s Creamery got its start in 2001 making Real Cream Cheese®, an enduring Ann Arbor favorite which has been hailed by Cook’s Illustrated for “its full flavor and well-rounded balance between saltiness, tanginess, and creaminess.” They specialize in making cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses, gelato, and sorbets. Everything is made in small batches with the best local milk from small farmers who share their passion for quality and tradition. Join Zingerman's cheesemongers for an evening of cheese tasting, discussion, history, and more. Start with the basics in Cheese 101 or check out one of their more specialized classes covering topics like Beer & Cheese pairing, Wine & Cheese pairing, and Cooking with Cheese. All classes come with bread from Zingerman's Bakehouse, plus dried fruit, nuts, and pickled veggies from their Cream Top Shop selection.

Michigan is famous for its cherries and Cheery Republic offers all sorts of cherry-made gifts and foods
(photo c/o Destination Ann Arbor)

6) Wander Main Street 
Ranked one of the best streets in America by Fodor’s Travel, Ann Arbor’s Main Street is full of gift spots, unique galleries, and so much more. If you are looking for a souvenir unique to Michigan, stop by Cherry Republic where you’ll find all sorts of cherry-made candies and food products, wine and more. Get in your window-shopping and coffee fix, and make sure you go to one of the locally owned, indie bookstores and giftshops like Crazy Wisdom or Literati, recently named the 2019 Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year. Other stores of interest are WSG Gallery, a gallery owned by 16 artists, and a showcase for fine art at affordable prices. 

The best meal I had in Ann Arbor was at Taste Kitchen

7) Date Night at Taste Kitchen
From start to finish, the absolute best meal I had during my stay was at Taste Kitchen. Chef Danny Hua fuses Vietnamese, French and American cuisines together in a completely unique menu paired with a beautiful wine list. The menu showcases their chef's ambition to build sophisticated, layered yet unadorned dishes, all beautiful stand-alone, or part of a longer multi-course journey. The only problem you’ll have is deciding what to get. The good news is that everything is so divine there are no bad choices!

Shop from over 100+ local vendors at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market (photo c/o Destination Ann Arbor)

8) Graze Your Way Through Farmers Market 
There is a thriving farm-to-table movement in the community that reaches from home kitchens to restaurant dining rooms. The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is open year-round in Kerrytown, bringing local farm-fresh produce and more to the community on a weekly basis. The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is a gathering place for more than 100 local businesses, the producer-only market offers native plants, artisanal yogurt, cheese and baked goods, fresh-picked vegetables, slow-roasted coffee beans, fermented sauerkraut and Sriracha, cut flowers, hardwood cutting boards and planters, premier Michigan fruits and nuts, maple syrup and so much more. Open weekdays and Saturday, 11am to 3pm.

(Left) ‘Love Is What You Want' at the University of Michigan Museum of Art
(Right) My travel buddy @VeeTravels in Graffiti Alley

9) Take a selfie 
These days, life is all about an Instagrammable moment and Ann Arbor offers several amazing spots guaranteed to have folks back home double-tapping. Cross the street in front of Michigan Theater or State Theater, strike a pose at Graffiti Alley, look studious inside the Law Quad at the University of Michigan, break the glass ceiling (not literally) at Nickels Arcade, a one of a kind shopping corridor with a beautiful glass ceiling, home to unique stores and a great coffee shop, and show your Friends and Followers that ‘Love Is What You Want” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Peony Garden at the Nichols Arboretum (photo c/o Destination Ann Arbor)

10) Parks & Recreation Abound 
Michigan is renowned for being one of the most beautiful places in the United States, so pack a pair of sneakers and plan to get outside! According to the Destination Ann Arbor website, "the natural, scenic areas are vast – full of trails to explore and hike. The area champions its wealth of natural environments, with an incredible and diverse offering of parks, gardens, and outdoor attractions." Both the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum are free to the public - walking the trails, visiting the indoor conservatory, and wandering through one of Matthaei’s 11 outdoor garden spaces should be a part of your “to do” list. The Arboretum is perfect for a scenic stroll along the river or a picnic in the gorgeous Peony Garden. In the summer, paddle down the Huron River Water Trail in a kayak or canoe, mountain bike through the Waterloo State Recreation Area and view the sand hill crane migration. Ann Arbor offers a wealth of outdoor options.

Visit Destination Ann Arbor at for more information on how to plan your perfect trip! 

This post was brought to you by Destination Ann Arbor. While I did receive compensation for authoring this post in the form of travel arrangements; product selections, descriptions, and opinions are 100% my own. Interested in a sponsored post or product review? Contact me for rates and details.