Illustration by Nicole Ray
Our Ann Arbor City Guide is brought to us by Michigan native Jaimi Gadaix. Jaimi has always had a passion for design, creative projects and traveling. She traveled the world for a year with her husband Arnaud and lived in The Sweetest Place on Earth: Hershey, PA. Now back in her native “Mitten State,” Jaimi shares with us this incredible guide to the tastes, sounds and even smells of Ann Arbor! Thanks Jaimi for this great guide! — Stephanie
CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!
If you ask anyone from Michigan where they live, you will see them promptly raise their right hand and point it out on the inside of their palm because, simply and conveniently, Michigan looks just like your hand nestled inside a cozy winter mitten. The Mitten State, as it is affectionately known, is home to Ann Arbor, or “A2″, which is situated near the base of the “thumb,” about 30 minutes west of Detroit. It is a great college town, with the University of Michigan bringing an impressive 40,000 students here each and every year to fill the streets with youth, energy and wit. Aside from university life, Tree Town is also home to many permanent residents, a.k.a. “townies,” who have the reputation of being earthy, intelligent and progressive. Ann Arbor boasts fantastic restaurants; a robust art scene with galleries, festivals and art centers; and enough sporting events to satisfy you any time of the year. This cozy town is also cool, like many college towns. Only in this case, Ann Arbor was actually voted the #1 Coolest Small City in America, and Parenting magazine considers it the 4th best place in the U.S. for families. It is also home to many new green and hybrid homes and a respectable number of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired midcentury modern homes, designed by local architecture heroes Robert Metcalf and George Brigham. These facts, along with dozens other noteworthy rankings are simply a great advertisement for what Ann Arborites already know. Ann Arbor is a great place to explore and satisfy every one of your five senses (and a few more). This town and its people inspire me. Below, my good friends and I have compiled what we consider the “best of A2″ to tantalize your senses.
University of Michigan football game — Nicknamed “The Big House,” this stadium seats nearly 110,000 and is the largest stadium in America. A definite main attraction for sports enthusiasts, but be sure to practice the famous fight song, “The Victors,” before you arrive so you can be a real part of the action.
There are three museums that I love to visit. The first is UMMA, the University of Michigan Museum of Art. The second is the Children’s Hands-On Museum, a fun place to take the kids year-round. Finally, I love the dinosaur exhibit at the UofM Exhibit Museum of Natural History. Educational and cool.
Summer Art Fair — Attracting more than 500,000 attendees from across the nation, this festival is the largest of the summer and has enough events to keep you busy for a full week. (http://www.artfair.org/)
Westside Books — Even in the home of powerhouse book retailer Border’s headquarters, independent bookstores thrive and have an old world charm. Westside is a beautiful little shop known for its rare and collectible books and its quintessential professorial bookkeeper who surely knows a thing or two about each and every book in the place. (113 W. Liberty St., ph. (734) 995.1891)
Michigan and State Theaters — Watch a flick here on a rainy day or come into town for the Ann Arbor Film Festival. These theaters are beautiful, historical landmarks right in the heart of downtown.
To be clear, Ann Arbor is full of amazing restaurants, brew pubs and cafes. I couldn’t possibly list them all here, so be sure to check out Ann Arbor’s website before you visit to see everything this town has to offer. I’m including my favorites below (that I’ve visited so far). You will not be disappointed.
Zingerman’s Deli — Zingerman’s owns and operates several food-related venues in Ann Arbor. Voted the “Coolest Small Company in the World” by Inc. magazine and deemed “the center of my gastro-universe” by famous chef Mario Batali, Zingerman’s has a fantastically successful deli, a creamery where you can purchase amazing homemade cheeses, a bakehouse and even a Roadhouse Restaurant with a silver 1960s airstream camper car as the drive-through window, all located in different places around town. Oh yes, they love food. They even published a book all about bacon. Hook, line and sinker?
Grange Kitchen and Bar — Farm-to-table at its finest. This simple and friendly but elegant restaurant on Liberty Street is one of my favorites. Their philosophy of sourcing ingredients locally while providing an excellent meal with high quality taste is what I think Ann Arbor is all about.
Comet Coffee — True coffee lovers will not be disappointed. While short on seating, this small, hip shop is big on quality, style and satisfaction. Situated within the beautiful Nicols Arcade near the campus Diag, strolling here makes one feel as if they were temporarily whisked away to some charming backstreet in Italy. They don’t seem to have a website, but they are active with many fans on Facebook.
FridayMornings@Selma — Quintessential Ann Arbor, FridayMornings@Selma is a local-foods breakfast salon, offering a gathering spot for friends and the community to imagine and create new vital and sustainable additions to the regional food economy on the Westside of Ann Arbor. A rotating roster of local chefs and foodies prepare breakfast using seasonal local ingredients every Friday morning at Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe’s home on the Westside. (http://www.repastspresentandfuture.org/fmselma/)
Jefferson Market and Cakery — In the middle of a cool, old neighborhood, across the street from Bach Elementary School (with a great playground) and just blocks from downtown, Jefferson Market and Cakery is the place to go if you want a quiet but great cup of joe or a handmade lunch. Then, there are the cakes and pastries. A definite must-try.
Eve — Situated on the corner of a beautiful brick building in charming Kerrytown, you can easily miss Eve when walking by, but if you experience Eve, it is not easily forgotten. Think French/American/Asian fusion, delicious flavors, hip style and fresh ingredients. Every detail is thoughtful and the food is complex and delicious. Try the Spa Martini.
Durham’s Tacklments — This “smokehouse” provides what some consider to be the best tasting smoked fish they’ve ever tried. Located in Kerrytown, this small store-front specializing in salmon is big on flavor. Great for yourself or as a unique gift.
Sparrow Market — Sparrow Meat Market is a retail meat store featuring a variety of USDA Grade A choice cuts of beef, veal and lamb. Their inventory also includes specialty sausages and Amish poultry products as well as chicken, duck and pheasant. You can even find more exotic birds here, such as poussin, capons and more. Foiegras and Cajun foods are also available.
Aut Bar — I love the tagline and message of this place: “Changing the world one Cosmo at a time.” This gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender restaurant and bar located in the heart of Kerrytown is not only open, fun and proud, but it hosts incredible events year-round that support dozens of causes, encouraging everyone to play a part in bettering our community.
Seva — Since 1973, Seva has been the favorite vegetarian restaurant in town. Delicious and robust, even meat-eaters leave feeling satisfied.
Fleetwood Diner — This dive is awesome. Weird, hip and friendly, Fleetwood Diner is a place that most U of M students know well. It’s small and has limited seating, but always seems to be packed. I personally have not eaten here but people say it’s good “diner” food and being open very late makes it a huge draw for night owls.
Jolly Pumpkin — Located on the popular restaurant row of Main Street, this brewery and cafe is warm, cozy and perfect when you need a great place for a casual meal and a beer.
Dominick’s — I’ll just quote a review I recently read from Trip Advisor: “Sangria, drinks, atmosphere are the best in A2 . . . I seem to remember eating pizza and something too . . . ” Outdoor seating on huge picnic tables and drinking their famous Sangria from bell jars makes this a perfect summer hangout. (812 Monroe St., ph. 734.662.5414)
Monihans Seafood Market — Located in the Shops at Kerrytown, this fresh fish and seafood market has a fantastic reputation and fresh seafood daily. What’s best — you can order anything from the case made-to-order to eat in-house for lunch or to take home as a gourmet meal.
Kosmo’s — Kosmo’s is directly across from Monihan’s Seafood Market. With it’s out-of-this-world decor, you can order Korean dishes such as B-Bim Bop, Bulgogi, and twigim. It’s constantly busy, but tables turn quickly and the food and service are well worth the wait.
Growing up on the west side of the state (yes, holding up hand and pointing to the right outer edge of my palm), I always heard Ann Arbor had an amazing music scene. Nestled between Detroit’s industrial sprawl and Chicago’s bustle, people tend to mingle here to play to the university crowd.
The Ark — Considered one of the best music clubs in the world, The Ark is a non-profit club home for folk and roots acoustic music.
The Blind Pig — A hot spot for hip local acts and up-and-coming touring bands, The Blind Pig once hosted Jimmy Hendrix, John Lennon, Iggy Pop, The Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam, to name a few. It was Nirvana, however, that put this club on the map when they said The Blind Pig was their number one venue of choice anywhere, ever, in a televised MTV interview. That’s a pretty good testimonial.
The 8 Ball Saloon — Inherently cool and proudly one of Ann Arbor’s last surviving true dive bars, The 8 Ball is in the basement of The Blind Pig. It is the only place in town with Old Style on tap and it has many of the tried-and-true traditional activities, including darts, a jukebox and pool tables. It reminds me of the kind of place that would be called, during prohibition, The Library, if you know what I mean. (http://www.blindpigmusic.com/8BALL.html)
Kerrytown District — Kerrytown is the historic area of downtown Ann Arbor. Homes and businesses coexist here in perfect harmony. It’s charming and has many great places to swing into (click on the link below for full listing of shops and restaurants), but the highlight of this district is surely the Farmer’s Market, open each and every Wednesday and Saturday. Touch, taste and pick up your weekly produce and check out some very talented local artisans.
Blue House of Ann Arbor — I couldn’t possibly write about this town without mentioning how creative it is. Now there is a home (a cute blue one across from the football stadium) that brings together makers of all levels to create, share and connect in an environment dedicated to everything handmade. This creative, handmade studio is like Etsy, only you can actually shop there in person to find that locally made perfect gift for you and a friend without breaking the bank. You can even sign up for a super casual class with a local artist to create your very own handmade item (I took the screen printing class lead by Marcy Davy and it was fantastic). If you are coming from out of town, this would make a perfect souvenir. Siobhan Lyle, the HCC (Head Crafter in Charge) is so cool, laid back and welcoming that you will instantly feel at home. She says “creation is part of our existence. By sharing these creative experiences and talents, we grow stronger together and foster community.” Be sure to check the schedule of events and attend one of the many hip arts and crafts shows that take place here year-round. Blue House also has studio space and supplies available for local artisans with ideas, but no place to execute them. Photos courtesy of Blue House and Miss Monet Photography.
Pot and Box — Hailing from the northwest and Hawaii, Pot and Box has thankfully planted roots here in Ann Arbor. Talented landscape artist Lisa can make your yard resemble Eden, or you can simply bring home the most delightful arrangement of flowers to grace your dining table. And we love her in Ann Arbor, because she promises only beautiful, ethically-sourced and responsibly-serviced flowers and plants.
Hash Bash — Yes, you are reading that correctly. The Hash Bash is an event that takes place every spring for thousands of cannabis aficionados from all over. This is within the “smell” category because once a year, you know it’s Hash Bash from anywhere in the city by simply holding your head up high and taking a whiff. This gathering began with The Beatles. Well, actually it was John Lennon and Yoko Ono who lead a rally in Ann Arbor in 1971 to protest the jailing of poet John Sinclair for possession of marijuana. Each April, the Hash Bash commemorates the occasion and supports the reform of MJ laws. If you plan to make the trip for this event, please research current state and local laws and do be responsible.
If you’re in the mood to shop, there are plenty of great “university stores” (Urban Outfitters, American Apparel), and many unique, eclectic, artsy and vintage shops that will keep you plenty busy. But I still secretly wish for an Anthropologie or a Design within Reach. It must be said that people here appreciate good clothes, but instead of being fixated with what’s new at the Gap, we are more into our own individual styles, creatively consigning and living a life that is slightly more focused on experiences vs. material objects. That, in my opinion is why Ann Arbor has major style in it’s own right. Here are some of my favorites:
Acme Mercantile — Self-proclaimed as The World’s Smallest Department Store, at 900 square feet, Acme is part retro/fun gift shop, part hardware store with a midcentury modern twist in its merchandise and display. Located in an historic brownstone building, Acme is on Liberty Street, one of best streets in town.
Treasure Mart — Walk down Detroit Street from Zingerman’s Deli and you will find a blue brick building appropriately named The Treasure Mart where you can shop (or consign) gently-used items and experience the best of our re-use and re-purpose lifestyle. Treasure Mart has anything you can imagine — a good consignment store with amazing furniture and great vintage kitchenware.
Bivouac — On popular State Street, Bivouac is “where outdoor passion meets indoor fashion.” Find all the major outdoor brands here such as KEEN and Patagonia.
The Get Up — A fabulously packed little treasure full of great vintage clothes, accessories and more. The have amazing style. Be in the mood to hunt and/or take a friend for opinions.
Heavenly Metal — Heavenly Metal is a gallery/gift shop in downtown Ann Arbor featuring recycled-metal artwork, jewelry, purses, books, scarves, apparel, shoes, home goods and unique gift items. Most work is handcrafted by artists around the globe.
Perpetua Boutique — Specializing in sustainable, environmentally friendly, organic clothing for men and women.
Elephant Ears — Simply the best children’s boutique I’ve ever visited. In the heart of Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown District, this beautiful store is situated in an old brick building with two floors and fabulous merchandising. You simply cannot go in without buying a) what you were looking for and b) a few extras. They have clothing, accessories, toys, furniture, strollers and a great play area for your kids while you shop. The staff is always knowledgeable, friendly and incredibly willing to help. This store is so fun that I sincerely hope they decide to open an adult clothing store, too.
The Little Seedling — This children’s boutique offers a lovely selection of organic baby clothes, hip gear and wooden toys. But the reason I love this shop on the far west side of town is that the owner brings her baby to work, so I never feel embarrassed that mine wants to run around and “make noise.” This place started out as (and is still known for) a cloth diapering educational center, set up with a huge selection of cloth diaper supplies and a helpful staff that gives any mom looking to “take the giant leap” away from the world of disposable diapers confidence.
Ann Arbor is a fun town. It’s a place where college students rule, bike lanes are everywhere and neighboring city folk come to party, enjoy a great meal, see a sporting event or visit a museum. Playing is what we do best. But I do think that Ann Arbor’s amazing outdoor “playgrounds” for kids and adults alike are what make the city so fun.
Parks and Rec — If you plan a trip to Ann Arbor, you won’t get far from I-94 without noticing how important parks are to this town. Proudly, Ann Arbor has 157 city parks linked all throughout this “Tree Town.” Whether you want a long leisurely stroll along the Huron River through Gallup Park, a hike through the beautiful Nichols Arboretum or a visit to the amazing Children’s Garden at Matthaei Botanical Garden, you will surely find a park to suit your mood and your schedule. As a stay-at-home mama, I personally love the endless number of great playground parks in town. It’s always fun for my kids to go on an adventure to find a new one. Ann Arbor is also home to seven beautiful golf courses and endless trails. With the Huron River flowing through town, the city boasts some of the finest kayaking and fishing around. The city parks and recreation website has all the information you will need to plan your outdoor voyage.
Fairy Doors — If you are in the mood for a fun, easy and free family event, Ann Arbor’s Fairy Door Hunt is the perfect adventure for you. Magical little hidden fairy doors are hidden throughout town. Download the Fairy Door Map to get started.
Vetrans Park — Who doesn’t love to go sledding? If you come here in the winter, Vets Park is the perfect place to feel like you are in a winter wonderland.
There isn’t a college town out there without a few “secrets” and this town is no exception. Be sure to ask around during your visit, as you will surely find a great new spot or an unexpected adventure. And if you do a bit of Googling, you can learn how both Madonna and The Naked Mile played a part in Ann Arbor’s history.