While some college towns gain a reputation for being wild or total hipster-ville, to the exclusion of the rest of the residents, Ann Arbor isn’t like that at all. It’s a wonderful mix of historic and hip, affordable and luxurious, approachable and impressive. You’re as likely to see young families and senior citizens as you are college kids, all dining, shopping, strolling and taking in events all over town. Mix that with some really unique businesses, a beautiful campus everyone can enjoy, unreal restaurants and a year-round farmers market (yes, in Michigan) and you have something every college town should be – a place for everyone to enjoy.
Look around for charm and great shopping
Downtown Ann Arbor is laid out in a logical, orderly manner and is quite walkable. That’s a good way to take it in too because when you’re on foot you can window shop, catch enticing aromas from restaurants, notice tiny details, read historical markers and meet nice people. Despite being out in the elements, walking around downtown Ann Arbor really lends itself to the holiday spirit.
Be sure to look down while you’re window shopping, or you’ll miss The Fairy Doors of Ann Arbor https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy_Doors_of_Ann_Arbor. Since the early 1990’s, tiny doors have been spotted down near the ground all over downtown Ann Arbor. They can easily be missed if you don’t know to look for them. This is an especially wonderful task for children who are, after all, closer to the ground and more likely to spot them. Some people leave little tokens such as pennies or polished rocks for whomever might be inhabiting whatever might be behind these doors.
Also charming is the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market http://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/parks-places/farmers-market/Pages/default.aspx which sells locally-grown produce, treats and artisan goods in Kerrytown www.kerrytown.org, a few blocks from downtown. In early December, the market hosts KindleFest where you can purchase gifts, meet artisans, enjoy holiday entertainment and generally get in the holiday spirit.
With nearly 300 restaurants of every type and price range within a 20 mile radius, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by Ann Arbor’s restaurant scene. The only problem was deciding where to go! I’m sure the community demands a wide range of quality dining offerings and that same, eager community supports them all, too. Highlights during my visit were the exotic Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant http://www.bluenilemi.com/bluenile/12/content.html, Isalita http://www.isalita.com/ where I learned a ton in a tequila tasting, TeaHaus http://teahaus.com for scones and clotted cream, Mani Osteria http://maniosteria.com/ where I had one of the best meals of my life and Slurping Turtle http://slurpingturtle.com/annarbor/ a college student’s dream, near the campus.
You can’t be in Ann Arbor without seeing the name Zingerman’s. Their “Community of Businesses” includes Zingerman’s Deli www.zingermansdeli.com recognized as one of the 10 Best Jewish Delis in the U.S., a bakehouse, a creamery, a coffee shop, a roadhouse and Zingerman’s Cornman Farms.
After seeing fermented goods by The Brinery http://thebrinery.com/ sold at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, I was excited to tour the facility and meet the owner, David Klingenberger, Chief Fermenting Officer. Passionate, animated and as nice as can be, Klingenberger showed us how he makes his raw, fermented goodies such as pickles, kraut and kimchi without using vinegar. You can even take fermentation classes there.
The Gift of Art, Theater and Music
Ann Arbor has a wealth of cultural opportunities. The students (and the residents) are fortunate to have the University of Michigan Museum of Art http://www.umma.umich.edu/ right there on their beautiful campus. The design of the building and the 18,000-piece collection inside is wide-ranging. We took in a glorious Handel’s Messiah concert in the University’s Hill Auditorium http://www.music.umich.edu/about/facilities/central_campus/hill/ that included an audience sing-along that was so beautiful, it gave me chills. You’ll truly feel like a local at The Ark http://www.theark.org/, Ann Arbor’s famous, casual music venue with more than 300 performances each year. There, we saw a local band The Appleseed Collective http://www.theappleseedcollective.com/, hometown boys who play an eclectic mix of tunes who have since gone on to tour nationally. For theater, slightly out of town in Chelsea, there is the Purple Rose Theater http://www.purplerosetheatre.org/, created by actor Jeff Daniels. He often performs there, either as an actor, director or musician.
Whether you’re a football fan or not, seeing “The Big House,” University of Michigan’s football stadium http://www.mgoblue.com/facilities/michigan-stadium.html needs to be on your must-see list. It’s the largest football stadium in the United States, seating nearly 110,000. Tours are available and offer sights and views only the players get.
Even with winter’s chill, Ann Arbor is a great destination. With lots to keep you busy, things to explore and learn and wonderful people to meet, you’ll have your holiday vacation all wrapped up. For more information about Ann Arbor, visit www.visitannarbor.org .
Courtney Drake-McDonough is a Denver native whose experience with many a Colorado winter only made her love Ann Arbor more. She is an award-winning writer, photographer and editor specializing in travel, the arts and all things foodie. She gets to address all of that at www.InGoodTasteDenver.com.
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