Leslie Science And Nature Center
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My 4 Favorite Free & Low-Cost Activities in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Being a stay-at-home mom infatuated with adventure, I am constantly looking for simple ways to add more experiences to my and my children’s lives without spending too much.

Over the last seven years, I have learned how to stretch a dollar and pack a full day of fun without spending too much. Michigan is chock full of cities that house impressive nature centers, libraries, and more that are free or inexpensive. 

Peace, Love, And Donuts In Ann Arbor
Peace, Love, and Donuts in Ann Arbor | photo by @exploremichiganmore

A Fun Ann Arbor Day Trip on a Budget

I recently challenged myself to spend a whole day with my kids in Ann Arbor while spending $20 or less. With Ann Arbor being a university town, you will find endless opportunities for exploration on various budgets.

Here is how we spent an entire day in Ann Arbor and brought home change from that twenty dollars mentioned above (excluding gas). 

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Fruity Pebbles Little Donut | photo by @exploremichiganmore

Starting Our Day With a Coffee and Donuts

Our first stop for our adventure we stopped at Peace, Love, and Little Donuts. While I am not a donut connoisseur, my three-year-old is well on her way to becoming one. This is admittedly where we spent most of the budget but still walked away with spending very little.

Their little donuts are the perfect size for your littlest eaters, and you can grab a latte to fuel you up for your next adventure. What day doesn’t start the right way when it begins with a donut? And these aren’t just any donuts.

You’ll have your pick from any style, from a simple honey-glazed to a Fruity Pebble topping. They are frosted and topped to order, so not only will you be impressed by the cleanliness of the store but also by the freshness of your order. 

Not a donut fan? Save this spot because they share their space with Ahmo’s Gyros and Deli. Order the chicken gyro, and don’t forget the fries. You won’t regret it. 

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Photo by @exploremichiganmore

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

You’ll next drive less than five minutes away to the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. We park in the Palmer Parking garage at 200 Palmer Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

My children have a four-year age gap between three years old and seven years old. They both stay engaged and excited throughout the three stories of exhibits at the museum.

The best part? It’s completely free. Donations are always appreciated, but you can visit for free except for your parking fee.

Many times university students are on the floor offering hands-on experiences for your little ones. (Mine even got an up-close experience with a mastodon tooth during their last visit. You’ll find fossils, a whole exhibit exploring Michigan, and so much more.

Have more time and money on your hands? Don’t forget to check the planetarium schedule

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A view of the nature playscape from the Raptor enclosure trail | photo @exploremichiganmore

Leslie Science and Nature Center

Now that you’ve spent most of your morning indoors, it’s time to get outside and enjoy the Leslie Science and Nature Center. The nature center is located in a public park, and you are welcome to enjoy the trails, raptor loop, and playground for free.

There are endless learning opportunities, and you’ll love getting an up-close look at some of our favorite feathered friends that can no longer survive in the wild, so they now have a home at the nature center.

They also have a critter house that is open on select Sundays of the month that is home to many Michigan creatures, so be sure to check their website to plan your visit if you would like to include seeing them. We spent our time visiting the Raptor enclosures and walking the trail back to the nature playscape.

Here your children are encouraged to play alongside and with natural components such as logs, hills, branches, and more. If you are looking for a space for your children to run, build, and stretch their imaginations in the outdoors, look no further, you’ll find it here. 

Matthei Botanical Gardens And Conservatory
Matthei Botanical Gardens | photo by @exploremichiganmore

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arbortreum

Next, you’ll drive just about ten minutes to spend time at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. The gardens occupy more than one space on campus, so for this day trip, or if you are traveling with younger children, I highly encourage you to visit the Matthei Botanical Gardens and Conservatory.

The gardens are free to visit, you’ll just pay for parking. We started our visit by paying at the kiosk and then walking into the visitor center. There you will find restrooms and a gift shop. From there, we entered the conservatory to explore the three different climate zones; Tropical, Temperate, and Arid.

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Taking a walk through the arid climate in the conservatory | photo by @exploremichiganmore

You’ll walk all the way through the conservatory to the very back to find the exit and a trail that will lead you to the highlight of the trip for my kids, the Gaffield Children’s Garden. You’ll find picnic tables along the trail to enjoy your packed lunch and snacks.

From a pollinator garden, Fairy and Troll knoll, or the sand pit, there are endless opportunities for you and your children to connect and play in nature together. 

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Photo by @exploremichiganmore

Enjoy Your Next Budget-Friendly Day Trip To Ann Arbor

While this is only the tip of the iceberg of all of the family-friendly things to do in the great city of Ann Arbor, I hope that you can steal this itinerary and enjoy a budget-friendly, fun-filled day in the A2.

When planning a trip to a new city or even deciding how to spend a day in your own hometown, you can be overwhelmed by all the options, and the dollars can really start to add up as you add more places to your itinerary.

What’s great about this day out is we were able to enjoy a variety of places and explore different types of spaces while keeping our budget but not feeling like we were missing out on anything.

With endless learning and play opportunities, you’ll find yourself wanting to visit these spaces over and over again.

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