Whether you plan to spend one day exploring the city or you are hoping to spend the academic year in town, you will find that there are endless things to do in Ann Arbor Michigan for people of all ages and interests.
Some call it “Tree Town” while others refer to it as “A-Squared” (A2), but no matter what you call it, everyone knows that the City of Ann Arbor is one of the most happening places in Michigan.
Ann Arbor’s vibrant atmosphere is anchored by the University of Michigan, which brings in more than 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students every year into the city, and its commitment to cultural cultivation is fueled by the many professors, young professionals, and long-time, full-time residents who call the city home.
People who are searching for good food, interesting experiences, and educational opportunities will find no shortage of options in Ann Arbor. The historic downtown area is home to dozens of locally-owned shops, restaurants, and businesses, and the surrounding community is shaded by the thousands upon thousands of trees that thrive in Ann Arbor.
About Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor has a reputation for being a college town, a cultural hub, a foodie destination, and a tech-savvy community. In short, it’s a melting pot with multiple identities, making it one of the few places in the state where anyone can arrive and feel instantly at home.
Modern ideals continue to push the city further and further into the future, but it’s still possible to uncover the charm of the past in this city. Before you begin exploring the Ann Arbor of today, it’s important to understand how this community came to be.
History of Ann Arbor
While the land that now makes up Ann Arbor was once the home of the Potawatomi tribes, it was settled by European speculators in 1825. The two men who founded the city named it after their wives — who both were named Ann — as well as the abundance of oak trees in the area. At the time, they founded the city as “Annarbour” but it grew to one day be known by two words, Ann Arbor.
Within a decade of settlement, the landowners in the community made a bid to make Ann Arbor the state’s capital. It may not have won the coveted title of Michigan’s capital city, but it was awarded the honor of being the home to the new University of Michigan. In 1837, the university was founded, meaning that both the university as well as the city itself have grown in tandem with one another, forming an inextricable link between the two.
Not even two years after the university was founded, the Michigan Central Railroad arrived, connecting Ann Arbor with Toledo and transforming the community into a bustling hub of activity. Soon, people began arriving from all over the world, hoping to make Ann Arbor their home.
The city grew and prospered into the 20th century, quickly developing a reputation for being an active, progressive community. Today, Ann Arbor is a melting pot with citizens from all over the world. The young minds who study at the university combined with the experts who lead it have created a cultural community unlike anything else in the Great Lakes State.
Outdoor Things to Do in Ann Arbor Michigan
Named in part due to the thousands of trees that grow in the area, it comes as no surprise that there are an abundance of outdoor activities to try in Ann Arbor. These are just a few of the ways that you can experience the natural beauty of the community.
Kayak the Huron River
Perhaps the most peaceful — and maybe also the most popular — outdoor activity to try in Ann Arbor is kayaking down the Huron River. The Huron River is a gentle river that flows on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, making it the perfect place for people of all skill levels to try their hand at paddling.
There are two river trips that you can embark on in Ann Arbor. The Argo Park to Gallup Park trip is a favorite among locals and visitors because it is a gentle stretch of river and the trip takes about an hour and a half to complete.
For a more adventurous experience, you might consider the nearly six-mile trip from Barton to Gallop which takes about two-and-a-half hours to finish.
Ann Arbor Farmers Market
For more than a century, locals have been getting fresh produce and artisan products at the historic Ann Arbor Farmers Market.
While other Michigan farmers markets in the area open up during the summer months and the early fall, this extensive farmers market is open on Saturdays all year long.
During the summer, guests are able to shop at the market from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both Wednesdays and Saturdays. At any given market, you will discover more than 120 vendors who sell a vast range of products, including fresh produce, dairy products, pastries, international cuisine, and more.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum
The Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum is an outdoor space that is more than just a sanctuary for those who want to immerse themselves in nature — it’s a living, breathing educational facility dedicated to promoting the cause of environmental stewardship.
At the gardens, visitors are able to wind their way through various gardens, some of which are ornately designed and others that focus more on preserving natural ecosystems. From babbling brooks and quaint ponds to labyrinths designed to reflection, there are places where everyone can find peace, comfort, and joy outdoors.
Kerrytown Market & Shops
Kerrytown is a historic neighborhood in Ann Arbor that is best known for its well-preserved brick buildings and charming appeal. While it was once a residential area, today it is a series of markets and shops, where some of the most iconic destinations in Ann Arbor are located.
Zingerman’s Deli, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and Braun Court are just a few of the best places to visit on a sunshine-filled day in Ann Arbor.
Stepping into the Nickels Arcade feels as if you are taking a trip through time. This covered, historic shopping area was established in 1917, and to this day, it houses some of the oldest retail businesses in the city.
Technically considered an outdoor attraction, the Nickels Arcade is a great place to visit — regardless of the weather. It is one of the best places in the city for antique shopping.
Ann Arbor Parks
It comes as no surprise that a city dedicated to environmentalism and sustainability has many parks for its residents, students, and visitors to enjoy. These are just a few of the best parks in Ann Arbor:
- Gallup Park — Located along the shores of the Huron River, Gallup Park is one of the largest and most well-loved parks in the city. Consisting of more than 69 acres, this park features an idyllic pond, riverfront access, watercraft rentals, scenic walkways, and three different playgrounds.
- Buhr Park — Buhr Park is a family-friendly park in Ann Arbor that is always bustling with activity. Known for its extensive recreational facilities, this park features an outdoor pool, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and a playground. During the winter, the park creates a seasonal ice rink and there is a sledding hill to enjoy.
- Lillie Park — On the outskirts of the city, Lillie Park provides an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life. This park features picnic areas, a hiking trail, a designated fishing area, soccer fields, a playground, and picnic areas.
Public Golf Courses in Ann Arbor
Golf has long been a treasured pastime in Ann Arbor. Today, there are more than 20 different public golf courses in the city and throughout the surrounding area — some of which have been hosting golfers for more than a century.
Some of the best public golf courses in Ann Arbor include:
- Leslie Park Golf Course
- Eagle Crest Golf Club
- Huron Hills Golf Course
- U-M Golf Course
Michigan Stadium – The Big House
No Ann Arbor experience is truly complete without a visit to Michigan Stadium. Known to all locals and students as “The Big House,” this football stadium can seat more than 100,000 people. On any given Saturday in the fall, the thunderous roar of the crowd can be heard across town.
Football fans know that there is no other stadium that offers the same atmosphere or game-day experience, which is why a trip to The Big House is on the bucket list of many Michigan travelers.
If you are the kind of person who likes to discover hidden gems while you are exploring local communities, then Graffiti Alley is one of the best outdoor attractions in Ann Arbor. It would be easy to pass by this small walkway and ignore it — but it’s actually an ever-evolving work of art that welcomes graffiti artists.
Graffiti Alley can be found off of Liberty Street in Downtown Ann Arbor. For decades, artists have been coming to the alley to leave their mark and make a point, and as a result, every trip to Graffiti Alley is bound to be different than the last.
The Border-to-Border Trail is known to most locals as the B2B Trail. This 35-mile accessible trail is maintained by Washtenaw County and is one of the top recreational trails in the community.
Featuring 6 trail pathways and paved trails the entire way, this trail is the best way to reach many of the top attractions in the county.
Domino’s Farms Petting Farm
The Petting Farm at Domino’s Farms is a favorite family-friendly attraction in Ann Arbor. This farm provides visitors of all ages with a hands-on, immersive experience where they can meet, pet, and feed the farm animals.
The farm is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and some of the animals at the farm include cows, horses, goats, alpacas, and llamas.
Furstenberg Nature Area
Located just west of Gallup Park, the Furstenberg Nature Area is one of the best places for wildlife watching in Ann Arbor. Consisting of more than 38 acres, this natural preserve features spectacular Huron River views as well as trails that wind through various ecosystems, including wetlands, prairie, and woodland areas.
Indoor Things to Do in Ann Arbor Michigan
When you need a break from the elements, you will find plenty of indoor things to do in Ann Arbor. These attractions are beloved by local residents and visitors of all ages, allowing everyone to make the most out of their time in the city.
There may not be a lot of natural rock climbing opportunities in Ann Arbor, but fortunately, you can still scale to the tallest heights at Planet Rock. Planet Rock in Ann Arbor is considered one of the top rock climbing facilities in the state, and there are adventurous excursions available for people of all ages and skill levels.
The Michigan Theater is a historic theater in downtown Ann Arbor that is the heart of the community’s arts and culture scene. At this theater, patrons are able to view performances by the Not Just for Kids children’s theater production, the University Musical Society, and the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.
In addition, the theater showcases films in a variety of formats and is known for its state-of-the-art sound system. Of course, the most iconic moment of any performance at the theater is the organ introduction, a classic touch that is hard to find these days.
Located on the University of Michigan campus, Hill Auditorium is considered to be one of the best concert halls in the world. This concert hall was built in 1913, and it seats more than 3,500 people. Known for its incredible acoustics, most people consider themselves lucky to hear concerts performed in this venue.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
While the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is located more than 100 miles away in Grand Rapids, the Presidential Library is situated on the University of Michigan’s campus. This sprawling library is filled with important archival materials from the Gerald Ford Administration.
Ann Arbor Ice Cube
The Ann Arbor Ice Cube is the best place in the city to enjoy hockey, skating lessons, figure skating, and more. No matter what time of year it is, the ice is frozen and ready for skating at The Cube, as it is affectionately known by the locals. People of all ages and skill levels are welcome.
Ann Arbor Museums
With the University of Michigan’s campus located in the heart of the city, you can practically feel the educational atmosphere in the city. It’s not surprising that this esteemed city that values scholarly inquiry is home to many Michigan museums, such as the:
- Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
- University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA)
- Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
- University of Michigan Museum of Natural History
Annual Festivals and Events in Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor is a community that loves to bring people together, which is why the city hosts several annual festivals and events throughout the year. Some of the most popular festivals and events in Ann Arbor include:
Ann Arbor Art Fair
Every year in late July, more than 500,000 people from across the Midwest head to Ann Arbor in order to experience the famed Ann Arbor Art Fair.
This massive art fair takes place over 30 blocks in the city’s downtown area and brings more than 1,000 artists to town. It is one of the best places to shop for local art, such as paintings, sculptures, jewelry, photography, and more.
Ann Arbor Symphony
The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra puts on a variety of performances throughout its annual season, allowing full-time residents, students, and visitors to experience their incredible symphonic concerts.
The season typically begins in September and spans through April, with nearly a dozen performances taking place throughout that time.
Ann Arbor Film Festival
For more than 60 years, the Ann Arbor Film Festival has been promoting the innovative work of visionary filmmakers. This festival, which is the oldest and longest-running avant-garde film festival on the continent, takes place each year in March.
Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF)
The city kicks off the summer season each year with the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Known to most locals as A2SF, this festival is a four-week exhibition that celebrates all things arts and culture as well as outdoor entertainment.
The focus of the festival is to build community and to bring people together, all while connecting over a shared bond of the performing arts. Throughout the festival, there are more than 200 performances, activities, and experiences to enjoy, and nearly 80,000 people attend every year.
Best Ann Arbor Restaurants
If you are planning a trip to Ann Arbor, make sure that you arrive with an appetite. This city has an abundance of restaurants, ranging from sophisticated locales with luxurious dining rooms to fast-paced delis that have become famous around the world.
No matter what type of meal you are craving, you are sure to find the food that sounds good to you in one of best Ann Arbor restaurants.
Casual Restaurants in Ann Arbor
Much of the Ann Arbor food scene is dominated by international restaurants and eclectic dining experiences, which can seem intimidating to those who are looking for a more casual style.
Fortunately, the city also is home to many cozy, comfortable, and welcoming casual restaurants, including:
Fine Dining in Ann Arbor
Whether you live in Ann Arbor full-time or you are simply stopping by for a few days, you will find that there’s always a reason to celebrate when you are in town.
Fortunately, there are many magnificent fine dining restaurants in the city, each of which offers a distinct atmosphere, a worldly menu, and exceptional service.
One of the most famous fine-dining restaurants in Ann Arbor is:
Places to Get Coffee and Ice Cream in Ann Arbor
With its dynamic downtown area, Ann Arbor is the kind of place where people love to stroll. And there is no better way to enhance your walk through Ann Arbor than with a coffee in your hand or an ice cream on a cone.
In this city, you will find that there’s no such thing as mass-produced coffee and ice cream. Here, you will find handcrafted creations that emphasize flavor while utilizing local ingredients. These are some of the best places to get coffee and ice cream in Ann Arbor:
Ann Arbor Wineries and Breweries
Ann Arbor may be known as a foodie down, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a few frothy or refreshing beverages while you are exploring the city.
In fact, there are many wineries and breweries in Ann Arbor that allow you to get the best of both worlds — a hearty meal as well as a fantastic craft beverage.
If you are looking to imbibe, then these are the best Ann Arbor wineries and breweries to check out during your time in town:
Where to Stay in Ann Arbor Michigan
In order to enjoy an authentic Ann Arbor experience, it’s important to stay at a locally-owned hotel, vacation rental, or campground. These are some of the places that will allow you to make the most of your time in the city:
- Ann Arbor Regent Hotel & Suites — Centrally located and offering convenient access to the best things to do in Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Regent Hotel & Suites is considered to be one of the top hotels in the city. This family-owned hotel has a reputation for excellence and is known for its clean, chic style and personal service.
- Weber’s Boutique Hotel — For 85 years, Weber’s Boutique Hotel has been welcoming guests to the city of Ann Arbor. Redefined with a modern style, this hotel is known for its elegant accommodations, its fine dining restaurant, and its lively entertainment scene.
- Detroit/Ann Arbor KOA Holiday — Just outside the city limits, outdoor enthusiasts and devoted campers will find the Detroit/Ann Arbor KOA Holiday. This modern campground is located in nearby Ypsilanti and is open throughout the entire year. It features a private lake, fishing area, dog park, and mini-golf course, making it a fun and inviting destination for families.
In addition to these hotels and campgrounds, you will find that there are many vacation rentals in Ann Arbor available. Ann Arbor has a high percentage of rental properties, largely due to its transient student population.
As a result, there are many landlords who are willing to rent out rooms or homes for short periods of time over the summer months, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the neighborhoods of Ann Arbor and truly get a feel for this community.
Ann Arbor vacation rentals are ideal for families who want a home-like environment, young professionals who want to surround themselves with the local people, or travelers who are looking for a budget-friendly way to experience the pulse of the community.
There’s Always More to Explore in Ann Arbor Michigan
Ann Arbor is one of those places that is constantly changing, growing, and progressing toward the future, yet it also has this magical ability to always feel the same.
Those who haven’t been to the city in years report a sensation of coming home when they get to Ann Arbor, and graduates who return to their Alma Mater are able to surround themselves with feelings of nostalgia while also enjoying the new offerings within the city limits.
There are many cities to explore in Michigan, each with its own atmosphere and attractions, but there are none quite like Ann Arbor. This eclectic urban community offers natural beauty, flavorful food, quirky locales, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Whether you are searching for things to do in Ann Arbor during the summer or you are hoping to find cozy, indoor activities to enjoy in the winter, you are sure to find what you are looking for in this fantastic city.