BY ROBERT GLAZE
At a distance of 240 miles, or a 4-hour drive, from Chicago, Ann Arbor is the perfect destination for a weekend road trip. Just be sure to plan ahead and check the University of Michigan football schedule to avoid going on home game weekends (hint: roadways turn into veritable parking lots). Should you choose to leave the car at home, Amtrak does offer service, but expect delays.
With planning for traffic or other travel setbacks out of the way, one can focus on this vibrant university town, which offers excellent restaurants and many galleries, stores, and museums to keep you very busy during your stay. I was lucky to have explored the city with longtime friend and former Chicagoan, Alyce Sigler, whom many of you know.
Where to Eat
From great restaurants, food trucks, farm stands, and markets to ice cream, coffee, and casual dining, Ann Arbor is all about food. My top recommendations include:
With a contemporary décor and creative menu, Pacific Rim (114 West Liberty) is a great Asian fusion spot to try. The Japanese-style sablefish entrée marinated in miso and sake, pan roasted with a soy-tamarind sauce and served over sautéed napa cabbage, shitake mushrooms, and Korean vermicelli noodles is really exceptional.
At 216 South State Street, near the University, the Art Museum, and the theaters, Sava’s is a must-visit destination for lunch or brunch. There is indoor and attractive outdoor seating along the side. The Bang Bank Shrimp and Shrimp and Quinoa were big hits during our visit.
Local products are the stars of the menu at Grange Kitchen & Bar (118 West Liberty), a farm-to-table restaurant. The chicken and fish entrees (walleye) are the best to choose from, pairing nicely with their large menu of local craft beers and ciders.
Don’t miss Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, a local institution with multiple locations and known for their quality food products. Their locations include:
Zingerman’s Road House at 2501 Jackson Avenue has large indoor and outdoor dining options and the brunch items are excellent. There is also a drive up window in an old trailer outside that features coffee and sandwiches. The eggs benedict and coffee drinks are excellent! They offer special dinners on a regular basis each with a different theme or featuring a different local purveyor.
In Kerrytown, Zingerman’s Deli and Annex is an Ann Arbor Landmark, so be prepared for large crowds. Here you can buy wonderful cheeses, breads, olive oils, order a wonderful sandwich and eat on the patio, or have a great coffee drink from their own locally-roasted beans.
On Plaza Drive, you will find Zingerman’s Bake House (3711 Plaza Drive), where you can buy wonderful breads and baked goods. You can watch the giant bakery operations through a window from the store. The cranberry-pecan bread is amazing!
Stationed at 3723 Plaza Drive are Zingerman’s Creamery, where you will find wonderful cheeses and ice cream (the ginger ice cream is really wonderful), and Zingerman’s Coffee Company, where you can buy and drink their locally roasted coffees. Just like at the Bake House, you can watch the operation in the back from the store.
And there is also Zingerman’s Candy Manufactury right next door—you can take baking classes, classes on brewing coffee, and food parings, in addition to seminars and workshops on the company’s approach to business (and their marketing secrets).
There are also many other casual dining spots that are not part of the Zingerman’s empire that are worth trying:
In a fun, older area near downtown you will find the Kerrytown Market and Shops. Here on Wednesday evenings you’ll find the Evening Ann Arbor Farmers Market, the Farmers Market on Wednesday and Saturday, and the Artisan’s Market on Sunday. There are small shops featuring gifts and specialty foods, wines, coffee, and several lunch counters.
At 211 West Washington, between First and Ashley, you will find an eclectic group of food carts known as Mark’s Carts, with people eating at picnic tables. On certain nights, you’ll be treated to music by local performers.
You will find great ice cream from Kilwin’s (107 East Liberty) and Washtenaw Dairy, featuring many flavors of Stroh’s ice cream, at 602 South Ashley. This is a funky local’s spot featuring great ice cream and perfect on a hot summer night. Warning: the lines can be long. Stucchi’s Ice Cream, at 302 S. State, makes for a great alternative.
Near the Law School and Business School, at 812 Monroe, is Dominick’s. Stop in for a drink and sit with the students on the shady front porch or large back patio.
Cherry Republic (223 South Main) is a good shop for cherry products like jams, jellies, preserves, salsas, dried cherries, and chocolate cherries.
Monahan’s Seafood Market (407 North Fifth), in the Kerrytown Market & Shops, this is a seafood market also featuring delicious lunch options.
Comet Coffee (16 Nickel’s Arcade) offers quality coffee drinks in a contemporary atmosphere.
At the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tearoom, located at 114 South Main Street, you’ll find a great upstairs a cozy spot with comfortable seating. They feature teas from around the world, soups, and desserts. There is even live music on some evenings.
At 1643 South State, Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky is a fun purveyor of quality meats, bacon, sausages, and jerky. You can make a meal out of it—it’s plays double duty as a stop for lunch, serving sandwiches, sides, and beer.
Next to Biercamps is a small gourmet grocery store and produce stand called The Produce Station. They feature wonderful Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables, bakery goods (don’t miss the blueberry buckle), and gourmet items. They have also have a wonderful salad bar, hot items, and items from the grill. With indoor and outdoor seating, this is another great lunch locale.
The Arts in Ann Arbor
There are many ways to buy and see great art and crafts in Ann Arbor.
My trip centered on the well-known Ann Arbor Art Fair. Set in late July, the Fair consists of four juried art fairs set in and around downtown and the University. The best quality of the bunch is the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, which has been around for 54 years. It is located between East Washington, North University, Fletcher, and South Thayer and features artisans from around the country. There are also the State Street Area Art Fair, The Guild’s Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, and Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair. These offer demonstrations, children’s art projects, music, food sellers, and family activities. You should park and walk or take one of the free shuttles between the four fairs.
Once you’ve had your fill of the fairs, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy art in this creative town:
At 201 Hill Street, there is a 50+ member cooperative known as The Potters Guild, offering studio classes and twice-annual pottery sales.
At 315 Detroit Street, in the Kerrytown district, the Sunday Artisan Market is an open-air market featuring handmade items. It is open from April through December. There is also food and music there to enjoy.
The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), located at 525 South State Street, is a top university art museum featuring a strong permanent collection and special exhibitions. From Monet to Picasso, and beautiful Tiffany stained glass, you will find a wide array of art. The new 53,000 sq. ft. Frankel Family wing by Allied Works Architectural is most attractive. Having recently hired Joseph Rosa, the chief curator of the Department of Architecture and Design from the Art Institute of Chicago as the new director, there is an expanding collection of great contemporary furniture design by Frank Gehry, Knoll, and Eames.
At 2763 Plymouth Road, you’ll find Clay Gallery, featuring local Ann Arbor artists. It is a cooperative featuring functional wares, sculpture, and decorative pieces.
The Ann Arbor Art Center (117 West Liberty) supports the careers of Michigan artists. Be sure to check out their current exhibitions. (They also offer classes and art supplies.)
WSG Gallery, at 306 South Main Street, is also worth a visit.
What to do in Ann Arbor
Besides eating your way through the city, and taking in its maybe art fairs and galleries, fun activities and things to see abound in Ann Arbor.
At 603 East Liberty is Michigan Theater. Here you will find independent films, music performances, The Bell’s Summer Classics Film Series, and The Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design Speaker Series featuring, artists, designers, photographers, writers, and performers.
State Theatre (233 South State) is an Art Deco theater offering independent films.
A three-week affair, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival features music, dance, comedy, film, circus, and street arts.
Located on the University campus, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is an interesting small museum featuring pieces from ancient civilizations. Make sure to check out the current exhibition schedule.
As I walked through downtown, Alyce pointed out some tiny painted doors known as the Fairy Doors of Ann Arbor. Over a decade ago, these small doors (now totaling ten) started appearing on public buildings. Looking for them has developed a cult following, so join in the fun and make sure to look down as you stroll the streets!!! Check out the map on the website to help guide your hunt.
Where to Shop
In between your search for the elusive Fairy Doors, you can squeeze in some fantastic shopping in downtown Ann Arbor.
Since 1918, Nickels Arcade on State Street, a light-filled shopping arcade reminiscent of the arcades in London, has been a shopping destination for Ann Arbor’s residents (and its visitors). Check out Van Boven at 326 South State, a traditional men’s store. This is the place to buy that quintessential University of Michigan tie.
West Side Book Shop (113 West Liberty), which sells used and rare books, has been in operation since 1975. The store has a great stock of books, maps, and even old photographs. It’s charmingly cluttered and feels like you’re stepping back in time.
Hollander’s, located in the Kerrytown Shops at 410 North 4th Avenue, is a wonderful store featuring art supplies, papers, journals, and stationery. The selection of specialty paper is amazing.
Rock Paper Scissors (216 S. Main) is a very attractive store featuring cards, home accessories, and gifts.
Where to Stay
When it comes to accommodations, there are three great places I can recommend.
The Bell Tower Hotel at 300 South Thayer is a wonderful place to stay downtown. Traditional design and a great location (within the University campus) secure this hotel a spot on this short list.
The Graduate Hotel is a newer property and one of my favorite new chains. It is located across from the University at 615 East Huron. If you want a beautifully designed, contemporary property with a preppy vibe, this is for you.
For a unique experience you might enjoy the Palmer House (227 Orchard Hills Drive). This is a Frank Lloyd Wright house built for Bill and Mary Palmer in the 1950s. It is a stunning property with a separate tea house that overlooks the woods in a beautiful landscaped setting. It is a three-bedroom, two-bath home that can be rented from $350 to $500 a night. What a great way to live and breathe Frank Lloyd Wright style.