Ann Arbor, college town par excellence, is home to a pedestrian-friendly downtown, a wealth of tree-filled parks, and a funky, Midwestern vibe. Many alums drag their kids back to their alma mater to catch a game in the Big House, but there is so much more to see, do and eat in this green and family-friendly city.
My children, ages 2 and 11, had a blast trying to find the many intricate and colorful fairy doors located in shops, cafes and restaurants throughout town. Follow the fairy map, available at Urban Fairy Operations (urban-fairies.com) and see if you can spot the tiny entrances that lead to hidden fairy dwellings. I was happy to have a chance to browse the boutiques while they gazed through the miniature windows and doors.
Be sure to discover the fairy door at Peaceable Kingdom (210 S. Main St.), a charming gift shop with an enormous table filled with inexpensive kiddie toys.
The vast University of Michigan campus is another good place to explore by scooter, bike or buggy. Home to a famed collection of outdoor public art, children will love running across Maya Lin’s Wave Field, a grassy sea of waves, and swinging on Shang, a giant-sized Chinese character with a built-in swing forged by artist Mark di Suvero. Visit public-art.umich.edu for a map.
The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology (lsa.umich.edu/kelsey), also on campus, is worth a visit-check the online calendar for upcoming children’s programming.
Dining in Ann Arbor is eclectic, with an emphasis on locally grown ingredients. Frita Batitos (117 W. Washington; fritabatidos.com) offers picnic-table style seating and a menu filled with delights. The batidos-fruity milkshakes-are the perfect pick-me-up; the loaded plantains-twice-fried plantains smothered with black beans-are addicting. Order some churros to go!
Mark’s Carts (markscartsannarbor.com) is a collection of food trucks featuring ethnic or regionally inspired eats that congregate between First and Ashley streets.
No visit to Ann Arbor is complete without a stop at Zingermans: this community of eight businesses, all located in the Ann Arbor area, strives to present down-to-earth cuisine and baked goods. Head over to Zingerman’s Bakehouse (3711 Plaza Drive; zingermansbakehouse.com) for the lunch soup and bread specials, and save room for a slice of pie.
Stock up on fresh air at the Nichols Arboretum (1610 Washington Heights; lsa.umich.edu/mbg). The 123-acre garden and arboretum, situated along the Huron River, boasts a peony garden, wetland, and variety of American heritage plant collections, and is the perfect picnic spot.
Our family stayed at Weber’s Boutique Hotel (3050 Jackson Road; webersinn.com). To kids’ delight, poolside suites have spiral staircases that descend to an indoor pool and recreation area.
For more information on Ann Arbor, head to the visitor’s bureau at visitannarbor.org, or visit while you’re in town, for free maps and more, at 120 W. Huron St.