Ann Arbor, an hour outside of Detroit, may be a college town, but, in real life, it plays like a big city. It’s navigable and safe, yet paved with a wide assortment of performing arts venues, museums and art galleries, shopping and a wealth of fine dining and ethnic restaurants. Nearby communities such as Ypsilanti have their own lively and distinctive main streets, historic landmarks and outdoor activities.
This is a big reason many graduating high school seniors in the Midwest plan visits to the University of Michigan campus and set their sights on the ultimate prize — a place in the freshman class. Of course, that also means many outgrowths of campus life are going to appeal to younger siblings and adults as well.
While the Hands-On Museum was anointed as one of Ann Arbor’s best places for a first date by local media, it is still a place designed with aspiring young scholars in mind. Its ongoing partnerships with the University of Michigan, the National Science Foundation and other learning institutions ensures it has thoughtfully-designed interactive areas dedicated to natural sciences, physics, computer tech and biology, made relatable by how they touch a child’s world in everyday life. While the installations are guaranteed to keep kids and parents entertained for a morning, continued expansion into 2020 will expand the museum as well as young minds.
Speaking of expansions, the Museum of Natural History at the University of Michigan does one better by being both the city’s oldest and newest museums, locating from its previous 1928 building into a brand-new facility that officially opens in April 2019. The new facility will feature the Digital Dome Theater (an intimate planetarium), observation areas to view working laboratories used by UM students and researchers, and hands-on investigate labs open to the public. Specimens and artifacts from the old museum as well as new ones will be placed into displays with signage based on the most up-to-date scientific findings.
Interactivity, creativity and mind expansion are recurring themes with many of the varied local businesses offering classes, talks and performances. The Ann Arbor Arts Center offers single classes and day camp class series covering everything from ceramics and paintings to found object sculptures and mixed media projects. Literati Books, in a former downtown flagship Borders Books space, beautifully resurrects the nearly lost paradise of the brick-and-mortar bookstore, down to a second-floor community area with a coffee bar, a performance space and a reading room for preschoolers and younger elementary school-age kids. Teens and adults wanting to test their prowess with paper making, meanwhile, can check out bookbinding and fine craft classes at Hollander’s in the Kerrytown neighborhood.
The one-of-a-kind institution of Zingerman’s, also in Kerrytown, cannot be ignored. The 35-plus-year bedrock of the Ann Arbor food scene (said to have as many restaurants per capita as New York City) transcends the familiar concept of the restaurant group. While the original Zingerman’s Deli features classic and updated delicatessen sandwiches whose fans include Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey and generations of UM students, it has also provided food-related education initiatives for the community and helped food entrepreneurs succeed at the famously challenging business.
The Zingerman’s community includes Miss Kim for Korean food crafted with local ingredients; Zingerman’s Roadhouse for Southern fare; and dessert hub Zingermann’s Next Door. Off its main campus, one can enroll in a variety of baking classes at Zingermann’s Bakehouse and chill out at Zingerman’s Creamery where fresh cheeses and ice creams are crafted daily. The Lunch Room and Detroit Street Filling Station features vegan fare live and is noteworthy for its fundraising efforts with local charities and partnership with the Youth Justice Fund, helping provide young people with housing, clothing, transportation, job placement and mental health services.