Falling In Love With Ann Arbor For the First Time

 

I wrote this post after our media trip that was hosted by Visit Ann Arbor and The Graduate Hotels. All suggestions and endorsements are solely personal. Our policy is to only share and recommend what we personally like and experience. For this road trip, we drove a Mazda CX-5 loaned to us from DriveShop. 

In the Midwest, we’re lucky to have so many different places to explore by road trips. It’s easy to jump in a car and in just a few hours be somewhere that you’ve never experienced before. This was the case when we jumped into our 2018 Mazda CX-5 that we were test driving for the weekend and headed to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Our Ride

Just about 4 hours from Chicago and less than an hour from Detroit, Ann Arbor is an excellent road trip length. The Mazda CX-5 is  described as a compact sports utility vehicle. We thought it was perfectly sized for us. There was more than enough room for our luggage and goodies on the return home and it was fun and sporty to drive.

Mazda CX5
Mazda CX5

 

The Mazda CX-5 has all the latest safety and communications technology features to keep even the most strident car enthusiasts happy. We really liked the easy to reach Mazda CONNECT™, the control knob is in the center between the front seats. This Commander Control makes it simple and safe to access your audio, navigation and app settings.

Mazda Command Center
Mazda Command Center

 

The Active Driving display is more robust than others we’ve seen. It shows the speed limit, the speed you’re going and notifies you of stop signs and the street names which is super helpful while visiting new locations.

Mazda Active Driving Display
Mazda Active Driving Display. Photo Courtesy of Mazda USA.

 

The Big House

Many people know Ann Arbor, or A2, as home to the University of Michigan. In addition to excellent academics, the Big Ten school is well-known for its athletic programs and their loyal fans.

You will want to take a look at “The Big House,” which is said to be one of biggest football-only stadiums in the world and the largest in the U.S. Holding over 100,000 Wolverine fans this place is a must for any college football fan. Plan to get tickets way in advance if you want to catch a game, especially if you want to see Michigan play one of their long-running rivals like Notre Dame or the Ohio State.

The Big House Michigan Ann Arbor
The Big House Michigan Ann Arbor

 

Michigan is far more than an athletic school. Michigan is also a top-ranked research school. Just some of its notables include 24 Nobel prize winners, 6 Touring awards and 1 Fields medalist.

Needless to say, Ann Arbor is proud of its university and a visit there must include a stroll around the beautiful campus and its museums and art galleries.

Where Do We Stay?

We were excited to stay at the Graduate Hotel in Ann Arbor. We had stayed at the Graduate Hotel in Madison on a recent visit and really enjoyed it so we knew we were in for a special treat.

One of the things that makes the Graduate Hotels so unique is that every hotel is designed to reflect the college it’s near. Entering our room we knew right away that we were in Michigan country. While the hotel in Madison was fun and campy rustic and Midwestern, the Graduate in Ann Arbor had an air of distinction and honor befitting the Michigan campus located just steps away. Clubby dark wood paired with a blue and maize color scheme run throughout the hotel decor.

The Graduate Hotel in Ann Arbor MI
The Graduate Hotel in Ann Arbor MI

 

The hotel lobby features a long communal table that students and guests use for meetings and gatherings. The ceiling is covered with a library book wallpaper well lit by the elaborate chandeliers. It’s comfortable yet elegant at the same time.

There is also a grab and go counter in the lobby for freshly made local pastries, including some local standout Zingerman’s (more on them later) coffee and sandwiches. It’s perfect for a quick breakfast or snack.

 

The Graduate Hotel Ann Arbor
The Graduate Hotel Ann Arbor

 

Stay and Eat and Drink

We were lucky to been staying at the Graduate when they were reopening their hotel restaurant. The former Allen Rumsey Supper Club was converting to the Allen Ramsey Cocktail Lounge. We were among the first to taste the new menu items and cocktail creations.

We love when restaurants have a lot of local spirits, wines and craft beers on their beverage menu. The Graduate really does an outstanding job on their list. We can highly recommend the Mrs. Robinson, featuring local Arbor Wheat Vodka, lime, raspberry simple syrup, creme de mure, Peychaud’s Bitters and egg white. Of course, we also had to try their delicious Old Fashioned, which we also loved.

Cocktails at the Graduate Ann Arbor
Cocktails at the Graduate Ann Arbor

 

The new cocktail lounge features wonderful appetizers, sandwiches and salads. We were quite taken with the quality of the food being served. We tried bites of the Allen Rumsey Wedge with crispy bacon, blue cheese, and roasted cherry tomatoes. The flavors were perfectly paired.

 

The Wedge at The Graduate Hotel Ann Arbor
The Allen RumseyWedge at The Graduate Hotel Ann Arbor

 

The “Everything Bagel” Crusted Salmon Sandwich was unique and equally delicious. The local grass-fed steakhouse burger on a Zingerman’s paisano roll with red onion au jus and horseradish sauce was also a favorite. The side of beer battered onion rings was a perfect accompaniment. They were so lightly breaded and crispy we couldn’t stop eating them!

Their menu also includes jumbo shrimp cocktail, cheese and meat boards, avocado toast and more. All great for snacking, a full meal or sharing. Classic board games like Scrabble, Risk as well as Battleship and a life-sized Connect Four are available to pass the time with friends.

 

Salmon Sliders at Allen Ramsey Cocktail Lounge Ann Arbor
“Everything Bagel” Salmon at Allen Rumsey Cocktail Lounge Ann Arbor

 

Where Do We Eat?

You might not expect to find many culinary delights in Ann Arbor because it is a college town. You would be dead wrong. The school attracts students from around the world creating a multicultural community. This open and welcoming city has food from just about every corner of the world. Whether you’re seeking Italian, Korean, Moroccan, Polish or German, they have it. Vegetarians and carnivores alike will find foods to please the palate. Local breweries, cheese makers, bakers and a weekly farmers market will keep you busy during your visit.

Ann Arbor Farmers Market
Ann Arbor Farmers Market

 

The hardest decisions we had were how many could we experience on our weekend visit. We rose to the occasion, donned our stretchy pants and got to eating.

Dashboard Mazda CX5 Metzgers

We just can’t say no to a great German restaurant. When we heard about  Metzger’s we had to try it. Don’t be fooled by this strip mall storefront. They are cooking up some delicious and authentic Bavarian food. Be sure to try their unique version of käsespätzle. Homemade noodle dumplings with crispy grilled onions covered with Swiss cheese on a bed a sauerkraut. Lots of German beer and wine to choose from make this spot just perfect.

 

Metzger's German Restaurant in Ann Arbor
Metzger’s German Restaurant in Ann Arbor

 

While you’re at Metzger’s leave a little room for dessert because just a few doors down is the Grand Traverse Pie Company. We fell in love with their pie on a visit to Traverse City, Michigan. They have a full selection (over 40 to choose from) but they are well-known for their collection of cherry pies. We tried a new one for us, the Cherry Ganache, a cherry crumb pie topped with decadent homemade chocolate ganache. Don’t forget to get a scoop of ice cream on top!

 

Grand Traverse Pie Company in Ann Arbor
Grand Traverse Pie Company in Ann Arbor

 

Zingerman’s Deli

If you go to Ann Arbor and miss Zingerman’s Deli you will have missed something really special. They’ve created a deli and so much more. Their famous customer service is so successful that they now teach other small businesses how to survive and thrive. There is so much to cover on Zingerman’s from the deli, to their coffee house, candy shop, cheese shop and their commitment to community service that we’ll write a separate post on them very soon.

 

Zingerman's Deli Ann Arbor Storefront
Zingerman’s Deli Ann Arbor Storefront

 

 

Aut Bar

If you’re looking for a brunch in Ann Arbor go no further than the Aut Bar. They serve their Mexican Brunch on Saturday and Sunday and you’ll find many hearty choices. This spot serves the gay community but everyone is welcome. It’s a vibrant and happy crowd that meets here on the weekend. We loved our food! My Sonora omelet was huge and loaded with seasoned chicken, guacamole and sour cream. Topped with a ranchero sauce and cheese, it’s served along with tortillas, rice and beans. The cocktails are also fun but we chose their take on a classic brunch drink, a Bloody Mary. It came adorned with bacon, olives, cucumber and peppers. Yum!

Aut Bar Ann Arbor
Aut Bar Ann Arbor

 

If you’re looking for something quick and cheesy check out Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger. The oldest hamburger joint in Ann Arbor, it’s been around since 1953. The burger is a typical thin patty crisped up on a flattop. The experience is one of kind. Be prepared to wait in a line (moves fast). Order only when you are directed to and not before. Let’s just say customer service is not their priority. They have other sandwiches and sides to choose from, too. But their double burger (only kids can order a single) is what keeps them on the map.

Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger Ann Arbor
Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger Ann Arbor

 

This is just a very small sampling of the great eats you discover in Ann Arbor. Here are a few more to check out!

Slurping Turtle if you know this spot in Chicago- it’s the same one. With its own twist on Japanese ramen, they encourage guests to slurp away on their unique creations.

The Earle is known for their French-Italian food another great place to relax and enjoy. Live jazz on selected nights too!

Exploring Downtown

One of the most charming things about Ann Arbor is its downtown area. You will find classic movie theaters, restaurants, coffee shops and more. It’s got a friendly small town Midwestern vibe, yet is chock full of  great specialty stores to explore.

Ann Arbor Downtown
Ann Arbor Downtown

 

One of our favorite things to do while traveling is to walk. We love strolling around and finding little shops and streets that have many features to explore. We love that Ann Arbor has a ton of these streets throughout their neighborhoods.

Found Store in Ann Arbor MI
Found Store in Ann Arbor MI

 

Downtown is especially rich in locally owned shops that can provide hours of discovery. We really loved the Found Store (it’s where I added to my magnet collection!) and the Himalayan Bazaar, where we spent way too much time, to Rock Paper Scissors, which had clever gifts for everyone on our list, especially our young little niece.

The Himalayan Bazaar in Ann Arbor
The Himalayan Bazaar in Ann Arbor

 

In between eating, shopping and exploring, stop into the Tea Haus. If you’re a tea lover like me your head will be spinning from the wall of tea choices you’ll see as you walk in. If you want a more relaxed experience, opt for an afternoon tea in their tea room with a friend.  It’s a perfect spot to settle down, catch your breath and enjoy great tea and company.

Tea Haus Ann Arbor
Tea Haus Ann Arbor

 

Arts & Nature

While we could go on and on about the food and shops in Ann Arbor, we have to share all the other things that make this a perfect road trip destination. If you clamor for art, you will find museums and galleries at the university and in town.

The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum provides over 250 interactive science and technology exhibits to enjoy. Galleries and classes can be had at the Ann Arbor Art Center located downtown.

One of the more unique museums is the University of Michigan Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry. It houses more than 18,000 artifacts on display going back to the 1700s. The look back at how women helped shaped dentistry is well worth exploring.

If you’re a history buff you’ll want to check out the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library on U of M’s North Campus.

Ann Arbor Art Center
Ann Arbor Art Center

 

For more outdoor adventures you can explore the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Bird Hills Nature Area and many nearby parks and rivers.

Nearby Exploration

If you have a bit more time on your trip,  go and visit the smaller towns around Ann Arbor. Ypsilanti and Chelsea are worth a look around.  We have a particular fondness for Ypsilanti or Ypsi for short. It’s named after Demetrios Ypsilanti a hero in the Greek War of Independence (you can even see a statue of him in town). That’s where Diana’s Mom Nancy grew up. We had a great time driving down Nancy’s old street, telling her what it looked like now and sharing photos of her childhood home.

Ypsi has plenty of interesting shops to explore on the main streets of Downtown (don’t miss The Rocket for fun gift ideas) and in the Depot Town district. There are also lots of festivals and activities to enjoy all year round.

We went to the locally recommended Ma Lou’s for some of the best fried chicken we’ve ever had. If you go, don’t miss the biscuit donut. Yes, it’s biscuit dough given the donut treatment, sweet, crispy, chewy, mmmm – it’s ridiculously good!

Ma Lou's Fried Chicken Ypsilanti MI
Ma Lou’s Fried Chicken Ypsilanti MI

 

Biscuit Donut Ma Lou's Ypsilanti MI
Biscuit Donut Ma Lou’s Ypsilanti MI

 

Chelsea is a smaller historic town about 15 minutes from Ann Arbor.  Also home to two local breweries and a downtown suitable for walking and checking out all the shops and architecture. They have a strong agritourism culture including local farms and farmers markets. Chelsea is also the home of Jiffy Mix. You can even reserve a free one hour tour of the packaging plant. If you like outdoor fun don’t miss the Waterloo Recreation Area. It’s a 20 thousand acre park to explore. Hike, bike, fish or ski it’s perfect for any time of year. Chelsea native, actor Jeff Daniels, founded The Purple Rose Theatre Company there too.

Go Visit Ann Arbor

Even spending such a short time in Ann Arbor we really got a great taste of all there is to do. Clearly, we could have stayed a lot longer. There’s just so much to enjoy! Ann Arbor, Michigan is a wonderful destination no matter how you get there. And for a quick road trip or a longer one, you’ll have more than enough to eat, see, discover and do to keep you coming back.

For more information on how to plan a trip to Ann Arbor check out VisitAnnArbor.org for all the details.

Pin It for your travel planning to Ann Arbor.

29 thoughts on “Falling In Love With Ann Arbor For the First Time

  1. Looks like you guys had a great time! I’d love to try out that car, I love the screen to help drivers. I haven’t been to Ann Arbor, but it would make for a fun road trip.

  2. It sounds like you had the ultimate road trip to Ann Arbor. I haven’t made it that far North in Michigan but it sounds like fun, even for someone who doesn’t cheer for the Wolverines like me!

  3. Ann Arbor looks like the perfect destination for a road trip. So many sights and experiences to savour. I was fascinated by the picture of the Lobby at the Graduate Hotel, I refer to the long community table, it looks so unique.

  4. I’ve never been to Michigan but have always wanted to visit. It looks like such a fun place with a lot of culture rooted in the college. I’ll have to get there one day.

  5. I would fall in love with the food in Ann Arbor, it all looks sooooo good! We love to take weekend trips, and this would be a really doable road trip for us. Thanks for the tips and ideas!

  6. I have never stopped in Ann Arbor but I’ve driven past it on our way to Detroit a couple of times. I never realized there was so much to see and do there. WOW!

  7. I am driving to that city many, many times that I’ve never stopped. Apparently I need to because there’s a lot of great places to explore. That food looks mouthwatering.

  8. I love the Mazda CX-5! The Active Driving Display is an awesome feature! They sure come packed with a lot of goodies and safety features! Ann Arbor sounds like a great place to visit!

  9. I have to say that I love finding cute little deli’s when we travel. Glad to see one in your list. I’ve always wanted to visit here but have not had the opportunity yet. I need to move it up higher on my bucket list after seeing all of your photos.

  10. I lived in Lansing for a time years ago but not sure I ever made it to Ann Arbor. The crusty salmon sandwich would be right up my alley, food-wise, and it looks like there are lots of good choices there! Next time we head up to Michigan, I’ll make it a stop!

  11. Haven’t been but Ann Arbor sounds so inviting. Good you got a red Mazda…so attractive. Would love to walk the Farmers Market, the Arts Center and the Himalayan Bazaar.

  12. The car, the food, the city. Everything is perfection. I need to plan a trip here with the family, they would love a place like it. So much to do, so many cool places. Thank you for sharing

  13. My cousin went to the University of Michigan and i remember visiting him and just loving the whole city. The food was delicious and the locals were very welcoming. Can’t wait to go back.

  14. Ann Arbor looks like a great place for a vacation. The salmon on the bagel sold me. Your food photos are mouthwatering. I think there are so many beautiful and fun places to visit in the USA that sometimes we forget about. I went to Minneapolis to visit my daughter who moved there recently and was impressed with how that city has changed too. Such a good food scene like Ann Arbor.

  15. That does look like a fun place to visit. I love the idea of visiting a new place and this one looks like a great place to check out. My cousin lives out that way and I have yet to visit him but this really makes me want to head out and see him.

  16. Ann Arbor looks like such a beautiful city to explore. I have never been. I have test drove the CX5 a few times and I just LOVE it. It drives SO beautifully!

  17. Wow! We have only made a quick stop in Ann Arbor a few years back, and never realized just how much is there. It looks like we will need to return, so that we can also fall in love with Ann Arbor. Thanks for sharing.

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