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Family Guide to Ann Arbor, Michigan

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May 17, 2012

Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, offers families a funky Midwestern vibe, a wealth of tree-filled parks and a pedestrian-friendly downtown. This college town par excellence makes for a fun long weekend away with kids.  Here are ten don’t miss to-dos for a long weekend in tree town with the family.

Open the fairy doors. Amazingly, Ann Arbor is home to several fairies. And these urban fairies have taken up residence in many of the boutiques, galleries and cafes in downtown Ann Arbor. See if you can spot the teeny weeny doors to their homes. My children had a magical time trying to spot the fairies throughout our trip to. For a detailed listing of fairy doors, visit Urban Fairy Operations. 

Enjoy Cuban-inspired street food at Frita Batidos. (117 W. Washington, Website).Parents and kids alike will find something to love at Frita Batidos, a casual eatery with picnic-table style seating and a menu filled with tasty, sweet and spicy delights. The coconut batido – a fresh, tropical milkshake – is to die for; the Loaded Plantains – twice fried ripe plantains smothered with black beans – are addicting. Order some churros to go.

Explore art on the University of Michigan campus. The vast University of Michigan campus is fun to explore, thanks in part to its collection of outdoor public art installations. My children loved running across Maya Lin’s Wave Field, a grassy sea of waves, and my daughter enjoyed swinging on Shang, a giant-sized iron Chinese character by Mark di Suvero. Visit their website for a guide to art throughout the campus.

Stock up on fresh oxygen at the flower and tree filled Nichols Arboretum (1610 Washington Heights; Tel. 734/647.7600; Website). This 123 acre garden and arboretum, located along the Huron River, boasts a lovely Peony garden, a wetland, and a variety of American heritage plant and flower collections.

Load up on flavor at Zingermans. No trip to Ann Arbor is complete without a pit stop at a Zingerman’s outpost.  This community of eight businesses, all located in the Ann Arbor area, strives to present top-notch, down-to-earth cuisine and baked goods. Our family dined at Zingerman’s Roadhouse (2501 Jackson Avenue; Tel. 734/663.3663; Website). With an emphasis on locally raised and produced ingredients, Zingerman’s Roadhouse has earned its title of Top 10 New Barbeque Restaurant, awarded by Bon Appetit.

Step into the past at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology (434 S State Street; Tel.  734/764.9304; Website). More than 100,000 ancient artifacts – from mummies to magical amulets – are beautifully displayed in this small yet world-class museum. Call the museum two weeks before your visit to arrange a private tour ($1 per person).

Tour the Jiffy Mix Factory. The Chelsea Milling Company (201 W. North Street, Chelsea; Tel. 800/727.2460; Website) – family owned since the late 1800’s – introduced the world to JIFFY Baking Mix in 1930. Visit the factory for a free one-hour tour: you’ll start with a freshly baked JIFFY mix blueberry muffin and a fun look at the factory’s history. Then you’ll move into the factory production line to see how all those little blue boxes are packed and sent off on semi-trucks across the country. You’ll leave with a sample box to make your own muffins at home. Tours are scheduled between the hours of 9:00AM and 3:00PM Monday through Friday.

Catch the Michigan Wolverines in action. The University of Michigan has one of the boldest athletic programs in the nation. Depending on the season, don your blue and gold gear and cheer on the college athletes at a game. From field hockey to water polo, there’s a sport for everyone. Reserve tickets online.

Climb a “mountain” at Planet Rock (82 April Drive; Tel. 734/827.2680; Website). This amazing climbing gym boasts 22,000 square feet of climbing terrain, including a motorized climbing wall and three bouldering areas. Kids will find their footing with either one-on-one  instructional classes or free climbing.

Leaf through a good book at Kaleidoscope Books & Collectibles (200 N 4th Ave.; Tel 734/995.9887; Website). Attesting to its brainy reputation, Ann Arbor’s downtown area has a great selection of both new and used bookstores.  Kaleidoscope Books & Collectibles features new, used, rare and vintage books, and a knowledgeable staff that can make recommendations based on your favorite authors.


Our family stayed at the family owned and operated Weber’s Boutique Hotel (3050 Jackson Road; Tel. 734/769.3237; Website). To the extreme delight of the kids, our poolside suite had a spiral staircase that descended directly to the Four Seasons pool and recreation area. Beds were ultra-comfy and the staff ultra-friendly, making for an enjoyable stay.

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