Just under an hour’s drive from Detroit, the low-key, highly strollable city of Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, offers small-town sensibility coupled with robust nature, academia, art and literary ambitions, breezy coffee shops and culinary-savvy outposts.
Consider an easy day trip with some shining highlights below.
Green Space and Peonies
For a spot of nature, spend time inside the leafy park at Nichols Arboretum (or, as locals call it, the “Arb”) with more than 100 acres of green shrubs, rolling prairies, native plants and an amphitheater that often highlights Shakespearean performances.
Perhaps mid-spring grants the most spectacular show, when the famed Peony Garden bursts with stunning heirloom varieties — a virtual wonderland of 800 blooms in kaleidoscopic pinks, whites and more rare yellows and purples.
The Trifecta: Books, Coffee and LPs
In downtown Ann Arbor, locals flock to the independent corner bookstore Literati for the latest titles — including a delightful sprawl of poetry and a cool checkerboard floor. And an informed staff happily doles out recommendations perfect for sneaking up to the second floor coffee shop with your new paperback and a frothy cup of Joe.
Just a few minutes away, Encore Records is worth a visit — it’s touted as one of Rolling Stone magazine’s top stops for music aficionados to find unique labels and artists. One could spend hours sifting though ample bins of old-school LPs as well as albums from up-and-coming regional artists.
Lunch at a Local Favorite
Believe the hype about the legendary, 30-plus-year-old Ann Arbor institution, Zingerman’s Delicatessen.
With various locations about town serving both classic and made-to-order sandwiches (on the deli’s twice-baked homemade bread), the original location on Detroit Street is a creaky gem and an ideal spot to sink your teeth into a meaty Reuben or Cuban.
Or create your own lunch from a variety of sides and meats like pastrami, free-range chicken and turkey. Just don’t forget the salty pickles and potato chips. There’s also a well-curated market that stocks farmhouse cheeses, smoked fish and estate-bottled artisan olive oils.
For an robust sampling of cheese and charcuterie alongside a well-curated wine list, the casual spot Spencer features a rotating menu of light bites and snacks.
Sample the local Midwest plate with cheddar, Gruyere and Faribault blue cheeses coupled with domestic delights like the Olympia Provisions chorizo.
Have more time to spare? Book a table at Taste Kitchen for a refined, sit-down experience. With a simple bistro-like setting, the menu leans on Vietnamese and French influences and features dishes like a seafood bouillabaisse (which pairs well with a crisp white wine) and the Lake Erie perch kissed with a lemon beurre blanc that simply begs for an accompanying pinot noir.
Go for a Nightcap
In true speakeasy fashion, the dimly-lit, subterranean space The Last Word Bar shines a light on both classic and original cocktails with vintage aplomb.
Try a spritely “Rose Cobbler,” made with rose, cinnamon, cucumber slices, strawberry and lemon wheels, or nurse one of the unique, handpicked whiskey varietals.
And if you’re in the mood to snack, share an order of small, airy croquettes and toasty empanadas.