10 things you need to see in Ann Arbor that are worth traveling for

So many photo ops

By Lois Alter Mark,

It’s been 40 years since Bob Seger released "Mainstreet," his top 40 love song to his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A lot has changed since then, and Seger isn’t the only one enthralled with the city locals lovingly refer to as A2. Over the past few years, it’s been named America’s Best College Town, Best City to Live, Most Educated City and the #1 City for Millennials.

Whether you’re looking for a place to go to school, a place to retire or a place to just spend a few days, here are ten reasons Ann Arbor deserves an A. Or two.  

Singin’ in the Rain mural

Pose with Gene Kelly by David Zinn's "Laughing at Clouds" mural — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark

Okay, it’s really called "Laughing at Clouds," but this stunning mural by acclaimed street artist David Zinn is the perfect backdrop for an Instagram shot.

In a nod to the iconic scene from Singin' in the Rain, Zinn painted Gene Kelly (whose daughter lives in Ann Arbor, by the way) on the wall of the downtown library’s underground parking garage entrance on S. Fifth Avenue near Liberty Street.

If you stand in just the right place, it looks like he's happily swinging from the real-life lamppost in front of the building. Feel free to join him, especially on a rainy day.

The Big House

Michigan Stadium, aka The Big House, is home to the Wolverines — Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

Michigan Stadium is home to the Wolverines, the University of Michigan’s football team. Affectionately known as "The Big House," it’s the largest stadium in the United States and the second largest in the world, holding more than 100,000 fans. 

Take a behind-the-scenes tour for access to restricted areas like the locker room, the press box and premium seating. And experience what it feels like to stand on that massive field, to the crowd’s deafening cheers, like one of the "conqu'ring heroes."

Fairy doors

Ann Arbor is magical, thanks to its fairy doors — Photo courtesy of Jonathan B. Wright

In most cities, people look up to admire the skyscrapers. In Ann Arbor, people look down to search for fairy doors. 

Urban legends abound about these tiny doors that started mysteriously popping up in 2005. Certified, ahem, fairyologist Jonathan B. Wright documents them on his website, urban-fairies.com, where you can find a map leading you to these enchanting portals. Coming across one of them is an absolute delight.

The Graduate Hotel

Cheering on the home team at The Graduate Hotel Ann Arbor — Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

Being in a college town will make you nostalgic for your own glory days so, luckily, the Graduate Hotel is right down the street.

Filled with University of Michigan memorabilia, you’ll feel like you’re sleeping in a much more luxurious version of a dorm room – one where someone else makes your bed. Keys look like student ID cards, pillows show home team love, and there’s a 40-foot-long communal table in the lobby that pays homage to U of M's Law Library – but is a much more fun place to spend late nights.

The Ark

The Ark is the place to see live folk music 300 nights a year — Photo courtesy of Melania Plasko

Presenting live shows more than 300 nights a year, The Ark is considered one of the best music clubs in the world.

With just 400 seats, this intimate setting has played host to some of the biggest names – and the most buzzed-about newcomers – in folk and roots music. What’s amazing is that The Ark is a non-profit run almost entirely by volunteers, and their infectious passion adds a soulful note to the whole experience.

Literati Bookstore

The second floor coffee bar and event center at Literati Bookstore — Photo courtesy of Literati Bookstore

Consistently named one of the best-read cities in the country, Ann Arbor is filled with lots of niche and used bookstores but it’s Literati, the wildly popular general bookstore, that’s become synonymous with Ann Arbor’s rich literary scene.

With a great coffee bar and lots of top author events, readings and book club meetings, this impeccably-curated indie bookstore has become the place to gather and to discover the next must-read.

Be sure to leave a message on the vintage Smith-Corona typewriter downstairs; customers’ writings are going to be compiled into what is likely to become a bestseller itself.  

Fleetwood Diner

Save room for the hippie hash at Fleetwood Diner — Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is definitely a foodie city filled with diverse restaurants like Ayse’s Turkish Cafe, Amadeus, Gratzi, Jerusalem Garden, Aventura, The Filling Station, Mani, Slurping Turtle, to name just a few of the best.

But, no matter how full you are,  you can’t leave without experiencing a taste of  Fleetwood Diner, even if you have to stop in at 3 a.m. (it’s open 24 hours). An Ann Arbor staple since 1949, this trailer diner may be small, but its portions are mighty.

Order the signature hippie hash – homemade hash browns topped with grilled tomato, green pepper, onion, mushroom and broccoli, then topped with feta cheese. It’s delish any time of day, hon.

Yankee Air Museum

Take a flight in a restored World War II bomber at the Yankee Air Museum — Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

Willow Run Airport was built by the Ford Motor Company in 1941 to serve as an airfield for their B-24 Bomber Plant.

Today, it’s the site of the Yankee Air Museum, where you can learn all about aviation and military history, and see an extensive collection of aircraft from World War I to Vietnam. Best of all, you can take a flight on an actual restored B-17, B-25 or C-47 and imagine what it was like to fly in one of those Bombers during World War II.  

Zingerman’s Deli

Try the Reuben - or anything with bacon! - at ZIngerman's Deli — Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

That long line you see spiraling around the corner? Yes, all those people are waiting for sandwiches (try the Reuben!) at Zingerman’s. Yes, they’re worth the wait.  

Zingerman’s is an Ann Arbor institution, and there’s a reason it’s the first place people tell you to visit when they know you’re heading to the city. For 30 years, Zingerman’s has been feeding people and introducing them to new flavors, ingredients and products.

Don’t worry if you get hooked on their brisket or bestselling coffee cake; their mail order catalog is as lengthy as the line. 

Nickels Arcade

The glass ceiling at Nickels Arcade — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this glass-ceiling shopping corridor features an eclectic collection of stores, services and cafes.

Nickels Arcade celebrates its 100th birthday in 2018, and walking across the tiled floor, window shopping and stopping for a cup of tea or coffee, will make you yearn for a time you could actually get something for a nickel there.