Ann Arbor, MI
nn Arbor is Heart of America. It’s easy to get around and attracts a diverse audience – music fans, art aficionados, theater and film buffs, book collectors, shoppers, foodies, environmental advocates and University of Michigan alums, known as Big Blues, who hang out at the Big House: the largest stadium in the U.S., with an official capacity of 109,901.
When Bob Seger wrote his song “Mainstreet,” he was inspired by Ann Arbor, where he grew up.The simpler time and place to which he alludes may have changed, but Ann Arbor has definitely retained the feel of Main Street, USA. A unique blend of Midwestern rural values and cosmopolitan urban vibe are especially evident in strong community supported agriculture (CSA), farm-to-table and slow food movements. In addition, the city’s long-standing commitment to sustainability has resulted in a litany of awards, including recognition as winner of the international 2010 Energy Globe Award for Sustainability for LED Lighting Initiatives at the 2010 World Environment Day, one of America’s Top 50 Greenest Cities by Popular Science, one of America’s Best Walking Cities by Prevention magazine, one of America’s Healthiest Hometowns for Retirement by AARP, one of 21 Top Cities for Cyclists by Bicycling magazine and a Tree City USA every consecutive year since 1980.
Why go now:
After this year’s brutal winter, folks in Ann Arbor are ready to celebrate spring. At Mattaei Botanical Gardens and Nicolas Arboretum, you can see 20,000 daffodils blooming in a row. Lilacs perfume the air, woody plants show off their flowers and peonies begin to show off in May. (www.lsa. umich.edu/mbg/)
A packed calendar of festivals and events includes Ann Arbor’s Earth Day celebration on April 27. May brings the Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival downtown to the historic Michigan Theater, exhibiting films from around the world that illuminate Jewish issues and themes. And with more than a hundred arts and entertainment venues, there’s always something to hear, see and do.
Spend your day:
Tour the Gerald R. Ford Library on the University of Michigan campus. Distinct from the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, this museum collects archival materials on U.S. domestic issues, foreign relations and political affairs during the Cold War Era. (www. ford.utexas.edu/library/aboutlib.asp)
Then, to feed the other side of your brain, walk over to the 10-stories tall Michigan Carillons for a chance to see dozens of bells ranging from 20 pounds to more than 12 tons each! The bells are played year round from noon12:30 weekdays. (www.music.umich.edu/research/stearns_collection)
Afterwards, tour Motawi Tileworks and learn to make a tile. At this studio they founded in 1991, Nawal Motawi and his sister, Karim, share their talent and the skills they developed study-
ing sculpture and design at University of Michigan and at Pewabic Pottery in Detroit.You’ll leave with a true appreciation for the craft of tile-making.Your tile – dried, fired, glazed and fired over and over – will be shipped to you. (www.motawi.com)
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, browse the Kerrytown Farmers’ Market, where you’ll find spectacular produce, plus goodies like Mill Pond Bread, Mindo Chcolate, Pilar’s Gamales and Maitelates Alfajores (my-taylah-tes al-fa-hor-es): dulce de leche filled shortbread cookies baptized in rich Belgian chocolate. (www.kerrytown.com)
Ann Arbor is a cultural melting pot of intelligence, talent and entrepreneurship, all of which is delightfully evident in the city’s clean, creative downtown – considered by many as the best pedestrian shopping in the Midwest. Look for an eclectic collection of used books at Dawn Treader Book Shop, funky metal collectibles at Metal (which is also a design and fabrication shop), the largest collection of decorative papers in the U.S. at Hollander’s and Michigan cherry products at Cherry Republic. But for the signature Ann Arbor experience, visit Zingerman’s Deli, the most well-known of the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. Started in 1982 by Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, the Deli started small, serving only a few sandwiches, traditional Jewish dishes and a carefully curated collection of specialty foods.Today, the Deli serves thousands of sandwiches and is branded as a specialty foods store, selling a mind-boggling variety of cheeses, meats, olive oils, vinegars, coffees, teas and much more – described as “genuine and honest, global and balanced.” All these items (except the sandwiches) are available by mail. (www.zingermans.com)
Where to eat:
Frita Batidos (www. fritabatidos.com; $$) French-trained owner/chef Eve Aronoff’s “fantasy” restaurant inspired by her time in Miami. Expect “slow, natural and local” ingredients in her Cuban street food:The frita – a burger traditionally made from spicy chorizo served with shoestring fries on top in a soft egg bun and batidos – tropical milkshakes made with fresh fruit, crushed ice, and sweetened milk, with or without rum. Zingerman’s Roadhouse (www.zingermans.com; $$-$$$) Chef and managing partner Alex Young is the 2011 winner of the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Great Lakes (selected over four Chicago finalists). Chef Young combines Zingerman’s passion for a global approach to food (not confined to any single movement or interest) with a passion for local and natural foods.
Where to stay:
Many of the hotels in the Ann Arbor area boast “Green” certification to help reduce your carbon footprint. Hilton Garden Inn (www.hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com; $$) Centrally located, in-house dining, plunge pool and business-class amenities make this chain hotel a reliable choice. Towne Place Suites Ann Arbor South (www.marriott.com; $$) Contemporary, techie-style lodging with a hip vibe and zoom-speed Internet.
Getting around and enjoying the Ann Arbor area is, in and of itself, a “green” experience. More than half of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s (AATA) bus fleet runs on hybrid technology. And their all-new fleet of Michigan Flyer luxury motorcoaches comprises near-zero emissions vehicles. All downtown lights are LED, which are not only more energy-efficient and produce far less CO2, but they also provide a lively ambiance for Ann Arbor’s vibrant nightlife.
Trying to eat dinner without a reservation on a Big Blue game day.
So you know:
Even Hollywood has taken notice of the area. Scenes for Drew Barrymore’s debut, “Whip It” and Hillary Swank’s new film, “Betty Ann Waters,” were filmed in nearby Ypsilanti.
Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau. (www.annarbor.org)
Ann Arbor caters to the sophisticated audience of a university community with an impressive collection of public art and architecture, well-endowed museums and a vibrant gallery scene. But the most hallowed green space in town is University of Michigan football field.
Ann Arbor artists Claudette Jocelyn Stern and John Daniel Walters own METAL, a design and fabrication studio that produces sculptural, utilitarian and mechanical forms from metal - many of which are made from repurposed vintage materials
Downtown Ann Arbor is considered by many to be the best pedestrian shopping area in the Midwest, blending Midwestern rural conservatism with a cosmopolitan urban vibe. (Photo, Ann Arbor CVB)
Zingerman’s is a family of small food-related companies and entrepreneurial ventures in Ann Arbor. Each year, thousands of visitors sample and purchase huge corned beef sandwiches, an exceptional array of farmhouse cheeses, estate-bottled olive oils, varietal vinegars, smoked fish, salami, coffee, tea and much, much more. Alex Young, chef at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, is the 2011 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region.