Rust Belt on the Rise: Ann Arbor

by  Tommy Burson | May 7, 2014
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor / tiny-al/iStock

Ask anyone who’s ever been to Ann Arbor, and they’ll tell you the best time to visit is October — specifically, during a weekend football game at the University of Michigan. But we’re about to tell you otherwise. Late spring and early summer visits offer just as unique a look into this gloriously pedestrian-friendly city minus the hoards of students.

The Arts

Consistently ranked among the U.S.’ most creative cities, Ann Arbor is an artistic paradise in the midst of the rust belt. Attracting artists from around the country, each year the Ann Arbor Art Fair (July 16-19) welcomes over 500,000 curious onlookers to enjoy street performances, exhibits, and artisan vendor stalls. Most events are free, with artists only asking for inquisitive minds.

Other than the art fair, the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) is a free museum — right across the street from the Michigan Union (State St. and South University), where JFK announced the creation of the Peace Corps. Among UMMA’s exhibits, the Tiffany stained glass collection is a local favorite, along with the works of Picasso and Monet. Often on weekends, downstairs in the Stern Auditorium, esteemed authors present and read aloud their latest works — for free, still.

Across the street from UMMA, you’ll notice the Harry Potter-like Law Quad. Built in the 1920s, the Law School mimics the English Gothic style, and offers the perfect post-city-tour relaxation spot. Nearby is Dominick’s (Monroe St. across from the Ross School of Business), a sublime sangria joint frequented by the MBAs, alums, and anyone looking for a constant buzz.

The Beats

For those looking to unwind in the evening, The Ark features acoustic entertainment 300 nights out of the year. Afterwards, walk to The Last Word for signature cocktails that have been voted the best in Michigan.

If you're trying to avoid the college crowds, consider an indie show at the Blind Pig, Nirvana’s all-time favorite venue to play. After, or during, the performance go downstairs and enjoy a cheap drink ($1.50 PBRs and $3 pitchers), free popcorn, and a game of darts or billiards with the locals.

The Eats

There is no better place to eat in Ann Arbor — and maybe even the country — than Zingerman’s Deli. First, you’ll smell the bread. Next, you’ll see the line, but don’t be intimidated. Waiting in line at Zingerman’s is a rite of passage. Everyone’s done it from President Obama to the hungover college student. While waiting, the Zingerman’s staff serves up fresh bread, brownies, and baked goods as a sort of appetizer before your dish. Once inside, the selection of 99 different sandwiches harbors a few classics, like the #2 on Jewish Rye — we're not exaggerating when we say it’s life-changing. The menu’s pricey at $15 a sandwich, but well worth every dollar.

If you’re not craving Deli fare, then cross the street into the Kerrytown marketplace and head to Monahan’s Seafood. Seriously delicious seafood for a fraction of what it’ll cost elsewhere. Snag a po’boy for $8 and a bowl of chowder for $4.

Come dinner time, Main St. has everything you need, featuring an eclectic mix of restaurant brewhouses like Jolly Pumpkin, Blue Tractor Brewing, Grizzly Peak, and Ann Arbor Brewing Company (under $20 for an entree and craft beer). If brewpubs aren’t your scene, try the trendy restaurant Sava’s on State. St., where colorful cocktails compliment the diverse culinary menu. As an appetizer, the sweet potato fries with chipotle mayo ($4.50) are a student staple.


Like in any college town, restaurants need to quench the late-night munchies. Fleetwood Diner is without a doubt the #1 option. Recently ranked among the best diners in the nation, Fleetwood’s Hippie Hash ($6) — a plate of homemade hashbrowns, grilled tomatoes, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, and enough Feta to make a Greek sweat — cures any semblance of a hangover.

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