There may be no better time in Ann Arbor, Mich., than a late-summer morning of the Saturday before classes start at the University of Michigan.
That's when the energy on State Street, the main thoroughfare at the U-M campus, is palpable from the thousands of students and fans walking together to Michigan Stadium for the season's first Wolverines football game.
A sign on Huron Street welcomes visitors to Ann Arbor, Mich.
Photo by Jeff Greenberg.
It's a rite of passage for any U-M student, but it's just one of many activities in which visitors can partake on a weekend trip.
Roughly 240 miles from Chicago and 45 miles from Detroit, Ann Arbor is full of aesthetic and natural beauty, attracting people who wish to escape the daily grind of a big city, but also don't want to be bored in the middle of nowhere. It's a pleasant place that features great nature and plenty of things to occupy your time.
Of course, it's arguable that the appeal of the entire city owes a lot to the 196-year presence of U-M.
The state's oldest university is inextricably linked to Ann Arbor, as its campus is spread across the city and not centralized like that of Michigan State University (about an hour drive away in East Lansing, Mich.).
Photo by Scott C. Soderberg.
Revered for both it's academic and sports cultures, U-M invites prestige and money that definitely spreads to the local businesses. In a college town that attracts students from all over the world, you will be hard-pressed to run out of things to eat, do and see in the city.
If you make a visit to "Ace Deuce" — one of the city's many nicknames — here are just a few things to check out:
Dining (cheap): For tasty, friendly and popular, check out Zingerman's Deli, 422 Detroit St. A local staple of a sandwich shop that had some screen time in the 2012 romantic comedy "The Five-Year Engagement," Zingerman's is known for its long lines, gregarious service and a menu with several dozen sandwiches. Try out the delicious J.V.W.'s Detroit St. BBQ and be sure to browse the deli for shop-made pastries and organic products.
Zingerman's Deli, 422 Detroit St.
Dining (high-end): When you want to leave the kids at home and dress to the nines, check out The Chop House, 322 S. Main St., in the heart of downtown. The steakhouse has perhaps the most succulent menu in the entire city — Australian rib lamb chops; pepper and coriander-crusted tuna; and a highly rated filet mignon round out a menu for which wine pairings and chef-recommended temperatures matter. Coming in on a weekend? Be sure to make reservations.
Drink: When a bar has a food menu that's only a few pages long but a beer menu that reads like a book, you know you're in a place that takes suds seriously. Ashley's, 338 S. State St., has been a watering hole mainstay on the U-M campus for 30 years. On a campus that has plenty of options for nascent legal drinkers to get their Long Island iced teas, Ashley's attracts the mature, discriminating crowd with a massive, award-winning collection of more than 70 domestic and imported beers on tap. You'll have a hard time finding many of Ashley's beer offerings elsewhere.
Bed and breakfast: Ann Arbor is a 25-mile drive from Detroit Metro Airport, so there are plenty of lodging accommodations in and around the city. For the home-away-from-home experience, try the Ann Arbor Bed and Breakfast Inn, 921 E. Huron St., which is located in the heart of the U-M campus, no more than a half-mile walk from the Michigan Union, Main Street restaurants and the Michigan Theater. Or try Weber's Restaurant and Boutique Hotel, 3050 Jackson Ave., which contains a recently rehabbed conference center and all the bells and whistles of a retreat area, including an exercise facility, restaurant and pool.
Angell Hall at the University of Michigan.
Photo by Jeff Greenberg.
Sports: If you're a sports fan visiting the city, checking out U-M college athletics is a necessity. The school's basketball squad made it all the way to the national championship game this year and the women's softball and men's gymnastics teams have been successful lately as well. However, if you want the consummate college sports experience, check out a football game at Michigan Stadium, 1201 S. Main St. Affectionately known as "The Big House," the stadium holds — and occasionally breaks — the NCAA attendance record for the most people at a football game (a Sept. 10, 2011, game against Notre Dame holds the current top mark of 114,804 attendees). The sight of a midsize city in one location defies description; it should be witnessed in person by any football fan.
Outdoors: The beauty of Midwestern nature is quite prominent in Ann Arbor; with more than 140 parks in the area, packing in an active weekend with the family or a relaxing one in nature isn't hard. The Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society (aabts.org) is a membership-based group, but nonmembers can link up to go on casual fun rides or challenging endurance runs. Between the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 N. Dixboro Road, and Nichols Arboretum, 1600 Washington Heights, you will get more than your fill of gorgeous flora from around the world and native wildlife; more than 100 acres are available for picnicking, jogging and frolicking around ponds and streams, so try not to get lost.
Nightlife: The Necto, 516 E. Liberty St., is perhaps the most popular nightclub in the city. Though the minimum entry age of 18 might invite the university crowd (especially on Thursday's college night), the club's themes rotate for its six days, including bass music-friendly Factory Monday and gay-friendly Friday Pride. For live music, the best spot in the city is The Blind Pig, 208 S. First St. The nondescript club prides itself on being a hub of the music scenes that originated from nearby Detroit and Chicago. The intimate club is a great place to see up-and-coming bands of all genres as well as a few established acts. Check the calendar (blindpigmusic.com) before you go.