Essential Ann Arbor: The Awesome 8-Stop Downtown Walking Tour

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Here’s the video:

And here’s a quick overview of what we’re going to check out in a little more depth. Feel free to link to a particular tour stop that piques your fancy.

Essential Ann Arbor Downtown Walking Tour: Parking

Moving to Ann Arbor from New York City, as I did in 1999, I couldn’t believe how many people bitched about downtown parking. This was because I still hadn’t quite figured out that cars are Real Things, something easy to forget when you live in NYC. The parking situation has improved since then, as A2’s built a bunch of big structures where you can safely stash your auto. Take advantage of them, as parking on the street is still pretty rough—especially as pandemic restrictions ease up and more folks drive downtown.

Top recos for this tour: The Maynard Street parking structure, which is right across the street from our first stop, Nickels Arcade. We also like the lot next to the Public Library on 5th street just south of Liberty, or the structure on 4th and William.

Essential Ann Arbor Downtown Walking Tour, Stop #1: Nickels Arcade

Now head to Nickels Arcade, which stretches down a block between Maynard and State. Don’t let the name fool you: The very nice shops here ain’t cheap.

When I’m feeling flush, I’m a fan. Mix has really unique women’s clothes, which you’ll either think are super cool or overly arty. I bought a pleated silk dress here that is my absolute traveling go-to. It never, ever wrinkles and I’ll never have to do a “who wore it better?” thing because I’ve never seen one like it. Caravan Gift Shop, the Arcadian Antiques, Maison Edwards Tobacconist, Bivouac: just a few, all with great windows and worth a stop.

Essential Ann Arbor Downtown Walking Tour, Stop #2: Comet Coffee

Assuming you’re starting in the morning—or you just want to caffeinate for the rest of the trip, Comet Coffee is massively popular for good reason. The coffee’s outstanding.

I do love Comet, but I also love a lot of places where I get coffee when I’m in Ann Arbor: Sweetwaters on Liberty and at Kerrytown, Mighty Good on Main, Roos Roast on Liberty…there are more. If I’ve left out your favorite, please leave me a note in the comments and I’ll add it.

Essential Ann Arbor Downtown Walking Tour, Stop #3: UM Campus

OK, you’ve either got your coffee in hand or you’ve finished it and you’re ready to roll. Walk through Nickels Arcade and you’ll be at the entry to a big part of the University of Michigan campus, the Diag. Here’s an excellent local guide with all kinds of cool trivia. The grounds themselves are lovely on a day with decent weather—Michigan actually gets a surprising amount of those in spring, summer and fall, and even winter can surprise you as long as the wind isn’t attacking you. (It’s not Chicago, but it can still be brutal.)

There are a number of excellent museums, include the UM Museum of Art. Even during the pandemic, with visits restricted to UM students and staff, there are cool things to look at through the windows, like this installation by South African artist Mary Sibande.

Across the street, you’ll find the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. A couple of blocks away, the Museum of Natural History has giant scary dinosaur bones. And, if Marathon Man is your all-time favorite movie, you might want to pop into the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry. Say ah!

NOTE: The good folks at Sindecuse have this to say, which is great advice for any UM venues at this time: “Public visitors should check our website (www.sindecusemuseum.org) regarding our reopening to the public.  Now, due to COVID restrictions, our museum, which is located within the University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry, is not open to onsite public visitors.  However, we will address questions about the museum and the collection via email: [email protected].  We invite inquiring minds to check out our website, our blog posts, and browse images of some of the objects on our website: https://sindecuse.pastperfectonline.com/randomimages.”

Bonus Stop: Nichols Arboretum

The Arb is an Ann Arbor legend, and one of the great treasures of the city. The thing is, it’s a short hike away from this tour, and easily eats up as many hours as you’d like to give it. We absolutely insist you visit the Arboretum—but give it plenty of time and don’t try to squeeze it into this particular tour unless you’re fully aware that you’ve just stretched a comfortable 3-4 hours into a full day. Which may be exactly what you want to do. Find out more at the Arb’s website.

Essential Ann Arbor Downtown Walking Tour, Stop #4: Liberty Street Cinemas

Having strolled around as much of the downtown campus as you want to take in—and fully aware that you’ve just seen a small fraction of the whole thing—head back to State Street. Right at the spot where Liberty street begins (or ends? It’s like that line in A Christmas Story), you’ll find the State Street theater. Along with its sister, the Michigan, the State is THE place to get your art house cinema fix.

ann arbor downtown walking tour

Saved from a wrecking ball several decades ago, the Michigan is a fully restored movie palace. While you may be able to look around the lobby, the best way to see it in all its glory is to watch a movie there.

Michigan Theater upstairs interior

Cramped and non-optimized for years, the State has been fully refurbished in the last few years. Both theaters are beginning to open again post-pandemic. Stop by to grab a schedule, or simply visit the website, which contains info on showtimes for all screens in both theaters.

Essential Ann Arbor Downtown Walking Tour, Stop #5: The Dawn Treader

In an age where bookstores have been gnashed and mangled by the corporate jaws of Certain Companies—I’m being coy, A Certain Company—it’s a joy to open the door of the Dawn Treader and be surrounded by stacks and stacks of old books. Some of the fancy ones—including this “novelization” of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.—are, understandably, locked in glass cases. You can learn all about the store, as well as browse the collection and order online, at the Dawn Treader website.

ann arbor downtown walking tour

Essential Ann Arbor Downtown Walking Tour, Stop #6: 2 More Book Stores

Of course, Ann Arbor has even more book stores. Literati, one block west of Liberty on Washington, has been closed during the pandemic, but should be up and running soon; it features new books, with tons of very personal, sometimes hand-written recommendations as well as tons of cool in-store events (as long as deadly viruses aren’t raging round the state). Crazy Wisdom is open now (Main Street between Washington and Huron), and features all things new age; in addition to books on pretty much every alternative school of thought you can imagine, it has jewelry, meditation cushions, and, in non-pandemic times, a delightful tea room with the occasional concert. Click through on the respective links to find out current policies, and also just get to know two really cool stores.

ann arbor downtown walking tour

Essential Ann Arbor Downtown Walking Tour, Stop #7: Kerrytown

Around this point of our tour, you’ve meandered north to Kerrytown, a historic complex that houses all sorts of cool stuff: a year-round Saturday farmers market (obviously it’s much more active from spring to fall), an indoor market, another great coffee shop, Sweetwaters, and about a dozen delightful shops, nearly all of which are independently owned and operated. Find the full list of Kerrytown shops and eateries at this link.

We’re in particular crazy about Spun, “your neighborhood yarn shop,” and FOUND, a super cool home goods store. A leisurely stroll through Kerrytown will remind you that small, unique businesses can thrive. #lovelocal.

By the way, if you’ve already done Zingerman’s (see below), we LOVE Miss Kim. Here’s a graphic I made from a tasting menu some years back. It’s absolutely wonderful Korean food in a lovely space. There are many fine Ann Arbor restaurants, which we’ll cover in future posts. But Miss Kim is extra special.

Essential Ann Arbor Downtown Walking Tour, Stop #8: Zingerman’s Deli

Miss Kim worship aside, people will seriously yell at you if you don’t at least check out Zingerman’s Deli, which is just across the street from Kerrytown on Detroit. Zing’s does own the Roadhouse, further west in a strip mall, as well as the big complex of shops on the south side of town on Airport road. But the Deli’s the original place, and it continues to delight.

ann arbor downtown walking tour

You can easily put together a picnic with their prepared salads, along with cheese, meat, bread, and sweets—Zingerman’s house made brownies and candy bars are ridiculously tasty—you can also be perfectly happy with one of the dozens of sandwiches. This is a Georgia Reuben, i.e., one made with turkey. There’s also the classic pastrami version and a vegan version with tempeh. This is, after all, Ann Arbor, which one friend swears was directly cloned from Berkeley, CA.

End of the Tour

This is, truly, just a smattering of what’s on offer in downtown Ann Arbor, and you’re sure to find your own favorites. Take pictures, tag me on insta and twitter (@headroamer), #annarbordowntown. And let me know what you love about this place in the comments. Enjoy!

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