Just Back: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Nat Geo Travel associate producer Rebecca Davis recently returned from a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan. What was intended to be a whirlwind visit with her newly transplanted sister quickly became a colorful culinary tour around one of the most charming college towns in America.

Here are some of the high points of Becky’s trip in her own words:

Biggest Selling Point: If you’re like me and like exploring new places by way of your stomach, Ann Arbor will not disappoint. From Lab‘s honey lavender lattes to sweet masterpieces at Cupcake Station, indulging my inner foodie was a breeze. Hip brew pubs planted on what seems like every corner make it easy to follow up delicious meals with locally crafted suds. Not a beer person? Try the dry cider at the Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery.

(Photograph by Rebecca Davis, National Geographic Travel)
Warm and inviting, Amadeus Restaurant is just blocks away from the University of Michigan campus. (Photograph by Rebecca Davis, National Geographic Travel)

Memorable Moment: No foodie tour is complete without brunch. And Amadeus, an Ann Arbor staple specializing in Central European eats since 1988, made for a worthy destination. Fashioned after classic Viennese cafés, the restaurant’s wooden floors, heavy entrance curtains, and knickknack-lined walls ooze Old World charm. While the complimentary house-made jelly and bread will whet your palette, my favorite nosh was the fruit pierogi, which reminded me of an edible Jackson Pollock painting. Another welcome amenity? The staff at Amadeus couldn’t be nicer (the last time my sister had eaten here, the owner stopped her on the way out to give her a book on Poland simply because he thought she might like it).

Authentic Souvenir: During a late-winter “heat wave,” everyone seemed to be out and about at the Saturday morning Ann Arbor Farmers Market. It runs year-round (though in winter the selection is more limited), so be sure to stop by to snap up some local goodies to take home. While I was browsing honey and seasonal produce, a table of baked goods caught my eye. A sucker for sweets, I settled on a pack of homemade donuts topped with apple icing and cinnamon sugar. In addition to being some of the best donuts I’ve ever had, they stayed fresh for days!

Stand-Out Culinary Experience: If there’s one restaurant you won’t want to miss, it’s Frita Batidos, a Cuban restaurant in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. Walk inside and you feel like you’ve been transported to a simple, modern NYC restaurant with spartan white walls and wooden picnic tables as seats. We ordered our fritas (Cuban-style burgers) piled high with avocado, eggs, and french fries (a fritas staple), but for all their mouth-stretching goodness, the real treat was the batidos (shakes). I went a more classic route with chocolate Español, but my sister’s hibiscus shake really stole the show. Add a shot of dark rum to any batido for a buck and you’ll be in hog heaven.

Local Quirk: We walked around University of Michigan‘s campus to get a feel for the wide range of architectural styles that come together in Wolverine territory. As we passed beneath the Engineering Arch, I was filled in on a bit of campus folklore: If a couple shares a first kiss under the arch, the two are destined to marry. The legend may elicit raised eyebrows, but some now-hitched U of M alumni claim to be living proof that it’s true.

What’s your favorite thing about Ann Arbor? Share your recommendations by leaving a comment below.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter and Instagram.

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Comments

  1. MariDunior
    A2
    August 1, 2015, 11:17 am

    Best street vendor in town has gotta be Enorm Johnsons … yeah, laugh if you will, but EJ’s makes the best hotdog I’ve ever eaten. All of their meats are locally sourced and they make a variety of gourmet sausages and dishes, not to mention an impressive line of fixings and gourmet ketchups and mustards. They’re all around the downtown/campus areas, usually setting up camp near your favorite bars and restaurants. Try EJ’s after the bar, it’s the perfect drunk food. And if you’re on an evening “walking” date, stop by one of their carts and treat your companion to one of their incredibly flavorful offerings — because they’re just as good sober. Man … it sounds like I work for these guys, lol! I promise I don’t, I just love their food.

  2. anna ercoli schnitzer
    United States
    May 8, 2015, 11:39 am

    And please don’t miss Argus Farm Spot on the corner of West Liberty and 2nd Street. It is unique! The owners buy only from local farmers and give them a generous percentage of sales, the staff couldn’t be friendlier, and it is a real, sort-of-old-fashioned neighborhood gathering place. I myself am very partial to the cordita, a sweet Cuban-style espresso, from their coffee bar.

  3. Ron Fisher
    Ann Arbor
    April 29, 2015, 9:02 pm

    Please don’t forget The Earle for classic country French, Cafe Zola for awesome omelets and crepes, The Ravens Club for awesome cocktails and dinner….plus many more… and don’t forget the Fairy Doors! http://urban-fairies.com/

  4. Dave
    Jackson, mi
    April 27, 2015, 9:49 am

    The Ark has to be mentioned with Ann Arnor. Great place to hear music of all kinds. Lots of volunteers make it work. Great venue!

  5. Karen Meier
    Ann Arbor
    April 17, 2015, 10:02 am

    I like that when I read articles like this, I often find the author has called out some “must-see” things that are overlooked in other travel stories! There are things here I forget about.

    There really are so many gems in Ann Arbor, you could write two dozen different articles like this about it and have fresh content in each one. I feel fortunate to live here.

  6. Linda Anderson
    Wisconsin
    April 14, 2015, 9:12 pm

    My favorite thing about Ann Arbor is that my 4 year old grandson lives there. The Nichols Arboretum is great, so is the Hands On Museum. Fun place for a boy to grow up.

  7. Coco
    A2
    April 14, 2015, 2:40 pm

    Zingerman’s, the Michigan Theater, Treasure Mart, the Ann Arbor, Summer Festival, the Ann Arbor Art Fairs, the Ann Arbor District Library!

  8. Roxanne
    Superior Township
    April 14, 2015, 1:37 pm

    I love the fact that Ann Arbor, the city, embraces family. No matter where you go, people bring their children with them and since I was a single mother UofM student, this was most reassuring.

  9. Ann Sheppard
    Ann Arbor
    April 14, 2015, 10:29 am

    On Sundays we have the artist-run Sunday Artisan Market under the farmer’s market roof, April through Christmas. There’s a different mix of artists each week. Right by Zingerman’s Deli [President Obama ate here] and Monahan’s Seafood [Anthony Bourdain ate here], and the vegan Lunch Room, Tracklements smoked fish, and more, in Kerrytown.

  10. Brenda
    Ann Arbor
    April 13, 2015, 2:47 pm

    During your next visit, be sure to visit our favorite place to eat, The Lunch Room — http://www.lifeinmichigan.com/the-lunch-room-favorite-place-to-eat/

  11. Karie
    California
    April 11, 2015, 12:05 pm

    Vinology. They make the most spectacular food, even for a vegetarian. I remember eating a dessert there crafted around the idea of “ants on a log”. Peanut butter icecream and celery something was on the plate.

  12. Jennifer Hodgkins
    Ann Arbor, Mi
    April 10, 2015, 6:20 pm

    One thing people don’t do enough is pamper themselves when they are on vacation! A DEFINITE hot spot for anything salon & Spa is Brown & DeLine Salon, Jackson Rd, on the west side of Ann Arbor! They are amazing and will take care of you with whatever you could possibly need!

  13. Pilar Horner
    Ann Arbor
    April 10, 2015, 7:50 am

    By far, my favorite this is White Lotus Farms produce, fresh baked goods, and locally made cheeses. The open the sweetest little farm cart on Saturdays in the summer on their farm property on Liberty (past Zeeb), and also are year round at the Farmers’ Market. The artisanal breads and goat cheeses are insane, best in the town.

  14. Diana Dyer
    Ann Arbor, MI
    April 9, 2015, 3:06 pm

    Come back in August when our small specialty farm starts marketing our 40+ varieties of garlic! We have had visiting chefs from both the East and West coasts tell us they have seen nothing like our “table of discovery” at their own local markets. One bought an extra suitcase to ship home everything he bought from us. :) More info about our farm is at http://www.dyerfamilyorganicfarm.com. Hope to see you! (And for the true garlic fans, we offer a garlic CSA, too).

  15. a2serendipity
    Ann Arbor
    April 9, 2015, 12:28 pm

    Other not to be missed experiences not listed above – walking through the Law Quad (spring and fall are the best times), lounging at the Diag, giving the Cube a spin, catching a movie at the exquisite Michigan Theater. As a devout foodie, there are too many other local food experiences to list here so I will leave those out just to be fair.

  16. Joe Burak
    DC
    April 3, 2015, 7:22 pm

    Nothing beats a fall walk past the painted Rock on the Hill and through some neighborhoods lined with old fraternity houses and Victorian homes. Add a coffee from Rendezvous cafe, a middle eastern cafe on South University to round it out!

  17. David Beck
    St. Pete, FL
    April 3, 2015, 5:35 pm

    Ms. Davis needs to return in the fall on a U of M football weekend and report back on the street vendor culinary fare offered to the 110,000+ fans attending.

  18. Ed K
    Ann Arbor
    April 2, 2015, 9:23 pm

    In Ann Arbor, other great restaurants are Cafe Felix, The Beer Grotto, Bill’s Beer Garden, and Aventura–my new favorite! For recreation, especially in summer: canoeing, rafting, or tubing the Huron River especially at Argo Dam or Gallup Park. Don’t forget Nichols Arboretum (the Arb) too!

  19. Chloe Logan
    France
    April 2, 2015, 5:16 pm

    I just graduated from Michigan in the fall! I always heard it could be any kiss as long as it was under the arch at the stroke of midnight, but who knows. I miss Ann Arbor terribly, what a great article!

    Chloe | Wanderlust in the Midwest