9 Fun Ways to Enjoy Summer in Ann Arbor

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Ann-Arbor-Michigan-Theater
Downtown Ann Arbor, the Michigan Theater.

By Shelley Seale

The fun, funky college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan enjoys beautiful weather and plenty to do all summer long. We’ve rounded up 9 of the most fun summertime things to do in the city and surrounding areas.

Fly in an original WWII plane for a historic, bird’s-eye view of the area

9 Fun Ways to Enjoy Summer in Ann Arbor 1At the Yankee Air Museum in Ypsilanti, you can take an unforgettable flight of a lifetime in one of several original World War II era planes. Their fully restored B-17, B-25 and C-47 planes – along with a Biplane – can be booked for sightseeing rides.

It’s thrilling to take to the skies in a wartime cargo plane, and the views can’t be beat. The site is at the old Willow Run bomber plant, which churned out more than 86,000 planes during WWII and was instrumental in the Allied victory. This is also the plant where the original, famed “Rosie the Riveter” worked.

While you’re there, you shouldn’t miss the excellent exhibits at the museum, which take guests through a compelling narrative that triggered sweeping changes in our society, and marks a time when Americans from all walks of life united to do whatever they could to help win the war.

A large Rosie the Riveter exhibit is there, along with special dedications to other women who served in the war effort and the African-American Tuskegee Airmen. From Victory Gardens to War Bonds, to movie stars like Hedy Lamarr serving coffee to soldiers on leave at the Hollywood Canteen, everybody did their part.

And don’t miss their upcoming Thunder Over Michigan air show, August 20-21 at the Willow Run Airport!

Kayak, canoe or raft down the Huron River

9 Fun Ways to Enjoy Summer in Ann Arbor 2For beauty, peace and outdoor adventure, this can hardly be beat. Ann Arbor Canoe Livery rents canoes, kayaks, rafts and stand-up paddleboards, and from their Argo location you can take a great one-way, downstream route – and take their shuttle back, so no upstream paddling!

Soon after you leave the dock and head downstream, there is a series of exciting, rushing cascade chutes with drops of just a few feet.

Insider Tip: Be sure to bring a set of dry clothes to change into – you will get wet going down the chutes! And a ziploc plastic bag or dry bag for any phones, cameras, etc.
Visit a Buddhist community and working farm

White Lotus Farms, just outside Ann Arbor, is a working farm, bakery and creamery that is run by the local practitioners of the Tsogyelgar dharma center of Buddhism.

White Lotus Farms
White Lotus Farms

They provide fresh produce, farmstead cheeses, artisan breads, and an array of other products produced onsite; they also sell at the year-round Argus Farm Stop. The entire community operates on Buddhist principles.

“We are dedicated to the concept of right livelihood,” says B. Love Davis, the gardener at White Lotus. “We make our lives, and our living, in a way that is kind, good and beautiful.”

Mindfulness and Care

At the heart of everything they do is mindfulness and care, with a passion for quality and sustainability – as evidenced through the ways they interact with the land, their animals, and each other.

It is certainly a place of beauty and serenity, and visitors are welcome to stroll the grande allée lined with award-winning roses, enjoy the koi pond with its rushing waterfall, or view the countless varieties of stunning flowers ornamenting the gardens. You can also volunteer there, buy their products, attend a farm dinner or just hang out. I even got to name a newborn baby goat!

Roam the locally-owned shops downtown

Vickie Honeyman of Heavenly Metal
Vickie Honeyman of Heavenly Metal

Downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan is imminently walkable. It’s a lively place filled with locally-owned boutiques, vintage shops, coffee houses, bookstores, restaurants and markets.

Many of the proprietors are right behind the counter, and you never know what interesting person you’ll meet. For example, Vickie Honeyman of Heavenly Metal, a curated collection of handcrafted jewelry, gift and art goods, purses, apparel and footwear from around and beyond the USA.

Besides being a shopowner, Vickie is a dancer, hair cutter, and was the previous Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, among other things. She’s a spitfire of a woman, and her breath-of-fresh-air exuberance spills over in the store.

She has been a successful member of the Ann Arbor business community despite personal hardships; just after opening Heavenly Metal in 2003, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and couldn’t work for a year and a half. She credits her fellow hair stylists and friends with keeping the shop going.

“When I came back from the illness, I completely lost touch with what my world had been,” Vickie says. “This business became my world.” And, she still has her barber chair in the corner, where she still cuts hair for customers.

Other local shops not to miss include Shinola, full of locally-made items and a cafe/lounge in the basement; Found gallery with their collection of old and new treasures, with a focus on local artisans; Adorn Me featuring jewelry made by the staff; Dear Golden Vintage, a beautiful shop with a high-quality collection; and Mudpuddles, a fantastic toy and game store for kids of all ages.

Take a pedal tour of downtown Ann Arbor bookstores

Literati
Literati

Besides the above-mentioned shops, there are a ton of bookstores in downtown Ann Arbor (and throughout the whole area).

In fact, Ann Arbor has the most independent bookstores per capita in the U.S. – so it’s a bibliophiles dream!

Even though there are a lot of them, each store has its own distinct focus and personality. Literati is the most polished of them, owned by Michigan natives Mike and Hilary Gustafson. Aunt Agatha’s specializes in mystery and true crime books, while Vault of Midnight is a globally recognized comic store.

A fun and unusual way to tour the various book stores is with High Five Pedal Tours. Their Bookworm tour departs from Ann Arbor Distilling Co., which runs the tours, and visits several local shops with a guide and a stop at Vinology wine bar. They also offer craft beer, wine, art and progressive restaurant tours.

Go on a craft beer tasting pub crawl

IMG_0180The microbrewery scene here is hot, hot, hot. You can barely walk a couple of blocks without seeing a craft brewpub.

Starting in Ypsilanti, check out the Ypsi Alehouse, run by ex-GM worker Dave Roberts and Ted Badgerow, who ran the first microbrewery in Michigan, Real Ale.

Their alehouse in the historic Huron Hotel building produces a Mishigama line of beers, which include a variety of ales (red, brown, amber, and pales) along with a wheat beer, porter, stout, and bitter.

“We tried to create a quiet neighborhood bar, family-friendly with a relaxing atmosphere,” Dave says.

Also in Ypsi, Rachel and Tarek Kanaan brew kombucha beer at their Unity Vibration. Their Bourbon Peach American Wild Ale was named one of the top 25 beers in the country in 2013, by Draft Magazine.

Arbor Brewing Company pub and eatery is also in Ypsilanti, brewing more than 130 different types of beers. Other places you might want to visit for a taste of the local craft beer scene include Mash Bar in the basement of Blue Tractor; Chelsea Alehouse; Original Gravity; and Wolverine.
Learn how to ferment in a class at The Brinery

IMG_0230A big part of the local food movement in Southern Michigan, The Brinery is a concept originated by “chief fermenting officer” David Klingenberger.

His company specializes in all-natural, brine fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles, with produce sourced from local family farms. “We’re proud of our part in the culture of the food community here,” David says.

“The way our entire society emerged was through the preservation of food, and fermenting was a huge part of this.”

The Brinery offers regular classes and workshops in fermenting, with great education and hands-on experience. Hors d’oeuvres or lunch is included, and you’ll leave with techniques, recipes, and a jar of the product you’ve made.

Check out museums affiliated with the University of Michigan

IMG_0283If the weather is a little too warm and you’re ready for an inside break, head to one of UM’s many museums. The Exhibit Museum of Natural History is in a beautiful historic building, although its new home is being built right next door.

Here you can take a glimpse into the University’s natural science research and collecting museums (Paleontology, Zoology, Anthropology, and the Herbarium), and in recent years the scope has broadened to include astronomy, geology, and other current scientific research.

There is a planetarium, and the museum offers many events, late evening hours at times, and free tours every Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

Other natural museums with fantastic collections include the Herbarium and museums of anthropology, paleontology and zoology. The college also enjoys an extensive art collection, which can be seen at the University of Michigan Museum of Art as well as on the grounds around the campus.

Have a tea-tasting like you’ve never experienced tea before

IMG_0266Lisa McDonald is one of only 7 European-certified tea sommeliers in the U.S., and at her TeaHaus you can enjoy the most knowledgeable, thorough tea tasting you’ve likely ever had.

Lisa buys and sells only the top 5% quality tea in the world. It’s also a lovely place to relax, with delightful food and a charming ambience.

You can learn literally anything you ever wanted to know about tea here. Small groups can book a private tasting in advance, and there are public events with tastings or pairings on the calendar regularly.

Lisa is also about to open her newest endeavor, called Eat More Tea. It will be located right around the corner, and is a restaurant where everything is made with tea.

More Ann Arbor : Be sure to check out Visit Ann Arbor for all the information you need on the area, and to order your free visitors guide.