As a Michigan State University alumna and a Spartan at heart, it pains me to write this piece. It turns out that Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to the University of Michigan, ultimate rival to my beloved university, is actually an awesome place to spend a day or two. Wait Spartans, hear me out. Here are the 5 coolest things to do in a day in Ann Arbor with kids.
The Ann Arbor Fairy Doors
Little is known about where the Ann Arbor Fairy Doors originated. This is obviously due to the fact that the doors are magical. Trust me when I say this, the doors are actually magical to your children.
I mentioned the Fairy Doors to Charlie who is four before we left. She immediately ran upstairs grabbed her fairy wings and scooter and threw them in the car. She was convinced the fairies would recognize her as a fellow fairy and let her in.
When you arrive in Ann Arbor, with a four year old dressed as a fairy, people do not even look at you strangely. Instead, they ask your child about her wings and tell her they have never met an actually fairy. Charlie loved that people were discussing fairies with her and even Will really got into it. The thing about the fairy doors is that while your kids are searching for fairies, you end up getting to see a lot of historic Ann Arbor. We went down the main strip and residential streets and saw things we wouldn’t have seen were it not for the doors. Watch this cute video of us looking for the door at Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea. Tip: Before you go, try the strawberry macaroons. The fairies love them as much as we did. The fairies also love when you leave them candy or pennies.
Visit the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
Sometimes the joy of getting lost with a four year old who desperately wants to find a fairy is that you find something even better. Just off the main strip of downtown Ann Arbor, is the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. As the kids were looking for fairies and I was trying to read a map, I looked up to see the most kid-friendly looking building I had seen all day. Families with children were streaming in and we followed.
The Hands-On Museum is exactly what you would expect, a science and learning centre for kids. We loved the giant room of blocks where kids got together to build some pretty cool structures. We were told not to miss out on the second floor which has an incredible preschool gallery for kids under 4 and their siblings. I could have stayed in that gallery all day. We had a lot of fun playing with a giant ball machine, water tables and just meeting other kids.
Also not to be missed is the World Around You gallery. The kids loved being able to put themselves inside a giant bubble and explore all the exhibits.
This summer the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is introducing a brand new gallery H2Oh! The gallery will allow kids to crank, spin, pump, push, pour water, float, roll, throw, lift, and balance plastic balls and learn complex concepts about fluid motion. That sounds fun. You can actually track the shipment of the exhibit on the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum website.
Have All-Day Breakfast at the Fleetwood Diner
Just down the street from one of the fairy doors, we found the Fleetwood Diner. Will was ready for lunch and immediately sat down on their patio. The tiny diner has the ultimate retro feel and families are welcome to come 24 hours a day. We sat down next to students from the University of Michigan, older gentlemen who all had tied up their dogs outside and other families. Will and Charlie ordered pancakes while I had the perfect diner breakfast. Tip: The Fleetwood Diner is known for its Hippie Hash. The dish is made of homemade hash browns topped with grilled tomato, onions, green pepper, mushroom and broccoli and topped with feta cheese.
Visit the Shops Downtown
Visit the University of Michigan
I will never live this down but when in Ann Arbor you should really take your kids to visit the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan has several museums including a Museum of Art, Museum of Archeology and a pretty cool museum of Natural History. I also had to show the kids the Big House.
Home of the University of Michigan Wolverines, the Big House (Michigan Stadium) is the largest stadium in all of North America. Believe me. It is huge. Seating 110,000 college football fans on Saturday afternoons, it has a lot of history. For example, the mighty Michigan State Spartans have beat the University of Michigan in 2 of the last 3 appearances at the Big House.
No matter who you cheer for or more likely don’t cheer for, Ann Arbor is a great place to visit with or without kids. I was blown away by how much fun we had in a day and seriously wished we had more time to spend in the city. Hopefully one day we can return for a game at the Big House and more time exploring this wonderful place.