Santa visits may not be the right call for your family this year but you can still have fun with…
Ann Arbor is the perfect place to spend the day with kids – it’s not too far away, there’s a good diversity in activities and there are things to do with babies to pre-teens!
The city is at least a 30-minute drive for anyone coming from the Metro Detroit area (more on timing the drive below), so plan accordingly.
But beware, it’s important to note that we do not recommend going to Ann Arbor on certain days (say, oh, during a Michigan football home game) when thousands of other people are also heading there. There are only a few ways into the city from the main highways, and they get jammed up easily (no one wants to sit in a motionless car with kids anxious to move!).
Nonetheless, there are a lot of options when it comes to how to spend a day in Ann Arbor…
Things to do
Hands On Science Museum // 220 E. Ann St.
This is a true gem in Michigan, and a famous Ann Arbor site. Kids love the range of hands-on activities. Admission is $12.50 for kids and adults. On Thursdays it’s $5 after 5, and babies 0-23 months are free.
The museum has tons of events, story time and more, so make sure you make the most of your visit, and look for ways to help the museum appeal to all ages in your group.
Country Farm Park // 2230 Platt Rd, Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor’s parks are one of its best assets. They’re big, full of shade and plants to explore, and numerous. Country Farm is great for toddler and young kids because it has a great playset at its entrance. There’s room for parents to watch and room elsewhere in the park to run, ride bikes and play. With plenty of plants and community gardens around to also keep littles busy, this park is a great break from reality for any kiddo.
Leslie Science & Nature Center // 1831 Traver Road
This center has fantastic outdoor and indoor options for kids. The center has several areas—Raptor Enclosure, Critter House, and Black Pond Woods—to observe and interact with plants and animals.
The center also has events weekly, so be sure to check out what they might have for kids in your age group.
(If you visit Ann Arbor on a Saturday from spring-fall, check out the farmer’s market: This market is outdoors with tons of fun goodies. It’s a great place to stroll with a newborn strapped around you, or with 4 and 5-year-olds eager to help with grocery shopping. There are several organic vendors, and the market is in Kerrytown, a charming area within the city full of stores, cafes and cobblestone streets.)
Walking around downtown: This might not be the most ideal way from the kids’ point of view to spend an hour. But if you have littles that like to just people watch, or stroll, or even shop, this could work for you. Downtown AA has really changed over the past decade and now has several high-profile stores, like Shinola and Cherry Republic, as well as some longstanding mainstays.
There are a lot of restaurants in Ann Arbor to choose from. Some are certainly better than others for kids. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it hits different food types (vegan kiddos? No problem!), and provides options parents like, too.
The Original Cottage Inn Pizza // 512 E. William St.
This is the chain’s first, somewhat historic, location. It’s a mainstay of Ann Arbor’s streets and offers up a fine pizza. Kid friendly!
Jerusalem Garden // 314 E. Liberty St.
The Mediterranean-inspired cuisine here is to die for. If your kids like hummus, grape leaves, chickpeas, or just really tasty grilled chicken and other meats, this place is for you!
Afternoon Delight // 251 E. Liberty St.
This is a well-known brunch spot for college kids and little kids alike! Super kid friendly, although on weekends expect to wait in a line to get seated (outdoor seating available when weather appropriate). Great breakfast and lunch options, and even frozen yogurt if you like! (Not open for dinner)
Zingerman’s // 422 Detroit St.
Even if you don’t want to do Z’s for lunch or dinner, no trip to Ann Arbor is complete without a stop at their complex. The grocery store and coffee house are great places to take a quick break, pick up a latte, and explore nearby Kerrytown.
If you do eat here, their extensive menu and helpful staff will make sure you and the kids are well-fed.
Hunter House Hamburgers // 609 E. William St.
Looking for a Detroit-style slider, coney dog or milkshake? Stop in! This restaurant is super kid-friendly with plenty of leg room and a menu they love. Vegetarian options for those who want them.
Parking, Sleeping, and other Details
Day trips with kiddos are never entirely smooth. But they can be executed as well as possible with the right preparation. Some tips…
Driving: Consider the drive a good naptime, or try to encourage napping during it. This will give the kids energy for when you want them to be awake.
Also keep an eye on the time. Traffic has gotten really bad in and out of Ann Arbor on workdays. US-23 in particular becomes a parking lot. Again, no one likes to be stuck in a car that isn’t moving with hungry/tired/crabby kids!
Parking: Parking in Ann Arbor is a challenge. There is street parking, but you’d be foolish to depend on that if you’re anywhere near downtown or campus. Park in available parking structures near the buildings you’ll be frequenting. Some of the places listed have special arrangements for parking, so be sure to check into those, too.
About Kaitlyn Buss
Kaitlyn Buss Cobb is opinion editor at The Detroit News and contributes often to LittleGuide Detroit. She and her husband live in Royal Oak with their two little boys and three rowdy cats. Kaitlyn enjoys experimenting in the kitchen and playing in her garden in between managing naptimes.