ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Say what you will about Wolverines football (and fans of opposing teams will probably say plenty), but the town that the University of Michigan calls home is one of the loveliest in the Big Ten.
With a population of a little more than 100,000, Ann Arbor is big enough to offer plenty of visitor amenities, but it still possesses a small-town ambience. The compact downtown blends almost seamlessly with the main University of Michigan campus, and visitors can easily walk to most of the attractions. (The stadium is about a mile south of the town center and main campus).
Ann Arbor offers dozens of restaurants and bars. As in many other great university towns, the food ranges from inexpensive and plentiful to more upscale or exotic with a variety of ethnic eateries. Drinks, too, can be found by the cheap pitcher or pail, or in the form of craft brews and designer cocktails.
Just a few blocks north of the town center, the historic Kerrytown District has interesting architecture, to be sure, but even more interesting sandwiches and cheeses at Zingerman’s Delicatessen, perhaps the most celebrated deli this side of Manhattan.
Most out-of-towners know Zingerman’s from its famous mail-order catalog. But as long as you’re in town, consider stopping in for lunch. Sandwiches come in two sizes. The smaller should be plenty, unless you’re sharing or you’re a 320-pound offensive lineman who hasn’t eaten in two days.
My suggestion? The Reuben. Yes, it might be a cliche, but Zingerman’s version is oh-so-yummy.
Other historic districts in or near the center of town are the Main Street District, with a large collection of Italianate, Art Deco and Moderne commercial buildings, and the State Street District adjacent to campus.
The free Guide to Ann Arbor Architecture, produced by the Huron Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, is handy for finding and identifying the most interesting buildings downtown and on campus.
I was delighted by the architecture of the century-old Nickels Arcade, a 216-foot glass-roofed pedestrian walkway between State and Maynard streets. Many visitors will probably find the arcade’s small shops as enchanting as the structure’s terra cotta detailing and Classical design.
Other impressive buildings include the University of Michigan Law School, a magnificent early-20th-century edifice. The sculpted corbels, stonework and interior Gothic arches bring to mind a castle — or a medieval torture chamber. (Because my eldest son is a lawyer, I should probably resist pursuing that analogy further.)
Another can’t-miss building, quite literally, is the 212-foot-tall Burton Memorial Tower, a 1936 Art Deco beauty visible from most of campus and downtown. The tower is also home to the Charles Baird Carillon, the fourth-largest carillon in North America, with the largest bell weighing 12 tons.
One thing you won’t see in Ann Arbor is a live wolverine on the loose (at least not the furry kind). The ferocious mammals aren’t indigenous to the area. But there’s a taxidermy version at the university’s Museum of Natural History, along with mastodon and dinosaur skeletons and many other slightly old-fashioned exhibits.
Next year, the museum will be updated and move to new digs next to the Ruthven Museums Building — itself a pretty, historic structure with a not-unpleasant hint of Indiana (Michigan?) Jones-style mustiness. So catch the old museum while you can.
History and art lovers will find plenty of other top-notch museums on campus. The University of Michigan Museum of Art is one of the best campus art museums in the Big Ten, and perhaps in the country. The expansive museum has a fine collection representative of all styles and eras, and it has some great gallery spaces, meeting and study areas, and performance venues.
As a fan of the old, though, I think my favorite campus museum is the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Part of the museum occupies another historic building, the 1891 Richardsonian Romanesque-style Newberry Hall, built of native fieldstones. The museum was recently expanded into a new wing to house and exhibit the more than 100,000 ancient and fascinating objects that come primarily from the Mediterranean and Near East regions.
Many of the objects in the museum have been found by the university’s own archeologists, and some even date from before the last Michigan victory over Ohio State.
Contact Steve Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SteveStephens.