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Welcome to Ann Arbor!

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Sooner or later, almost every place has their day in the sun – the time when the outside world learns what most of the locals have known and been nurturing for years.

Well, Ann Arbor, Michigan is slathering on the metaphorical sunscreen. Check out these accolades: “America’s Best/Greatest Main Streets” (Fodor’s Travel, Travel + Leisure), “Best Midwest Food Towns” (Midwest Living), “Ten Coolest Cities in the Midwest” (MSN Travel), “Top 10 College Towns” (Livability.com) and “Most Walkable Cities” (Governing.com), just to name a few.

Early History

Located about 40 miles from downtown Detroit, the original “Annarbour” was founded in 1824 by two early pioneers who derived the town’s name from a combination of their wives’ name (Ann and Mary Ann) and the word that defines a shady or leafy grove or alcove sheltered by trees, which were dotted all over the area. Eventually the name was changed to Ann Arbor and the 50,000+ trees lining the streets today have earned it the nickname “Tree Town.”

A boutique town spanning just over 28 square miles, the population hovers around 114,000 (close to 323,000 in the entire Washtenaw County), with 40,000 of those denizens comprised on students from the University of Michigan.

Despite its intimate size, Ann Arbor offers a great deal of big city sophistication without the rat race ambiance.

Because of its location, Ann Arbor’s early history is inextricably tied to much of the history of the region, state and the country.

Way back in the day in 1837, Detroit became an important station along the Underground Railroad with more than 5,000 ex-slaves passing through the city to freedom just across the Detroit River into Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Some of the history of this turbulent time also took place in the Ann Arbor area, and visitors today can learn more by embarking upon the “Journey to Freedom” tour offered by the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County. 

To get a good grasp of area history, visit the Washtenaw County Historical Society Museum. Situated in a historic home built in the 1830s, the museum possesses over 7,500 artifacts relative to Washtenaw County through permanent and changing exhibits.

Hometown Heroes

Ann Arbor boasts numerous famous native sons, including actor Jeff Daniels, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, NFL coaches and brothers Jim and John Harbaugh, artist and author Iggy Pop, sportscaster Mike Tirico, founders of the now defunct Borders Bookstore chain Tom and Louis Borders, cartoonist Fred Gallagher, and rock and roll singer-songwriter Bob Seger, just to name a few.

Another is former President Gerald Ford. Part of the life and legacy of our 38th President is detailed at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, one of the 13 institutions in the Presidential Library System and the only split Library/Archives (in Ann Arbor) – Museum (30 miles away in Grand Rapids where he was born and raised) among them. Here visitors can begin the learn about his life as a football star at the University of Michigan, his service in the Navy, 13 terms in Congress, and 2-½ year administration as President after Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon resigned their respective posts due to the Watergate scandal in 1974.

His local working office, artifacts and exhibits about he and wife Betty, millions of audiovisual materials and documents, and a cadre of public programs are part of this international attraction with attracts close to 12,000 visitors (and is free of charge) a year.

Going Downtown!

Downtown Ann Arbor is the heart and soul of the city, featuring a wide array of one-of-a-kind shops, independently owned bookstores, art galleries, coffee shops and restaurants and specialty boutiques. One of my favorite aspects is that there are very few chain stores or restaurants, which really set it apart as a unique gem, particularly for being so close to a major U.S. city.

The 11 or so block grid here is very walkable and pedestrian friendly. In fact, there is so much to see within this intimate area that once you get here and park, you can spend literally hours with no need to move your vehicle. And if staying at an accommodation outside of the downtown area, visitors can take advantage of the free shuttle offered by most of the hotels.

This is just the beginning of all that Ann Arbor has to offer.

Check out these great things to see, do and eat in and around Ann Arbor!

A Taste of Ann Arbor

Charming Ypsilanti

Out and About in Ann Arbor

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