As one of the most unexpectedly great cities in the United States, it stands to reason that Ann Arbor would be home to its fair share of hidden gems. While A2 is, of course, the location of the famous University of Michigan along with several amazing breweries and Zingerman’s businesses—the city is so much more than that.
To prove it to you, we rounded up a few restaurants, coffee shops, shopping destinations and tourist attractions that you may not know about. From incredible soup stands to hidden coffee speakeasies and graffiti tunnels, these are just a few Ann Arbor stops that we think deserve way more recognition. Enjoy!
Please note: the goal of this post is to showcase some of our favorite businesses in Lincoln that we think deserve extra love. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, we encourage you to stay home as much as possible. If you do venture out, please be sure to wear a mask and social distance.
Restaurants in the Ann Arbor Area
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At first glance, Le Dog looks like a bare-bones hot dog stand in an art gallery on Main Street. But this tiny shack produces some of the best soup in the entire city. This no-frills spot only accepts cash and doesn’t have any seating, but we promise you won’t mind once you try the soup. Their lobster bisque is a soup people write songs about—even if it’s only available Friday and Saturday, but their chicken tortilla flavor is also to-die-for. If you can, be sure to splurge on your choice of Zingerman’s bread for dipping, which costs an extra dollar.
We aren’t entirely sure how a hoagie joint came to serve amazing Korean food—but we aren’t going to question it. Broadway Cafe has been serving Ann Arbor since 1986, offering incredible cheesesteak hoagies along with an array of tasty, authentic Korean dishes. This is a spot where you can order a sandwich with a side of fried dumplings or a bowl of Bibimbap with an appetizer of seasoned onion rings. You can even mash up both worlds in one dish by ordering a Bulgogi Hoagie, a Korean-American fusion of onions, carrots, mushrooms, green peppers, marinated beef, and plenty of melted cheese.
Located in Ypsilanti, Lan City is a hand-pulled noodle restaurant tucked away in a shopping center on Washtenaw Avenue. Their menu is packed full of tasty soups, dumplings, scallion pancakes and more. For those looking for a simple noodle dish, don’t miss their Hot Pepper Oil Noodle, a bowl packed full of hand-stripped wide noodles with hot oil seared on red pepper flakes, fresh garlic and scallions—just beware of the intense spice level!
When you visit Shinola Ann Arbor, you may think you’ve just entered a luxury watch and bicycle shop and walk around to peruse the merchandise. But what you don’t know is that you’ve actually stumbled upon one of the best coffee shops in the city. The Shinola Cafe is a hidden gem, nestled downstairs with little signage to point you in the right direction. Once you get down there, you’ll be greeted by leather couches, the beautiful smell of coffee beans, and an unmistakable speakeasy ambiance.
Shopping in the Ann Arbor Area
Underground Sounds has gone through several different iterations before becoming the record store we know and love today. They began as That Total Age in 1993 in Ypsilanti. Then, they became Vinyl Joe’s Coffee & Records in 1995 before moving to downtown, where you can still find them today. They specialize in new release vinyl and compact discs and sell them below list price. You can preview their inventory and shop online here.
Even though West Side Book Shop has been around since 1975, their unique selection may have caused you to skip over them during your tour of A2 bookshops. The shop specializes in antiquarian material with a strong focus on adventure and exploration. Stop in to fuel your own adventure and you may stumble upon a rare find or a modern first edition.
Throughout quarantine and social distancing measures, we’ve found ourselves getting into new hobbies that we had never thought about trying before, from model making and puzzle completing to baking bread and learning how to knit. Luckily, Ypsilanti is home to a lovely gem that has everything you need to get into something new, specifically model building. They carry a huge selection of model kits, including cars, motorcycles, military vehicles, planes, helicopters, shops, comic book figures and more—along with everything you’ll need to build them.
Photo courtesy of Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory
For locals who have lived in A2 for years, Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory may not be a new development. But for those who are new to the area and are only aware of Zingerman’s famous Deli and Roadhouse—their incredible candy shop may come as a surprise! This small shop has their own line of candy and candy bars, creating everything from sweet peanuts and peanut brittle to Fudge Eggs and Bunny Tails. While you can get Zingerman’s candy at shops all across town, there’s just something special about visiting the spot where it is made every day.
Interesting Things to Do in the Ann Arbor Area
Located on the North Campus of the University of Michigan, The Wave Field, is an earthen sculpture designed by Maya Lin, an artist known for creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The field features a “wavy” ocean of grass that looks more like an incredible geological phenomenon than an art installation. The most unique aspect of The Wave Field is the way the appearance changes depending on the time of day and time of the year. Depending on when you visit and where the sun is, you’ll get to see shadows alter the waves and highlight new parts of the art piece.
Want to make a little noise? Unbeknownst to many, The School of Public Health’s community room is home to the James Walgreen organ, which is used for recitals and special events, but can be played by anyone in the building for fun, practice, instruction and more. So the next time you’d like to try your hand at a little dramatic pipe organ playing, stop by the School of Public Health!
Initially painted in 1999 as an original artwork from local artist Katherine Cost, the Graffiti Alley has become a place for people to express themselves, whether that’s by spray painting, drawing or sticking a piece of gum on the wall! That’s right, one of the walls has completely transformed by layer after layer of used chewing gum. The iconic alley is located off of East Liberty Street if you want to make your own contribution to the gum wall.
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If we could, we would spend almost all our time in a hot tub—especially as it gets colder outside. Luckily, Ann Arbor is home to our very own hot tub garden! Oasis Hot Tub Garden gives you the chance to rent your own hot tub for a few hours. Each tub is nestled in a quiet, picturesque garden setting, surrounded by lovely plants and even a fireplace in some cases. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially during the time of COVID-19. Click here to learn more!
What gems in Ann Arbor did we miss?
Let us know in the comments below!