Ann Arbor’s downtown area is one of the city’s best places to explore local business, local eats, local drinks, and other locals-only attractions. Listed in our guide, The Top Five Ann Arbor Neighborhoods with the Best Walk Scores, it’s also the city’s most walkable neighborhood! So today, we’re combining all of these characteristics for a full day spent in one of our favorite places in Ann Arbor. Along the way, you’ll taste local food, local brews and local coffee, you’ll shop books and see art, and you’ll even get some bonus tips throughout the day.
For full details on the businesses in Downtown Ann Arbor as well as transportation options and events, check out Main Street Area Association.
Locals line up for this Ann Arbor staple—and it’s easy to see (and taste!) why. Serving brunch for over 30 years, the Afternoon Delight breakfast menu includes pan-grilled pancakes, homemade bran muffins, customized three-egg omelets, fresh poached salmon on the weekends and more. The eggs are always cage-free, the bread comes gluten-free and most of the ingredients and meats are organic!
9:30 a.m. | Coffee at RoosRoast
Photo courtesy of Kaden Brouwer via RoosRoast
Deeply local Roos Roast is the coffee headquarters for freshly roasted beans in Ann Arbor—and it’s just steps from Afternoon Delight on the way to Literati Bookstore. At their charming locale in Rosewood, they roast all their coffees in-house and offer a lively and cozy vibe. And the downtown location is everything we want in a local coffee shop. They’ve been voted the best in Washtenaw County and the best in Southeast Michigan, so it’s the perfect place to swing by for a taste of local Ann Arbor!
Photo courtesy of Literati Bookstore
When Ann Arbor’s original, local bookstore, Borders, closed its doors all over the country, Hilary and Mike Gustafson moved back to their home state and opened Literati Bookstore as a book-lovers haven in downtown Ann Arbor. On the store’s lower level, they set out an old typewriter and invited anyone and everyone to type a note on it. Over the years, they accumulated thousands of love notes, poems, sentences and salutations. Published in 2018, “Notes From A Public Typewriter” compiles some of their favorites alongside essays, photos and more. Stop by to shop local for books and make sure you type your own note on the Literati public typewriter!
Bonus tip: If you need even more coffee, head upstairs to Literati Coffee where you’ll find even more books and a full coffee and espresso bar.
After our typing and reading excursion to Literati, we’re headed back to Liberty Street to get a feel for local art. Acting as Ann Arbor’s art headquarters since opening in 1909, this center in Downtown A2 serves both artists and our community by hosting art exhibitions in the gallery, events and classes for all ages, and they even sell jewelry, paintings, ceramics and prints in the 117 Gallery Shop. So, spend time perusing the gallery and you can even take home a bit of Ann Arbor culture for your friends, family or home!
Bonus tip: On the way to the Ann Arbor Art Center from Literati, stop in Le Bon Macaron for a morning treat.
Photo courtesy of Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery
Founded by Ron Jeffries in 2004, Jolly Pumpkin began in Dexter and now operates pubs and tap houses in Dexter, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Traverse City, Royal Oak, Grand Rapids and Chicago. Each location—whether full-service pub or casual hangout—offers its own character, menu and lineup of sour, aged Jolly Pumpkin beers. In Downtown Ann Arbor, you’ll find Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery, a full-service brewpub serving lunch, dinner, brunch and late-night eats. Choose the JP Burger and you’ll be in for one of Ann Arbor’s best lunches!
Locally and independently owned since 1982, Crazy Wisdom is another great place to get a sense of Ann Arbor’s strong literary history and character. Inside the downtown shop, you’ll find books, art, crystals, jewelry and, of course, the Crazy Wisdom Tea Room! Here, they serve more than 100 varieties of tea, coffee from local roaster, Mighty Good Coffee, as well as appetizers, entrees, desserts and other treats.
Bonus tip: If you’re looking for something stronger than tea, head to Grizzly Peak Brewing Company just around the corner on W Washington Street.
The Michigan Theater Foundation was founded in 1979 to save the Michigan Theater from the wrecking ball—and we’re so glad it was. Today, this historic theater and its neighbor, the State Theater, offer regular showings of indie movies, limited releases, special screenings and more. Matinee movies typically start between 3 and 4 o’clock.
Bonus tip: Traveling from Jolly Pumpkin to the theater, you can slip into Kilwin’s Chocolates or Cupcake Station.
5 p.m | Dinner at Isalita
Photo courtesy of Isalita
Between the Michigan Theater and our evening activities, we’ll travel right past Downtown Ann Arbor’s MANI Osteria and its sister restaurant, Isalita. MANI is a local restaurant modeled after the classic Italian osteria, but Isalita takes the team’s focus on local ingredients, small production and hospitality to the streets of Mexico. Isalita is our little city’s very own cantina. The menu is inspired by the street stall food found in open-air markets throughout Mexico and the hospitality is designed in true mi casa es su casa spirit.
After dinner, keep heading down Liberty Street for dessert. The ice cream at locally-owned and operated Blank Slate Creamery is homemade using fresh, all-natural ingredients which has resulted in numerous rankings as the top ice cream in Ann Arbor and even throughout the entire state of Michigan! You can see a list of several of their locally-sourced ingredients on their website which includes milk and cream from Guernsey Farms Dairy in Northville.
Photo courtesy of TSLC Productions via The Blind Pig
Just a few steps north on 1st Street from Blank Slate, The Blind Pig is the locals’ choice for live music almost every night of the week. This quirky bar and music venue hosts everything from punk and folk to comedy and karaoke. Check out the calendar online and you can buy your tickets in advance if needed.
Bonus tip: The doors typically open between 7 and 9 p.m. so if you have some time to kill, head to Bill’s Beer Garden which is open seasonally or Ann Arbor Beer Grotto. They’re both just steps from Blank Slate Creamery and The Blind Pig!
Repeatedly named as Ann Arbor’s best cocktail bar, The Last Word is a hidden gem, literally. It’s located underground just up the street from The Blind Pig. With no exterior signage, dim lighting and an outstanding bar program, it’s a bar designed in true speakeasy fashion. The drink menu includes high-quality wines and craft beers alongside cocktails prepared with fresh ingredients as well as house-made syrups and bitters.
Bonus tip: If you need post-cocktail, late-night eats, check out The 13 Best Places to Eat After Midnight in Ann Arbor.
Do you have a local tip?
In the comments below, let us know which downtown business is on your one-day itinerary.
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