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Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, a Big 10 school with a premier college football team. There is plenty to do in Ann Arbor when visiting on a campus tour or while your U of M undergraduate students are enrolled. Read on for some fun ideas for things to do while visiting the University of Michigan.
Things to do on Campus when visiting University of Michigan
My brother attended the University of Michigan back in the 1990s and lives in the Ann Arbor area now. My oldest child will start as a freshman at U of M this fall. Over the years we’ve explored Ann Arbor and neighboring Ypsilanti, and during the past year have visited several times, including a campus visit and freshman orientation.
The University of Michigan’s Central Campus is almost indistinguishable from downtown Ann Arbor. Unlike other colleges, the buildings here are not set within a separate campus area but interspersed throughout the downtown. Many of the university’s buildings are open to the public and their world-class museums are free to visit and tour.
Along with typical student activities, one of my favorite things to do when I visit campus is simply to walk around and explore. The diag is a great spot to walk through or just to hang out and enjoy the outdoors. Many activities and events take place there as well. Most of the buildings on central campus are what I think of as ‘traditional’ red brick architecture. The Michigan League, Michigan Union and Hill Auditorium are some of the Central Campus buildings that you don’t want to miss on a walking tour when visiting the University of Michigan.
The U of M bell tower contains a 53-bell carillon that chimes every quarter hour. Music students also often perform on the carillon, providing free concerts. There is a second carillon inside the Lurie Tower on the university’s North Campus as well.
Explore the Big House
The University of Michigan Wolverines football stadium is the largest stadium in the United States and the second largest stadium in the world. Nicknamed “The Big House,” Michigan Stadium has an official seating capacity of 107,601. It holds the home attendance record for the NCAA, set with 112,252 fans in 2012.
Unless you have tickets for the game, you are not permitted to enter the stadium on game days. On non-game days, you can get a 60-90 minute guided tour for $20/person (minimum of 5 people). The tour includes areas not usually open to the public, including the press box and home locker room. The tour then takes you through the tunnel right down onto the field, which is an amazing experience. Standing in the middle of the field surrounded by tens of thousands of seats is just surreal. Former Wolverine players like the Patriots’ Tom Brady and President Gerald R. Ford walked the same halls and tunnel in this stadium.
I’m told that attending a game when all those seats are filled with cheering fans is also incredible. I can’t wait to take my family to a game this fall.
Discover Ypsilanti when visiting University of Michigan
On any University of Michigan visit, don’t miss the chance to hang out in neighboring Ypsilanti. The town has a “small town” friendly vibe, with plenty to see and do. Kids will love exploring the toys, candy and collectibles at The Rocket in downtown Ypsilanti. My teens still beg to stop every single time we visit, and my brother buys all of their birthday and holiday gifts there. The Unicorn Feed and Supply store just down the street is a fun spot to explore and shop as well.
Ypsi’s historic Depot Town is also a great place for shopping. Don’t miss The Eyrie, where you can find all kinds of Michigan-made artisan goods, artwork and crafts. Our favorite spots to eat in Depot Town are Aubree’s Pizza (my picky family’s top choice) and Sidetrack Bar & Grill, where my vegetarian brother can find a great meal. Another great option is Ollie Food & Spirits, which offers a seasonally rotating menu of heartland favorites.
Riverside Park connects the downtown and Depot Town areas, with 14 acres of outdoor space along the Huron River. We’ve walked through this park, but there’s also a bike trail and plenty of fishing spots. Little kids will enjoy the playground.
Visit the Yankee Air Museum
The Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti is the former home of the 3.5 million-square-foot Ford B-24 Bomber Plant. During WWII, this plant was the first in the country to use Ford’s innovative assembly line manufacturing processes for airplanes. The plant has since been demolished, but the Yankee Air Museum was able to save a 144,000-square-foot portion, which will be renovated into a new facility to house their collection of aircraft and other displays.
During the plant’s heyday, it produced one B-24 bomber every 55 minutes (25 bombers per day). The assembly line was a mile long and the plant had a workforce of 42,000 people. By the end of WWII, half of those workers were female – the original ‘Rosie the Riveters’.
You can visit the current home of the museum to see their many exhibits and collections. Along with static aircraft displays, they have an Exploration Station hands-on area for kids. You can also sit in the pilot’s seat of a KC-135 refueling aircraft.
Go Up in the Air in a Historic Aircraft
The Yankee Air Museum offers public rides in four historic aircraft. These rides can be costly, but are truly a unique experience. For example, only five B-17 bombers in the US offer rides, one of which is hosted here. The B-17 “Yankee Lady” was the thirteenth from the last ever produced, in 1945. This airplane never went overseas as the war in Europe was over by then. It did Coast Guard patrols and search and rescue for many years.
The museum’s B-25 “Yankee Warrior” is the same type of aircraft that was flown by Jimmy Dolittle and his raiders in 1942. This particular plane did fly eight combat missions in Corsica. The other two aircraft are their C-47 Skytrain “Hairless Joe” and an open cockpit Waco Biplane. In 2019, the museum will also add a fully restored Vietnam-era Huey helicopter for public rides. These aircraft are all flown by former military pilots, who volunteer their time with the museum.
I had the opportunity to be hosted on a ride in the B-17 “Yankee Lady” bomber. After a short weather delay, we took off and circled the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor areas for a total flight time of about 25 minutes. Not only is it an incredible experience to view landmarks such as The Big House from the air, but once you take off, you are free to move about the aircraft and explore. I spent much of the flight in the bombadier and navigator positions in the aircraft’s nose, which provides an incredible view. It was also very sobering to think of the young men who sat in these same locations so many years ago during wartime, dropping bombs on the countryside below.
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