Here's a fun fact about me: I actually prefer cold weather to hot weather. Yes, it's true! Having grown up in Ohio, I'm used to pretty extreme temperature swings in our seasons (we get hot summers and cold winters) – and I almost always prefer the cold. Give me cozy scarves and fireside snuggles over flip flops and sweaty hair any day.
So even though I fell in love with the university city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, last summer, I knew I was going to have to return in the winter, too, to satisfy the cold-weather-lover in me.
And, as it turns out, Ann Arbor is just as great in the winter – so long as you can drive in the snow and come prepared with a winter coat and boots!
If you're looking for a winter getaway in Michigan, here are all the great things you can do in Ann Arbor when it's cold. (And good news: most of these things are indoors!)
Note: This post was written in partnership with Wanderful and Destination Ann Arbor. As always, though, all opinions are 100% my own and based on my personal experiences.
Things to do in Ann Arbor in winter
1. Visit a museum
Ann Arbor is a fairly small city (population just under 125,000), but because the University of Michigan is such an integral presence here, there are a lot more cultural institutions and museums than you might expect.
For example, the University of Michigan has several great (and FREE!) museums on its campus, which are often associated with university research programs. Some of the museums you might want to visit include:
- The University of Michigan Museum of Art – The most popular U-M museum, the UMMA covers 94,000 square feet and houses more than 19,000 pieces of art.
- The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History – This museum moved into a brand new building in 2019, and has a great collection of exhibits that cover everything from dinosaurs to Michigan's own unique natural history.
- The University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Archaeology – This research museum focuses on Classical, Egyptian, and Near Eastern archaeology, and holds more than 100,000 artifacts.
Other museums in and near Ann Arbor worth visiting include:
- The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum – If you have kids, this interactive museum is a must-visit! You can learn about everything from the human body to simple machines to light optics in a ton of hands-on exhibits.
- Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum – Not far from Ann Arbor, this small and quirky museum in Ypsilanti focuses on Michigan's auto manufacturing history. There are vintage vehicles on display from the likes of Hudson Motors and other brands that used to be produced at the Willow Run Plant. For $5, it's definitely worth popping in for an hour!
2. Take a Zingerman's class or tour
Today, the name Zingerman's is synonymous with Ann Arbor. What began as a small local deli 30 years ago has ballooned into an empire. Zingerman's now has a grocery-like deli and a restaurant (Zingerman's Roadhouse), plus its own bakery, creamery, coffee roastery, and candy production facility.
It's kind of like if Willy Wonka decide to expand and take over a small city. But nobody in Ann Arbor is complaining.
Year-round, Zingerman's offers production facility tours (like tours of its creamery), as well as things like baking classes, cheese tastings, and food and drink pairings.
3. Eat all the food
Speaking of food… you'll want to eat a lot of it in Ann Arbor – especially during the winter months!
One of the things that surprised (and delighted) me on my first visit was the sheer number of independent restaurants and cafes in Ann Arbor. Even though this is a “college town,” you won't find an endless string of fast food joints in downtown Ann Arbor.
Instead, you'll find an eclectic mix of breweries, coffee shops, and restaurants serving up everything from sushi to Cuban street food.
Some of my favorite restaurants serving up winter comfort food include:
- Juicy Kitchen – A cozy, veggie-forward spot that's great for breakfast or brunch.
- Sava's – An excellent brunch spot that is beautiful on the inside.
- Frita Batidos – A local chef's take on Cuban street food. It's all about burgers and milkshakes here.
- Slurping Turtle – For sushi and amazing ramen; you'll need a reservation here.
- Knight’s Steakhouse – This classic American steakhouse has been in business in Ann Arbor since the 1950s.
4. Cozy up with coffee
Cold weather and hot drinks were made for one another, and Ann Arbor offers up several great spots to warm up with a coffee or hot chocolate.
Some of my favorites in Ann Arbor include:
- Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea – This local coffee chain has multiple Ann Arbor locations, and was started by University of Michigan alums Wei and Lisa Bee. My go-to drink on a cold day is the French Vietnamese au Lait, which is a blend of dark French Chicory coffee and sweetened condensed milk.
- lab – This airy coffee shop is quiet and serves up coffee (try their pour over) and baked treats.
- Comet Coffee – This one is located inside the Nickels Arcade, which is worth a visit regardless of whether you're looking for coffee or not.
You can also check out TeaHaus and RoosRoast – there's no shortage of independent cafes in Ann Arbor!
5. Go out for a drink (or 3)
Like most mid-sized Midwestern cities these days, Ann Arbor has a thriving beer and cocktail scene – and we're not just talking about college dive bars here.
There are more than 20 craft breweries in the Ann Arbor area, including several downtown. Some you should check out include Arbor Brewing Company, Grizzly Peak Brewing Co., and HOMES Brewery. There's even a meadery (Bløm Mead + Cider).
I also recommend stopping in to the Ann Arbor Distilling Company, which has a fun tasting room in a quiet part of Ann Arbor. This boutique distillery makes some really unique things, like seasonal gins, an absinthe, and a cherry liqueur that is to die for. Get a tasting flight, or try one of their signature cocktails.
And if you're looking for a place to go out for fun cocktails after dinner, check out The Last Word. This speakeasy-style cocktail bar is unassuming from the outside, but the drinks and bites inside are great – try The Osborn cocktail (made with a jalapeño kick), and the fried chicken buns.
Just remember to drink responsibly! The good news is that you can walk to many places in downtown Ann Arbor.
6. See a movie
If the weather gets really bad, just know you can always fall back on Ann Arbor's historic movie theaters, the Michigan Theater and State Theatre. The Historic Main Auditorium at the Michigan Theater dates back to the silent film era, and both theaters show off with lighted marquees at night.
The State Theatre plays mostly new releases, and the Michigan Theater shows movies, documentaries, shorts, and limited-runs.
7. Hang out with kitties
I'm a fan of cat cafes – especially when they're associated with a local shelter and most of the resident kitties are adoptable. That's exactly how it works at Tiny Lions, a cat cafe associated with the Humane Society of Huron Valley.
You can drop in to visit the cats (and enjoy free coffee, tea and hot chocolate while you're there), or you can sign up for one of the cafe's popular activities, like yoga with cats, knitting with cats, or even a family “mewvie” night. My husband Elliot and I signed up for Trivia Night at the cafe, which was super fun (and super packed!).
If you like cats at all, this is a must-visit!
8. Go ice skating
So, ice skating isn't exactly a cozy indoor activity, but you CAN go indoor ice skating in Ann Arbor, which makes it considerably warmer (and drier!).
The University of Michigan's Yost Ice Arena has public skating hours daily during the winter months (usually around lunchtime), and you can rent skates and get rink time for less than $10 per person.
I haven't been ice skating since I was in college, and Elliot estimated it had been just as long for him, so we were a pretty hilarious pair slipping and flailing around the rink. But we had SO much fun.
This makes for a great activity whether you're enjoying a couples getaway, or looking for something the whole family can enjoy together.
9. Visit the Law Quad in the snow
Lastly, this one is decidedly not indoors at all, but I still think it's a must-do in Ann Arbor in the winter!
The University of Michigan Law Quadrangle is filled with Gothic-style buildings meant to recall the great English universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Walking into the Law Quad kind of feels like walking onto a Harry Potter movie set. Add in a snow flurry, and you’ll be instantly transported to Hogwarts!
I highly recommend taking a stroll through the quad. And if you get too chilly, know that you can pop into most of the buildings even as a non-student. My favorites are Hutchins Hall and the beautiful Law Library.
Where to stay in Ann Arbor
Looking for a good hotel option in Ann Arbor? Here are two for you:
Graduate Ann Arbor
I stayed at this hotel on my first visit to Ann Arbor, and really loved it. The Graduate is a small chain of hotels, but each one is unique. The Graduate Ann Arbor is (tastefully) University of Michigan-themed, with UM colors scattered throughout the property.
I loved the long, library-style table and chalkboards in the lobby, and also liked the added touch of your room key looking like a student ID card from someone famous who attended the university (I got Iggy Pop!).
The Graduate Ann Arbor is also located super close to campus and downtown Ann Arbor, making it an excellent hotel choice if you want to be able to walk to a lot of things.
EVEN Hotels Ann Arbor
If you don't mind staying a few miles away from downtown Ann Arbor, then I'd also highly recommend the EVEN Hotel just off I-94. It's a brand new hotel, is located within easy driving distance to everything on this list, and has free parking.
The rooms here are spacious and comfortable, and come complete with in-room fitness amenities like a yoga mat, which is a nice touch.
Do you enjoy winter travel? Is Ann Arbor a city you'd like to visit?
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Amanda Williams is the award-winning blogger behind A Dangerous Business Travel Blog. She has traveled to more than 60 countries on 6 continents from her home base in Ohio, specializing in experiential and thoughtful travel through the US, Europe, and rest of the world. Amanda only shares tips based on her personal experiences and places she's actually traveled!