Geek Weekend: Ann Arbor, Michigan

If you’re craving city life or a university setting, Ann Arbor, Michigan is the place to be. Ann Arbor is the seventh largest city in the state of Michigan, with a population of 114,386, of which more than 30% are college or university students. Since its founding in 1824, Ann Arbor has flourished into a city of intellect and culture that has influenced the nation and the world. In the mood to relive your college days? Visit the University of Michigan campus; go to the Big House, experience a tailgate, or just wander through the Diag. But maybe you’re in the mood for a night in the city. Try the array of restaurants and bars that make up downtown Ann Arbor, ranging from martini bars like the Black Pearl, jazz venues like the Firefly Club, to world renowned concert halls like Hill Auditorium. No matter what kind of mood you’re in, Ann Arbor has a way of satisfying every craving. Check it out.

The University of Michigan

Home to over 50,000 students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is undoubtedly a college town. The school boasts the largest alumni network in the world, with famous graduates including President Gerald Ford, acclaimed author Arthur Miller, actress Lucy Liu, and even world famous singer Madonna. Students on campus are known for their school spirit, which is especially evident during the college football season. If you’re ever lucky enough to get a ticket to a home game, you will join about 106,200 other people in the “Big House” and cheer for the winningest team in all of college football. Football season culminates with a game against The Ohio State University, a rivalry that dates back to the late 1800s.

On a nice day in Ann Arbor, nothing beats a visit to some of the University’s outdoor locations. Start off walking through the crisscrossing paths of the Diag, which marks the center of campus and is always abuzz with student activity. Beware, though, tradition states that if you step on the brass “M” before taking your first University exam, you will fail. Across the street is the Michigan Union, on the steps of which John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in 1960. Next, visit the Nichols Arboretum, a vast expanse of nature trails, river walks and picturesque scenery, the perfect setting for a picnic, game of Frisbee or a jog. On North Campus, location of much of the University’s engineering labs and performing arts buildings, visit the Wave Field. This landscape sculpture is made out of just grass and dirt and was created by Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington D.C.

Ann Arbor has long established itself as a pioneer in the technology industry. Co-founder of Google Larry Page called Ann Arbor home during his undergraduate years. Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems also spent time at the University honing his technological capacities in the College of Engineering.

Today Ann Arbor continues to encourage the cultivation of technological minds, especially via programs available through the University of Michigan. The Office of Technology Transfer at the University of Michigan has made their mission to transfer University technologies to the marketplace. It does this through patenting, legal support, licensing and start-up assistance. One of the University of Michigan’s and Ann Arbor’s newest initiatives is a student start-up incubator called the TechArb, which is currently funded by RPM Ventures. Located in the basement of the Ann Arbor Google offices, TechArb houses a variety of Web-based ventures. MyBandStock, a funding tool for artists that sell virtual stock to their fan base in exchange for access to their music, videos, blogs and other personal benefits to raise money for album production shares the space with. Mobil33t, a team of iPhone application developers who recently launched DoGood, and CrowdClarity, an innovative sales forecasting solution, among several other budding student start-ups.
Ann Arbor has a variety of organizations that promote entrepreneurship and technology, including TechBrewery and A2Geeks. At the University of Michigan, student groups like Maize Ventures and MPowered Entrepreneurship provide a foundation for creative student initiatives.

Too much technology and want to take a break? You won’t be at a loss in Ann Arbor when it comes to shopping. Peruse the shops on Main Street and you’ll come across quirky bookstores, independent art galleries and unique boutiques. A local favorite is Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tea Room which specializes in holistic health books and fine teas. Also, don’t miss the Selo/Shevel Gallery, one of the top craft galleries in the country. There, you can find functional art pieces that will make a statement in any home. Down the street, check out the original Border’s bookstore which plays host to frequent readings, concerts and author visits. Across the street is Urban Outfitters, a popular apparel store specializing in the latest urban trends and located across campuses nationwide. For those on a student budget, South University Street is the ideal place to shop. There you will find the bohemian Middle Earth, a trinket shop selling funky gifts, quirky jewelry and witty stationary. If you really want to get in the Ann Arbor state of mind, visit Stairway to Heaven, a head shop with a great selection of smoking paraphernalia.


You can get a true sense of Ann Arbor’s diverse culture through the wide assortment of cuisine that is available. If you’re in the mood for some Latin or Cuban treats, check out Café Habana. Add a little spice to your life by visiting Café Habana on Thursday nights where you will find couples indulging in a night of Salsa dancing. The Chop House, a cornerstone restaurant of Main Street Ventures, provides a slightly more local approach, offering some of the finest Midwestern grain-fed meats and exceptional premium wines. If seafood is what you’re craving, wander across the street to The Real Seafood Company, and enjoy a menu teeming of seafood–simply prepared and fresh. If you’re looking for some northern Italian cuisine, Ann Arbor’s Gratzi will titillate your taste buds. Everyone loves pizza, so how about visiting the original Cottage Inn established in 1948.

Feeling ethnic? The Blue Nile is an exciting Ethiopian restaurant famous for its variety of meat and vegetable dishes. Perhaps you’re interested in some Indian food. Then Shalimar is the place for you, offering a wide host of Indian dishes served with spices that are cooked to your preferences, whether it is medium, mild or hot. Wander around the corner and you’ll find Champion House, offering not only Chinese and Japanese food, but a home for student sake bomb celebrations. For some Middle Eastern cuisine, check out Jerusalem Garden where you’ll find hummus and pitas galore. In the mood to enjoy a simple, yet tasty sandwich? Ann Arbor’s very own Zingerman’s Delicatessen can satisfy any craving. But how about something fried and delicious? Nationally famous for its world famous burgers and welcoming atmosphere, Blimpy Burger a the place to experience truly distinguishable excellence of Ann Arbor cuisine.


What would a city be without a major nightlife circuit? From college dives to classy city bars, Ann Arbor has it all. If you’re walking down Main Street, a number of bars will catch your eye. Drink from a glass boot at the Heidelberg, have some martinis at Rush Street or enjoy a night of Irish car bombs at Connor O’Neils. Arbor Brewing Company may be the answer to your prayers if you’re looking for some authentic Ann Arbor beers that are homebrewed and bottled. Had enough of the local bars on Main Street? Wander a couple blocks towards campus and you can experience a night out for any U of M college student. South University Street has it all. In the mood to dance? Head to Rick’s American Café where you can enjoy their infamous fishbowls, filled with vodka, gin, rum, tequila and your bartender`s choice of juices and soda. Craving a fiesta, you may want to wander over to BTB Cantina to enjoy Coronas, margaritas and burritos. Perhaps you’re looking for the typical “place to be” on campus. Grab a seat at Good Time Charley’s, a local bar where faculty and students take a break from the stresses of college and enjoy some great food and drinks.


Ann Arbor is also filled with a variety of events and entertainment that students, locals and tourists all enjoy. The city is well known for its lively music scene and timeless venues. Check out the Blind Pig, where famous artists like Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Nirvana once played. In this small, intimate setting, the experience of music is unlike any other. Another musical venue is The Ark, Ann Arbor’s nonprofit home for acoustic music. Considered one of the top music clubs in the world, The Ark is renowned for the quality and breadth of its programming and acoustics. If live jazz and blues is your thing, attend Ann Arbor’s Firefly Club or Goodnight Gracie’s, which both feature live music coupled with great martinis.

Beyond music, Ann Arbor also hosts a number of annual events. If you’re visiting Ann Arbor in the summer, be sure to experience the month-long festival called Top of the Park, which features musical acts and nightly movies. The event takes place right in front of the Rackham Graduate School in Ingalls Mall on the campus of U of M. Later in the summer, Ann Arbor becomes home to the annual Art Fair, featuring art from all over the nation and the world. The entire city is lined with booths filled with artistic pieces, ranging from abstract to surrealism. You can take part in Hash Bash, an annual event held in Ann Arbor on the first Saturday of April at “high noon” on the University of Michigan Diag. A collection of speeches, live music, street vending and some occasional civil disobedience are centered on the goal of reforming federal, state and local marijuana laws.

Ann Arbor is only about 5 hours from Chicago, 4 hours from Toronto, 3 hours from Columbus/Cleveland, and 30 min from Detroit. It’s one of the biggest small cities in the Midwest, so Geeks, be sure to add it to your list of “must see” cities in the United States.

Thanks to, an online funding tool for independent musicians based out of Ann Arbor, MI for putting this guide together.

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