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Cultural Activities in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Kids

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Exploring Ann Arbor, Michigan with kids reveals surprising cultural riches. The artistic and intellectual cosmos that burgeoned here during the 1960s still lingers, with the world-renowned University of Michigan keeping things cerebral. Within this environment, grandchildren of original hippies can expand their minds in various ways, and Ann Arbor is particularly friendly to families.

Ann Arbor Downtown

Downtown Ann Arbor (Photo by Traveler100, Wikimedia)

True, Ann Arbor has changed over the past decade. Restaurant chains and retailers have stomped heartily through the town. A lot of grit and spirit has been paved over and sanitized. If there’s any advantage to the homogenization, it’s that the most interesting destinations for children stand out more prominently.

Hands-On Museum near Downtown Ann Arbor

The Hands-On Museum (Photo by Gabe Miller)

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

As a child growing up in Michigan, I was obsessed with the Hands-On Museum. Although a multitude of museums allow children to touch and interact with exhibits, the Hands-On Museum offer exciting exhibits devoted to light and optics, the science of media and television, nature, and the human body. Kids can play string-less laser harps, manipulate magnetic fields, operate a massive bubble capsule, and play with an interactive nature wall. The place is always lively. Parents needn’t drag their kids through the museum while explaining dull placards. Even if children have no interest in an exhibit’s relevance or lessons, they can amuse themselves by banging on things from morning till evening. It’s a funhouse of sensory and tactile bliss.

Ann Arbor, Michigan with Kids - the Ann Arbor Art Center

The Ann Arbor Art Center (Photo by Gabe Miller)

Ann Arbor Art Center

The Ann Arbor Art Center claims they unite creativity with community, and that’s accurate self-assessment. The center is a haven for children with any artistic curiosity. Children aged 3 and older can experience stimulating classes in pottery, jewelry making, mosaics, origami, sketching, ceramics, and more. Those only in town for a few days can still take advantage of the center’s classes and workshops, as registration on the day of a class is allowed. Galleries full of paintings and sculpture by local artists are always on display. Staff with connections to thousands of artists in the city are always available to offer impromptu instruction and education.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

Dinosaur Exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History (Photo by Daderot, Wikimedia)

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History not only educates visitors about natural history, but also is itself a relic from the late 19th century. Albeit beautiful, the museum stopped updating its own style and appearance some 60 years ago, and while wandering through the museum you can almost feel the ghosts of teachers with buzz cuts leading field trips here in the 1950s.

The dinosaur skeletons on the main floor are both massive and daunting. The giant lizards are flanked on both sides by dioramas depicting wild animals fighting, displays of bones and skulls, and preserved sections of wild animal bodies. On the second floor, there is a diorama panorama of animals, bacteria, and plants. Appropriately, the planetarium is housed on the top floor, where kids can ogle stars and constellations for endless hours. Elsewhere, children can learn about ancient cultures by examining the artifacts of their lives.

Nichols Arboretum near Downtown Ann Arbor

Nichols Arboretum near Downtown Ann Arbor (Photo by pentawing, Wikimedia)

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum

Located between downtown Ann Arbor and the town’s outskirts by the Huron River lies Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. This is a sprawling landscape of forest, broad valleys, exotic plant life, and vast stretches of grassy spaciousness. The Arboretum is a destination for naturalists, disc golfers, hikers, and children. A wonderful place for families to frolic; it’s an outdoor paradise that balances the indoor edification of museums. Because it can be accessed from entrances near the city and river, it can serve as a natural extension of a canoeing trip or day in downtown. Ultimately, the arboretum gives children a huge, unfettered space to run and burn off energy.

Ann Arbor is at once intellectual, rebellious, and peaceful. Despite the franchises and a recent influx of a supremely straight-laced population, it remains a town with enough culture that children can be educated just by walking through and around the heart of it. The remnants of the town’s treasures are still there to be found, and families should seize on the opportunity to enjoy them.

Which of these children’s activities in Ann Arbor would appeal most to your family? Let us know in the comments below!

About Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy

Long before Gabe Miller was a Travel Daddy, he was a Travel Son. Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan during the early 1980s, he was exposed to the town’s intellectual, hippie aesthetic before becoming functionally bipedal. He had barely shed his lanugo by the time he began to travel, going on modest trips that were nonetheless profound. His wife is equally passionate about traveling, and together they’re sharing new adventures with their baby boy. From the day of their son’s birth, they’ve rejected the idea that having a child means staying indoors with the blinds drawn. They take him everywhere they go, and his smiles are proof that he’s perpetually prepared for adventure! Gabe and his family currently reside happily in the small rural town of Dundee, Michigan. Gabe has a B.A. in English and works as a middle school English teacher. Connect with Gabe on Twitter as @thetraveldaddy.

  1. Kiera @easytravelmom says

    It’s on our midwest bucket list to go to Ann Arbor… possibly later this summer! I have watched too much HGTV and it just looks so cute on all the house hunting shows! My kid would definitely like the bones of dinosaurs at the Natural History museum!

    • Gabe Miller, The Philosophical Travel Daddy says

      Kiera, it’s definitely a unique and colorful town. I strongly prefer the A2 of 20 years ago, but the magic is still there under the franchise sheen. Go before that bucket’s kicked!

  2. Anirudh Gala says

    One of the best destinations in the Midwest. It is really lively and colourful city. The food is really great in town If you want to enjoy the food in the city than i would suggest to take a Food Tour there and enjoy the culture with the medium of Food.

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