International travel is wonderful, and can truly change your life. It can get pricey, not to mention the long travel time to your destination. This can certainly be difficult with children. Before you head on over to an exotic locale, you might be surprised to know of the unlikely destinations right here in the USA that have an exotic flair, like Ann Arbor, MI.

The Great Lake state offers more than what meets the eye

How to Spend Your Time

Yes, that’s right, Ann Arbor. Though known for the University of Michigan, the city boasts much more than you’ll find in your average college town. The city is hopping in the summer time with lots of sidewalk cafes and fun outdoor activities.

Make time to visit the Peony Garden and botanical gardens for some vibrant blooms. When the peonies are in full bloom (peak time is June) the gardens are blanketed in a sea of pinks, purples, and reds.

Peony Garden ann arbor
Stop to smell the peonies during blooming season!

Stroll along the downtown shops and discover many of their offbeat stores with items you won’t find elsewhere like specialty gift and craft store, Rock, Paper, Scissors. Or peruse bookstores like Aunt Agatha’s, Kaleidoscope or Literati for rare books and collectibles. Make sure to visit Cherry Republic, for about 100 different ways you can use cherries. Salsas, chocolate covered, bbq sauce and more!

Cherry republic ann arbor
Sauces, jams, and chocolates galore

Visit the University of Michigan

Of course, you can’t visit Ann Arbor without a trip to the University of Michigan. Everyone wants to visit the Big House, aka, University of Michigan Stadium, the largest stadium in the US with a capacity of greater than 100,000. But the lesser-known Baird Carillon is of particular interest, especially for anyone with a general music interest. Carillons, a group of bells, which have at least two full octaves, date back to the 15th century. Sit at the keyboard and play your heart out.

Must Stop Food Shops

All around Ann Arbor, you’ll see the locavore movement (support of locally produced foods) is strong. Not only do restaurants tout where their foods have come from locally, but there is a popular farmer’s market where you can expect to find all sorts of goodies just wandering around.

Ayse’s Cafe – There are many ethnicities in Ann Arbor, but perhaps the most prominent one is the Turkish. You’ll enjoy Ayse’s Café with items like the beet salad and some of the best stuffed grape leaves (Dolmas) you’ve ever had.

Slurping Turtle – Aptly named since it is customary to slurp noodles in Japan, the Slurping Turtle is casual, street food. Created by James Beard Award winning chef, Takashi Yagahashi, this modern, yet laid back restaurant features small plates like mini Hamachi tuna tacos in a taro root shells, duck fat fried chicken, steamed pork belly buns. Larger dishes like noodle bowls warm the soul on any day of the year. Desserts like green tea cream puffs and raspberry-wasabi macaroons are a nod to chef’s French culinary training.

ST ramen ann arbor
Slurp to your hearts content with these noodles!

Aventura – Switch it up a bit and move to Spanish tapas. Order the Alcachofas fritas (fried artichoke hearts) as well as the patatas bravas (fried potatoes) topped with fried egg. Don’t miss out on their specialty – Gazpacho made with grapes, jalapeños, pistachios and honeydew.

Aventura Patatas Bravas ann arbor
These fries are a must-have during your trip to Ann Arbor

Teahuas – Tea snob? Stop by Teahaus for some of the best quality teas available. Proprietor, Lisa McDonald is a certified Tea Sommelier from Germany. That’s correct. In Germany, you must have your sommelier certification to sell teas. It is a lengthy four-year process. And let me tell you, this lady knows her teas. Choose from oolong to lavender black tea.

Ann Arbor’s Classic Sandwiches

Zingerman’s Deli – A visit to Ann Arbor isn’t complete without a visit to Zingerman’s Deli, a staple in the Ann Arbor community. The nationally known organization, made famous by the movie The Five Year Engagement, ships it’s Reuben sandwich kits nationally to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and The Office’s Mindy Kaling.

For decades, Zingerman’s has been selling deli sandwiches, unique meats, cheeses, bagels and condiments including sauerkraut from a local business named The Brinery (run by the exuberant David Klingenberger – a fanatic of brining). Ever had prosecco soaked cheese or Mousse Basquais made of duck fat and liver with port wine? Go visit Zingerman’s and see what the fuss is all about.

Many of Ann Arbor’s talented chefs move to food towns like Chicago or New York for training, but something seems to bring them back to their roots. “Ann Arbor feeds my soul,” a resident spouted off to me without any prodding on my part. After just four short days there I could see why –  a sense of community support, vibrant restaurant scene and diversity all add up to a winning summer destination.

Disclosure: This trip was sponsored by the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau.

~ Malika Bowling is the author of  Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta, Food Blogging 101 and founder of Atlanta Restaurant Blog. She has been a contributing writer to USA Today and Urbanspoon. Malika holds the title of President of the Association of Food Bloggers. Follow her on twitter @ATLEatsNTweets and on Instagram @malika_bowling.