Can college fun and kid-friendly coexist? Absolutely. The University of Michigan is a big part of the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, so of course there’s plenty for college students to do. There’s no shortage of bars, pizza joints and other places for cheap eats, in addition to the shops and theaters that cater to the tastes of the college crowd.
Surprisingly, Ann Arbor is also a family-friendly city and there are countless activities for your little one to enjoy, too Whether you have a little animal lover, science geek or cupcake connoisseur, here are eight surefire ways to keep them entertained around town — without breaking the bank.
1. Gallup Park
Ann Arbor, also known as the City of Trees, has copious amounts of space dedicated to parks. Few have such great spaces for kids as Gallup Park, though. Located by the Huron River and Geddes Pond, this park has Rotary Centennial Playground, which opened in 2017 and features playground equipment meant for all abilities and ages. In the summer, water-obsessed kids will also enjoy the activities the Gallup Park Canoe Livery offers, like rowboat and paddleboat rentals. Note that while kids under age one aren’t allowed, dogs are.
2. Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
Learning and fun go hand-in-hand at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. The exhibits cover everything from the human body and geology to magnets and technology. The museum is truly meant for kids of all ages, as evidenced by the fact that there’s a separate area for kids ages four and under, who likely find different things interesting than an 8-year-old (who will definitely still have more than enough to do at the museum). Check the museum’s event calendar to see if there are any fun activities going on while you plan to be there, like Critters Up Close, which lets kids meet animals.
3. University of Michigan Museum of Natural History
It turns out you don’t have to be a student to enjoy some of the things the University of Michigan has to offer. Have a little one who knows everything about dinosaurs? You’re in luck: The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History has the biggest collection of dinosaur fossils and prehistoric life in Michigan. The best part: admission to the larger-than-life dinosaur exhibit is totally free. There’s also a planetarium, which hosts talks about the stars, sun, and the Milky Way.
4. The Cupcake Station
Downtown Ann Arbor has plenty of places to eat, but for kids (and maybe adults?) the real highlight will be dessert. The Cupcake Station has called East Liberty Street home since 2008. Their made-from-scratch cupcakes come with a variety of kid-pleasing names like Party Time and Bump-a-licious. Seasonal and special flavors like Gone Blueberries and Chocolate Cream Pie are offered each month in addition to the regular line-up of flavors. Don’t forget to request a free mini cupcake if there happens to be a birthday in your family when you visit.
5. The Petting Farm at Domino’s Farms
If your little one lives for animals, fair warning: it will probably be hard to get them to leave the Petting Farm at Domino’s Farms. With cute animals to get up close to and even feed, it’s an animal lover’s dream. The animal feed is, of course, an extra charge — but it’s worth it. If the weather’s nice you can also hop on a tractor ride. There are special events often, like story time and pony rides.
6. Leslie Science and Nature Center
Fans of birds, science and the outdoors in general will find a lot to like at Leslie Science and Nature Center. The raptor enclosures houses several different birds of prey, including owls, hawks and vultures. The Critter House is open most Sundays, and there little ones can watch snakes, turtles and more creepy-crawly small animals. Plan for extra time after meeting the animals because the center’s Black Pond Woods Trail winds through the forest on a mile-long loop and it can be a great place to burn off all that extra kid energy.
7. Michigan Theater
Michigan Theater has shows and movies for kids to enjoy year-round. The “Not Just for Kids” series includes sing-along Disney movies with fun extras like goody bags and partner performances with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. There’s also a Family-Friendly Film Series devoted to classic films most Sunday afternoons. It's the perfect place to spend a rainy Saturday.
8. Nichols Arboretum
Spring is undoubtedly the best time to visit Nichols Arboretum, when the gorgeous Peony Garden is in full bloom (for the perfect photo opportunity, of course!). But other seasons offer reason to visit, too, like the abundance of fall leaves. Known to locals as "The Arb," here you’ll find great views, numerous trails and the Huron River — plenty for outdoorsy kids to love. Take a look at a map before you go and pick your path through the prairie, over the wetland boardwalk or along the scenic river.