It's a day trip, so not too much packing is required. You'll most likely be walking around (unless you rent a Zipcar, but that might defeat the train purpose!), so pack accordingly. (In backpacking, it's said "ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.") Bring a stroller or carrier if you're bringing little ones. Pack snacks and water to minimize food expenditures. If you'll be visiting the Hands-On Museum, bring along some quarters for the lockers as well.
Of course you can drive to Ann Arbor, but a train ride is so much more of an adventure! Plus, the whole family can interact with each other and enjoy the journey, and you can walk around a bit -- things that are not options in a car ride.
So, onto Amtrak.com or to the Amtrak app you go! A few tips for getting a good deal:
- Sign up for Amtrak Guest Rewards.
It's free, and you never know when you might take another rail journey, so why not start accumulating some points? You should be able to create an account for everyone in your family!
- Make sure to visit and explore the Amtrak Deals page. We ended up getting a 20% off code with just a few clicks. It wasn't totally straightforward, so look around.
- Check to see if your AAA or other professional membership will get you a discount (just make sure your membership card is active and valid, and bring it on your journey just in case)
The Troy station has an enclosed waiting area; the Royal Oak station is on a hill near Washington Ave and Sherman Ave and has glassed-in waiting areas with benches. Make sure to plan for paying for parking if you go to Royal Oak.
On Your Journey
Depending on boarding time, be prepared for the Cafe Car to not be open yet. We got on Royal Oak on a 10 a.m. boarding time and weren't able to experience that amenity during the journey. It's a short trip but still just enough time to experience riding on a train. Play a card game in the Cafe Car (just don't relocate your luggage and stuff and take up residence there), watch the scenery go by, read a book, or just chat! Your conductor will announce when the train is approaching Ann Arbor (spoiler alert: it's after Dearborn) and you can get ready to disembark.
Once You're There
- Kerrytown is home to the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market, Zingerman's
Deli, fun shops and more. Consider grabbing lunch at Zingerman's (the
BEST sandwiches. Seriously. The BEST), which has a deli as well as an
adjoining cafe. Also a great stop for bread or baked goods to take back
to Birmingham with you!
- An 11 minute walk from the train station, the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum can easily take up your entire day. From a little-kid-only area (ages 4 and under) to tons of hands-on exploration opportunities, plus regular programming, this is a true Southeast Michigan gem that every kid should experience at least once.
- You'll find a few Sweetwater's Cafe locations around town. We went in January, so this was the perfect place to stop in and warm up with hot chocolate and a game of "Go Fish." If it's college exam season, be prepared for crowds, though.
- SO many restaurants and breweries. Jolly Pumpkin, Ann Arbor Brewing Co., Grizzly Peak...and so on. No harm in squeezing in something for mom and dad!
- A 20 minute walk from the train station takes you to the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, another great place to explore
- Just near the train station on Depot St. you'll find a fun little park and playground. A perfect free way to get out some extra energy before you get back on board!
Find more Ann Arbor activity ideas from our friends at Macaroni Kid Ann Arbor, and share your faves with us! (There is SO much to do there -- taking in performances, visiting the library, hanging out at Ann Arbor Summerfest during the summer, canoeing, visiting the Arb. More opportunities arise as the weather gets warmer. In the fall, there are also apparently some sporting events that folks find enjoyable as well ;) )