Ann Arbor Day Trip

Ideas for a family-friendly day in A2!

By Karen Evans, Publisher April 2, 2017
My son turned 4 recently. He has one of those post-Christmas birthdays that makes it really hard to justify buying more gifts -- but of course we wanted to celebrate him! So we decided to take a day trip to Ann Arbor. Here is how we did it, where we went, and a couple resources if you decide to take the journey yourself!

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.  

Bring stuff to do on the train as well! Cards, coloring, writing, homework, and music are all good choices. 

Getting There

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 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)
Buying tickets online is important since neither the Troy nor Royal Oak stations have ticket booths or kiosks.

On the day of your trip, make sure you have your tickets printed out and everything you need for your journey. It's a good idea to get to the station about 30 min before the train is scheduled to depart; you don't need much more lead time than that. You can check real-time train status updates at 1-800-USA-RAIL or with the Amtrak app.

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
The Amtrak Ann Arbor station is not far at all from the Kerrytown area of Ann Arbor. Head slightly northwest on Depot St., go south on 5th Ave, and soon you'll be right there. Things to see and do:
  • 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 ;) )