Take a Drive to… Ann Arbor!
When is the last time you visited any of the Ann Arbor Museums with kids?
You haven’t yet?
Oh, good! I can show you around!
This July I spent three great days with my college roommate on Michigan’s east side. She lives in the adorable, uber family-friendly little town of Plymouth.
We could have spent all day enjoying their outdoor kids concerts, eating ice cream and playing in their beautiful parks (and we did, and we loved it)…but my friend knows me. I kind of like to go. And so before we made the two hour drive to Plymouth, research began and a museum (or 3) was quickly added to our list of things to do.
I didn’t have to look far to figure out where we’d go. Our family has a membership to the Grand Rapids Public Museum, so the first thing I did was check to see what places nearby had reciprocal memberships.
Can I just say, I love this membership!
Not only has it gotten us into the GRPM over and over, but we’ve used it to visit the St. Louis Science Center, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, and Impression 5 in Lansing…and now, the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum, all for free!
This museum did not let us down!
Not only was it engaging with a wide variety of exhibits for all ages, but most of the exhibits worked – sadly, I have found this to be a rare feature in hands-on centers. The museum has over 250 exhibits broken down into nine general areas.
CONCOURSE: The concourse was the first, and one of the favorite, areas that we visited.
I personally loved that all of the kids were occupied here despite their varied ages! The older ones could have spent hours in the Google Liquid Galaxy, flying around the globe on multiple larger-than-lif screens, while the youngest had fun splashing around the water table.
The ‘middle-age’ kiddos were busy building forts with over-sized blocks and blasting off rockets! They also enjoyed the whisper dish, tornado, and (because my husband and I are trained architects) spending quite a bit of time in a mini house where they could build from a blueprint, examine electrical systems and get up close and personal with a toilet.
ALL ABOUT YOU: Located on the same floor around the corner is the All About You gallery. Here you will find a full sized ambulance available for play. There were also multiple machines that measured your physical fitness and a heart rate meter.
PRESCHOOL GALLERY: From there we headed to the 2nd floor and checked out the Preschool Gallery, designed for kids four years old and younger. Older kids with young siblings are also allowed in the space and can easily be entertained by the giant plastic ball redistribution machine. This system shot balls around the room and allowed much opportunity for play.
The room also included another water play area, a fire engine complete with dress-up attire, a small building block room, and a gated soft play area for infants. We were there at an off-time, so it wasn’t too crazy, but I would guess this room might get busy!
LEGACY GALLERY: Through a set of double doors we found the Legacy Gallery. The magnetoscope caught our eye first and is not to be missed.
My oldest was also fascinated by the display explaining how the internet works and enjoyed the simple machines here, but for the most part, the youngest kids were ready to move on.
WORLD ALL AROUND YOU: Luckily, the World All Around You exhibit was located around the corner and again captured the attention of all! Here, among the bubbles and a live bee display, is a climbing wall and a floor piano. There were also magnet exhibits, wiring displays and a giant gyro!
LYON’S COUNTRY STORE: Right next door to the World All Around You is this 1920’s store that encouraged pretend play, complete with holograms and some cool old Michigan postcards.
MICHIGAN NATURE: Also located near the World Around You, this area included a small display of geology samples and some native fish.
DTE ENERGY FOUNDATION LIGHT AND OPTICS: While in the World Around You, take the back elevator upstairs to the Light and Optics area. Although small, it’s super cool and will entertain everyone!
MEDIA WORKS (SOUND): One more floor up is the Media Works (sound) area. I think this part was under construction, but it’s still worth the trip. One room is dedicated to a shadow wall where dance parties are inevitable. It is super fun and a great way to end your visit!
- The museum is generally open seven days a week. Check their website here for hours.
- With a membership to the Grand Rapids Public Museum or other ASTC Museum, admission is FREE! For all others, the cost is $10 (or $5 on Thursdays after 5:00 pm) for adults and children over 23 months old.
- There is no cafeteria, but you may bring food with you and enjoy it in the vending area.
- Parking ramps are located within blocks of the museum. We used the one at Ann and Main. The rate there was $1.20/hour. Rumor has it parking is free in the public lots on Sundays.
- The museum is in Kerrytown, a cute little area full of art galleries, boutiques, the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, and more!
U of M MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
We took advantage of our time in Ann Arbor, and after a trip to the infamous Blimpy Burger for lunch (which despite their tasty food, I cannot recommend for a family destination!), we visited the U of M Museum of Natural History. Located in the middle of campus, in an architecturally intriguing old building, it is a great stop for dinosaur, animal and rock lovers alike.
The staff was super friendly and gave us a great run-down upon entering, including the planetarium shows going on that day, the FREE Dinosaur Tour that we just missed (it runs daily a from 2-2:30 pm), and the fact that the building has fans, but no air conditioning. The fans must do a good job however, because we visited on one of the hottest days this summer, it wasn’t nearly as warm as I expected.
Admission is FREE, but donations are welcome.
Our first stop was the Hall of Evolution on the second floor. Welcoming us was a display holding the oldest rock on Earth – what a way to pull you in! Continuing on, large skeletons of mastodons, whales, and dinosaurs stood among display cases explaining the evolution of various animals.
This was by far the kids’ favorite area! Although semi-old fashioned in the way that they were displayed, the content was enough to capture the kids attention and get them reading about the various subjects.
Our next stop was to the Michigan Wildlife Gallery on the third floor. This area featured preserved animals in glass cases, similar to the displays I remember at the Grand Rapids Public Museum during my childhood.
The fourth floor didn’t hold the kids’ attention as much as the rest of the museum, but is still worth checking out.
My children love rocks, and really enjoyed seeing on display here the rocks they learned about this spring at the Indian Mounds Rock Show. It also featured a room dedicated to anthropology, with a cute carved out canoe available for play. Although we didn’t have time to catch a show, the planetarium is located here, as well as the temporary exhibits, This summer’s temporary exhibit concentrates on Race.
Before finding our car, we explored the cute little butterfly garden right outside their front door. The campus surrounding it is worth a walk as well.
- With a few exceptions, the museum is generally open seven days a week. Check their website for hours.
- This is a FREE museum with a donation box inside the door for contributions. Suggested donation is $6.
- Parking was not difficult. There are two garages within a few blocks of the museum (which charge $1.10/hour), and plenty of on-street meters.
- The planetarium show on the top floor requires purchase ahead of time, in the gift shop off the main lobby. Typically shows are scheduled at 11:30, 12:30 and 1:30 (additional shows on weekends) and run for 45 minutes.
- Hands-on demonstrations such as cow-eye dissections are also offered on weekends. These are 20-30 minute interactive programs suitable for adults and children ages five and up.
- Free dinosaur tours take place every day from 2:00-2:30 pm.
- There is NO air conditioning, but it wasn’t out of control hot despite the crazy 100 degree temps the week we visited.
- If you want to amp up the learning experience, download their teacher resources here before going. Discovery guides, Astronomy Resources and additional information is available.
- Two hours is plenty of time to fully explore.
OTHER ANN ARBOR ATTRACTIONS
Although we ran out of time, future trips are sure to include visits to these destinations:
Domino’s Petting Farm – Open through the summer, this petting farm offers hay and pony rides. In addition to the typical assortment of farm animals, the farm focuses on preserving endangered domestic breeds of livestock including highland cows, horned dorset sheep, and the rare Poitou donkey. Admission is $5 for adults and $3.50 for kids 2-12.
U of M Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum – Located on 350 acres, it features a wide variety of habitats, trails, formal gardens, a conservatory and a great Children’s Garden. Admission is FREE! There is a charge for parking, although this too is waved using reciprocal benefits from your Frederik Meijer Gardens membership!
U of M Museum of Art – A small, but architecturally beautiful museum that contains the works of Rodin, Picasso, Monet and more! Admission is once again, FREE.