Alumni gravitate to U-M’s Ann Arbor campus in the fall for football and foliage. But a visit during other seasons has its advantages. A winter, spring, or summer sojourn might lack the hoopla of homecoming, but hotels are less pricey than on game weekends and the campus feels much calmer. More importantly, there is still plenty to do. The University is abuzz with cultural and educational activities all year long. So use this guide as you plan to explore old haunts, discover new spaces, and marvel when the two meet during a weekend on campus
11 a.m. To truly feel like a student again, check into a room at The Inn at the Michigan League, where you can look out on campus. Then head to the William L. Clements Library. Though always a treasure, it is now even more of a treat, having completed an extensive renovation and expansion four years ago. On select Fridays at 11 a.m., staff members offer a tour of the library, which holds collections of print and manuscript materials on the history of North America and the Caribbean, with particular strength in 18th and 19th century American history.
Noon You have heard its bells resonating across campus, but did you know visitors actually can play the Charles Baird Carillon? On weekdays when classes are in session, visitors can enter the observation deck on the 10th floor during the half-hour, noon carillon recital. Those who make it up the 193 steps (thankfully, an elevator goes to the eighth floor) and then successfully play one note on the instrument will receive a certificate of achievement.
1 p.m. Gone are the days of loading your dining hall tray with mystery meat. Today’s students fill small plates with the likes of polenta and grilled shrimp. While nearly all the dining halls have undergone renovations, South Quad is one of the most sophisticated, with 10 micro-restaurants serving a wide variety of cuisines. The dining hall is open to visitors all day with an all-you-can-eat lunch menu for $14.55 starting at 10:30 a.m.
3 p.m. Head to the Campus Information Desk at the refreshed and upgraded Michigan Union, which opened in January after a 20-month renovation. Take a tour of the historic building, offered on Fridays at 3 p.m. Afterward, marvel at the newly enclosed courtyard and student-meeting spaces above while enjoying a hot tea or cold brew from Sweetwaters. Then stroll next door and check out the new glass addition to the Literature, Science, and the Arts Building, which houses the LSA’s Opportunity Hub, a space for students to receive career mentorship and counseling.
Art for Thought
4:30 p.m. Wander over to the LSA Institute for the Humanities Gallery, where the revolving exhibits tend to address social issues. Recent exhibits included a video installation filmed by Syrian refugees and a large mural depicting a landscape overwhelmed by environmental chaos. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
6 p.m. If you have not been to North Campus in a while, it’s more than worth the free U-M bus ride. Check out the students flying drones at M-Air, a netted, four-story testing facility situated next to the site where the Ford Motor Company Robotics Building is near completion. In the coming years, with the relocation of the School of Information and the Department of Dance to North Campus, one-third of U-M students will be enrolled in schools and colleges located there. Enjoy a hearty soup, sandwich, or the Maize Blaze fried chicken ($10) at the cozy Fireside Café in Pierpont Commons. It is one of 19 campus cafés and markets now selling an array of food and beverages.
7:30 p.m. U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance presents more than 900 performances and events annually, so choosing what to see can be difficult. Best to consult the SMTD calendar and reserve tickets ahead. Many performances take place on North Campus in the Arthur Miller Theatre in the Walgreen Drama Center, which opened in 2007.
10 a.m. Take a brisk morning walk in Nichols Arboretum. Though little has changed—it remains open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week—each season brings its own attraction, from fall colors to summer peonies to a fresh snowfall blanketing trails and trees.
11 a.m. In April 2019, U-M’s Museum of Art (UMMA) unveiled a new installation in Alumni Memorial Hall. Titled “Collection Ensemble,” it features works by 41 different artists (many women and artists of color) and is the first major reinstallation of the museum’s entry space in over a decade. Before leaving UMMA, stop in at the café, which opened in August 2019, for a nibble. The museum is open on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
2 p.m. Pick a sport, any sport. On any given Saturday during the academic year, Wolverines are competing in a number of different sports. But if track and field is your choice, be sure to visit the Ross Athletic Campus-South Complex. Four years in the making, it became fully operational in the spring of 2019.
4 p.m. Take a 10-minute walk from the Diag over to the Stamps Gallery in downtown Ann Arbor. Opened in 2017, the gallery hosts contemporary art and design exhibits, including those highlighting the work of graduating students and alumni from U-M’s Stamps School of Art & Design. Open Saturdays until 5 p.m.
Before Theater Bite
6 p.m. The Michigan League is a classic must-visit when on campus. It is now also a go-to for hearty soups and sandwiches and healthy salads, thanks to Maizie’s Kitchen and Market, which opened in 2018. Take a seat in a comfy chair by the wall of windows and watch the students scurry to their Saturday night activities.
7:30 p.m. Don’t miss the chance to catch a University Musical Society performance at Hill Auditorium. One of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country, UMS brings music, dance, and theater productions from all over the world to campus, including such notables as the New York Philharmonic and Yo-Yo Ma.
10 a.m. Alumni remember the Ruthven Museums Building, with its dark hallways filled with dinosaurs and dioramas. Now the U-M Museum of Natural History has a new home in the Biological Sciences Building and is the opposite: bright, airy, and modern. Check out the evolution exhibit and high-tech planetarium before grabbing a Michigan Mocha and muffin in Darwin’s café. Pet the pumas on the way out for old time’s sake.
Noon On the way out of town, stop by the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. If the weather is cooperating, you might find students from UMBees tending the apiary. If staying inside sounds better, wander into the conservatory with plants from three major life and climate zones—or “biomes”—from around the world before bidding goodbye to U-M.
Jennifer Conlin, ’83, is the deputy editor of Michigan Alumnus.