Summer in the City

For many U-M alumni, summer in Ann Arbor is an unknown experience. But we try to capture some of its beauty here.
By Sharon Morioka, ’84, MA’86


Read time: 6 minutes

For many U-M alumni, summer in Ann Arbor is an unknown experience. As the academic year comes to a close, students past and present have typically headed out of town to work at internships, see the world, or simply travel back home.

But for a lucky few, the best summertime setting is right here in Ann Arbor, which assumes a more leisurely pace while still offering an entertaining set of diversions.

Although the slow beauty of summer days is best experienced in person, we try to capture some of the spirit here.

Take Me to the River

Michigan’s Huron River is more than 100 miles long, starting in Oakland County and eventually meandering into Lake Erie. For several of those miles, it provides a venue for Ann Arborites to indulge in summertime recreation, whether it’s kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, tubing, or fishing. In 2012, to address a difficult portage at one point in the river, the city installed the Argo Cascades. The series of nine drops solved the portage problem and brought some challenge and excitement to otherwise-calm waters.

Photo by Doug Coombe

All the Arb’s a Stage

The quiet spaces and places of Nichols Arboretum transform into an Elizabethan stage when Shakespeare in the Arb mounts its production each June. A Residential College offering since 2001, the production employs the talents of U-M students, alumni, and faculty. With no fixed stage, actors and audience travel through the Arb to take advantage of the natural setting. (Seen here, a 2017 production of “The Tempest.”)

Photo by Kent A. McCormick

To Market, to Market

The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is a year-round event but really comes to life during the warm weather months, when more than 100 local farmers and other businesses offer up flowers, produce, and a range of other edibles. As if that weren’t enough, market-goers can take advantage of a calendar full of events, from cooking demonstrations to food truck rallies.

Photo courtesy of

Wide Open Spaces

When 40,000 students collectively leave town, it stands to reason that places empty out. Those who remain enjoy shorter lines in stores and restaurants, more open parking spaces, less traffic. It’s not that we don’t love U-M students. We do. But if they must leave, the upside is all that space and a break that makes us look forward to their September return.

Photo by Doug Coombe

Sonic Sounds

A relatively recent addition to Ann Arbor’s list of summertime entertainments, Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch offers free weekly concerts. Located at Liberty Plaza (at the corner of Liberty and Division streets), Sonic Lunch has drawn musicians from around the country over the past 10 years, including U-M alumni Darren Criss, Laith Al-Saadi, Vulfpeck, and Michelle Chamuel.

Photo by Leisa A. Thompson

A Summer of Festivals

Town and gown merge each summer on Ingalls Mall, which transforms into an open-air performance venue/movie theater for a month-long celebration of arts and entertainment. Inaugurated in 1984, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival offers dozens of performances and activities, whether it’s myriad live bands, hands-on activities for kids, or the series of movies that show most nights after dark (including, this year, everything from “Some Like It Hot” to “Wonder Woman”).

Several other festivals and fairs take place in town throughout the season as well, including Taste of Ann Arbor, where food lovers can eat their way down Main Street by purchasing small portions from 40 area restaurants. The African American Downtown Festival throws a party in the Fourth Avenue-Ann Street location that is the city’s historic black business district. And speaking of historic, beauty of the vehicular kind is on display at the Annual Rolling Sculpture Car Show, a popular event showcasing more than 300 vintage cars.

Taste photo by Jessica Webster | Dance photo by Chris Asadian | Car photo by Matt Weigand | A2SF photo © Myra Klarman Photography

An Ann Arbor Classic: Art Fair

If it’s the hottest day of the year, chances are it’s Art Fair time. But the heat and humidity don’t dampen the spirits of art aficionados, who numbered around 400,000 last year. The city becomes one large art gallery as approximately 1,000 artists offer works in a variety of media and at a range of prices. After more than 50 years, the Art Fair (which is actually four fairs spread over downtown Ann Arbor and the U-M campus) has become one of the best-known in the country.

Art Fair photo by Melanie Maxwell | Marble photo by Hunter Dyke

Indoor Living—Out of Doors

Ann Arborites experienced a relentless winter earlier this year, with snowfalls well into April. So when winter eased into spring and then summer, residents came out to play. The out-of-doors became the preferred locale for eating, drinking, practicing yoga, reading, or simply lying around in an accommodating hammock.

Photo by Doug Coombe

The Newbie Tour

No summer in Ann Arbor would be complete without frequent sightings of freshman orientation groups, which move with steady precision around campus. Who can forget that student-led tour of campus as well as registering for fall classes, staying for the first time in a residence hall, walking through the fountain, and taking placement exams?

Photo by Scott C. Soderberg/Michigan Photography

Stars and Stripes Forever

If you visit Ann Arbor on the morning of July 4, you might feel like you’ve stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s actually the Ann Arbor Jaycees Fourth of July Parade. Children dressed in red, white, and blue pedal their bikes. Candidates for public office wave small American flags. People throw fistfuls of candy from homemade floats. Firetrucks blare their sirens. Yet there’s also a distinct Ann Arbor flavor as some marchers display a multicultural flair and others share political messages.

Photo by Hunter Dyke

The Inevitable Road Construction

OK, full disclosure: summer in Ann Arbor isn’t all sunshine and butterflies. According to an old joke, Michigan has two seasons—winter and construction. And our town isn’t immune from those frustrating orange cones and detour signs.

Photo by Doug Coombe

Sharon Morioka, ’84, MA’86, is the editor of Michigan Alumnus.

Become a Member Today!

Your membership dollars allow us to tell stories that celebrate U-M alums’ achievements and their impact in the world. Support this work and get access to all Michigan Alum articles by joining today.

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using this site, you accept our use of cookies.