When I was a high school teacher, my summers involved a lot of indoor reading, curriculum prep, and household projects, punctuated by a vacation or two. I thought the era of summertime activities–living my freetime life in a way that’s fundamentally different from how I live it in other seasons–was a thing of childhood. Popsicles, slip-n-slide, sidewalk chalk, all in the past.
And then I moved to Michigan. Let me tell you, this place knows how to summer. People here embrace the season with high notes of celebration and deeper tones of urgency, because as fun as this is, it’s all temporary. Winter is cold and gray, and it feels longer than Gettysburg on half speed.
When June arrived in California, people were like, “Hmm, feels a little warmer than usual.” When winter finally ended here in Michigan, people were like, “WE CAN STAY OUTSIDE LONGER THAN 5 MINUTES WITHOUT FROSTBITE AND 25,000 UNDERGRADS HAVE LEFT TOWN, LET’S THROW A FOUR-MONTH-LONG PARTY.” That’s summer in a nutshell: carpe diem. Road construction and endless revelry. Everyone’s invited, and prepare for serious FOMO if you stay home.
While I haven’t perhaps seized the summer as fully as most Michiganders (due to my research assistantship and first year exam), I feel like I was able to enjoy a lot of highlights. I love hearing about what seasons are like in different parts of the country, so I thought I’d share what I scratched off my Michigan summer bucket list this year.
- Movie night. This was part of the Ann Arbor summer festival, which runs every evening for four weeks straight (told you they know how to party!) and includes a variety of different events. On a few nights, they show outdoor films on a giant screen, and people bring camp chairs and picnic blankets to watch on the lawn. I brought along some classic movie candies, like Twizzlers and Sour Patch Kids, and we enjoyed Brooklyn one night and Imitation Game another night. Super fun, especially when the stars come out.
2. Farmer’s markets. Last year, I went religiously every Saturday morning and bought all my produce for the week. This year, I joined a farm co-op, so I get a box of organic, local produce every Friday (which is as magical as it sounds). So the farmer’s market has become an occasional social event for me. I’ll meet a friend at the Kerrytown market on a Saturday morning for coffee and a cronut and maybe buy some fresh flowers. Or I’ll meet friends on a Friday afternoon at the Dixboro market, sip a basil limeade, and pick up some smoked goat cheese from The Cheese People (a great business out of Grand Rapids). The co-op makes life more convenient and the farmer’s market more relaxing.
3. Biking. One of my favorite things to do on a late summer afternoon is hop on our bikes and head down to a trail lined with trees that runs along the river. It’s a ride that always makes me happy and relaxed.
4. Summer cocktail-making class. The Ann Arbor Distilling Company is a bunch of hipsters seriously committed to making tasty liquors. Even their vodka has actual flavor, and their gin is the best I’ve ever had (each herb is distilled separately). On a warm June evening, my friend Stacey and I attended a class where they taught us how to make a variety of delicious shrub-based cocktails.
5. Shakespeare in the Arb. The players switch locations with each scene, so you get to move to different spots around a beautiful park. By the end, dusk had settled and fireflies were coming out as the players walked away in long cloaks holding lanterns. The acting was so-so (these are college kids, after all), but the interaction with the natural environment made the production really special. Actors climbed trees, hid in the long grass, and pretended to get scared by a passing airplane–very enjoyable.
6. Outdoor concerts. This was another delightful part of the summer festival. A couple of Michigan breweries set up beer tasting in a shady spot while local bands played on the Rackham outdoor stage. On two occasions, we bought tacos from a food stand to enjoy with the cold beer and good music.
7. Lawn yoga. This is another uniquely enjoyable part of summer festival. It’s held on a wide, flat lawn well-shaded by oak trees. I’m not a huge yoga fan in general, but getting to do it outside, for free, with a bunch of random people is great fun.
8. Tubing down the Huron River. This was–and is–probably my favorite summertime activity. We start at Argo Park with a series of cascades (like a bunch of small waterslides) and then connect our inner tubes so we can enjoy a lazy float down a beautiful river. Cold drinks, warm sunshine, and good company make this a perfect way to spend a mid-July afternoon.
9. Art fair. This is the largest art fair I’ve ever seen. For one weekend, blocks and blocks of the city are closed off to make way for rows of white tents where artists from all over the country display their goods. There’s everything from fine art ($12,000 paintings!) to handmade soap to embroidered purses to glass sculptures. We went with friends from church and enjoyed Cuban street food at Frita Batidos.
10. Vacation time! We got to explore more of our state this summer during a weeklong trip north. In Suttons Bay, we enjoyed pristine lake beaches and a biking tour of wineries in Leelanau County. From there, we went to the Upper Peninsula, where we camped by the lakeshore, took a kayaking tour of Grand Island, hiked to waterfalls, and saw the Pictured Rocks by catamaran.
11. Outdoor dining and ice cream. One evening, we took our good friends Anna and Ronnie downtown for burgers at the Ann Arbor Brewing Company and then went to Blank Slate for some seriously amazing ice cream. Having a meal outside and then walking back to the bus stop with a delicious cone of cinnamon and coffee caramel ice cream is just about the summery-est thing you can do.
12. Sangrias at Dominick’s. A quirky stop that locals love is Dominick’s, which is famous for their gorgeous back garden and their fruity, floral sangrias. During the school year, it’s overrun with undergrads, but during the summer, it’s perfect, especially with wonderful friends.
These are the highlights, but of course there are lots of fun things in between: cookouts with friends, church picnics, evening walks, sitting on the back porch while the fireflies come out. While I’m ready for slightly cooler weather and the end of my (seemingly never-ending) first year exam, part of me just wants summertime to go on forever.