ANN ARBOR - When the temperature drops, we say goodbye to the days we could let the kids outside to enjoy warm evenings and enter our homes straight after school with the hopes we don't develop cabin fever.
Winter is tricky with little ones, so with some help from the Ann Arbor Area Mamas Network Facebook group, here is our list of the best places to go and things to do during the colder months.
I sprinkled in a few of my own, based on experience.
1. The Creature Conservancy
This local nonprofit, which showcases rescued animals, got several mentions.
If you haven't been, it's a must. Since it is rooted in education, you can find knowledgeable -- and super friendly -- staff members on-site who perform regular training demonstrations and are on hand to answer questions and present the conservancy's "feature creature" of the month.
Each time I've been there, they have had animals out to pet, which is really fun for little ones.
Be sure to have a look at their presentation schedule before you visit to choose which animals most interest you.
It is only open on weekends from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is $10 for adults ages 13 and up and $8 for children ages 2-12. Babies and toddlers under 2 years old are free.
Since it is a nonprofit, admission is seen as a donation.
Location: 4950 Ann Arbor-Saline Road
For more info, visit thecreatureconservancy.org.
2. Hands-On Museum
God bless this place. Seriously.
I can't count the number of times we took advantage of its extended hours on Thursdays last winter. With areas designed for infants all the way through middle school, this museum really does have something for everyone.
- Monday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Tuesday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Wednesday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Thursday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Friday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Sunday: Noon to 5 p.m.
Tip 1: If you are planning to visit a few times and live in the area, getting a membership is definitely cost beneficial.
Tip 2: Bring an extra set of clothes if you are bringing a toddler to the water area. I learned this the hard way.
Location: 220 E. Ann St.
For more info, visit aahom.org.
3. Ann Arbor District Library
Another sanity saver.
Each branch has regular -- and free -- baby play groups and Preschool Storytimes, and times vary. So whether you are looking for morning, midday or evening activities, you'll be able to find something that suits your schedule.
The storytellers are engaging with the kids and a total joy to watch. Our local branch, Traverwood, features Banjo Betsy each week at Preschool Storytime, and she adds a whole new level of fun to the experience.
Beyond being a fun thing to do with the kids, it's a great opportunity to connect with other parents in town. It takes a village after all, right?
Downtown Library: 343 South Fifth Ave.
Pittsfield Branch: 2359 Oak Valley Drive
Malletts Creek Branch: 3090 East Eisenhower Parkway
Westgate Branch: 2503 Jackson Ave.
Traverwood Branch: 3333 Traverwood Drive
For more info, visit aadl.org.
4. Ice skating at Buhr and Vets Memorial parks
Whether you're looking for an indoor or outdoor skating experience, you can find what you're looking for in the Buhr and Vets skating rinks.
Admission for residents is $5 for an adult, $4 for youth under 17 and seniors, and skate rentals are $3.
Buhr Park Ice Arena
The ice rink at Buhr Park is outdoors so dress appropriately.
Public skating hours:
- Monday: Closed.
- Tuesday: 7:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., half-price admission
- Wednesday: 4:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m., half-price admission, 7:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
- Thursday: 7:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
- Friday: 7:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
- Saturday: 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., 7:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Vets Memorial Ice Arena
This indoor ice rink has been newly renovated and offers skating lessons as part of the Learn to Skate USA program, sponsored by the U.S. Figure Skating organization.
Public skating hours:
- Monday: 11 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. (adult skate only)
- Tuesday: 11 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. (adult skate only); 1:20 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
- Wednesday: 11 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. (adult skate only)
- Thursday: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Friday: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (adult skate only)
- Saturday: 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
- Sunday: 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Buhr: 2751 Packard Road
Vets: 2150 Jackson Ave.
5. Indoor swimming at Mack Pool
Just because it's winter doesn't mean you can't enjoy a dip with your little ones. Mack Indoor Pool is a fun destination to escape the cold and splash around.
Featuring a six-lane, 25-yard lap pool and a 30- by 42-foot tot pool, there's space for everyone to enjoy.
Mack Indoor Pool also offers a variety of activities, from swim lessons and family movie nights to youth workouts and mermaid and merman classes.
Daily admission rates are $5 for adults and $4 for youth under 17 and seniors. Children under 3 are free with a paid adult.
- Monday-Friday, noon to 2 p.m.
- Monday-Thursday, 4 to 9:30 p.m.
- Friday, 4 to 8 p.m.
- Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (lap swim only: three lanes available); and 1-5 p.m.
- Saturday, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., women-only swim. Participants and staff are all female.
- Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (lap swim only: three lanes available); and 1-6 p.m.
Location: 715 Brooks St.
For more info, visit the Mack Indoor Pool website.
6. Open gym at Gym America
Gym America is a must if you haven't been. With foam pits, springboards and floors, balance beams and bars galore, it's a kid's play paradise.
I've been to twice their annual Halloween event and it is pretty awesome.
The gym offers regular classes and its Pre-School Playtimes are a huge hit with local parents.
No registration required. You can drop in to Pre-School Playtime on Mondays and Fridays from 9:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. Entry is $5 per child.
Location: 555 Hines Drive
For more info, visit gymamericagymnastics.com.
7. Play the bells in Kerrytown
I stumbled upon this by chance last week and had a blast playing holiday songs on the Kerrytown Chime.
The chime is open to the public to play on the following days:
- Wednesday: Noon to 12:30 p.m.
- Friday: Noon to 12:30 p.m.
- Saturday: 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Heather O'Neal -- who co-owns the Himalayan Bazaar on Main Sreet -- welcomes passers-by to choose from a selection of hundreds of songs and play the bells.
She's a great teacher and encourages people of all ages to give it a try.
Tip: Plan to arrive well ahead of time, especially if you have little ones in tow and are driving in. As we all know, finding parking, unloading your stroller, car seat, diaper bag, snacks, etc. and getting to the second floor of Kerrytown Shops could take a while, and the chime is only open for 30 minutes at a time.
Location: Kerrytown Market and Shops, second floor.
Learn more at kerrytown.com/about.
8. Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Here's another free and wonderful activity to do any time of year.
Enjoy strolling through the warm greenhouses and seeing plant species from around the world. The koi fish are always a big hit with my daughter.
Another bonus? There is a special holiday display right now at the gardens.
- Monday, Tuesday: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Wednesday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Thursday through Sunday: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Location: 1800 N. Dixboro Road
For more info, visit mbgna.umich.edu.
9. Go on a snowy hike
Are you more the outdoorsy type who isn't afraid of some cold weather or snow? Take a hike in any of Ann Arbor's beautiful nature areas with trails and bridges over the Huron River.
Another perfect spot for winter hikes is The Nichols Arboretum, or as locals call it, The Arb.
It's open every day from sunrise to sunset and admission is free.
If your kids are older, a snowball fight in the Main Valley could be fun!
Location: 1610 Washington Heights
For more info, visit mbgna.umich.edu/nichols-arboretum.
Sledding is a time-honored Ann Arbor tradition, and locals definitely have their favorite sledding hills.
For the daring, Vets Park has the biggest and steepest hill in town.
Last year, I ventured to the sledding hills most recommended by locals and spoke to families enjoying the powder on the first snow day of the season.
Vets Park: 2150 Jackson Ave.
Huron Hills Golf Course: 3465 E. Huron River Drive
Wurster Park: 525 W. Madison St.
Leslie Park Golf Course: 2120 Traver Road
11. Tiny Lions Cat Cafe
If you love cats, a visit to this lounge and adoption center at the Humane Society of Huron Valley is a great idea.
However, be warned that your child(ren) will *most likely* beg you to take a cat home. If you're up for it, staff will be happy to facilitate an adoption.
"Cuddle them. Be entertained by them. Maybe even get a kitty kiss or two." - HSHV
Here is a note from Tiny Lions' website:
"Please note: Children ages 4+ accompanied by an adult are welcome; tots 3 and under admitted for 1/2 hour only. Babies who are not walking are free. Limit 2 kids 10 and under, per adult. Leaving without a kitten not guaranteed."
- Monday: Closed (for cat naps).
- Tuesday through Saturday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Location: 5245 Jackson Road, Suite A1
For more info, visit tinylions.org.
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