There's a place where visitors with dogs can hike prairie undisturbed by civilization, picnic beneath magnolias, spot flying squirrels and towering plants, swim, canoe, watch Shakespeare outdoors-- and from late-May to mid-June, behold nearly 10,000 blooms in waves of white, pink and red.

Nicknamed "the Arb," 700-acre Nichols Arboretum at University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus is a century-old preserve that inspired Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." Admission is free.

"Ann Arbor has the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America. Many were planted nearly 90 years ago and are still blooming in the same spot," said Joe Mooney, communications manager for the Arb and adjoining Matthaei Botanical Gardens. "The peony garden really is a national treasure." Flower enthusiasts come from worldwide. June visitors can also catch free Shakespeare performances staged throughout woods.

On the Arb's beach, a black Labrador romps in the Huron River while a schnauzer stands sentry in a passing canoe. Dogs are welcome throughout this Midwest college town ringed by family farms. Downtown restaurants such as Cafe Verde have outdoor seating where people sample world-class microbrews and local-grown fare while Rover gets a complimentary bowl of water. Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales brewer Ron Jeffries named his award-winning Bam Biere for his feisty Jack Russell, whose image and death-defying story appear on the labels.

Charise and Joe Traband and their Labrador retriever Zeke enter Vault of Midnight, a trove of comic books ("Zombies That Ate the World"!) and retro toys. Manager Curtis Sullivan invites visitors back for "The Dollar Store" night, when "top literary talents, monologists and drunks improvise stories about pieces of cheap merchandise." Sullivan's regulars include feline patron Mrs. Claws.

Liberty Street Robot & Repair welcomes people with dogs in to examine robots, cyborgs and Positronic Brains. The enterprise's mascot is a dog named Colby. "She goes into a housing center once a week and kids read to her," said manager Amy Sumerton.

Even the dogless can enjoy Ann Arbor's fanciful side. Look closely at downtown storefronts for tiny, amusing and operational "Urban Fairy" doors. Watch for Coney Island-tattooed "Dewdrop Lady" by the Roos Roast table at Kerrytown Farmer's Market.

From June 19 through Sept. 30, spot "Fabulous Flamingos!" around Matthaei Botanical Gardens. "It will display dozens of the classic American lawn ornaments, creatively decorated," said Mooney, "plus whirligigs and fantastic topiary." Ann Arborites love a good show.

Reach Robin Tierney at