Detroit certainly gets a bad rap. People who have never been there assume it’s unsafe, beaten down, or just not worth visiting. Because I spent a few years traveling there for work off and on, I developed a distinct fondness for Detroit and always try to correct those misperceptions when I can. As a born and raised Midwesterner, I think I also have a soft spot for one of the original Midwestern cities that is fighting for its comeback. Detroit reminds me a lot of my hometown, Chicago, and I have to root for it whenever I can (except when the Red Wings are playing the Blackhawks – then Detroit gets no love).
I started traveling to Detroit in 2012 and over the past five years it has changed dramatically. Or maybe it’s because I also started to explore more of the city. One of my close friends moved to Detroit in 2015 (one of those Brooklyn ex-pats that makes up quite a contingency in Detroit), and I really got to know the city through her eyes as a local. Suddenly, all of these undiscovered neighborhood gems popped up before my eyes. Discovering these places for myself, whether old or new, allowed me to see the realness of Detroit: the people who have made the city what it is today, who continue to love their town and do whatever they can to see it survive and thrive.
Midwesterners are kind people. They are nice and friendly, and they love where they come from. This is constantly on display in Detroit – there is some serious hometown pride among the residents. People here are eager to tell you their favorite parts of Detroit, why they would never leave (or why they returned after spending time somewhere like Chicago or New York), and what you must experience for a true taste of the Motor City.
While I am not from Detroit, I can share my favorite things about the city and places you must absolutely check out when you visit (because you should definitely go!). Just remember, it gets cold in Detroit, so you are best served visiting in warmer months 🙂
Getting There: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) is probably one of my favorite airports in the US. There was a time when I flew in and out of there nearly weekly, and I never really feared delays because I honestly wouldn’t mind hanging out there. It’s a pretty fantastic airport (especially the McNamara terminal which is mostly Delta flights): big and clean and relatively new (opened in 2002), with tons of shops and restaurants and an airport spa and open seating areas. I’m a big fan of the sushi spot (Sora Sushi) for a meal or a quick order to-go. Security is never crowded. There is a Westin attached to the airport with its own security line. And there’s a tram for getting across the giant terminal’s many A gates.
Where to Stay: I primarily stayed outside of Detroit proper for work, usually at The Henry in Dearborn – A great option if you are in that area. If you are choosing to stay in the city, here are a few good options: Westin Book Cadillac, Aloft Detroit, and the new Detroit Foundation Hotel. If you are staying around Birmingham, then I highly recommend The Townsend Hotel which is fantastic. There are often celebrities staying here (when I stayed there last year, the Golden State Warriors were also staying there).
Neighborhoods of Detroit:
Downtown/River Walk – Here’s where you’ll find the GM headquarters, Joe Louis Arena, the Cobo Center (where the North American International Auto Show takes place every January), and some famous sculptures. You can also see Windsor, Canada from here – just across the river.
Corktown – This is an up and coming, very hip area. Still a little dicey though so be careful, especially at night. There are some great restaurants, cafes, and bars in this area which is relatively close to downtown Detroit.
Midtown/Cass Corridor – I really like this area, but also a bit dicey depending on time of day and where you are. A rapidly gentrifying area with a Whole Foods and some upscale restaurants.
Things to Do:
Depending on what time of year you visit Detroit, you will find yourself with a variety of options. But summer is definitely better!
Check out a sporting event – If you want to see Detroit pride, get tickets for any sporting event and see the fans go crazy for their teams. The Tigers and the Lions play next door to each other and if you happen to be in town on a night when both teams are playing, you will see just how crazy Detroit sports fans can be!
Visit the DIA – The Detroit Institute of Arts has one of the largest collections of any art museum in the US. The museum is located within a beautiful building in Midtown. Diego Rivera’s frescoes line the walls (which were commissioned by Edsel Ford in the 1930s), and a large collection of American art awaits you. The museum was almost shut down in 2013 when the city of Detroit faced bankruptcy and considered selling the art to pay the bills.
Spend time on the water – Michigan is known for its lakes, Detroit has a river (which is a border between the US and Canada). If you can, spend some time enjoying the water on a warm summer day. Consider going kayaking around Detroit’s canals and into the Detroit River – you will get to see new corners of the city and have a lot of fun. Check out Detroit River Sports for more info.
Go to Belle Isle – Belle Isle is a park in Detroit that sits on the Detroit River. It was partially designed by the 19th century urban landscape genius Frederick Law Olmsted (yes, the same Olmsted who designed Central Park and Prospect Park in NY). I have a thing for Olmsted parks and was instantly charmed by Belle Isle when I took an early morning bike ride around the park.
Hang out at Eastern Market – A large market and food hall, Eastern Market offers good food and entertainment for a Saturday afternoon. The area is dotted with restaurants and bars like Vivio’s (for Bloody Marys), Supino (pizza) or Russell Street Deli (for giant sandwiches). If you’re coming from Rivertown, you can walk along the Dequindre Cut (similar to Atlanta’s Beltline) to get to Eastern Market.
Eating & Drinking in Detroit:
Detroit has seen a bit of a renaissance in its food and drink scene, though there are also still a lot of solid, old school spots worth checking out. I never feel hungry when I leave 🙂
Trendy AND Good Food
Selden Standard – Usually crowded, I came here alone and snagged a seat at the bar easily. Small plates, good cocktails.
Wright & Co – Downtown detroit. Small plates, good drinks. Big enough for a large group
Antietam – Near Eastern Market, really cool little spot with shared plates and cocktails
Republic – I liked this a lot the first time, but then wasn’t as good the second time. Kinda pricey for Detroit
Roast – In the Westin downtown, good dinner spot in the area
Slows BBQ – You should definitely come here for BBQ (and a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale)
Craft Work – Cool little spot, pretty good food
Gold Cash Gold – In Corktown. A lot of people like this one, but I thought it was a bit overrated
Grey Ghost – In Midtown, new American restaurant with fantastic cocktails and great service
Katoi – Thai food in Corktown
Rose’s Fine Food – Diner serving breakfast all day, sit at the bar and watch the magic happen. Delicious food, likely a short wait
Randomly Cool Spots
El Barzon – Italian/Mexican mashup. You can get both or either one. What’s not to like?
Roma Cafe – Near Eastern Market, old school Italian joint that’s been around for ages.
In Dearborn: Miller’s (Sliders), Ollie’s (Lebanese)
Pegasus (great drunk food), Green Dot (the best sliders)
Eastern Market: Russell Street Deli, Supino’s Pizza
When in Detroit, you have to get a Coney. Apparently Lafayette Coney Island is the best (though I am sure people from Detroit will argue that out)
All kinds of Bloody Marys: Vivios
Dives for Dancing: Temple Bar, Old Miami (great outdoor area), UFO Factory(Free popcorn)
Just Divey: Bronx Bar (I love this place, also they have giant hamburgers), Grand Trunk Pub (downtown), Dime Store, The Town Pump, Honest John’s
Craft Cocktails: Two James Distillery, Sugar House
For Activities: Punch Bowl Social (bowling, karaoke, arcade, bar)
Wine Bars: Motor City Wine