AOL Travel
Print

Best Things To Do in Detroit

AOL PICK from our Editors
Detroit isn't your typical travel destination—here, the thing to do is slow down, allow yourself to meet new people and then see where the day takes you. Don’t spend too much time fretting about the itinerary. That said, there are definitely many different types of Detroit—the edgy, early stages of gentrification, Brooklyn-esque Detroit, the fun-for-the-whole-family Detroit Zoo, The Henry Ford museum Detroit, not to mention the affluent suburban villages that function like upscale city neighborhoods, now that the city has decayed so (unbelievably) thoroughly. It helps to know which Detroit you’re looking to see before you arrive. Then again, there’s definitely room for overlap—even the least-sporty types would have to be dead not to be swept up in the excitement of a Red Wings game. Finally, Detroit’s cultural offerings are a serious force to be reckoned with, and worth a jaunt in from the suburbs.

Eastern Market

Neighborhood: Downtown/Eastern Market 
Eastern Market is a wholesale center, a farmer’s market, a gathering place, a prime people-watching destination and a neighborhood. This historic area of the city is the place to begin a Saturday in Detroit and it is only a short walk up Gratiot Avenue from most downtown hotels. Multiple market sheds and surrounding businesses flood with tens of thousands of people from all over the region, buying and selling everything from freshly-baked bread to vegetables grown right in the city. Even if you’re not in the market for excellent local produce, don’t miss a visit here for breakfast in one of the local cafes. The market is open 5AM-5PM on Saturdays, but early is best.

More Details on

Eastern Market »

Ann Arbor

Neighborhood: Washtenaw County
Just 40 miles from Detroit, this bustling college town is nothing like the rest of Southeastern Michigan. More high-tech than blue collar, University of Michigan economists estimate that by 2011, Washtenaw County will have more people working in the software industry than in vehicle manufacturing. When you come to Ann Arbor—known alternately as the Double-A, or A-Squared—the difference is striking. While the rest of the region tries to sort out the future, Ann Arbor has embraced it. There's the Google outpost at the heart of the attractive and walkable downtown, that butts up against the Central Campus. Whether you just drop by for lunch (we recommend Zingerman’s Deli) or a snoop through the downtown art galleries or spend the whole day touring the cultural attractions on the University campus, time in Ann Arbor is an essential part of any longer Detroit vacation.

More Details on

Ann Arbor  

Cranbrook Art Museum

Neighborhood: Oakland County
Cranbrook is not only a National Historic Landmark, but also a living, breathing community, containing private schools, the famous Academy of Art that educated noted designers Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen (he of the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis). The 300-plus-acre cultural and educational campus in leafy Bloomfield Hills began life as the summer home of local newspaper mogul George Booth, who purchased the land in 1904, hiring architect Albert Kahn to design a most impressive country manor. Saarinen’s father, Eliel, was a key figure in the academy; the family resided on property for a period—their home is open for tours. An onsite art museum is closed for renovations until 2011, but it’s still an important stop on any Metro Detroit tour—check out the planetarium at the Institute of Science and tour the gardens of the former Booth home, where composer Leonard Bernstein resided for a time in the 1940s.

More Details on

Cranbrook Art Museum »

Detroit River

Neighborhood: Downtown/Eastern Market 
You might not believe it, but Michigan has the most freshwater coastline of any state in the country, all thanks to the Great Lakes. While none of the state's cities are located on the lakes, Detroit sits on the Detroit River looking south into Canada. There are 3.5 miles of waterfront promenade to explore, along with the 1.35 mile Dequindre Cut, a pleasant greenway running along an old sunken rail bed with some interesting graffiti (encouraged, within limits). Explore the area by bike—rent at Wheelhouse Detroit—or just come down and ride the carousel; in summer, there’s a full event schedule that includes major music festivals in Hart Plaza. The city’s waterfront has been undergoing a long—and, like everything else around here, painfully slow—revitalization.

More Details on

Detroit River »

Belle Isle

Neighborhood: East Side (Detroit)
Detroit may not have a lot of things, but it does have orchids. City-owned orchids were bequeathed by Anna Scripps Whitcomb, who left her 600-plant collection to the parks department back in the 1950s. Their descendants are just part of the appeal of the 106-year-old conservatory located at the heart of the island park in the Detroit River. Belle Isle was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who is best known as the co-designer of New York’s Central Park. Today’s Belle Isle may not have Central Park’s money—witness the shuttered zoo and abandoned boat club—but it is still mighty impressive, at nearly 1,000 acres. Cass Gilbert’s Scott Fountain is one of the finest pieces of decorative architecture in the Midwest, while the fun Nature Zoo is a must if you're traveling with kids, as is the public beach, where a massive water slide costs just $3 for an all-day pass. On summer Sundays, our favorite is the Jazz on the Beach concerts, held from 6 to 8PM.

More Details on

Belle Isle »

Inside Detroit Tours

Neighborhood: Downtown/Eastern Market 
If any city could use a Welcome Wagon, it’s this one. For years now, however, there has been no official tourism information center in town. Enter this friendly non-profit run by local boosters Jeanette Pierce and Maureen Kearns, whose passion for Detroit—and particularly its downtown—is all but unmatched. Their walking tours and planned bar crawls are popular not only with travelers, but with locals. To get the most out of your visit to Detroit, we recommended you at least stop by their Woodward Avenue headquarters, open to the public most days.

More Details on

Inside Detroit Tours  

Detroit Institute of Arts

Neighborhood: Midtown/New Center
Catch a glimpse of the Motor City’s former glory in this magnificent palace located on Woodward Avenue. Outside, there's a replica of Rodin’s Thinker looking out across the street at Cass Gilbert’s equally impressive Detroit Public Library. Inside, the focal point is Latin American luminary Diego Rivera’s powerful and ominous Detroit Industry murals, created in the 1930s. A film series, late openings each Thursday, a fantastic courtyard bar/cafe and a new permanent gallery of Islamic works are other great reasons to put this at the top of your list when visiting the city.

More Details on

Detroit Institute of Arts »

Lake Erie North Shore Wineries

Neighborhood: Ontario
You might be shocked to learn that just 20 minutes from anywhere in downtown Detroit you can be standing in the middle of beautiful vineyards tasting award-winning wines. Many Detroiters don’t even know this. You’ll need your passport, as the wineries of the Lake Erie North Shore region are located on the other side of the Detroit River—otherwise known as Ontario. This is one of the most-productive growing regions in Eastern Canada. Once past the city of Windsor, it’s nothing but farm fields. And, of course, vineyards. Lots of them. Getting over here is easy, and tasting rooms are friendly and low-key. If you only have a short time, we recommend you taste the estate-grown Baco Noir at Sanson Estate in McGregor, then duck into the nearby river town of Amherstburg for a leisurely lunch. Our pick is Caldwell’s Grant, a gastropub in a historic building known for its smart menu that contains locally-influenced dishes such as a tasty wild mushroom risotto.

More Details on

Lake Erie North Shore Wineries  

The Henry Ford

Neighborhood: Dearborn
Saying that The Henry Ford is a museum is like calling Disneyland an amusement park. Technically, you’re correct, but you’re still completely wrong. The pretty campus in suburban Dearborn, just minutes from Ford Motor Company headquarters, offers a complete immersion in American history and folklore. We recommend you spend a long, leisurely day here, but if you really want to take advantage of all the complex has to offer (and have a burning interest in cars), you’re looking at a minimum of two. There's the museum, which features the Rosa Parks bus and the Kennedy presidential limousine (the one from that fateful day in Dallas), and then there’s the 90-acre Greenfield Village, a collection of important buildings from across the country. One of our favorite things here is the River Rouge factory tour—it’s a chance to see inside an actual Ford production facility just down the street. Come back for a movie at the IMAX theater, which shows everything from educational 3D films to popular releases.

More Details on

The Henry Ford »

Motown Historical Museum

Neighborhood: Midtown/New Center
This modest home on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit’s New Center was the heart and soul of the Motown Era. Purchased by Berry Gordy in 1959 as both a family residence and recording studio, everyone who was anybody in those years, from Gladys Knight to The Jackson 5, passed through the humble doors of “Hitsville, U.S.A.” You're granted access to the family apartment, the control room and Studio A, which was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until 1972. Gordy eventually moved out of Hitsville and into one of the city’s most impressive mansions, complete with a pool house accessed via underground walkway. You can see it for yourself not far from the museum, at 918 W. Boston Blvd., in the impressive Boston-Edison Historic District.

More Details on

Motown Historical Museum »
See All Detroit Things To Do »
ADVERTISEMENT