Jeramey Jannene
Urban Tour Guide

Detroit

By - Jul 7th, 2010 11:56 am
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In an attempt to broaden our horizons, we reached out to other city-focused blogs across the Midwest. Our goal is to provide a quality tour guide for city-lovers in each large Midwestern city. We asked each of our writers recommend around 10 things that can be done in their city and to orientate the guide around someone staying at a downtown hotel without a car (including transit options if anything was outside of walking distance). Each guide author took things in a slightly different direction, and the resulting collection of articles has something for everyone.

Our sixth profile is of Detroit, and is written by Patrick Cooper-McCann who runs Rethink Detroit.

Detroit

Detroit is called the Motor City for a reason. To get a full sense of the city’s sprawling grandeur, as well as the scope of what has been lost, you’ll have to get in a car and drive toward the suburban edge, weaving through the neighborhoods and industrial districts along the way. That said, most of Detroit’s iconic sights and sounds, from the glorious Art Deco skyscrapers to the growing urban farms, can be found within a walkable or bikeable radius of downtown.

Downtown

The natural place to start to any tour of Detroit is the People Mover. The elevated train loop has been derided as a boondoggle since it was built in the 1970s, but it’s a great way to get a panoramic view of downtown. (At 50 cents a ride, it’s a also a cheap way to travel between destinations.)

Once you’ve made the loop, you’ll want to see Detroit’s historic architecture close-up. Read up beforehand at BuildingsOfDetroit.com to know what to look for as you walk, or take a guided tour through Preservation Wayne or Inside Detroit. My personal favorites are the Book Tower, a beautiful but abandoned skyscraper on Washington Boulevard, and the Guardian Building, an Art Deco masterpiece on Griswold. The stunning lobby includes an outlet of Pure Detroit, a store that hawks great Detroit-themed apparel and other products.

For people watching, there are two obvious options. One is to head to Greektown, Detroit’s last bastion of uninterrupted urbanism downtown (and a great place to eat). The other is to relax in one of downtown’s redeveloped parks. Campus Martius, at the heart of downtown, recently won a national award for its revitalizing effect on downtown, and city officials hope smaller pockets parks like Harmonie Park will have a similar impact. Along the water, Hart Plaza and the Riverwalk offer great views and summer festivals. Oh, and that’s Canada you’re looking at — to the south.

Arts, Culture, and Food

Arguably Detroit’s most promising neighborhood, Midtown is just a short bus ride up Woodward Avenue. The area is home to Wayne State University, a half dozen museums, two major hospital systems, and a growing number of lofts, galleries, and local shops. The Detroit Institute of Arts is the undisputed jewel of the district (the Diego Rivera Court alone is worth the trip), but there’s far more to see. You might walk through the grand Detroit Public Library across the street, buy a graphic novel at the wonderfully curated Leopold’s Books, or see the latest exhibit at the contemporary art museum a few blocks south.

Also close at hand to downtown are Eastern Market, Corktown, and the near East Side. Eastern Market, located just northeast of downtown, is one of the largest and oldest farmers markets in the country. It’s not to be missed on Saturdays. Even if you have no need for fresh fruits or veggies, you can always get lunch at Russell Street Deli or Supino’s Pizza and people watch.

To go further east or west of downtown, you’ll want to rent a bike from Wheelhouse Detroit, the bike shop on the riverfront. If you’re intrepid, head out east to see the Mies van der Rohe-designed Lafayette Park, Earthworks Garden, the Heidelberg Project, Belle Isle, and the mansions of Indian Village. You’ll see some of the best and worst of what Detroit has to offer along the way.

If you’d prefer to stick closer to downtown, go west to Corktown, Detroit’s oldest historic neighborhood. Not only does Corktown boast three of the best restaurants in the city (Mudgie’s for sandwiches, Le Petit Zinc for crepes, and Slows for barbecue), it also has the largest and best used book store you’ve ever dream of, John King Books, and the city’s most iconic ruin, Michigan Central Station.

Entertainment

Detroit is a great sports town. The Wings, the Tigers, and (if you’re a masochist) the Lions all play downtown. Better yet, you can catch a bout of the Detroit Derby Girls at the Masonic Temple, or, if they move as rumored, Cobo Hall. The derby league is becoming a Detroit institution.

Detroit is an even better town for music. Check the Metrotimes or Model D for weekly listings. Solid bets include St. Andrew’s Hall, the State Theater, and the Majestic Theater Complex. Rather just head to the bar? Cafe d’Mongo’s on Friday night has no equal, in Detroit or anywhere else. You won’t forget the eclectic decor or the crowd. For a better selection of beer and more breathing room, there’s also Foran’s Grand Trunk Pub on Woodward, located in a former ticket station of a rail line.

Finally, when it’s time to end the night, there are only two options: Lafayette or American Coney Island. Located side by side, these 24-hour diners have been serving coney dogs and chili since the Great Depression. There’s no better place to be at 2 am on a Saturday.

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2 thoughts on “Urban Tour Guide: Detroit”

  1. Colucci says:

    I was laid over in Detroit a few years back and took advantage of the situation. I booked an evening flight out, got a room at the Renaissance Center and spent the next day in the city.

    I walked from the RC along Woodward all the way to the Institute for the Arts. What an amazing city! It feels like there aye a million gems (buildings) waiting to be restored. Of course there were a million other gems already restored.

    Ford Field is a great urban stadium. I also really liked the African American History Museum. I had lunch in “greek town” – simple but good. I too recommend the people mover. It’s a great way to get around.

    It’s no Pittsburg 😉 but overall big thumbs up for Detroit.

    D’nardo

  2. Hello from Detroit,

    Guided tours are now available in Detroit through “Detroit Urban Adventures”, twice per day (1 pm and 3:30 pm),
    five days per week (Tuesday-Saturday), and nine months per year (March 1-November 30). You can book a tour online at http://www.detroiturbanadventures.com.

    And private tours for groups are available almost anytime through Detroit Tour Connections. Phone (313) 283-4332.
    Private tours can be for small groups or for a busload of people. Walking tours, a People Mover tour, or bus tours, with various topics.

    Detroit is a fascinating city. Come check out Detroit on a guided tour.

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