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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.