A Newbie's Travel Guide to Detroit

Editor’s note: This post comes from Eric Noyes, who lives outside of Detroit.

Friends and family looked at me dumbfounded and slack-jawed when I told them I was moving to Detroit. “No one moves to Detroit, people move away from Detroit.”  But not too long ago people were arriving to the Motor City in droves. What happened, what went wrong, where are the jobs? My guess is that it wasn’t just one thing.

Detroit isn’t the first city I have called home that most people would consider “depressed.” In the last 15 years I have called Buffalo, Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and now Detroit home. Each city is unique and deserves to be visited, enjoyed, and respected. And each city has taught me that you cannot judge them based on first impressions; it takes time to find the gems or a guide. Maybe after a weekend you won’t think it is that crazy to move to Detroit.

When people come to visit, one of the first requests is usually to see the bad parts of the city, and this is the easiest request to check off. Detroit’s blight isn’t hidden or tucked away; it is on display for all to see. Almost proud of its scars, they are on every street in every neighborhood. The iconic Michigan Central Station beams as a beacon of blight as you approach Detroit from I-75. For those into decay porn, you probably already know this.

But along with the decay and hollowness, and often next to, there are some real treasures. The best place to stay to maximize your time is close to downtown. Most of the hotels are chains, and so if you aren’t into that sort of thing try, the Atheneum which is part of Greektown, or the St. Regis, which is part of Midtown. You will need a car: this is the Motor City, after all.

After checking in, you’re probably ready for a meal. Detroit is teeming with Coney Island restaurants. A Coney Island is a hot dog slathered with a chili-based sauce, topped with a variety of condiments. Like cheesesteaks in Philly people have tremendous loyalty to their favorite Coney Island. If you ask five people, you’ll get five answers. Coney Islands are budget-friendly and usually packed with Detroiters. At this point I should probably disclose that I am a vegan. And there are no vegan Coney Island establishments–yet.

Wake up early on Saturday and head to the Eastern Market. You will rub shoulders with Detroiters and suburbanites alike. This open-air marketplace is always buzzing with activity, whether it’s mid-December or mid-June, though Detroit is at its best in the summer. There are always plenty of tasty free samples and great people-watching at the market. If you need more substantial sustenance head to Russell Street Deli or Supino’s. Supino’s is great for thin crust pizza while Russell Street has excellent sandwiches and plenty of veg/vegan options. For something a bit more upscale, walk down to Roma Café, one of the oldest restaurants in Detroit, for Italian fare and great service.

One museum that you have to see is the Detroit Institute of Arts. This museum holds world-class fine art, including the amazing Diego Rivera murals depicting the inner workings of an automobile factory. It doesn’t get much more Detroit than that (wait–yes it does–you can still tour the River Rouge assembly plant on Saturdays). The DIA is located in Midtown and is within walking distance to many good restaurants, including one of the best and only vegetarian restaurants in town, called Se Va. For a more carnivore-friendly restaurant, try Wasabi, right next to the DIA. Wasabi offers Korean and Japanese fare, including sushi, and unlike most encompassing Asian restaurants, it actually does each variation well.

Hopefully you’ve planned your trip around one of the many Summer Festivals, like the Electronic Music Fest, Ho-down, Jazz Fest, or River Daze. There is hardly a weekend during the summer that doesn’t have something going on downtown, which makes your plans for the night a no-brainer. Besides these you can partake in one of the religious institutions celebrated in Detroit: Tigers, Lions, or Red Wings. But there is a new cult taking over: Detroit City Football Club. That is, the soccer kind of football. DCFC is a fourth division football club and made up of mostly Division A college players. When attending one of their home games at Cass Tech, be sure to stand with the supporters. Be advised you will hear colorful heckling, breathe smoke (not from cigarettes), and have a sporting experience unlike any you can have this side of the pond. After the game, head off with the hipsters to whichever bar is hosting the post-game party to continue the revelry.

For a night cap, Atwater Brewery is a great place to grab a beer. Jazzier individuals should check out CliffBell’s near the Fox theatre and the baseball park. Cliff Bell’s has live music and pricey drinks and is usually populated by couples. Neither bar really offers any pub grub so if you need something to soak up the libations head to Motor City Brewery and grab a pizza that’s better than you would think, coming from a bar.

That was a pretty packed Saturday, so sleep in a bit and then take a leisurely walk along the Riverwalk in downtown. This walkway hugs the Detroit River with great views of our Canadian neighbors. Runners, dog walkers, and bikers all use the Riverwalk.

Great Lakes Coffee will get you ready for the day. Great Lakes Coffee will remind you of your snarky, independent, hipster-filled, everyone-use-a-Mac coffee shop from back home. Avalon Bakery around the corner has a similar feel but with more edible options and less seating.

Belle Isle is the center of lot of controversy at the moment. This large city park might be sold/leased to the state of Michigan, which will take over the park and charge admission, with the promise of renovations and maintenance. This may make you think that Belle Isle is probably not a place to visit, but it’s actually one of the few things that anyone, including the state of Michigan, thinks is valuable–which is why the state is trying to buy it. The island sits in the Detroit River, offering great views of downtown Detroit and Windsor, Canada. Light traffic, trails, and an approximately six mile circumference make it ideal for runners, bikers, and dog people. If you’re traveling with children, Belle Isle is a great place, with a newly re-opened aquarium (although hours are limited), a small zoo, playgrounds, and a beach. Bring a picnic lunch and you are set.

More Food:

Roast – high end

Green Dot Stables – gourmet sliders

Slows BBQ – BBQ that is always busy

Orchid Thai – the peanut curry is great

Woodbridge Pub – seasonal menu with lots of meat/veg/vegan options

Al-Ameer – great Middle Eastern cuisine in Dearborn (the Detroit metro area is filled with amazing Middle EasternFood)

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