Idealistic citizens and entrepreneurs, downtown farmers, independent artists, as well as big-ticket investment in city infrastructure and attractions, have resulted in a mid-transition city with much to offer weekend visitors. Here are some amazing Detroit attractions you won’t want to miss.
1. The Heidelberg Project
Dismayed by the poverty, drugs and crime around him, Tyree Guyton made a statement: turning the abandoned houses and lots in his east-side Detroit neighbourhood into guerilla-art installations. Twenty-four years later, what’s now known as the Heidelberg Project, is one of Detroit’s biggest tourist draws.
This open-air art environment includes houses, street and sidewalk surfaces and lots within a roughly two-block radius. Giant polka-dots cover one house. Another house is painted in “lucky lotto numbers,” while others are completely bedecked in stuffed animals, toys, signage, tools, mannequins, car and bicycle parts, home appliance parts, and other found materials, some slowly disintegrating in the elements. The neighbourhood welcomes visitors; however, it remains one of the poorest zip codes in the U.S. If you visit, donations are always appreciated!
2. The Cass Corridor
It may be known as “midtown,” but hardcore Detroiters still call it “The Cass Corridor,” a rough-around-the-edges strip of Woodward Avenue that’s cleaning up nicely. The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, an edgy art gallery built inside a former used car dealership, is worth a visit. This small, non-collecting gallery exhibits both group and solo shows in mixed media, photography and sculpture.
On Friday nights, the Detroit Institute of Arts is open until 10 PM and features live music and/or film screenings. DIA boasts an impressive contemporary African-American art collection, as well as the show-stopping multi-fresco series “Detroit Industry” by acclaimed Mexican
3. The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit
Once showcased on websites dedicated to Detroit’s neglected architectural treasures, the former Book Cadillac Hotel has re-emerged as the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. A stunning $200 million renovation has restored the landmark to its circa-1924 Italian-Renaissance-style glory.
The Westin’s chic rooms, convenient downtown location and proximity to the raised light-rail Detroit People Mover (which can get you from one downtown attraction to the next for only 75 cents) makes it the logical place to stay. And be sure to check out quirky-cool Café DeMongo’s Speakeasy, which is only a three-minute walk away and boasts soul food and live jazz!
4. Mexicantown’s Restaurants and Supermercados
With a roughly 47,000-strong Hispanic and Latin American population, Detroit is home to awesome Latin food. Although there’s local debate as to the parameters of “authentic” Mexicantown versus “the touristy part,” both offer delicious options and great shopping.
Google-Map and visit Taquiera El Ray, a family-friendly hole-in-the-wall that’s short on style, but high on service and Guadalajara-style eats. For cheap and tasty tamales to go, check out Tamaleria Restaurant Nuevo Leon. The numerous neighbourhood supermercados make it easy to inexpensively equip your kitchen with a tortilla press and condiments so you can recreate that D-Town deliciousness at home.
5. The Eastern Market
Detroit’s Eastern Market is one of America’s oldest farmers’ markets (operational since 1891). Sprawling, mouth-watering and fun to browse for hours, it offers up treasures from heirloom vegetables to local honey, handcrafted jams to handmade gourd birdhouses.
With over 1,000 community gardens ranging from family backyard raised beds to community gardens with beehives, chicken coops and orchards, Detroit is on the forefront of the urban greening movement—and you can find some of the results on sale here.
Besides groceries, vendors sell small-batch breads and pastries. Keep an eye open for sweet potato pie, a traditional Southern delicacy brought north by the first big wave of African-American migrants in the early 1900s.
Be sure to also check out brunch hotspot Russell St. Deli. This vegan and vegetarian-friendly eatery serves up deli and all-day-breakfast faves with an emphasis on locally sourced, organic and free-range (meat) ingredients.
6. Detroit on Wheels (or Feet)
Walk or cycle the 2.17-kilometre Dequindre Cut Greenway, which links Detroit’s revamped riverfront to the foodalicious Eastern Market. Originally part of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, the below-street-level greenway was unveiled in 2009. Engineers of the greenway conversion made a point of maintaining the colourful graffiti art covering the bridges and overpasses along the greenway, and new additions are encouraged. (Don’t worry, though, your kids’ eyes won’t burn: any graffiti deemed obscene or offensive is removed.)
Rent a bike—or sign up for a guided group tour—through Wheelhouse Detroit. Besides the Dequindre Cut, culture-vulture bike tours include a field-to-fork tour of urban agriculture hotspots, a look at Detroit’s role in the Underground Railroad, “haunted Detroit,” and a tour of lovely Belle Isle, Detroit’s island oasis, which features picnic grounds, a deer enclosure, a conservatory and the Eero Saarinen-designed Flyn Pavilion.
7. Motown (and Other Musical Attractions)
No music lover’s trip to Detroit is complete without a pilgrimage to the Motown Historical Museum, which was once the site of Hitsville USA, the studio where Motown artists recorded countless chart-topping tracks between 1959 and 1972. This is where legends like Diana Ross & The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and The Jackson 5 created the world-famous Motown sound.
Detroit was also once home to Eminem and Jack White of the White Stripes and Raconteurs fame, and is acknowledged as the birthplace of techno. The annual springtime Movement: Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival attracts international DJs and musicians. Meanwhile, jazz lovers should make an annual pilgrimage to The D during its annual Labor Day weekend Detroit Jazz Fest.
8. The Quest for the Perfect Coney
Named after New York’s Coney Island, the Coney Island Hot Dog is a Detroit specialty: an all-beef hot dog smothered in beef chili and diced yellow onion with a smear of yellow mustard. Although Coneys can be found across the city, Detroit’s definitive dogfight is between neighbouring establishments Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island, both around the block from the Westin Book Cadillac. We suggest you try both and decide for yourself!