Detroit. Underdog of the Rust Belt. When I was growing up it was a place to avoid; a place to fear. They built the Renaissance Center in the 1970s to usher in a new era of progress. It didn’t happen. The auto industry continued its slow decline until finally collapsing. A lot has changed since then. The new era has finally arrived.

Icons of the past renewed. The Renaissance Center is now GM’s world HQ. ©R. Christensen

Over the past decade years the auto companies have found their footing while new industries have begun to fill in the gaps. Major investments have been made to renovate old hotels and erect new offices. Little by little people returned to the city to fill jobs and entrepreneurs followed. What you’ll find today is no longer a derelict shell, but signs of prosperity. Sure, it has taken years of hard work, but Detroit has made a new name for itself as a travel destination.

Variety is the spice of life and Detroit offers appealing options for several types of travelers. Sports, cultural attractions, a vibrant bar scene and a myriad of cuisines can all be found within the city limits. Here are a few of the highlights.

 

Detroit is a Sports Town

Although known as the Motor City, Detroit has long been a sports town with at least one team propping up our hopes at any given time. With the opening the amazing new Little Caesar’s Arena last year, all four major sports franchises are now located within walking distance. Lions football, Tigers baseball, Pistons basketball, and of course Red Wings hockey keep the downtown core busy year round. No matter the travel date, you can plan on finding at least one game happening downtown.

 

Sampling local brews at The Jolly Pumpkin ©Richard Christensen

Detroit has Unique Brew Pubs and Cocktail Bars

Detroit has developed an eclectic mix of old and new bars. Michigan is one of the leaders in craft brewing and downtown you’ll find both microbreweries and bars showcasing local brands. Distilleries are also popping up to supply the growing cocktail bars around town. Midtown is my favorite area to explore a variety of bars. Detroit Brewing Company and Jolly Pumpkin offer modern micro brews while Honest John’s holds on to its 1930s décor while serving up some good food.

 

The Amazing Detroit Food Scene

Detroit’s food scene has its roots in the immigrant influx started by the auto industry a century ago. You’ll find classic Polish, Middle Eastern, and Mexican restaurants scattered across the city today along with new establishments both trendy and classic cuisines. There should be no doubt that the Motor City still holds its classics dear: Detroit style deep dish pizza and Coney dogs. There is lively debate about which restaurants are the true original or which tastes best, but you can’t go wrong with any choice. To explore Detroit’s food culture in more depth read my post here.

The alley in The Z parking garage is full of unique creations. ©R. Christensen

Theater, Art, and Music

For those seeking more cultural pastimes, Detroit has a lively entertainment scene. The Fox and Fisher theaters host national Broadway shows as well as musical acts and comedians. The Bonstelle and Hillberry theaters are located on the Wayne State University campus and feature performances by students and local actors. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is also located in Midtown. Art, in the form of small exhibitions and graffiti, can be found all over the city.

If live bands are more your speed, Detroit has long had an incredible local music scene. Check a local paper, such as the Metro Times, to find out which bands are playing at the many small bars across the city. Summer festivals also are a huge draw with everything from Country to Electronic Dance Music filling the air downtown.

 

Detroit Museums

The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Historical Museum, and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) are all located within Midtown surrounding the Wayne State University campus. Within you’ll find world class art and learn a great deal about local history from the early French settlement and native American tribes to recent decades.

For more recent history, take a tour of the Motown Museum to explore the roots of American soul. Henry Ford’s first Model T factory, the Ford Piquette Plant, is also in the area and worth an hour or two with the informative docents. Drive just outside to Dearborn and spend a full day at the amazing Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.

Detroit is Rebuilding Parks

Visit when the weather is warm and enjoy the outdoors. The Detroit riverfront has been undergoing major renovations and now provides a beautiful strip of parks and boardwalks to stroll along. Walk through Hart plaza and into the Campus Martius for entertainment, food trucks, and more. Festivals dot the summer schedule.

Cross the bridge to Belle Isle for a classic gem. Taken over by the State Parks system, Belle Isle has had a face lift. Here you’ll find the oldest aquarium in the US, a glass conservatory, and the ornate James Scott memorial fountain. The Dossin Great Lakes museum and a nature center round out the attractions. The Detroit Grand Prix takes place on the island around Memorial Day each year.

 

Detroit Casinos and Hotels

In the mood for a no fuss vacation or stopping in town for a conference? There are three major casinos to choose from. Hit the slots, relax at the spa, and stay the night all in one building. The Motor City, MGM-Grand, and Greek Town casinos offer all the amenities you need for a short getaway plus easy access to Detroit’s other entertainment venues. Looking to stay closer to the action downtown? Check into the renovated Westin Book Cadillac or DoubleTree Suites Fort Shelby.

 

Detroit is finally undergoing its renaissance and, in the process, created a place where travelers from around the world are discovering its inner beauty. While still rough around the edges, Detroit offers an entertainment and food scene on par with many other major cities. Take a look around and you’ll find yourself adding this underdog of the Midwest to your travel itinerary.

 

 

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