What to Eat, See, and Do in Detroit
How to best utilize 48 hours in the Motor City.
Over the last few years, there’s been an increasing amount of buzz about the renaissance of a bankrupt, dilapidated Detroit that was once the great American city home to the motor industry and Motown music that defined an era. Before you can have a solid opinion on the rebirth of the 313 or the gentrification of a city that is 83 percent black (according to 2014 data), visit Detroit and experience the liminal city firsthand. (We even recommend it as one of the best places to travel in 2016). I spent two quick days in the city this fall and came back with a positive disposition, enamored by the deep sense of Detroiter pride, the seemingly under-acknowledged collection of incredible architectural design, and a bubbling desire to visit for a longer amount of time.
How to Get Around
The ultimate tip for navigating is to utilize Uber to the utmost degree. Every Uber driver was such a fountain of cultural knowledge complete with Southern-style hospitality—plus there’s no need to open a map. Our driver Sheryl, in her old Chevy SUV pulled over so we could take photographs of the Spirit of Detroit statue and other notable buildings in the Downtown area. Another driver was a local firefighter who explained the reasons behind the burned and abandoned homes and how the city is continually changing. The cars may not be the latest Toyota or Cadillac with leather seats, water bottles or an Aux cord, but it’s all a part of the adventure.
Where to Stay
Your best bets for sleeping accommodations would be Airbnb or the Inn on Ferry Street but if your tastes are of the traditional ilk, then definitely book the newly renovated Marriott Downtown that overlooks the Detroit River.
Where to Eat
If you’re out all night enjoying the underground electronic sounds of Detroit or if you’re a solid morning person, check out Urban Bean Co. downtown. The building is an old record store equipped with the wood paneled walls, DJ booth, listening booth, and shag carpet. The Great Lakes coffee there and throughout Detroit is worth trying.
It’s unclear as to why the Midwest state would have something called a Coney dog, but the city seems divided about who has the best. My sources told me to head to Lafayette Coney Island. There is typically nothing attractive about a soupy chili mixture with melted cheese resting on a hot dog nestled between two buns, but I couldn’t get enough. Something special is happening there in that old kitchen.
For dinner, head downtown to the glass-roofed Townhouse. Their menu offers New American cuisine with an impressive sushi bar and dim sum-style cart. We dove in and ordered quite a bit off the menu—you can’t go wrong with the crispy duck wings and don’t shy away from dessert. The libations offered are also worth ordering.
What to Do
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is the city’s top cultural institution with a massive collection (over 60,000 works). The current exhibition, 30 Americans, is an absolute must-see. Seeing this well curated exhibition of works by thirty Black American contemporary artists while in Detroit just felt like the icing on the cake.
Walking through the Midtown neighborhood there are cobblestoned historic streets, West Canfield has exquisite Victorian homes, and you may even catch the time from one of the Shinola clocks nearby. Note the architecture, like the mosaics in the lobby at the Guardian Building and Michigan Central Station, the latter having been designed by the same firms as Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
For a non-traditional site, head towards Heidelberg Street to tour the community-based arts project started by artist Tyree Guyton in the 1980s to bring attention to societal and political issues occurring in the neighborhood. Heidelberg Project comprises various houses or large-scale art objects painted with colorful patterns or decorated with found objects. The quirky houses are definitely a photo opp, but also a nice way to learn about the artistic history of the city.
For part of the year Detroit can be a nice green place with comfortable weather, and the city has excellent green spaces like the Dequindre Cut, a 1.15 mile greenway though the city linking the Riverfront park to Eastern Market (an essential stop if you happen to be in town on a Wednesday or Saturday). Detroit is thriving and it will surprise you how much there is to see, hear and taste in the once “forgotten” American City, especially in two days.
Mariah Tyler is a digital photo editor at Travel+Leisure. You can follow her on Instagram at @mphbox.