Detroit, Michigan

 

I have to be honest, if someone had told me they thought I would really enjoy Detroit, I would have thought they were lying. And let’s be honest: the news media hasn’t exactly portrayed Detroit in the best light in the past 10 years. There’s no question the hit to the economy has impacted Detroit in a negative way. Catastrophically for some. But thankfully that didn’t take away Detroit’s soul and it’s charm. Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Detroit, but I know the trip we took last summer (2019) won’t be our last.

Where to Stay

We chose to stay at the Marriott downtown—mostly to stay “in brand” (because I’m a pretty devout Bonvoy member), but there are definitely trendier and arguably better places to stay in Detroit. That’s not to say the Marriott isn’t nice—it actually was nicer than I had expected, was right on the water, has a wonderful convention center either attached or nearby (I can’t remember which) and is clearly the spot for business travelers. I would stay there again because you can’t beat the price, the views of Canada over the water (yes, Canada!) and the prime location downtown.

However, if you’re looking for either a trendier spot to stay or something with more history and charm, your best options are the Shinola or Detroit Foundation. The Shinola Hotel is a sleek, contemporary hotel with large glass windows and greenery galore. The hotel has an excellent Italian restaurant on property (San Morello) and a trendy AF cocktail bar (the Living Room or Evening Bar). Or if soul food and beer are screaming your name, try the Detroit-style fried chicken at Penny Red’s or craft beers at The Brakeman.

The Detroit Foundation Hotel, on the other hand, is a super chic property where they turned an old firehouse brick building into a hotel with shiny, sleek decor.  Plus, the DFH boasts one of the coolest bars in town: The Apparatus Room, which serves craft cocktails in an industrial-chic space that’s quite stunning.
 

Detroit's downtown area is full of street art and wall murals. No need to seek them out--they're everywhere.

Where to Eat & Drink

Well first, see above. Make sure The Apparatus Room, San Morello, and Penny Red’s are on your list.  There’s also the Grey Ghost for fun, intriguing and outside-the-box dishes, Norma G’s for chef Lester Gouvia’s ode to Trinidadian cuisine, or Selden Standard for Chef Andy Hollyday’s New American menu that uses international influences to put an interesting spin on American dishes.

Finally, you must—I repeat MUST—have at least one casual meal at Penny Red’s.  Or have two, or three, or four…. this, by the way, will be much easier if you choose to stay at the Shinola.

Byron and I accidentally stumbled upon this super cool spot called the Brakeman (which is attached to the Shinola Hotel) on our way to see a baseball game at Comerica Park. We ordered some beers—completely intending to eat hot dogs in the ballpark—and then saw Penny Red’s. The smells that were wafting out of the shoebox sized “restaurant” with walkup window put us in a trance. We had to eat some—and boy, I am so glad we did. It was quite possibly the best fried chicken I have ever had in my entire life. We loved it so much that when a torrential downpour caused a rain delay at the game, we went back to The Brakeman and ordered more fried chicken a few hours later.

Dive Bars

Well first, see above. Make sure The Apparatus Room, San Morello, and Penny Red’s are on your list.  There’s also the Grey Ghost for fun, intriguing and outside-the-box dishes, Norma G’s for chef Lester Gouvia’s ode to Trinidadian cuisine, or Selden Standard for Chef Andy Hollyday’s New American menu that uses international influences to put an interesting spin on American dishes.

Finally, you must—I repeat MUST—have at least one casual meal at Penny Red’s.  Or have two, or three, or four…. this, by the way, will be much easier if you choose to stay at the Shinola.
If you’re into dive bars (like me), Detroit is absolute heaven. Among my favorites are: Tommy’s Bar, Nancy Whiskey’s Pub, Jumbo’s Bar, and The Bronx. Tommy’s was so old school cool dive bar that for some reason we went back for seconds. Nancy Whiskey’s Pub is an Irish pub that has all the kitschy “pub kit” stuff but with way more character and real deal “regulars” as patrons. Jumbo’s Bar is one of the oldest in town, and has pool tables and pinball machines. And finally, the Bronx Bar—which also has pool tables—is a place where you’ll find locals and college students gathering in the dark bar inside or smoking cigs outside.
 

What to Do

The Henry Ford Musuem & Greenfield Village

Okay, okay. So if you’ve read any of my other destination guides, you may have noticed that it’s pretty rare that I suggest trips to museums. That’s not because I don’t like museums—I do, A LOT actually—but when I travel, I tend to pack a lot of things into short amounts of time and museums often require a lot of time. So unless it’s INCREDIBLE, I usually won’t put museums on my “must-see” lists.

HOWEVER, if you are even remotely interested in American History, you MUST add an entire day to your travel plans (okay, a half day will suffice if you’re limited on time) and go to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, which is in a suburb not far outside of Detroit. Byron and I went there at the suggestion from a friend of ours, on our way out to Northern Michigan where we were planning to spend a few days with them at their lake house. We went late in the day, which we (unknowingly at the time) found out was CLEARLY not enough time to see everything. We rushed through the museum because it was late in the day and then we only had about an hour until closing wen we arrived at Greenfield Village—which we belatedly found out is 80 ACRES, and therefore clearly impossible to see in the 45 minutes we had before closing. We loved it so much that we devoted an entire day on our way back through Detroit to spend more time there.
 

This photo was taken at Greenfield Village’s working farm.

 

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There are two major attractions on the property: the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. The Henry Ford Museum is gigantic and boasts exhibits like the Rosa Parks bus, the chair President Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot and killed, the presidential limousine of John F. Kennedy, the Rosa Parks bus, George Washington's camp bed, Buckminster Fuller's prototype Dymaxion house, and many other historical exhibits. And if you’re into cars, trains or planes—this place is your heaven. They have countless game-changing innovations that have changed the course of American History. It also happens to be the largest indoor-outdoor museum complex in the United States.

Next door to the museum is Greenfield Village, which is an 80 acre outdoor living history museum where the Henry Ford Foundation secured nearly 100 historical buildings and MOVED THEM from their original location, to be rebuilt and preserved in a village setting, so they can show how Americans have lived and worked since founding this country. It might not sound as cool on paper but I actually LOVED this place. ⠀

Some of the buildings include Thomas Edison’s workshop, the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop, the Heinz house, the George Washington Carver cabin, the birthplace and home of William Holmes McGuffey, a Cotswold Dovecote and authentic Swiss chalet, and a working farm on property (pictured)—just to name a few. If you’re an American History buff, this place is definitely for you. ⠀
 


Admittedly, this is not something I would have thought I would enjoy. Byron and I were basically killing time in the Detroit area before heading up to visit friends at Walloon Lake in northern Michigan, and our friends who lived there suggested we visit the museum. It was SO fascinating that we ended up going back so we could spend more time to enjoy both the museum and the village on our way back through Detroit. ⠀

If “travel” this year has you staying close to home or road-tripping only, and if you find yourself in the Detroit area, do yourself a favor and visit this incredible property. It’s especially fun for the kids, though Byron and I still loved every minute of it. ⠀

The Belt Alley

The Belt Alley is a super cool alley with a trendy vibe right in the heart of downtown Detroit. It has super instagram-worthy murals and art installations—both national and international—and shows the transformation of Detroit’s former garment district. There are restaurants and bars on site, and if you’re traveling with your pet, they’re allowed to come too.
 

Eastern Market

Eastern Market is an outdoor market in the heart of the city, where you’ll find local artisans selling everything from fresh cut flowers, teas, jams, salts and chocolates to jewelry, art and soaps. You’ll also find a plethora of interesting eateries, where on the weekends you can also enjoy live music.

Comerica Park

I’m a huge baseball fan, so if I’m ever in a new city between the months of April and September, you bet the first thing I do is check the local team’s schedule. We were lucky enough to have our trip fall on a few days where the Detroit Tigers were in town, so I made sure to get tickets at Comerica Park. It’s worth adding to the list, because even if you’re not into baseball per se, it’s a fun way to enjoy the summer heat, drink beers, eat peanuts and heckle the other team.

Lincoln Street Art Park

The Lincoln Street Art Park is a nontraditional sculptural park built turned community event space. It sits on a formerly abandoned industrial site and is adorned with a number of unique, large-scale sculptural pieces and colorful murals that bring life to this once-abandoned property. Be sure to check the event schedule to see if they have any fun things they’re hosting while you’re in town.

Photograph Ruin Porn

It’s hard to fathom the level of deterioration of Detroit until you see it for yourself. It’s so sad to see what I can imagine used to be a vibrant and economically booming city. I wish I had seen in before so I would know what to compare it to, but seeing the old buildings with their Art Deco, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire and Queen Anne architecture and ornate facades makes it easy to understand that there was in fact a lot of beauty in this city at one point in time.

But that’s not to say parts of the city are no longer beautiful—quite the opposite. If you’re into “ruin porn” or can appreciate the beauty of old, decaying or tossed-away buildings, Detroit might be the best place on the planet to photograph these beauties. Just drive around the city and it won’t be hard to find.

 

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Happy Travels!

xoxo

Lauren

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Mandapa, a Ritz Carlton Reserve
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