Why You Should Head To Detroit For Your Summer Mini-Adventure

by Veronica Zaretski
In 1959, a musician and former boxer put down a deposit of $800 on a small property on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit. He had dreams of creating music records that would help unknown musicians become polished, stage-ready performers.

The man was Berry Gordy, and that property became home to Motown Records, where incoming musicians were groomed to become the prolific world acts that we know of today – The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, and so many others. You can still experience a bit of that magic: The small home continues to serve as Detroit’s Motown Museum.

On a recent road trip to Detroit, a few of us were driving into the city on the Ambassador Bridge and blasting Motown jams on my friend’s car stereo, singing loudly, if not slightly off-key, along with the well-known tunes. The city seemed to mirror the optimistic, strong spirit in those Motown classics. Detroit looked alive and thriving, with bright lights shimmering on its river.  

Ambassador Bridge: Image By Tim Wang via Flickr

Since the days of Motown glory and the booming auto industry, Detroit was the subject of various headlines. While its illustrious reputation waned and waxed, many consider it a city rising out of the ashes into something more interesting and brighter than before.

Gradually the streets of Detroit came into focus. Yes, there were some abandoned homes and buildings, and yes, the nightlife didn't rival its former days of glory. But when you get even closer and experienced the city -- its art, museums, history and community initiatives -- there is so much to love.

If you only have a couple of days or so for a quick break, pack your bags and head to Detroit.
You’ll find art everywhere; homes, backyards, paths and even public garages are decorated with fascinating installations and creative works, a testament of the unfailing spirit of the city and its inhabitants.

If you’re more of the “I like my art framed and hanging in a secure building” variety, head to one of Detroit’s fine museums.

Locals and travelers alike love the Detroit Institute of Arts, which boasts excellent exhibitions of drawings, paintings, and photographs, including the current Dance! American Art 1830 - 1960, presented until June 12. Visitors can also enjoy a concert with their drink or a meal inside the Museum's beautiful Kresge Court. The Film Theatre at the DIA, meanwhile, offers a selection of independent and international films throughout the year. 

Diego Rivera Exhibit: Image By David Wilson via Flickr

A five-minute walk from the DIA is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, boasting the world’s largest permanent exhibit on African American culture. The impressive museum holds an interactive exhibit, the General Motors Theater, a library, and many artifacts.

Since you’re already at the Cultural Center Historic District, why not check the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit? The institution features fresh art and an approach focused on public engagement.

Not too far from the Cultural Center Historic District is a particular favourite of locals and travelers alike. The Eastern Market is a lovely place to start your morning, and aside from the fresh produce, goodies, and delicious coffee available, there are also antique shops to peruse and specialty stores to stock up on that gourmet cheese (or if you’re like me, bags of flavored popcorn).

The Eastern Market Image by Danielle Walquist Lynch via Flickr
The Eastern Market is very popular on Saturdays (open year-round), but also has a Sunday Market and a Tuesday Market from June to October.

After your walk around the Market, definitely check out Russell Street Deli, which offers a surprisingly eclectic selection for a deli, with delicious dishes and excellent service.  

The Eastern Market Image by Veronica Zaretski via Flickr

Don’t miss a chance to take an architectural tour of a downtown core that has many historic and distinctive buildings. The Guardian Building, created in an art deco style with Aztec influences is simply majestic. Inside you'll find the Rowland Cafe, perfect for a coffee break as you take in the lavishly decorated interior of the building.

The Fisher Building is another must-see. And while you’re in the downtown area, be sure to go on a daytime walk near and inside the Z Garage, and enjoy the incredible street art.

If the weather permits, take a walk or bike through the Dequindre Cut Greenway, which links the Riverfront with the Eastern Market and the neighborhoods in between. The Dequindre Cut is full of street art and features separate entrance lanes for pedestrians and cyclists. 

Make your way into Corktown, a neighbourhood that is well known for its historic homes and architecture, including the historic Michigan Central Station. The station, built in in the beaux-arts tradition in 1914, was the tallest train station of its time when built, then was abandoned in 1988, and is now being gradually restored. 

Michigan Central station Image by Harshlight vis Flickr

On a day with clear skies, take a walk through the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor art project that has been a part of Detroit for thirty years.

The Heidelberg Project Image by Veronica Zaretski

Finally, before you leave the city, try the classic coney dog. Lafayette offers a coney dog with a tantalizing serving of chili cheese fries.

And when you head out of this colorful and inspiring place, play a bittersweet Motown jam. Sure, you might be leaving, but Detroit stays with you.
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