I love asking friends for the Do as the Locals Do series, and I was more than excited that Jessica was willing to write something about her birth town Detroit. Jess is currently working on a book, documenting the lives of 62 entrepreneurs from 41 nationalities, all working in Amsterdam. For more information about this amazing project, please visit her website. Jessica is also co-host of the #culturetrav travel chat on Twitter. Join her and other travel fans every Thursday at 7:30pm (+GMT) on Twitter.
Detroit, situated in the southeast part of Michigan, is rich with culture and character, home to renowned museums, delicious ethnic restaurants and popular annual events. The people are warm and welcoming, upholding the friendly Midwest vibe. But between going bankrupt in 2013 and years of turmoil, dilapidation and crime, Detroit has not always had the best reputation. In recent years, however, the city is bouncing back. The diverse metropolitan area offers a variety of fun activities for all ages, shedding new light on this American gem.
The city is home to numerous annual events, many of which are car related. The automobile is synonymous with American culture, and Detroit acts as the center of the auto industry, taking root in the 1890s. The Woodward Dream Cruise is held every year on the third Saturday in August. Locals and visitors alike come from all over to watch classic cars – muscle cars, street rods, collector and custom models, and special interest vehicles – cruise up and down Woodward Avenue. The North American International Auto Show, which takes place annually in January, is the automotive event of the year. Attracting car enthusiasts from all over the world, this event introduces new models and futuristic concept cars.
Other attractions are more seasonal. Cider mills provide a fun autumn activity, where the process of making apple cider is on display. Pair the beverage with a warm plain or cinnamon-sugar donut. If you are around on a Saturday, drop by downtown’s Eastern Market for fresh farm produce, meats and groceries. The Saturday market, one of the places locals shop, has been around since 1891.
Music is deeply rooted in Detroit. Motown, Detroit’s nickname, is derived from “Motor Town” and is the name of a musical genre and record company “Motown Records.” It brought fame to people like Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, and the Jackson 5. Stop by the Motown Museum to learn more about the history and legends and sing in the original recording studio. DTE Energy Music Theater in Clarkston also brings in many Detroit born artists such as Kid Rock, Aretha Franklin and Bob Seger and others such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jason Aldean. In the summer months when the weather is warm, pick up tickets to sit on the lawn and listen to the tunes. Catch a performance at one of the gorgeous downtown venues, as well, such as the Fillmore or Fox Theaters.
In terms of museums, take a stroll around the Detroit Historical Museum. Be sure to head downstairs to see the old streets of Detroit. The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn is one of the best and most popular attractions in the U.S. and visitors can even see Thomas Edison’s original lab. If you and your family prefer the outdoors, visit the Detroit Zoo to see animals in their natural habitats.
One of the best ways to see Detroit is through the eyes of a local. Spend the day on Belle Isle. The island was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same man who had a hand in crafting Central Park in New York City. Soak in breathtaking views of the Detroit skyline on one side and Windsor, Canada on the other. This is the only location where Canada is south of the United States. Relax on the beach and swim in the Detroit River or watch the freighters. Do not miss the William Livingstone Lighthouse, the only remaining marble lighthouse in the United States. If it’s raining, visit the Aquarium, Conservatory or Great Lakes Dossin Museum.
Michiganders, especially Detroiters, are proud of their sports teams. Winter, spring, summer, fall: you always have a team to cheer on. Games are great for all ages, not only to watch the sport itself but also for the activities and atmosphere. Watch the Tigers play at Comerica Park (baseball) or the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena (ice hockey). Ford Field is home to the Lions (football), while the basketball team (the Pistons) plays at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
If you would rather be active yourself, explore the Paint Creek Trail. Starting in Rochester and ending in Lake Orion, this trail used to be a railroad track. The 14.3 kilometer (8.9 mile) pathway provides a break from busy city life, immersed in nature. For a more cosmopolitan vibe, take a stroll along the River Walk downtown. In the winter, lace up a pair of ice skates at Campus Martius. The Cadieux Café, on the other hand, boasts a unique sporting experience: feather bowling. Feather bowling is an old Belgian sport similar to Bocce ball, and Cadieux Café is one of the few establishments in the U.S. that offers this game.
Detroit is a diverse city, with the automotive industry bringing in a flood of workers from around the country and the world. Therefore, food options are just as wide ranging and include Mexicantown, Greektown’s delights, Polish cuisine in Hamtramck, Middle Eastern establishments in Dearborn, and Irish favorites in Corktown. Two absolute must-trys, however, are Buddy’s Pizza and Lafayette Coney Island. Buddy’s, the first location which opened in 1936, is known for its square-style pizza, somewhere in between a thin crust and deep dish. The antipasto salad is the perfect companion. Lafayette, on the other hand, is a little hole-in-the-wall downtown serving coney dogs and fries. Coney dogs are hot dogs topped with a special chili sauce, mustard and onions, simple yet delicious.
Have you ever been to Detroit? Locals, share some of your favorite places. I’d love to hear from you!
Jessica, originally from a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, is documenting the lives of 78 entrepreneurs from 47 nationalities, all of which ended up in the same industry in the same city: Amsterdam. Don’t forget to visit her website and to follow her on social media: