You know those “That’s a Buick?” commercials where people are shocked by the difference between their outdated perception of the brand and the modern reality? The city of Detroit could have used the same exact campaign for the home of the cars themselves.
See, the "Motor City" is experiencing a revival, making it a highly desirable yet still affordable destination.
Sure, you may be skeptical when you read about these must-visits, thinking, “That’s Detroit?” But when you experience them yourself, there’s no doubt you’ll be exchanging that question mark for an exclamation point.
Welcome to Detroit! — Photo courtesy of Detroit Experience Factory
1. Campus Martius Park
Yep, this is the new Detroit: vibrant, creative and full of smile-inducing surprises like this relaxing beach smack in the middle of the city.
Campus Martius Park – a 2.5-acre public square – becomes an ice skating rink in the winter and features free entertainment all year round. It's become the community gathering place for locals, tourists and, through Canine to Five-sponsored events, even dogs.
It’s the perfect representation of a city built on diversity and innovation.
The Beach at Campus Martius Park — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
2. Detroit Experience Factory
Founded by Jeanette Pierce, the city's most enthusiastic advocate, this nonprofit offers insider tours by locals who are passionate and deeply knowledgeable about their hometown. They are full of fun facts, and their itineraries are just plain fun.
Pierce knows that whether you’re into architecture, food, culture or sports, she and her team can take you to places that will make you a staunch supporter of Detroit – especially if you get to taste some of April Anderson’s Good Cakes and Bakes just like Oprah Winfrey requested when she visited the city!
Detroit Experience Factory tour stop — Photo courtesy of Matt Chung
3. Salt and Cedar
Once a poultry abattoir (Look it up!), this indie letterpress studio is another totally unexpected joy. Owners/spouses Leon Johnson and Megan O’Connell have transformed the space into a warm and homey haven where they not only lovingly print anything you can imagine on paper, but also host art exhibits, literary readings, concerts, film screenings and culinary events.
Both are internationally acclaimed artists, and their genius for design is apparent in every detail at Salt and Cedar. Their bookbinding workshops alone are worth traveling across the country for.
Bookbinding at Salt and Cedar — Photo courtesy of Fritz Haeg
4. Renaissance Center
The focal point of the Detroit skyline – the Renaissance Center, affectionately referred to as the “RenCen” by locals – serves as General Motors' world headquarters, housing its four brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.
Take a tour of the seven interconnected skyscrapers to learn the history of this “city within the city,” where you can shop, eat, see a movie and spend the night at the Detroit Marriott, located in the third tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere.
Stroll along the 3.5-mile RiverWalk for stunning views of the Motor City and neighbor Canada.
GM Renaissance Center — Photo courtesy of Buick
5. Z Garage
With interior walls covered in eye-popping murals from 27 artists from around the globe, this 10-story parking garage built by Dan Gilbert's Bedrock Real Estate Services is a destination in itself – even if you don't have a car.
Named for its shape, the award-winning space has become so popular that Bedrock, with the help of fine art gallery Library Street Collective, has extended the artwork into the Z's alley, now called "The Belt."
Check out the contributions by Shepherd Fairey, who recently painted his largest mural ever in Detroit. No wonder there's a #lookupDetroit hashtag.
Z Garage — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
6. Wright & Company
Detroit is now home to some of the country's top restaurants, like this hot spot started by craft cocktail creator Dave Kwiatkowski and Wolfgang Puck alum Marc Djozlija.
With their pedigree, it should be no surprise that the small plates are such big hits and that the extensive beverage menu rivals the food.
In true Detroit style, the duo has created a gathering place where locals can celebrate the fact that they actually live close enough to eat here regularly.
Potato chips at Wright & Company — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
7. The Avenue of Fashion
Livernois Avenue used to be the shopping district in the pre-mall days, and it still boasts landmarks that have stood the test of time, like Jo’s Gallery and Baker’s Keyboard Lounge – the oldest jazz club in the world.
It’s also attracted some soon-to-be landmarks, including the simply delicious 1917 American Bistro and the deliciously simple Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles.
While you’re there, check out the gorgeous neighborhoods – Palmer Woods and Sherwood Forest – and Detroit’s only Frank Lloyd Wright house.
Sculptures at 1917 American Bistro — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
8. Mexican Town
This vibrant Hispanic neighborhood just outside of the downtown area is where you’ll find some of your new favorite meals.
Everyone’s flocking to El Asador for Mexican food and hanging out at Café Con Leche, which is on the same block as Armando's Restaurant and Mexicantown Bakery.
The icing on the cake? They're all located across the street from Clark Park, one of the best parks in Detroit.
Jordi Carbonell of Cafe Con Leche — Photo courtesy of Detroit 143 / Cafe Con Leche
9. Eastern Market
Boasting the largest open market in the country, it makes sense that Detroit has become such a foodie city. This six-block public market has been around for more than a century, and almost 50,000 people visit every Saturday, even when it’s snowing.
Don’t miss out on the more intimate Tuesday market, the artisan Sunday Street Market or the tailgating parties before Lions games.
Eastern Market in Detroit — Photo courtesy of Eastern Market
10. Motown Museum
It would be sacrilege to visit Detroit and not spend time at the Motown Museum. Standing in the studio where history was made and an 11-year-old Stevie Wonder indulged in Baby Ruths, you can't help humming the songs of musical legends Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Diana Ross.
Sure, there are other great museums you should check out – like the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
But this is the only one that will make you feel like dancing in the streets.
It's okay to dance at the Motown Museum — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark