Thursday, July 18, 2013


Top 5 Things to do in Detroit, MI

This Summer, I have asked several friends to tell us the Top 5 Things to do in their cities.  Join us each week as we learn about a new city!  This week let's head to Detroit, Michigan.

Motown. Motor City. The D. Whatever nomenclature you choose, Detroit offers more as a destination than you might imagine. While choosing favorites is never easy, I've done my best to pick my personal top five things to do in Detroit. Some bring back happy memories of my childhood and with my own children, and some are more recent discoveries. Each represents an iconic aspect of Detroit's history and culture and offers one-of-a-kind experiences.
Belle Isle's Scott Fountain
#1 - Belle Isle The largest urban island park in the U.S., Belle Isle has been a Detroit hot spot since the late 1800's. It is totally unique and not to be missed if you're visiting the city. This could be a quick one or two hour excursion, or could easily fill the hours of an entire day.

     What to know:
  1. It's free. No admission to the island, and the main attractions are all free too.
  2. It's a microcosm of Detroit - a little dirty, a little grungy, a little run down, but full of awesome treasures if you're willing to give it a chance.
  3. During daylight hours, it's a mecca of family activity. At night, it's more of a teen hangout with a bad reputation.
  4. Concessions and restrooms are limited. Bring your own food and know you might be relegated to a porta-potty.
  5. Some of the attractions have limited hours.
     What to do (again, these are all free):
  1. Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory - don't miss the outdoor koi pond and gardens
  2. Belle Isle Nature Zoo - a nature center, see live deer feedings 
  3. Dossin Great Lakes Museum - recently underwent  a multi-million dollar renovation
  4. Aquarium - this beautiful structure, designed by Albert Kahn and over 100 years old, was closed for several years and recently re-opened
  5. Explore - playgrounds, picnic areas, beaches, monuments, fountains, bridges, tennis courts, and more!
RenCen Fountain, Detroit Riverfront
#2 - Detroit Riverfront With views of Canada and the towering General Motors world headquarters (aka the Renaissance Center, locally known as the RenCen), the bustling Riverfront is a shining example of Detroit's rejuvenation. Simple pleasures, like picnics, ice cream cones, and carousel rides, can be enjoyed right in the heart of downtown. A work in progress, the Riverfront will continue to be expanded and improved until its full vision has been achieved.

     What to know:
  1. Paid parking
  2. Easily accessible from the People Mover, Detroit's elevated public transit system (get off at the Renaissance Center stop)
     What to do:
  1. Eat. Bring a blanket to throw down on the grass if you pack a picnic, or savor a meal at one of several restaurants. My personal fave (admittedly a big splurge!): Coach Insignia, on the 72nd floor of the RenCen, with sweeping views of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Also, it's always a good day for ice cream! Choose from outdoor concessions or the sweets shop on the main floor of the RenCen.
  2. Get moving. The completed portion of the Riverwalk is about 2.5 miles, so enjoy a lovely stroll, rent a bike, or even go on a Segway tour. If you'd rather sit back and relax, take a boat tour of the Detroit River. 
  3. Cool off. Kids of all ages are encouraged to play and splash in the fountains of GM Plaza. Consider bringing towels, a change of clothes, or even swimsuits for the kids.
  4. Explore. From Hart Plaza to Milliken State Park and Harbor, look around and find various forms of art work, fountains, a playground, gardens, and a Michigan themed carousel.
Detroit Historical Museum's Streets of Old Detroit exhibit
#3 - Detroit Historical Museum - a sister museum of the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, this museum has also recently undergone multi-million dollar renovations. It's a cool place to spend a few hours learning about Detroit's history.

     What to know:
  1. It's free!
  2. No restaurants or concessions are on site. There are lunch rooms used by school trips, but I'm not sure if these are open to all guests when school groups are not using them.
     What to do:
  1. The museum is small enough to be totally manageable in a fairly short time - don't miss anything!
  2. Walk the Streets of Old Detroit, with historic storefronts that have recently opened their doors (previously, visitors could only peer through the windows). Also check out the new interactive features scattered around the exhibit.
  3. Book a themed tour of the city. These are hot tickets, so reserve your spot early!
  4. Help support the museum by patronizing its newly expanded gift shop.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Ford Freedom Rotunda
#4 - Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History - the world's largest museum dedicated to the history and experience of African Americans.

     What to know:
  1. Admission rates: $5 for kids 3-12 and seniors 62+, $8 for adults, free for kids under 3. Membership packages available.
  2. No photography is allowed beyond the Ford Freedom Rotunda
  3. Some subject matter is very serious and might upset sensitive children
     What to do:
  1. The And Still We Rise exhibit is absolutely not to be missed, and worth a visit of its own accord. The exhibit chronicles the African journey from Africa to the United States, from being captured, throughout slavery, the Underground Railroad, and more. 
  2. Check the museum's website calendar for a schedule of events, such as lectures, films, and concerts.
  3. Talk to the amazing docents, they are very knowledgeable and willing to share their wisdom.
Motown Museum - Hitsville U.S.A.
#5 - Motown Museum The music industry played out an important chapter of its history right here in the D. It all started with one man, Barry Gordy, in a house on West Grand Boulevard - home, to this day, of Hitsville, U.S.A. and the Motown Museum. A visit to this museum and original Motown Records recording studio and offices is a fascinating experience only to be had in Detroit.

     What to know:
  1. Admission rates: $8 for kids 5-12 and seniors 62+, $10 for adults. Group discounts available.
  2. No photography is allowed within the building.
  3. Tours last approximately one hour and are lead by extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides.
     What to do:
  1. Shop the museum gift shop for unique t-shirts and gifts.
  2. Ask questions! The guides are happy to provide answers to all your Motown questions.
Alysia George is a Michigan blogger and mom of four, living and playing in Metro Detroit. You can visit her blog, MichiGal, to read more about her love of Detroit, her travels, her mom moments, and whatever else happens to be on her mind on any given day.


Amanda O. said...

This is a great list...and an awesome idea to feature different cities. I look forward to seeing what's next!

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