Adventure | A Guide to Detroit in a Day

Detail of the Guardian Building.  

Detail of the Guardian Building.  

After getting back from Alberta, we made a short trip to Southern Ontario. It was a combination of family visits, work and play. Long before this trip, we had been wanting to go to Detroit, so we took the opportunity. Detroit was our playground for a day, and we're certainly pleased it was. We would love to get back again soon.

You often hear dismal media reports about Detroit and not enough of the GOOD. It's a city rich in history and has so much to offer right NOW. That's not to say you shouldn't be vigilant like you would in any other large city, but you certainly shouldn't stay away. Come to Detroit, and you'll be delighted to find urban treasures from architectural gems to speakeasies and great restaurants that are all bustling. There is certainly a feeling of revival throughout the city with an influx of tight-knit creatives. There is a movement towards craftsmanship and community. You'll find gems in pockets if you take the time to look. 

As I mentioned, we only had one day (but are craving more time). This guide is short and sweet, but we hope you'll take an adventure to the Motor City soon. 

Bicycle beauty at Shinola. 

Bicycle beauty at Shinola. 

We didn't have a ton of time to shop in Detroit, but here are a few picks from the Cass Corridor that we LOVED with their classic American appeal. There are lots of indie shops Downtown and in Corktown as well. 

Head over to West Canfield Street (Cass Corridor in Midtown) and you'll find a pocket of great shops and restaurants that will fill a good portion of your day. Willy's and Shinola Detroit are sister stores on the same strip that proudly carry American made goods. They are distinct and well-designed (and made).

At Willy's you'll find classic, style-minded clothing and accessories. At Shinola you'll find their famous watches and bicycles, as well as notebooks and other leather goods. They provide tours of the facility and offer custom stamping on goods you purchase for free. We had our notebooks stamped in gold foil, of course. +

In the same strip across from Willy's and Shinola, you'll find City Bird + Nest. City Bird houses a collection of goods that profess major love for Detroit and Michigan (and other Rust Belt Cities). The majority of the housewares, paper goods, clothing, accessories are locally sourced by Michigan's talented makers. Plus, they make their own line of goods. My favourite item was the the 'Say Good Things About Detroit' mug. The collection here is lovely. The equally lovely Nest shop next door has everything you need for home decor.

Other Notable Stops: Eastern Market and Goods Detroit.

Card wall with mad love for Michigan at City Bird. 

Card wall with mad love for Michigan at City Bird. 

The Detroit Institute of Arts was our primary stop for this trip, but the city has many great galleries and museums. A city so rich in history has much to offer in the way of architecture (Art Deco to Frank Lloyd Wright) and music. Do your research and break out the core to see it all if you have more than a day. Here are a few central stops.

Wow! Just wow. I've studied Art History for years and been to a fair share of Art Galleries and Museums around the world; the Detroit Institute of Arts runs high in the ranks in terms of collection and facility in my books. This gallery DID NOT disappoint. You'll find a vast collection that includes textbook and pristine examples of Medieval to Contemporary art, but my favourite was seeing Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry in person in the Rivera Court. It's stunning, humbling and you could take hours studying the detail. You've seen the photos, but nothing can prepare you for the real deal. It's worth the trip, alone. 

A few other things I loved about the DIA. It's free for Michigan residents. Plus, the whole collection is presented in a way that is accessible for every type of visitor. By that, I mean periods and pieces are broken down using interactive tableaus that allow children, beginners and experts a way to easily digest the information and learn in a relaxing environment. They also have an Eye Spy game for kids throughout the gallery which was fun, and much appreciated when traveling with kids. Don't miss the virtual/interactive dinner table in the Decorative Arts Collection and the great gift shop upon your departure.

The Guardian Building, or the Cathedral of Finance, is one of the finest and ornate examples of Art Deco that you'll find in America.  It's unusual with it's brick facade and Aztec influenced interior, but the detail is stunning and well-preserved. The interior ceiling and stained-glass give the building its Cathedral nickname. It's a National Historic Landmark that shouldn't be missed.

Head to Heidelberg Street where you'll find a neighbourhood that's dedicated to revitalizing it's community and promoting the arts by making the homes themselves, living works of art. The two-block area uses discarded objects to create an area full of vibrancy and intrigue. This project has been on-going for 29 years and is recognized worldwide for how the power of creativity can transform lives.

Other Notable Stops: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Riverwalk, Penobscot Building and Hart Plaza.

Get up close and personal with Van Gogh's portrait of Postman Roulin. 

Get up close and personal with Van Gogh's portrait of Postman Roulin. 

A delicious foodie scene awaits in Detroit. Humble to world-class. Here are a few spots to satisfy your appetite throughout the day. 

Beat the throngs of brunchers (think Portlandia style) and get to this spot early. Named one of Detroit's Restaurant of the Year in 2015, the Selden Standard offers a rustic and casual atmosphere to enjoy local, seasonal and shareable food. How does Grapefruit and Avocado Salad sound? Maybe try the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes.

In the same strip on Canfield West as mentioned above, are two breweries with great craft beer and food. Check out the famous Motor City Brewing Works for beer and pizza. It's Detroit's oldest operating brewery.

Or, visit the Detroit treasure since 1965, Traffic Jam & Snug. A curious spot that offers a brewery, bakery and dairy and from-scratch dishes. You can even visit the observation deck to see where they make their famous beer and cheese that use the same equipment in a unique process. 

If you have time, sample the brew selections at both! +

Head over to Corktown, Detroit's oldest neighbourhood, to sample gin and whiskey from Two James Spirits and perhaps take some home (save your receipts if you're heading back to Canada). The friendly tasting room offers flights and house-made cocktails. They're commited to revitalizing the city and the craft movement with their high-quality spirits, operating in the first licensed distillery in Detroit since the Prohibition.

Also in Corktown, in a strip of hip shops and restaurants, you'll find Slows BBQ. If only have time to eat at one place in Detroit, come here. 

They have a seemingly endless list of craft beer on tap. Ask your server for a recommendation and pair it with slow cooked southern food which includes hefty and delicious briskets, sandwiches and ribs. Try the sides that include mac n' cheese, waffle fries, apple sauce and blackeyed peas. 

It's located across the street from Michigan Central Station which has long since been abandoned, but is a must-see. One of the most photographed buildings in Detroit, it's a reminder of the past. There is a park that was once a bustling gathering place out front. Slows Bar B Q is involved in several initiatives to see that park revitalized. If you parked in the secured lot, a portion of it will go to the park.

Other Notable Stops: Avalon International Breads, Drought Juice, Le Petit Zinc, Mudgie's, Lafayette Coney Island and Cafe D'Mongos Speakeasy. 

Slows Bar B Q in Corktown. 

Slows Bar B Q in Corktown. 

As I said, we only had one day, but we'll be exploring more of Detroit in the coming months as we head south again. Like any city, there is just too much to see in one trip alone.

Have some suggestions for our next trip? Let us know!