24-Hour Guide to Detroit
See why the Motor City is one of the country's hottest travel destinations.
I've long been romanced by the city of Detroit, as part of my family settled there in the late 19th century. But besides my personal ties, the city is flat-out cool. The art scene is unique, vibrant restaurants and bars are sprouting up all over and the downtown area is mounting a comeback that should inspire every traveler out there.
To appreciate the renaissance taking place in Detroit today, it's important to remember that in 2013, the Motor City literally had to declare bankruptcy. Many fled for opportunities elsewhere, and the once majestic city that was a shining beacon for American ingenuity and innovation was forced to let its buildings and neighborhoods slowly slip into disarray. Suffice it to say, at this point, no one wanted to visit Detroit.
That's all changing now, though. Those who stayed have helped transform the narrative of Detroit, and travel publications are touting the city as a must-visit destination. Is the city 100-percent back to the way it was in its heyday when it was the fourth-largest in the country? No. But, like our friends over at HGTV often say, it has “good bones,” and bright, talented folks are rolling up their sleeves and building wonderful things on the sturdy foundation left behind. After all, the city's motto is: "We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes."
If you're thinking about heading to Detroit, consider my 24-hour itinerary below, but I recommend talking to locals around town for tips. Everyone I ran into was welcoming and extremely proud of their city, so they definitely won't point you in the wrong direction.
Every trip needs to start with a well-caffeinated morning, right? If you're staying in a hotel downtown, head over to ASHE Supply Co. where they offer a wide range of coffee using beans from Hawaii, Costa Rica and Guatemala. The attention to detail in every cup they serve is impressive. I also recommend Astro Coffee in the popular Corktown neighborhood. The cozy shop offers coffee from roasters all around the country. If you need a small bite to eat, they can accommodate with baked goods and sandwiches.
Now that you've had your coffee, it's time to put that fitness tracker to good use. Head towards the riverfront area, and notice the detail of the high-rise buildings along the way. They don't make them like that anymore. Stop by the iconic Spirit of Detroit statue for a quick photo, then continue past the monument to Joe Louis, known as "The Fist." Just past the monument is Hart Plaza, which, depending on when you visit, hosts festivals and concerts. The riverfront area is peaceful and offers great views of the Detroit River and Canada.
Another hot spot you should consider checking out is Eastern Market, which is the oldest farmer's market in the country. Thousands of people visit to pick out fresh produce and take in the local art on display. Once you've picked out your veggies, check out more art around town by visiting the Heidelberg Project, the Belt and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Brunch + Lunch
The Dime Store is tucked away inside of a larger building downtown, so you would probably walk right past it if you weren't looking for it. Luckily, I stumbled upon this place and snagged a table right before the midday rush. As the line grew in the lobby, I realized this was a good decision. The menu is sourced from local providers or from nearby cities like Ann Arbor and Chicago. The beer list is locals-only, as well. When you look at the menu, start with the "Bennys" section, and trust me on this one -- order the Cheesesteak Eggs Benedict. The combination of steak, onion, cheese, poached eggs and hollandaise is like a warm hug on a cold day. I'll be back for this dish.
Concerts + Sports
There's no shortage of concert venues in Detroit. This is the birthplace of Motown after all. Check out the iconic Fox Theatre and the elegant Fillmore, and you'll be blown away by the ambiance. During my trip, I saw a show at the Masonic Theater and the history of the building is worth the price of admission alone. Completed in 1926, the Masonic Temple is the largest of its kind in the world, and you'll want to linger outside before the show to take photos of the architecture. Inside, the old-school features continue and you'll feel like you've stepped back in time.
Detroit is a sports town. With the NBA's Detroit Pistons and NHL's Detroit Red Wings moving into a brand-new arena downtown, all four of the city's major sports teams are now within walking distance of each other. Depending on the time of year that you visit, purchase tickets for whoever is playing and make plans to hang out at the bars and restaurants around the venues. The gameday buzz is intoxicating, making you a fan of the local teams in no time.
Lady of the House is a new restaurant that has opened in Detroit, and chef Kate Williams is doing exciting things at her Corktown establishment. Look for the glowing red "Lady" sign and enter through the double wooden doors where you'll find an intimate setting that reminded me more of a home than a restaurant. Arrive a little early before your reservation so you can sit at the bar and order a drink (or two) and chat with the bartenders.
Once seated at your table, order two to three plates off the dinner menu, as they're small enough to share. But if the prime rib for two is available, I would recommend that. Food is served on plates that will remind you of ones your grandmother saved for special occasions. And like dinner at Grandma's, you're going to want to save room for dessert. The rum cake is an excellent choice, but I say go bold and order the potato donuts. They're a game-changer.
After dinner at the Lady of the House, it only makes sense to have drinks at the Sugar House, which is only a short 15-minute walk away. The bar features plenty of exposed brick, dark wood and taxidermy on the walls. It's an ode to the way things used to be, and the same thing can be said for the cocktails, where their list of classics is extensive. Play it safe with one of those, or order up a mixed drink named after a literary classic, such as the Great Gatsby (Suze, Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, vodka, tonic, grapefruit spray) or Breakfast at Tiffany's (London dry gin, blue mango tea syrup, lemon, egg white, blue curacao).