18 Must Do’s in Detroit “Comeback City” USA

Globe at the Detroit Public Library

Globe at the Detroit Public Library

Mark my words, 15 years from now all of you who pride yourself on being on the cutting edge, on having the inside track, who give yourself kudos for being somewhere “before everyone else” are going to be kicking yourselves (and hard) for not getting in on the Detroit scene – right now.

As I wrote about in 16 Reasons to Go to Detroit Right Now and in the follow up article (15 Reasons to Go to Detroit Right Now), what Detroit insiders know and what others will likely learn too late is – The Motor City is on the verge of kicking some major ass. They are the United States of America’s Comeback City. Here is just a teeny tiny sampling of what Detroit Rock City has to offer:

Drink in Harry Houdini’s Old Magic Store

Opened in 1879 as a jewelry store, transformed into train ticket station in 1910  and rumored to be the former location of Harry Houdini’s magic shop, Grand Trunk Pub serves up Michigan beer and delish bar food to the numerous locals who hang there. Insiders tip: Go to the second floor and grab the table at the railing for the best view.

Buy a House for $1000

Don’t believe me? Check it: http://buildingdetroit.org/Home. Gather all your hipster urban friends and buy a block.

The Bus Where Rosa Parks Changed the Course of History

The Bus Where Rosa Parks Changed the Course of History

See Rosa Parks Bus (and the Place I used to go to Brownie Camp)

I have zero idea why my mom did this, but when I was in elementary school she decided to be my Brownie Leader. (Why not take on another 20 girls when she already had four at home?)

The annual Brownie highlight was an overnight at The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, arguably the best place in the U.S. to explore American history.

The Henry Ford Museum holds, amongst countless other treasures of our nation’s past, the Presidential Cars (including the car Kennedy was shot in), the bus where Rosa Parks changed history, the evolution of the car seat, the beginnings of American road trips and some of the first attempts at mobile homes. (And this is just the tippity tip of the American history iceberg they have housed there.)

p.s. I don’t think The Henry Ford Museum got the memo re: all museums are required to have both horrible and expensive food because I enjoyed a huge plate of cooked veggies – for only $6.

Watch a F-150 Be Built and See One of the Largest Living Roof Tops in the World (in the Same Place)

Somehow after four decades of Detroit I had never seen a vehicle manufactured.

Good news is, when you go to The Henry Ford a quick shuttle that takes you to the Ford Rouge Plant to see the quintessential American vehicle being built: the Ford F150. (I found seeing how the windshield was installed to be particularly fascinating.)

After completing the tour, don’t miss one of the largest living roof tops in the world. This roof is far from just a stop on a sightseeing tour.  It helps curtail the “heat effect” caused by the plant’s paved areas, it insulates the building from heat and cold to help reduce energy costs by 5%, it helps trap dust and dirt, it creates oxygen, it is a place for birds, butterflies and insects to call  home and it absorbs carbon dioxide.

Kind of makes the roof over your head look like a bit of an underachiever now doesn’t it?

Awesome Places For Your Sleepy Head

There are two types of people who need to spend the night in Detroit:

  1. Those who visit Detroit
  2. Those who live in Detroit

Here are three totally different ideas as to where you can do this:

MotorCity Casino: One of the three major casinos in the Detroit area and the one that is typically priced in the middle of the pack. My sisters, my brother-in-law and I entertained ourselves for a solid two (and fairly hilarious) hours trying our luck at maximizing our $25 gambling investment (that is total, not each) in their casino. Twenty five dollars down and a few fruity drinks later, we scooted up the elevator to enjoy our cush rooms, with fun views and the perfect end to a great night in The D.

The Westin Book Cadillac was THE place in Detroit’s heyday. When the city hit bad times, so did the hotel and it lay dormant for years. Now, thanks to The Westin, The Book Cadillac is restored to its glory days giving Detroiters and Detroit visitors a fabulous place to visit AND stay. On the ground floor is Michael Symon’s, Roast – a restaurant consistently rated one of the best in Detroit. (May I highly suggest their sides of macaroni and cheese, and brussel sprouts if you are looking for some happy hour or appetizer treats.) The Book Cadillac also has a pool, a hot tub, a spa, a bar, a more casual restaurant and an extremely comfy hotel room waiting for you when you are ready to call it a day (or night).

Inn on Ferry Street – Located on, you guessed it, Ferry Street are four gorgeous transformed Victorian homes. The gorgeous central house is where to chat with the folks who staff the Inn and where to enjoy the breakfast you are absolutely not going to want to miss. (Maybe skip dinner to make sure you have extra space to enjoy every morsel.) You stay the night in one of the three other beautifully finished homes. As an added bonus – The Inn on Ferry Street is a few blocks from the Detroit Institute of Arts and would be the perfect place to stay after Friday Night Live.

Motor City Casino Napkins of the Best Napkins Ever

Motor City Casino Napkins of the Best Napkins Ever

Go Snowboarding

Little known fact? Part of the chairlift I used to ride in Vail, Colorado is now taking people up the mountain of one of Vail Resorts newest acquistions – Mt. Brighton outside of Detroit.

What I love about Vail Resorts is they do everything consistently well. Whether it is at one of the biggest ski resorts in the world or one of the smaller ones, the Vail Resorts touch is impossible to miss – great lifts, great rentals, great facilities for warming up and filling up – and of course, great snow. Mt. Brighton might not be the grandest mountain in the U.S. but it might quite possibly be one of the best (and least expensive) places to teach the little ones (or the big ones) how to ski or ride.

And true to Vail Resort style fun is not just for the winter time. Check out Mt. Brighton’s Golf Course, mountain biking events and beer festivals for summatime good times.

The Most Brilliant and Non-Traditional Breakfast

One of my most memorable breakfasts was a veggie noodle bowl in the Taipei airport. It was warm, but not too filling, nutritious but not at all boring, inexpensive yet creative and of course, it came with noodles (!).

Since departing Taipei I hadn’t come across anything similar until I discovered the Flytrap in Ferndale. Made extra famous via its appearance on the TV show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the Flytrap serves up the breakfast (or lunch if you so choose) I discovered in Taiwan. They call it the Lemongrass Faux Bowl and you need to get yourself one – faux sure.

Cafe Con Leche, Detroit

Cafe Con Leche, Detroit

Have Barcelona Coffee

A little town outside of Barcelona is what made me fall in love with coffee. To my delight, in Detroit, I found that coffee at Café con Leche, a coffee shop owned and operated by a man from, you guessed it – Barcelona. If you love coffee or Barcelona or both –check out Café con Leche.

No-Wait Breakfast

My version of how the word “brunch” came to be? From the countless fools who wait inordinate amounts of time to eat the first meal of their day only to figure out that by the time they are actually eating it – it is closer to the time for the second one.

Anyone who thinks waiting 45 to 90 minutes for eggs and waffles is pure nonsense needs to head to Alex’s in Berkley. Don’t expect any yuppie-ized version of those eggs and waffles, but don’t expect a wait either.

Bagel 101

Oh how sorry Detroiters feel for the less fortunate parts of the country that think bagels are something made by places named Bruegger’s or Einstein’s.

Thanks to Detroit’s large Jewish population the Motor City is well supplied with these bready, donut shaped wonders. Want to know what they are supposed to taste like? Try New York Bagel Deli or Elaine’s Bagels in Ferndale or Berkley, respectively.

p.s. Although I have not tried them personally, The Detroit Institute of Bagels is rumored to be fabulous.

A Glorious, Unexpected Urban Oasis

Ann Arbor is home to the world renowned, University of Michigan where most can’t get in (I didn’t even bother applying) but all should at least visit.  (Their striking gothic style law quadrangle is consistently a crowd pleaser.) Also, not to be missed is the Ann Arbor Nichols Arboretum. This natural area has numerous short (or long) walks through wooded paths  that wind along a river. (It really is as ideal as it sounds.) The short hikes are less than a half mile and can loop into bigger hikes if desired (or not). It is a memorable escape to the natural world, a five minute drive from the center of Ann Arbor.

Detroit Soap Company

Detroit Soap Company

Soap Made with Cabernet (aka the Best Soap Ever)

Just a few genius things about the Detroit Soap Company:

They have one soap that is made out of two of my most favorite  things Jasmine and Cabernet (yes, that Cabernet).

They have other soaps made of  Eucalyptus + Spearmint and yet another made of Cherry + Chocolate.

In the competition of best most genius packaging ever – they are the hands down – the uncontested winner.

Go See How the Other 100% Live

Not long after September 11th, the Detroit area Middle Eastern restaurants that I (and everyone I know) has eaten at for years, changed their menus and signs. Pre-September 11th they were Middle Eastern restaurants; post-September 11th many are Mediterranean restaurants.

If this was not sad enough, their employees who would have previously proudly told you they were from Iraq or Lebanon, are now suddenly from Jerusalem or Greece. And, I will not even get into the infuriating harassment my Arab American friends continue to suffer. These examples, of course, are just a few that demonstrate the enormous and unconscionable impact September 11th had on the lives of millions of Arab Americans.

To put this insanity in perspective, let’s think about this – the world Arab population is estimated at around 360 million. Nineteen terrorists carried out the 9/11 attacks. These 19 people represent 0.00000005% (or effectively 0%) of the Arab community – yet they continue to impact almost the entire population.

But – if education is hope – there is some to be had.

Beautifully done, yet small enough not to feel overwhelming, The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan celebrates what I know is true about the Arab American culture – they are family people, deeply committed to their community, business men and women, inventors, scholars, entertainers,  pioneers and friends.

Some of my favorite things about the museum are the facts and tidbits about the numerous countries that comprise the Arab world (the diversity is astounding), the exhibits on adapting to life in America, as well as the information on Arab Americans who have helped positively shape and change American history. Examples include the founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), Ralph Nader, Christa McAuliffe, Paul Anka, Tiffany, Casey, Kasem, Doug Flutie, the attorney made famous in the Erin Brockovich story, Danny, Marlo and Tony Thomas and so many more.

It is a museum that allows you to just take in little tidbits or dive deep into the details (i.e. my favorite kind of museum) and it is an absolute must-see for anyone who wants to live in and contribute to a more informed and peaceful world.


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