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To the world, Detroit is usually regarded as the home of cars and Motown music. But this gritty Midwestern city offers a full list of options for the adventurous traveler.
Within a one-hour flight from Midway or O'Hare or a 260-mile drive or train ride from Chicago, Detroit offers an art museum that ranks among the country's top five and a new downtown baseball stadium, plus less obvious gems scattered throughout the city, from a 1,000-acre island park in the middle of the Detroit River to a historic pottery that has produced renowned ceramics since the Arts and Crafts era.
Meanwhile, three Las Vegas-style casinos and a burgeoning theater district are breathing new life into a once-desolate downtown, while just west of the city, the world's largest indoor-outdoor history museum attracts over one million visitors a year.
And due to an anomaly of geography, the Canadian city of Windsor is just south of the Motor City across the Detroit River. A short bridge or tunnel ride away, Windsor boasts nightlife, many fine restaurants and its own casino.
On the Detroit side, the city will celebrate its 300th birthday this July with fireworks, a fleet of tall ships and a re-enactment of its 1701 founding by French explorer Cadillac, who two centuries later gave his name to a line of luxury cars.
One caveat: Since this is the home of the automobile, you'll need one to get around. Attractions are spread out and public transit consists of the occasional bus plus a small elevated light rail system, the People Mover, which loops downtown.
Henceforth, we offer some suggestions to make a trip here whether you're traveling solo, as a couple or as a family. Granted, there's overlap, but something to get you going (All addresses are within the Detroit city limits unless noted otherwise.):
Singles and others looking for laughs can find them in a place with a familiar name, the Detroit branch of Chicago's famed Second City (2301 Woodward Ave.; 313-965-2222), right across from Comerica Park, the Detroit Tiger's new den.
The best place to catch national headliners is at Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle (269 E. 4th St.; 248-542-9900) in the nearby northern suburb of Royal Oak. This town's many coffeehouses, restaurants, galleries and clubs also make its Main Street a youthful entertainment destination.
While still known for creating the 1960s black pop sound known as Motown, Detroit can also claim to be the 1980s birthplace of the electronic dance music known as techno. Among the places to hear it is at Motor Lounge (3515 Caniff Ave.; 313-369-0090), a club tucked improbably in Hamtramck, a once-solidly Polish enclave within the city. Techno and electronic music also get their own festival on the riverfront Hart Plaza over Memorial Day weekend; last year's drew upwards of 900,000 fans.
For the best listings for events and clubs, from downtown's St. Andrew's Hall (431 E. Congress St.; 313-961-MELT) to suburban Pontiac's Clutch Cargo's (65 E. Huron; 248-333-2362), check the local papers and the Metro Times, the area's free alternative weekly.
As for the original Motown sound, it began in a converted blue-and-white house called Hitsville USA in the city's midtown area. Now open as the Motown Museum (2648 W. Grand Blvd.; 313-875-2264), it's faithful to the way it looked in the 1960s when it was home to such stars as Stevie Wonder, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye.
Along Woodward Avenue, the city's main drag, is its museum district, anchored by the well-regarded Detroit Institute of Arts (5200 Woodward Ave.; 313-833-7900). The fifth largest museum in the country, the DIA's 100 galleries offer a world-class collection from prehistoric art to late 20th Century sculpture plus Diego Rivera's giant "Detroit Industry" frescoes.
A block away is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History (315 E. Warren Ave.; 313-494-5800). The largest of its kind in the world, the MAAH presents the black experience from slavery to present day.
In between is the Detroit Science Center (5020 John R.; 313-577-8400). Under renovation, it will reopen in late July after a $30 million project to more than double its size. Among its new facilities will be a planetarium.
Though little remains of the city's pre-Civil War past, visitors seeking a look back can wander the Streets of Old Detroit exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum (5401 Woodward Ave.; 313-833-1805), located kitty-cornered from the art institute.
Families spending time here in the city's Cultural Center, may also want to make a short stop at the Children's Museum (67 E. Kirby St.; 313-873-8100). Just north of the DIA, it's the building with the seven-foot tall horse out front made from chrome car bumpers.
Art lovers will also want to seek out Pewabic Pottery (10125 E. Jefferson Ave.; 313-822-0954). Founded in 1903 by Mary Chase Stratton and famed for its iridescent glazes, the pottery continues to make decorative tiles and vessels for individuals and corporate clients. It also houses three galleries, a museum and gift shop.
There's one more cultural stop that lies some 20 miles north on Woodward, nestled in the affluent suburb of Bloomfield Hills. It's called Cranbrook (1221 N. Woodward Ave.; 248-645-3200) and its 315-acre campus is a delight for fans of art and architecture.
Begun in the 1920s for a local newspaper titan by the Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen, Cranbrook quietly offers up a museum, a science institute, schools and historic homes in a soothing blend of warm brick, reflecting pools and graceful bronze statues.
Back downtown, the pace picks up in Detroit's renovated theater district, with venues from the flamboyant 5,000-seat Fox Theater (2211 Woodward Ave.; 313-983-6611) to the cozy 400-seat Gem Theatre (333 Madison Ave.; 313-963-9800). Local developer Chuck Forbes pushed reluctant city fathers to create the district in the 1980s and then had to save the Gem twice from the wrecking ball. The last time was in 1997 when it was threatened by the new Comerica Park, so Forbes had the Gem and the adjoining Century Club moved five blocks away so both could continue to offer cabaret-style revues.
Across from the Gem stands the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts (350 Madison; 313-963-7680). Restored in 1995, it offers a regular season of concerts, drama and dance and puts on the Detroit International Jazz Festival every Labor Day weekend on the downtown riverfront's Hart Plaza. It draws more than 750,000 and is the largest free jazz event in North America.
Two blocks away, the old Grand Circus Theatre, abandoned in the 1980s, was gloriously redone to the tune of $25 million as the 2,700-seat Detroit Opera House (1526 Broadway; 313-961-8748). The home of the Michigan Opera Theatre, it was reopened in 1996 by Luciano Pavarotti and attracts international stars each season.
Nearby, too, is the State Theatre (2115 Woodward Ave.; 313-961-5450), which hosts more amplified concerts for the younger set and, in April, the Detroit Music Awards.
Orchestra Hall saved
But the city's original and likely best preservation story is a short ride up Woodward to Orchestra Hall (3711 Woodward Ave.; 313-576-5111), the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra . Built for the symphony in 1919, the acoustically perfect hall became a jazz venue in the late 1930s and, by the early 1970s, was days from being flattened for a pizza parlor. But a DSO bassoonist led a campaign to save and restore it, and the orchestra moved back in 1989.
As for the Fox, which hosted Motown's Christmas concerts in the 1960s, it now draws big name shows all year long and the Rockettes at Christmas while serving as the headquarters for pizza magnate Mike Ilitch. The pepperoni baron also owns the NHL Red Wings, who play in Joe Louis Arena downtown, and the Tigers who next month start their second season in their new stadium across from the Fox.
Built at a cost of $360 million and named for a local bank, Comerica Park also offers several restaurants, a carousel for kids and a Ferris wheel with baseball-shaped cars.
Next to it, work is under way on another stadium, the domed Ford Field, which next year will be the new home of the Detroit Lions, who now play in the suburban Silverdome.
While the city gambles on such big projects to reinvigorate its fortunes, it also believes it has an ace up its sleeve: Three new downtown gambling casinos.
Wags note that one--the MGM Grand (1300 John C. Lodge; 313-393-7777)--is housed in a former IRS office building while a second--the Motor City Casino (2901 W. Grand River Ave.; 313-237-7111)--makes its bread in a former bread factory. The third is several blocks west and takes its name from the city's Greektown restaurant and shopping row (555 E. Lafayette; 888-771-4386).
Couples and families not looking to break the bank will want to head to one of the area's most enduring attractions, the sprawling Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village complex (20900 Oakwood Blvd.; 313-271-1620) just west of the city in Dearborn.
There, more than a million visitors annually enjoy the indoor museum with its main floor homage to automotive history and related culture, including a full-sized diner. The Ford Museum also contains one of the area's two Imax Theaters, currently featuring a six-story movie tribute to that famed Chicagoan, Michael Jordan; the other domed IMAX venue is under renovation at the Detroit Science Center.
Meanwhile, adjacent Greenfield Village brings together historic American homes and buildings in a park-like setting with horse-drawn wagons, Model Ts, a steam train and a paddlewheel river boat along with costumed interpreters demonstrating life from a bygone era. As part of the village's quirky nature, in October they'll unveil a restored Dymaxion House designed by R. Buckminster Fuller.
Detroit also boasts two good zoos, one suburban and one urban. Both are owned by the city, with the largest, the Detroit Zoo in suburban Royal Oak (Woodward Avenue at 10 Mile Road; 248-398-0900). Must-sees amid its 125 acres include the great ape and chimp exhibits, the penguinarium, the indoor butterfly and hummingbird garden, and the amphibian center.
The smaller Belle Isle Zoo (Central Avenue at Tanglewood Street; 248-398-0900), which reopens May 1, is on the city's large island park of the same name and is operated by the Detroit Zoo. Two miles east of downtown and accessible by bridge, the large urban park in the middle of the Detroit River was designed by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead in 1882. The zoo's most notable feature is a 3/4-mile elevated boardwalk that allows visitors to walk above the animals to disturb them less.
Though mostly bucolic with wild deer roaming its forested east end, Belle Isle also serves as a prime spot for watching the "thunderboats" that will race on the river in July and for the annual Detroit Grand Prix, which takes over the west end of the island in June.
Here, too, is the small Dossin Great Lakes Museum (100 Strand Dr.; 313-852-4051) and the Belle Isle Aquarium (Loiter Way at Inselruhe Avenue; 248-398-0900), the nation's oldest freshwater aquarium.
The old and the new
As you'd expect, the Detroit metro area offers countless opportunities for car buffs, beginning every January with the giant North American International Auto Show. This weeklong annual spectacle spotlights more than 500 new cars and concept vehicles amid lavish sets inside downtown's cavernous Cobo Center.
Those seeking restored old cars can find them at the Henry Ford Museum, the Detroit Historical Museum (where they're displayed next to a two-story slice of a GM assembly line) and in suburban Auburn Hills at the new Walter P. Chrysler Museum (Squirrel and Featherstone Roads; 888-456-1924), on the grounds of DaimlerChrysler headquarters.
Those who like to watch their vintage vehicles in motion should mark their calendars for two events in August. On the first Sunday of the month, it's the annual Concours d'Elegance surrounding Meadow Brook Hall (at Oakland University, Squirrel Road and Walton Boulevard; 248-370-3140), a 100-room Tudor mansion built by the widow of auto pioneer John Dodge in suburban Rochester. The Concours shows off the world's most elegant and rare vintage automobiles and racecars and is second only to the one in Pebble Beach, Calif.
A sidenote: Besides touring Meadow Brook Hall, visitors wanting to see how the auto barons lived are also welcome at Henry Ford's Fair Lane estate in Dearborn (4901 Evergreen Road; 313-593-5590) and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House (1100 Lake Shore Road; 313-884-4222) overlooking Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores.
Finally, not far from where America's first mile of concrete highway was poured, the annual Woodward Dream Cruise (888-WDC-1963) attracts more than 20,000 classic cars, street rods and muscle cars on the third Saturday of every August.
The cruise runs along Woodward Avenue, the metro area's main drag, from the Oakland County suburb of Ferndale (just past the Detroit city limits) north out to the suburb of Pontiac and back again.
This unique rolling event recalls the boulevard's heyday during the 1960s when kids cruised the strip for burgers and Cokes while Big Three engineers matched horsepower in contests with local drag racers.
These days, things are much more sedate as the suburbs along Woodward host car-related family events and thousands line the curbs along the 30-mile-long loop to watch the passing parade. After all, this is Detroit.
IF YOU GO
- Metropolitan Detroit Convention & Visitor's Bureau: 800-DETROIT
- Detroit 300 Events: 877-DET-2001 or www.detroit300.org
- Windsor Convention & Visitor's Bureau: 800-265-3633
SPECIAL EVENTS WILL MARK CITY'S 300TH BIRTHDAY
As the oldest city in the Midwest, Detroit is celebrating its 300th birthday this year.
Founded in 1701, the city began its tricentennial festivities on New Year's Eve with the opening of a 100-year-old time capsule on the stage of historic Orchestra Hall, the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
A high-profile committee, headed by auto scion Edsel Ford II, is coordinating the year-long Detroit 300 celebration, which peaks in July with a month of events.
They include a series of concerts by returning celebrities, the symphony and an 800-voice gospel choir, a visit by a flotilla of tall ships along the Detroit River and a July 24 re-enactment of the landing by French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac to found a fort and fur trading post along the strait, or d'etroit.
Barring rain, the July 22 parade of historic ships along the river is likely to be the most picturesque event. Even the Detroit Tigers, who commemorate 100 years of American League baseball this year, have something special planned.
As part of the celebration, organizers are also creating a $15 million fund to beautify city neighborhoods and set up an endowment to maintain and enhance the area's green spaces.
Someone is also sure to recall the 1779 capture by the British forces at the fort of one Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, who was believed to be spying for the Americans during the Revolutionary War.
Du Sable was finally released to eventually head west into the wilderness to found a city of his own on the southern shore of Lake Michigan called Chicago.
For information on Detroit 300 events, call 877-DET-2001 or visit www.detroit300.org on the Web.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING DETROIT
The metropolitan Detroit area has a wide range of accommodations, from expensive European-styled hotels to rooms 70 stories above the downtown riverfront to reasonably priced suites. All of the national chains have hotels and motels here, though most are in the western and northern suburbs.
Here are some suggestions:
($225 to $2,000)
The Townsend Hotel, 100 Townsend St., Birmingham; 800-548-4172 or 248-642-7900; www.townsend.com.
Luxurious small hotel with 87 rooms and marble-tiled baths in upscale northern suburb. Home to casually elegant Rugby Grille, one of the area's best restaurants; afternoon tea. Ten minutes to Cranbrook or downtown Royal Oak and Detroit Zoo.
The Ritz-Carlton, 300 Town Center Dr., Dearborn; 800-241-3333 or 313-441-2000; www.ritzcarlton.com.
Newer but traditionally elegant Ritz with 308 rooms. Pool, sauna, whirlpool plus tennis and racquetball privileges. Five minutes to Henry Ford estate, Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village and 20 minutes to downtown Detroit.
($115 to $225)
The Atheneum, 1000 Brush Ave., Detroit; 800-772-2323 or 313-962-2323; www.atheneumsuitehotel.com.
Luxury suite hotel with 174 rooms in the heart of downtown Detroit. Adjacent to New Orleans-style Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Cafe, Greektown restaurant district and casino.
Courtyard by Marriott, Millender Center, 333 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 800-228-9290 or 313-222-7700; www.marriott.com.
Sleek 250-room hotel with seven-story glass atrium containing People Mover stop. Heated pool, tennis courts (fee). Across from Renaissance Center. Close to casinos, theater district.
Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center, Renaissance Center, East Jefferson and Brush Streets, Detroit; 800-228-9290 or 313-568-8000; www.marriott.com
70-story tower with 1,342 rooms overlooks downtown Detroit, the river and Windsor, Ontario, surrounded by General Motors headquarters.
The Dearborn Inn Marriott, 20301 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn; 800-228-9290 or 313-271-2700; www.marriott.com.
This elegant historic facility has 222 rooms and several Colonial-style cottages available amid park-like 23 acres. Heated pool, tennis courts. Dining room and restaurant. Three minutes from Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.
Hyatt Regency Dearborn, Fairlane Rd., Dearborn; 800-532-1498; www.hyatt.com.
Across Southfield freeway from Ford Motor Co. headquarters, this Hyatt has 772 rooms around a several-story atrium. Heated pool, sauna, whirlpool. Five minutes to Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.
Holiday Inn Select-Auburn Hills, 1500 Opdyke Rd., Auburn Hills; 800-HOLIDAY or 248-373-4550; www.basshotel.com.
190 rooms, heated pool. Near Pontiac Silverdome (Detroit Lions). 10 minutes to Chrysler Museum, Meadow Brook Hall; 15 minutes to Cranbrook.
($65 to $115)
Amerisuites, 1545 Opdyke Rd., Auburn Hills; 800-833-1516 or 248-475-9393; www.amerisuites.com.
128 suite rooms, breakfast lobby, heated pool, exercise equipment.
Greenfield Inn Best Western, 3000 Enterprise Dr., Allen Park; 800-342-5802 or 313-271-1600; www.bestwestern.com.
209 rooms. Restaurant; heated pool, sauna, whirlpool. Right off Interstate Highway 94 freeway from airport and 10 minutes to Henry Ford estate, Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.
Hampton Inn Dearborn, 20061 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 800-426-7866 or 313-436-9600; www.hampton-inn.com.
Spacious 119-room facility. Heated pool. Destination Detroit