In case you haven’t heard the news, Motor City is making a comeback. In 2015, it was named America’s first UNESCO City of Design, honoring its long legacy and more recent cultural renaissance. The designation spurred Detroit’s creative community as well as interest from investors, who have since opened boutique hotels, excellent restaurants, and shops—many in revitalized historic buildings. Even Ford, which hasn’t built a car in Detroit since 1910, is making a major investment in the city: restoring the abandoned Michigan Central Station and transforming it into a new transportation innovation district. If you happen to find yourself in Detroit, these are the best things to do if you only have 24 hours.
9 a.m.: Start your day with craft coffee and street art in Eastern Market, where massive murals cover the sides of buildings. Get your brew from Germack, which roasts single origin beans in a renovated building in the heart of Eastern Market. If your wanderings take you in the direction of Downtown, be sure to check out the Belt—another street art hub—and the Library Street Collective, the art gallery that creates its programming.
10:30 a.m.: If the street art was like an appetizer, now it’s time for the main course. Hop in an Uber and head up to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the city’s must-visit museum in a Neoclassical building. It might be hard to tear yourself away from Diego Rivera’s monumental Detroit Industry murals in the atrium, but there’s lots more to see. The museum boasts more than 65,000 works of art spanning from ancient times to today.
12:30 p.m.: By now you’ve probably worked up an appetite. For lunch, try one of the city’s specialties: Detroit-style pizza or Coney dogs. Not quite as deep dish as Chicago-style pizza, it’s typically square, thick, crunchy, and loaded with sauce. Try it at Buddy’s or Niki’s Pizza in Greektown. Meat lovers should try a Coney, which is a hot dog topped with chili. Try one at the no frills Lafayette Coney Island or Anthony Bourdain’s favorite spot, Duly’s Place.
2 p.m.: Time for some retail therapy. Detroit may not be the automotive center of the U.S. anymore, but the city is undergoing a renaissance for artisans and designers. The most famous is Shinola, which makes luxury watches and leather goods in the Albert Kahn-designed Argonaut building, where General Motors originally had their design and research lab. Their retail store is located on W. Canfield Street, which is lined with independent boutiques, including Third Man Records founded by Jack White of the White Stripes. If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, stop by Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company.
3:30 p.m.: A quick walk from W. Canfield Street, you’ll find the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. It’s home to Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, which the late Detroit-born artist fashioned after the 1950s ranch-style home where he was raised. Or you might want to visit the Motown Museum to learn all about Hitsville U.S.A.
Alternatively, if you want to continue shopping and are looking for some interesting furniture, take a ride up to Hamtramck to check out the showroom of Woodward Throwbacks. There, in a 24,000-square-foot studio and showroom, Bo Shepherd and Kyle Dubay make quirky cool furniture and doors from salvaged wood and building materials they find around the city.
5:30 p.m.: Happy hour calls. For the ultimate Detroit experience, Shepherd and Dubay recommend the Bronx Bar, an old school dive with a pool table, juke box, and a good selection of beer and bar food. If you’re in the mood for a cocktail, pull up a stool at the Apparatus Room inside the Detroit Foundation Hotel. The talented bartenders shake and stir riffs on the classics, like the Negroni Rosmarino made with gin, Campari, Dolin rouge, grapefruit, and rosemary.
7:30 p.m.: If you’re sipping cocktails at the bar in the Apparatus Room, you might want to settle into a booth for dinner. The menu by Michelin-starred chef Thomas Lents features New American cuisine with international influences. Another option is the swanky steakhouse Prime + Proper, where you’ll be tempted to splash out on the raw bar and steaks dry aged in-house—just don’t skip the mac and cheese.
Where to Stay
Check into the Siren Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel inside the 1926 Wurlitzer Building from the hitmakers behind Hotel Peter & Paul in New Orleans and the Dean in Providence. They outfitted the entire hotel with vintage and bespoke furniture in saturated hues that evoke the glamour of Detroit’s heyday.
Before turning in for the night, be sure to stop by Candy Bar for a nightcap under the disco ball in the bubblegum-pink cocktail bar.