Maybe forget the name “Motor City.” To us, it could just as easily be dubbed Museum City, boasting some of America’s most exciting venues celebrating the visual arts, music, and history. And we say this as people who are constantly exploring for great museums for our scavenger hunts.
But we also love Detroit for its fantastic food, exciting sports, vibrant music scene, and friendly people. Here are our recommendations on how to spend a memorable weekend there.
Friday night dinner: Savannah Blue
Great soul food in the heart of downtown, served by a charming staff. We followed our delightful waitress’ advice by getting the mac ’n’ cheese with the fried chicken instead of the whipped yams, and boy did that bet pay off. And if you think you don’t like collard greens, wait till you try them here. Save the low-carb diet for another day and indulge in the scrumptious cornbread.
Saturday morning: Motown Museum
Tour the humble house that Berry Gordy turned into a hit factory and then a musical empire.
You are shepherded through the narrow halls by a guide—ours was possibly the most vivacious we’ve every encountered. Gordy and his family lived upstairs, part of which is now a small museum. You’ll pass rooms and equipment that remain seemingly untouched since the early 1970s. The climax is the surprisingly small studio, formerly the garage, where the guide leads everyone in a singalong to “My Girl.” So you can tell your friends that you sang in the same room as Dianna Ross, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and other greats made miracles. Book your tour early online, because weekends sell out.
Saturday afternoon: Detroit Institute of Arts
Maybe you’re thinking, It’s an art museum in Detroit, how good could it be? The answer is: FANTASTIC! With galleries touting ancient Roman art, American art, Impressionists, Hindu gods, Egyptian tomb carvings, African and Native American masks, paint-not-quite-dry contemporary works, and even puppets, you won’t leave here unsatisfied or with curiosity not piqued. Breughel’s painting The Wedding Dance alone should be on your lifetime bucket list. Unlike museums like the Met, which antiseptically separate different types of art, the DIA galleries mix paintings and sculptures and decorative arts, putting the art in lively context. If you arrive in town on Friday night rarin’ for fun, hit DIA’s “Friday Night Live,” with free musical performances till 10.
Saturday afternoon: Detroit Historical Museum
If you’ve had your fill of art, cross the street to hit this fun, free, compact collection of Motor City memorabilia, which you can get a peek of up top. We’re suckers for any museum with a re-creation of 19th-century streets (we feature them on our hunts at Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry and Milwaukee’s Public Museum), and the lower level here boasts a fine early Detroit streetscape. Feel free to skip the small, one-room salute to Detroit music, paid for and featuring Kid Rock.
Saturday evening: Detroit Tigers
Opened in 2000, Comerica Park was built in the trendy early 20th-century style, with lots of brick and black girders. Pause on the way in to pose with the enormous tiger statues. The stadium is a fine place to take in a game or to indulge in the locally famous Coney Island Dogs, slathered with chili and onions, with a nice snap to the casing. Look for the dogs behind the merry-go-round. Yeah, you read that right. Points off for the scarcity of soft ice cream. Dippin’ Dots won’t do!
Saturday Night: Bert’s Entertainment Complex
The spirit of Motown is alive and well—thriving, even—in the several rooms at Bert’s. When you arrive, there might be almost literally dancing in the street, thanks to the outdoor tables and DJ. On a Friday evening we stumbled into people swing dancing to classic R&B tunes. We marveled at the smooth moves on the dance floor while chowing down on ribs. Next, a live bebop combo outdid any of the acts at the recent Newport Jazz Festival (at least according to our critic friend). On the other side of the complex, blues was on the musical menu.
Sunday morning: Dime Store
Chase away that hangover with the best brunch in downtown Detroit. (Hair of the dog is available.) Almost as good as the food is the hipster-diner atmosphere, with every table occupied and a hubbub of delight.
Sunday morning: Museum of American Innovation
From the outside, it looks like Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Inside, it’s like a giant hangar packed with artifacts plucked from American history textbooks. You can’t believe what’s here: Jefferson’s portable desk! The bus on which Rosa Parks took a stand by sitting down! The freakin’ chair that Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was killed! The car JFK was riding in when he was killed! The Wienermobile! More cars, trains, machines, pop-culture artifacts (the Atari Burial Collection!)…this place is a treasure chest that will dazzle you till you drop. The museum is part of The Henry Ford, about a half-hour drive from downtown Detroit. It’s on the way to the airport, and the courteous staff will stow your luggage in a locked closet.
Sunday lunch: Lamy’s Diner
Conveniently enough, an authentic 1946 New England diner has been transplanted smack-dab in the middle of the Museum of American Innovation. Belly up to the cramped counter and enjoy authentic (if not tasty) 1940s diner fare. The chicken salad sandwich on white bread is…edible. Hey, you’re here for the experience. Shut up and drink your creme soda.
Sunday afternoon: Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford
Explore 80 acres of an old-timey American village with seven historic districts and artisans plying their crafts. You know, hokey all-American fun. When you’ve had enough, hop out of the Model T and into your Uber, bound for the airport. Take note: The village is closed between late November and mid-April, except for Holiday Nights in December.
Bonus Idea: Explore the City on a Scavenger Hunt
Watson Adventures offers private and corporate team building scavenger hunts just about anywhere in Detroit, including at the Institute of Arts, the Museum of American Innovation, and and the Historical Museum. On teams, you’ll follow clues to uncover secrets about the places you visit and perhaps take creative team photos. Learn more or contact us about planning your own private scavenger hunt.