Despite the unfavorable impression some may have in their minds about Detroit, it is a city making a big comeback. Honestly, everyone I told that we were headed to the D wrinkled their nose and asked why. I’ll tell you why--because it seriously rocks. We had so much fun--learning, sampling, seeing and exploring--we left loving it and wanting to go back for more. Here’s our list of ten reasons why you should visit the Motor City with your family.
Cruise in a Model T and experience history firsthand
Greenfield Village is an outdoor museum focused on innovation that literally brings history to life. This vast village, assembled by Henry Ford, contains historic structures, like the first house Thomas Edison wired for light and the home where Noah Webster wrote the first dictionary, as a hobby in his retirement! You can ride various versions of Model T cars, an old steam engine and a 1919 carousel that is famous for animals wearing human clothes. There are workshops, crafts and demonstrations hosted by excellent guides and an inventive playground. You’ll want to spend all day there.
Check out tons of cool cars, planes and trains
The Henry Ford isn’t just for automobile lovers. While this gorgeous museum houses countless vintage cars, it’s also stocked with airplanes, trains, farming equipment and many other things that will move you. Inspired to learn more, my kids and I even bought books on Henry Ford and the Wright brothers there. Dining options are also fun, with an adorable diner and an American Hot Dog House with a Weinermobile parked nearby. My kids couldn’t leave without the Weinermobile wax mold.
Feel the excitement in an extraordinary stadium
Comerica Park is a beautiful, modern ballpark with many kid-friendly amenities, including the Fly Ball Ferris Wheel (shaped like baseballs) and the Comerica Carousel, featuring tigers, of course. You can feel the buzz of energy inside the stadium while enjoying skyline views of Detroit. A must-see when you visit the D. If it’s not baseball season when you visit, catch a Detroit Lions, Detroit Red Wings or Detroit Pistons game. Detroit is city with several impressive sports teams.
Try square pizza, Coney Island hot dogs and delicious barbecue
Detroit-style pizza is square with a crispy crust. They call it deep-dish but, being a Chicagoan, it seems more like pan pizza to me; however, it without a doubt won my heart. Taste the original Buddy’s Pizza, now celebrating its 70th anniversary.
You can’t visit Detroit without trying a Coney Island hot dog, slathered with chili, yellow mustard and piled with onions. We visited Lafayette Coney Island. My son got a huge kick out of the waiter, who shouted our order, whistled louder than we’ve ever heard, tossed crackers and balanced plates piled with food all the way up his arm. It’s a no-frills diner, but worth the experience.
If you love barbecue, Slows Bar BQ is not to be missed. Mouthwatering meats are slow cooked and drenched in delicious sauces. This restaurant is on many foodies’ lists.
Taste some lip-smacking treats
Desserts that do good? That’s the model behind Detroit Water Ice Factory, the tasty treat shop started by author Mitch Albom. Like Italian ice but creamier, these frosty favorites were developed with the sole goal of helping others. One hundred percent of the profits go toward Detroit’s neediest citizens.
A classic Michigan candy company started in 1875, Sanders & Morley Candy Makers offers free tours on weekdays. Schedule a time for your family to enjoy some free chocolates. Who can turn that down?
Get up close and personal with a penguin
The Detroit Zoo has many natural, open exhibits across its widespread acres; but the penguins are what really steal the show. These charismatic creatures come right up to the window of their sensational snow and ice habitat to interact with guests. My kids were nose to beak with several, and absolutely mesmerized. The new Polk Penguin Conservation Center is extraordinary with its 4-D Antarctic expedition entry experience, underwater viewing gallery with two tunnels and charmingly curious penguins. You could watch them waddle, swim and play for hours.
Pick from plentiful fresh produce
If you’re looking for colorful fruits and veggies and other Michigan-made goodies, you don’t have to look far in Detroit. The Eastern Market is one of the oldest and largest year-round markets in the country. Open every Saturday (and some other days too), you can find tasty local produce and handmade items. The honeybees and clever Detroit T-shirts enamored my kids. We didn’t leave without blueberries and cider.
If you’d like to pick your own produce, several orchards are close to the city limits. Westview Orchards is a cider mill and adventure farm that offers family fun 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Check the calendar for what’s being harvested June through October. You can pick strawberries, peaches, cherries, apples and pumpkins.
Look south to see Canada
Detroit is the only U.S. city where you can gaze south to catch sight of Canada. Get a good view from Rivard Plaza on the Detroit RiverWalk or Belle Isle Park. The Rivard Plaza features a carousel, children’s playground, café and bike rental shop all on the serene waterfront. Belle Isle Park is on an island between Detroit and Canada that requires passes to visit, but is a tranquil retreat. Soak up the scenic views, enjoy the beautiful fountain and interact with nature at the conservatory.
Learn while having fun
I often try to sneak learning into everyday activities. That was super easy at the Michigan Science Center, new Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life Michigan Aquarium. My kids had just become aware that cars are crash tested while in the Motor City. The crash test dummy videos at the Michigan Science Center absolutely captivated them. They also loved the giant pendulum that demonstrates the Earth’s orbit, and games, like bopping soda cans and selecting a healthy breakfast, that helped emphasize the importance of good nutrition.
Sea Life Michigan Aquarium sends kids on a quest to answer questions about marine life. They earn a stamp for each question they answer and a “gold medal” for completing their mission. This extra interaction definitely increased my kids’ involvement and enthusiasm.
Legoland Discovery Center Michigan is very similar to the Schaumburg location. My kids can play at the Lego Racers: Build & Test stations forever. The steep ramps and endless supply of Legos let them test their engineering skills against other kids and creations. Both Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life are located in Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, Michigan’s largest indoor outlet mall.
Snuggle up in cozy accommodations
As with most big cities, Detroit boasts a wide variety of hotel offerings. The Inn on Ferry Street is a highly recommended boutique hotel that feels like a bed and breakfast. The four restored Victorian mansions and two carriage houses promise a memorable experience.
My family stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Detroit North in Troy because it is centrally located between the city and suburban attractions, has an indoor pool, complimentary breakfast, pullout couches and a very friendly staff. With all the options across the Detroit metro area, you’re sure to find the perfect accommodations for a comfortable stay.
Cortney Fries is a freelance writer and Chicago mom of two.
See more of Cortney's stories here.
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