June 5, 2018

My Detroit Bucket List

The more I read about Detroit, the more I realize a weekend isn’t long enough to see everything I’d like to see. Metro Detroit is huge! It spans 1,967.1 square miles. I’ve got a big Detroit bucket list of things to do, places to see, and a lot of food to eat. Why? My family will be there for three days this summer at the end of a long Michigan road trip (I’ve got a BIG bucket list for Michigan, too).

Got tips? Please share your recommendations of what to do and see in Detroit in a comment!

List of things to do in Detroit

Eat all the food – There are so many restaurants I want to go to in Detroit! I’m guessing we ought to try the city’s famous square pizza. Samantha Brown shared two of the original places to find it, so I guess I should go with the oldest, Buddy’s. And then there’s the Coney Dogs, which turns out to be a Detroit thing. There’s simply unique Traffic Jam & Snug, where everything is made in-house, and it happens to be Michigan’s first brew pub. For burgers, I feel like I should go to Motz’s Hamburgers, one of the country’s oldest continuously-operated family-owned burger joints. It’s been around since 1929, so they must be doing something right. I am wondering where we should eat in Greektown – should we get the saganaki at Pegasus Taverna or Santorini Estiatorio. And while in Greektown, I want to get a treat from Astoria Pastry Shop.

There are a few Greektown restaurants in Detroit to add to any list: Pegasus Taverna, Santorini Estiatorio and Astroria Pastry Shop are on this bucket list. Photo courtesy Vito Palmisano

Eastern Market – Keeping with the food theme, there’s Eastern Market. It’s a year-round market for food and Michigan-made products. I’ve read recommendations for Germack Coffee Roasting Coffee, and it is in Eastern Market. I also want to try a Lemon Buttah Pie sold by Lush Yummies Pie Co., also sold at Eastern Market.

The Eastern Market in Detroit is a foodie’s paradise. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

See a game – My family is a soccer family, so I wish I could say our visit times out to see Detroit FC play. However, the timing doesn’t work. There are plenty of other pro teams, though, to add to the list: Detroit Lions, Tigers and Red Wings come to mind.

Walk under polar bears – The Detroit Zoo has a 70-foot-long Polar Passage, where you can walk through a clear tunnel that gives you a wide view of the zoo’s polar bear exhibit. The zoo has a special exhibit with 4 acres of animatronic prehistoric creatures called “Dinosauria,” which will be open from May 25 through Sept. 3.

The view of the polar bear at the Detroit Zoo is one of a kind. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Go to a festival – There are a ton of festivals in Detroit that I’d love to go to none more than Detroit Jazz Festival, the world’s largest free jazz festival. It’s held Labor Day weekend. Another one that sounds like fun is the Stars and Stripes Festival from June 28-July 1. It has music and monster truck rides.

Enjoy the music – I’ve been playing Jackson 5 and Smokey Robinson for my kids in anticipation of this summer. Detroit is home to the Motown Museum, AKA Hitsville USA. It will have a major renovation in 2019, so check to see if any part is closed before visiting. Being a family that loves music, Third Man Records is a store for us, complete with a stage, record booth and a viewing window of its vinyl pressing plant. Plus it’s got a Jack White connection. When it’s just me and Mr. Wonderful traveling, concerts are usually a must for a trip. One venue in Detroit, Cliff Bell’s, sounds great. It’s a restored art-deco jazz club.

You can see where Motown began at the Motown Museum in Detroit. Photo courtesy Visit Detroit

Dive into automobile history – Initially, my plan was to “visit The Henry Ford” because I’d heard a lot about it from other Midwest travel bloggers. Guess what? There’s more than one place. So, if I had unlimited time, I’d visit all three attractions: Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation™, Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour™. But, top on my list would be to visit Greenfield Village. This 1929 historic landmark is an open-air museum that immerses visitors in 300 years of America life (think living history), and includes extras like riding in a Model T, and on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer, there’s an old-fashioned baseball game.  We could time our visit to Greenfield Village to be during Salute to America, which runs June 30, July 1 and 3-4. It’s music, fireworks and good food.

Step back in time at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich. There’s the chance to ride in a Model T while there. Photo courtesy Gary Malerba

Tea time – On the topic of Greenfield Village, Wading in Big Shoes tipped me off to some great experiences at Greenfield Village and I want to do them all. Of course, I can’t. But, the one that caught my attention out of all of them is Tea at Cotswold Cottage.  I think my daughter and I would love it! . From the sound of things, it’s an American take on the English tradition, which I’m fine with. Second only to tea (and pastries), is the chance to make my own brass candlestick or glass flower at Liberty Craftworks Historic District. My kids are old enough to make a candlestick (must be 6+), but not old enough to do the glass workshop (14+). Both are extras on top of admission.

Tea time is served at Cotswold in Greenfield Village. Photo courtesy The Henry Ford

Fowling – Not a typo, my friends. Somewhere in Detroit, there is a warehouse with fowling courts (pronounced foe-ling). It’s like bowling but with a football. I’d be terrible at it.

Go indoors for the outdoors – I’m planning a big road trip around Michigan to explore the great outdoors extensively, but, in case we don’t get our fill of outdoor adventures, I’ve got the Outdoor Adventure Center on my radar. Kids can walk behind a waterfall, pretend to ride a snowmobile, and try out archery.

Guardian Building – Of all the gorgeous buildings in Detroit, the Guardian Building seems to have more than its fair share of mentions and pictures, and it’s on architectural tours like this one. I need to see this thing in real life. While we’re in the area, we can snap a picture with the Spirit of Detroit.

Guardian Building in Detroit

The Guardian Building’s interesting architectural elements lands it as a stop on many walking tours. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Ride the People Mover – It’s not just a way to get from Point A to Point B. My kids live for rides, and riding an elevated train would probably entertain them to no end. The People Mover has been moving people around downtown Detroit for decades.

See the isle – There’s something lovely and inviting about Belle Isle State Park. I’d love to explore it with my family, visiting the nation’s oldest aquarium, stroll the grounds, and just enjoy a little escape in the big city. There’s also the 114-year-old Anna Scripps Whicomb Conservatory and a little zoo (FREE admission) to explore.

The Anna Scripps Conservatory is on Belle Isle in Detroit. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Fireworks shows – There are lots of fireworks displays held from June 22 through July 6, including one of the state’s largest fireworks displays, held during Rochester Festival of the Hills. This year, those fireworks are on June 27. Plus, select Detroit Tigers games on Friday nights end with fireworks.

The Ford Fireworks display are well known, occurring around the Fourth of July each year. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

See a different side of Detroit – There are kayak tours taking beginner and experienced paddlers through canals and to islands. For a more leisurely water experience, there are also sightseeing boat tours.

Kayakers can paddle by Belle Isle in Detroit. Photo courtesy Vito Palmisano

Build a sand castle – Part of Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit becomes a giant urban sandbox in the summer. About 400,000 pounds of sand is dumped there each summer.

Campus Martius Park has a sand beach built in the middle of Detroit every summer. Photo courtesy Lynn Powell

Visit Detroit Museums – I’m a sucker for science centers, so the Michigan Science Center is on my radar (especially since we get in free with our Omaha Children’s Museum membership). Our timing couldn’t be better for our visit to Detroit, though. Detroit Institute of Art has the exhibit “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume” from May 20 through Sept. 30, 2018. I’m pretty sure my son won’t forgive me if we skip this. While we’re at DIA, I’d love to catch a glimpse of the famous Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals. Other unique-to-Detroit museums include Dabl’s African Bead Museum and Arab American National Museum, which has an interesting performance series on select Fridays called Global Fridays. The series features a variety of traditional performing arts from Latin pop to DJs from Beirut.

The Detroit Institute of Art is home to the Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals. Photo courtesy Bill Bowen

Ride the carousel – While I’m a sucker for science centers, the my youngest cannot resist the allure of a carousel. There’s one at Rivard Plaza with a river theme; not surprising, since it’s on the riverfront. Also along the riverfront, you’ll find a splash garden and butterfly gardens at Gabriel Richard Park.

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Need more ideas? Start at the Visit Detroit. Get more Michigan road trip ideas that are great for families on my Pinterest board:

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