Detroit, the birthplace of the mass-production auto industry and the Motown sound, has long had an image problem. The city boasts a billion-dollar downtown development, ultramodern motor-manufacturing plants, some excellent museums, and one of the nation's biggest art galleries – but since the 1960s, media attention has dwelt instead on its huge tracts of urban wasteland, where for block after block there's nothing but the occasional heavily fortified loan shop or grocery store. This characterization incurs the wrath of many Detroiters, and, though their city has unarguably suffered and continues to face tremendous challenges their claims of exaggeration or exploitation by the media do carry weight.
Founded in 1701 by Antoine de Mothe Cadillac, as a trading post for the French to do business with the Chippewa, Detroit was no more than a medium-sized port two hundred years later. Then Henry Ford, Ransom Eli Olds, the Chevrolets, and the Dodge brothers began to build their automobile empires. Thanks to the introduction of the mass assembly line, Detroit boomed in the 1920s, but the auto barons sponsored the construction of segregated neighbourhoods and unceremoniously dispensed with workers during times of low demand. Such policies created huge ghettos, resulting, in July 1967, in the bloodiest riot in the US in fifty years. More than forty people died and thirteen hundred buildings were destroyed. The inner city was left to fend for itself, while the all-important motor industry was rocked by the oil crises and Japanese competition. Today, though scarred and bruised, Detroit is not the mess some would have it, and suburban residents have started to return to the city's festivals, theatres, clubs, and restaurants.
As for orientation, it makes sense to think of Detroit as a region rather than a concentrated city – and, with some planning and wheels, it holds plenty to see and do. For the moment, downtown is not so much the heart of the giant as just another segment. Other interesting areas include the huge Cultural Center, freewheeling Royal Oak, posh Birmingham, the Ford-town of Dearborn, nearby Windsor, Ontario, and the college town of Ann Arbor, a short drive west.
Los Angeles may have perfected urban sprawl, but Detroit invented it. Although the landscape is mostly flat, recreational opportunities abound, most of them centered around water. To the northeast of the city sprawls Lake St. Clair, a shallow but broad lake popular for boating and fishing. The Detroit River is a resource that the city has never fully exploited though a system of parks and greenways is now gradually taking shape.
Downtown The old downtown of grand movie houses and department stores is all but vanished, but lively areas have sprung up around the perimeter of the aging banking-and-commerce center. The north end of downtown is the latest hot spot. Comerica Park , a new baseball stadium for the Detroit Tigers, opened in 2000. The National Football League Detroit Lions, who abandoned downtown in the 1970s for suburban Pontiac, have since returned to Ford Field , which was built adjacent to Comerica Park. Nearby is the glamorous Fox Theatre , the renovated crown jewel of the city's opulent movie houses, as well as the aptly-named Gem Theatre , The Second City Detroit comedy theater, the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts , and an assortment of restaurants and bars.
On the eastern edge of downtown is Greektown . What was once just a block of Greek restaurants has now become the center for Detroit nightlife, with its many eateries, bistros and clubs. One of Detroit's three temporary casinos is drawing additional people to the area. Adjacent is the restaurant-and bar area known as Bricktown, and near that is the towering Renaissance Center. East of the Renaissance Center, along Jefferson Avenue, new housing and retail developments are taking shape beyond the restaurants and clubs of the warehouse district known as Rivertown.
Other pockets of activity include the Cobo Convention Center and the Joe Louis Arena , home to the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings, and the western outskirts, where two more temporary casinos have opened. Most of downtown's sites are linked by the People Mover elevated train system.
Cultural Center/New Center
Detroit's Cultural Center is situated between Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center, an impressive complex of hospitals and research facilities. The Detroit Institute of Arts is famed for its Diego Rivera murals, which chronicle history through the eyes of laborers, and Auguste Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker". Nearby is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History , the largest museum of its kind in the United States. Families can also enjoy the Detroit Science Center and the Detroit Historical Museum .
Farther north, the New Center Area boasts the ornate, golden-towered Fisher Building and its Fisher Theatre , home to touring Broadway shows, as well as the General Motors Building and Henry Ford Hospital.
South of the Cultural Center, a major renovation effort is underway to preserve the acoustically rich Orchestra Hall .
The West Side
Near the Ambassador Bridge is Mexicantown, the heart of Detroit's growing Hispanic community, with dozens of great restaurants. Dearborn is home to the Ford Motor Company world headquarters, the Fairlane Town Center , and the area's foremost attraction, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village , where the intertwining history of America and the automobile are chronicled. With a large Arabic population, Dearborn also has an intoxicating array of authentic Middle Eastern restaurants.
Farther west is the bustling Metropolitan Airport, which is undergoing a major expansion to handle increasing traffic. A new trade center is taking shape in nearby Romulus. Livonia has Laurel Park Place , a major shopping and entertainment area.
Oakland County is vast and diverse. It is one of the nation's wealthiest counties, and the site of the world's first enclosed shopping mall (the Northland Center). Many other shopping opportunities abound, including the upscale Somerset Collection and new Great Lakes Crossing .
In the southern part of the county, a vibrant restaurant and nightclub scene has sprung up in once-stodgy Royal Oak. North along Woodward Avenue, Birmingham's thriving downtown features upscale shops of taste and variety.
In the northeastern part of the county, Auburn Hills is home to the Palace of Auburn Hills , the home of the National Basketball Association's Detroit Pistons. It also has the new Chrysler Technology Center. Nearby in Rochester are Oakland University and its acclaimed Meadow Brook Theatre . In West Bloomfield Township is the deeply moving Holocaust Memorial Center .
Each August, the Woodward strip from Ferndale to Pontiac hosts the Woodward Dream Cruise , the world's largest rolling participatory auto show and the ultimate 1950s and 1960s nostalgia trip.
The East Side and Macomb County
Go east from downtown along Jefferson Avenue parallel to the Detroit River and you will pass the bridge to Belle Isle , one of the world's great urban parks. The Grosse Pointe area boasts mansions of auto executives and scenic Lakeshore Drive. The nondescript suburbs of Macomb County include some items of interest: The Macomb Center for the Performing Arts , the General Motors Tech Center in Warren, and Metropolitan Beach on Lake St. Clair.
One of the few places in the United States where one can travel south into Canada is from downtown Detroit. By way of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel or by bridge, it's easy to reach Windsor, Ontario, whose clubs and restaurants are an integral part of the metro Detroit entertainment scene. The popular Windsor Casino served as the impetus for Detroit to start building its own casinos.
Few people know it, but Detroit is one of the best places for eating out in the United States. The great restaurants are not concentrated in a few spots, but are found throughout the metropolitan region. Getting off the beaten track and finding these places is worth the extra effort, particularly if your taste runs to the adventurous.
During the lean years in the 1970s and '80s, Greektown's single block of Athenian restaurants, known for their saganaki, or flaming cheese, kept downtown from going completely dark at night. Now Greektown has grown and prospered. Carrying on the Greektown tradition are places like the Laikon Cafe , the New Parthenon and the New Hellas Cafe. Nearby can be found the Cajun excitement of Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Cafe .
A little further east, the warehouse district known as Rivertown offers several American restaurants, including the trendy Rattlesnake Club . On downtown's north end, in the new theater district, are the elegant Century Grille , filled with old-world charm, and the bustling Hockeytown Cafe .
Mexicantown, which starts about a mile west of downtown, is the port of entry to the city's large Hispanic section on the southwest side. The revival of this vibrant neighborhood has been heralded by restaurants such as Xochimilco and other innovators. The farther west you go along Bagley or Vernor avenues, the cheaper and more authentic the food—- and you can branch out into Central and South American cuisine at El Comal .
Cultural Center/New Center
The eclectic fare that can be found in and around the Wayne State University area includes the unique Whitney , located in an elegant old mansion; the local favorite Traffic Jam & Snug ; the Majestic Cafe for Middle-Eastern fare; and two of the city's oldest traditional Italian restaurants: Mario's , and, farther east in the Eastern Market area, the Roma Cafe .
The West Side
Detroit has the largest Arabic population of any American city, and it is concentrated in the eastern end of Dearborn. Here, along Michigan and Warren avenues, is an unmatched assortment of Middle Eastern restaurants. La Shish , one of the first, is the most well-known, but there are myriad other good choices, all offering nutritious, tasty food at remarkable prices.
The food gets blander as you travel farther into the suburbs, but there are plenty of neighborhood bars and family restaurants along streets like Telegraph Avenue.
Northville, a quaint village in the northwestern corner of Wayne County, offers several upscale dining options which are worth the trek, including Genitti's Hole-in-the-Wall , a reservation-only Italian restaurant which serves traditional seven-course wedding-feast meals.
An unlikely transformation in the late 1980s and early '90s turned the aging downtown of an unremarkable suburb into Detroit's trendiest evening destination, and downtown Royal Oak remains the closest thing Michigan has to a New York or San Francisco experience. The punk and resale clothing shops still exist, along with jam-packed eateries and a few clubs. This scene generated the unique BD's Mongolian Barbeque , where you make your own stir-fry and watch chefs grill it using big sticks; the place is so popular it has become a multi-outlet franchise.
The rest of the county has restaurants of great variety flung far and wide. Birmingham and Troy offer more staid, upscale options, such as the Capital Grille in the Somerset Collection. In Farmington Hills and to the north and west, an amazing array of ethnic restaurants hide in strip malls along Orchard Lake Road, Haggerty Road, and around Novi Town Center in Novi, with more places opening around Auburn Hills and Pontiac.
The East Side and Macomb County
Along East Jefferson Avenue, across from Belle Isle, is the urban hideaway known as Indian Village, where there are gems such as the Harlequin Cafe , one of Detroit's few French restaurants. Along Lake St. Clair, from the Grosse Pointes to Mount Clemens, seafood is king, and fresh lake perch or pickerel can be found on the menus. For the complete Great Lakes experience, spend the time to go all the way out to Sindbad's , a marina resort along Anchor Bay.
When it comes to sightseeing, Detroit is largely a do-it-yourself city. The city's attractions are spread so far apart that it's hard for tour bus operators to fashion an itinerary. Walking tours haven't caught on because the city has not taken much care to preserve its historical sites, the interesting stops are too far apart, and because this is the Motor City. It's designed to be seen from the windows of an automobile. Downtown
Downtown Detroit used to have an extensive trolley system, but the only option today is the Detroit Trolley, which runs from Mariners' Church along Jefferson Avenue and up Washington Boulevard. It is a cheap, quick way to get a glimpse of Detroit's best architecture. A 15 minute ride offers views of some of the most popular attractions: the Detroit River , Comerica Park and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel . Then have dinner at the nearby Agave.
The best area to take your own walking tour is in and around Greektown , where there are historical attractions such as the Second Baptist Church and plenty of pedestrians and street life. You can also reach a riverside walkway via Hart Plaza . Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Cafe is a lively place to grab a bite to eat. In the summer, various dinner cruises operate along the Detroit River . It's a great way to see the city and enjoy the freshwater breeze. Detroit Institute of Arts
You can park your car and spend an entire day on foot visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts , the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History , the Detroit Science Center and the Detroit Historical Museum . Just be sure to fit in lunch at the nearby Majestic Cafe in between.
At the edge of the city is the Michigan State Fairgrounds . This is the site of the Woodward Dream Cruise every August. During the rest of the year, you can still see the legacy of the automobile cruising culture, with bars and restaurants and stores abound. Stop in for a meal at the Lark . Close to the Fairgrounds is the Detroit Zoo and the Hazel Park Raceway .
Belle Isle is one of the greatest free attractions in any city. The Isle also has the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory , which contains many exotic species of flowers. Drive around the island, enjoy the views, and then park your car near the Children's Zoo . The Harlequin Cafe used to be an apothecary shop, but today it serves up French fare. Close by is Edsel & Eleanor Ford House , which is open for tours.
Most visitors opt to rent a car and plan their own tour schedule, however others do take advantage of the few tour companies that Detroit has to offer.
Bus Tours Detroit Department of Transportation ( +1 313 870 5012 )
Boat Tours Diamond Jack's River Tours ( +1 313 843 9376/ http://www.diamondjack.com/ ) Detroit Princess Riverboat ( +1 517 622 8989/ http://www.detroitprincess.com/ )
Train Tours Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad ( +1 810 736 7100/ http://geneseecountyparks.org/crossroadsvillage.htm )
Sports Tours Big League Tours ( +1 866 619 1748/ +1 317 534 2475/ http://www.bigleaguetours.com )
Historical Tours Historic Houses of Worship ( +1 313 833 4727 ) Fisher Mansion ( +1 313 331 6740 ) Henry Ford Estate - Fair Lane ( +1 313 593 5590/ http://www.umd.umich.edu/fairlane/ ) Ford Rouge Factory Tour ( +1 313 982 6001/ http://www.thehenryford.org/rouge/default.asp )