Belle Isle Park
Pick a sunny afternoon to spend on Belle Isle, a 928-acre park-island situated in the Detroit River between Detroit and Canada. After you cross over MacArthur Bridge, bear right at the fork onto Sunset Drive. As you approach the eastern tip of the island, there'll be parking spots along the edge of the river. From here, you get the best view of the city across the way. It's also a good place to stop and play and/or picnic if you have littles in tow. (The beach stretch will be mostly empty if you come in the fall or winter but don't skip over it.) If you keep driving around the perimeter of the island, you'll pass Lake Tacoma and come toward the aquarium and conservatory in the middle. The aquarium (open only on the weekends from 10am to 4pm) is a famed building, designed by Albert Kahn in 1904. Right next to the aquarium is the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, which is divided into five houses by fauna type. There are also plenty more outdoor activities on the island—the marshy forest is threaded with a nature trail, you can…
4300 Cadieux Rd., Lower East Side
Right after prohibition and the end of the first world war, this part of Detroit was home to a big Belgian community, and the Cadieux Cafe (which opened in 1933) feels like a relic of that time. The main attraction here is feather bowling, a bocce-like game played with wooden rounds that look like wheels of cheese, which are rolled down a covex court towards a single pigeon feather sticking out of the dirt. Strange as it sounds, it makes a great outing for littles during the day and a surprisingly fun late-night activity for grown-ups, as there's a huge list of beers—including plenty of Belgians—and live music until 2am.
4126 3rd St., Midtown
Paula and Tim Guthat, who met reviewing movies back in college, have built a strong community around their Midtown cinema, which specializes in contemporary, indie, cult, genre, and classic movies. They participate in several film festivals throughout the year, and you can always count on them to bring in a few stars from Sundance and Cannes that otherwise wouldn't make it to the midwest. This is also a great place to see films by local directors.
955 W. Alexandrine, Midtown
Robert Sestok is one of the original Cass Corridor (the name historically for the area of Midtown around Cass Ave.) artists. He still lives and works here and had previously kept some of his sculptures in a fenced-in alley that he shares with neighbors, but a dozen are now displayed in a park right near the freeway. (Sestok also has work on display elsewhere in Detroit, NYC, and North America.) Many of the sculptures—made of welded steel, bronze, stainless steel, crushed aluminum, propel tanks, et al.—stand well above human height. Stop for a coffee at Avalon before checking it out.
1130 Clark St., Mexicantown
A community park in Southwest Detroit, Clark Park was saved by residents in 1991 when financial struggles had forced the park to close temporarily. Walking through the park you do get the sense of being far from any sort of city life—while it does feel like an escape, the park is very much tied to life in Detroit. In fall, the large trees throughout the space turn beautiful shades of red, yellow, orange, and in the winter, there's a regulation-sized hockey rink at its center. In the summer, among other things, the park provides free lunch daily to a hundred-plus students. Year round, there is artwork dispersed throughout the park and a series of community programs.
Dabls’ MBAD African Bead Museum
6559 Grand River Ave., West Side
Run by Olayami Dabls, this is not the type of attraction that can (or should) be put neatly into a tourism box. The title "museum" is a purposeful, playful misnomer: The shimmering, bright house at the corner of Grand River and West Grand—it's outfitted in shiny pieces of broken mirror, installed by Dabls—is a shop in that you can actually buy beads from Dabls extensive collection of African art. If you're fortunate, Dabls will pop into the shop while you're there (or if you linger long enough); he can tell you how many hundreds of years old every single bead in the space is (suffice it to say, there are a lot, and many more not on display), and from which country in Africa. (The woman who works here at the shop with Dabls, is also very rad—if you've already been to Eastern Market, you might recognize her from a Sydney G. James portrait mural, at the intersection of Orleans and Division Street.) If the interior of the shop is the preservation of African culture, the art installments outside examine what the process of assimilation means and looks like.…
Detroit Opera House
1526 Broadway St., Downtown
Opened in 1922 (it was then called the Capitol Theater), the Detroit Opera house is one of the city's architectural jewels—homegrown designer C. Howard Crane was also behind the stunning Fox Theater, and this space is every bit as grand, if a bit more classic, with painted frescoes, dramatic chandeliers, and draping red curtains hanging from the ceiling at every entrance. During most of the year, the building hosts shows by Michigan Opera Theatre, which was founded by artistic director David DiChiera in 1971—2016/2017 is his farewell season. The theatre itself also hosts visiting ballet ensembles, plays, and touring musicals—this season, they're hosting both the Lion King and The Phantom of the Opera.
Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
Detroit Riverwalk, Downtown
The riverfront in Detroit stretches about five miles long (still somewhat a work-in-progress project for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which has been connecting the east and west sides to add to the path's appeal). After checking out the Guardian Building, continue walking down Griswold toward the water. The wide path along the Detroit River is made for jogging, biking, and casually strolling alike. One cool thing is that you can see across to Canada from here—Windsor is just on the other side of the water. The impossible-to-miss GM Renaissance Center, seven looming skyscrapers, is just off the path into downtown, and the included corner restaurant, Joe Muer Seafood, overlooks the riverfront. From this area, you can also head up to the Dequindre Cut Greenway, which runs parallel to St. Aubin Street toward Eastern Market. This mostly below-level greenway has become known for its urban art and graffiti.
2211 Woodward Ave., Downtown
It doesn't really matter what's playing at the Fox—while they get great shows, it's mostly worth buying tickets so you can just spend an evening in the stunning historic theatre. Opened in 1928 by William Fox (the movie executive whose company, which sold in 1930, still bears his name), it was designed by Detroit native Charles Howard Crane in the style of many grand theaters at that time, with all the old-school flourishes: grand lobby, check, Indian and Asian design influences, check, splashy marquee, check. It underwent a major restoration in 1987, and has been beautifully kept up since then. It's also worth checking the schedule at the Redford, another historic theatre that shows classic films and local musical numbers.
3600 Heidelberg St., McDougall-Hunt
The Heidelberg Project was started in 1986 by Detroit artist, Tyree Guyton, around his family's home on Heidelberg Street as part of an effort to bring art (and revitalization) to a neighborhood that hasn't historically had an organized community art center. The photographs hint at the outsider nature of the art—the block is strewn with found and recycled objects from around the city (old TV sets, discarded dolls, brightly painted tires, so, so many shoes). Seeing it in person is as strange as you might expect—but also, fascinating. You are meant to ask the obvious questions: Is this art? Is it junk? The Heidelberg Project is not without controversy: It's been fraught with various setbacks, including two arson attacks (in 1991 and then 1999), which partially destroyed the HP. The organization is currently fundraising to restore Guyton's "Numbers House"—the exterior is marked with large numerals—on Heidelberg Street, which serves as a community center for youth and neighborhood workshops and art exhibits, and is currently in dis-repair. Go here to learn more about HP and here to donate to the cause.
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