5 off-the-beaten-path things to do in Detroit
“If you haven’t been to Detroit recently, you really haven’t been there at all.”
That’s what travel writer Amy S. Eckert tells people — whether they live in the suburbs or other side of the country.
“The city is changing so quickly,” she says. “In a matter of months, you’ll see whole city blocks transform and abandoned buildings become the next hipster coffee shops.”
Born and raised in Harper Woods, Eckert, 52, lives in Holland with her husband. But she’s often in Detroit for her travel freelance work.
“I’m insider enough to really appreciate and love the city of Detroit, but at the same time, I’m outsider enough to have some perspective,” she says. “I can recognize maybe a little better than people who live here all the time the changes that the city is seeing.”
Channeling her travel expertise and love for Detroit, Eckert compiled the best things to do, see and eat into “100 Things to Do in Detroit Before You Die,” released this spring. The guidebook offers itineraries for “Classic Detroit” — you’ll hit up landmarks like Eastern Market, Greenfield Village and the Spirit of Detroit. Then there’s the “Comeback City” guide for those interested in seeing Detroit’s renaissance. A few spots on that tour: Corktown restaurants, craft distilleries and the Dequindre Cut Greenway.
Eckert says the hardest part about writing the book was limiting the list to 100 places.
“Detroit is moving so quickly,” she says, perched on a stool in Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters on Griswold, wearing a black T-shirt with “MOTOWN” stitched in rhinestones. “There’s always a new something.”
The coffee shop she’s sitting in, for instance, opened in November as she was wrapping up the book.
“I love the fact that so much that’s new is all independently owned,” she adds. “They’re Detroiters who didn’t give up on the city, but stuck around and are really helping to fuel its rebirth now.”
Even if you think you know Detroit, there’s likely some old and new gems you haven’t seen. We asked Eckert to narrow down five off-the-beaten-path things you have to do in Detroit before you die:
1. Bike around the Motor City
Sure you can hop in the car and drive, but newer biking paths make it possible to see the city on a set of two wheels. “In a city that’s really known around the world for the automobile, I love the trend that Detroit is showing to becoming more bicycle-friendly,” Eckert says. Wheelhouse Detroit at Rivard Plaza offers bike rentals for two-hour spans. The bikes make it easy to explore the 3.5-mile RiverWalk that starts at Joe Louis Arena and heads toward Belle Isle. Or take the 1.15-mile Dequindre Cut that links the riverfront and Eastern Market. If you want guidance, Wheelhouse Detroit offers tours of Corktown, Southwest, public art, historic churches and more. Bring the kids along for a family outing, or your significant other for a date night.
Location: 1340 E. Atwater, Detroit,
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: Rentals start at $15 for two hours
Phone: (313) 656-2453
2. Visit the Outdoor Adventure Center
If you live downtown, you might feel like you’re missing all that Pure Michigan has to offer. But the Outdoor Adventure Center can “expose inner-city residents to the great outdoors,” Eckert says. The three-story, 41,000-square-foot facility is the former site of a marine steam engine factory, where a young Henry Ford worked as an apprentice machinist. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources transformed the historic Globe Building into a recreational playground with an indoor waterfall, archery and virtual mountain biking and fishing. “Those who have never camped, fished or boated before can learn the basics in the middle of downtown Detroit, then decide whether to put those newfound skills to use in one of Michigan’s great state parks,” Eckert says. Tip: There’s free admission the last Wednesday of the month from 6-8 p.m.
Location: 1801 Atwater, Detroit
Hours: Wed.-Fri. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.
Cost: $5 adults ages 13 to 61; $3 seniors and children, free kids under 2
Phone: (844) 622-6367
3. Go Fowling at the Fowling Warehouse
“What’s not to love about a sport invented by a Detroiter?” Eckert says. As she explains the sport — pronounced “foe-ling” — in the book, “it’s one part bowling, one part closest to the pin and one part football.” Players face each other on opposite ends of a lane. Each end has 10 pins laid out in triangles, similar to bowling. Opponents then try to knock down each other’s pins by throwing a football down the lane. Knock down all of the other team’s pins first, and you win! “Fowling is quirky,” Eckert says, “and a fun time for kids and adults.” (Note: Those under 21 are welcome only noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.) The activity is in a warehouse in Hamtramck, which sells more than 180 craft and domestic beers. Patrons can bring their own snacks or call the preferred pizza vendor, Amicci’s Pizza, which delivers to the warehouse.
Location: 3901 Christopher, Hamtramck
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 5 p.m.-midnight; Fri. 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat. noon-2 a.m.; Sun. noon-10 p.m.
Cost: $10 for open fowling; $120 to reserve a lane for two hours (10 people max)
Phone: (313) 264-1288
4. Shop and dine at The Park Shelton
“The Park Shelton was originally constructed as the Wardell Apartment Hotel in 1926 and had the distinction of being the home to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo when Rivera was in Detroit painting the DIA’s ‘Detroit Industry’ murals,” Eckert says. Today, the Park Shelton is set in the heart of the up-and-coming Midtown neighborhood. The building is home to luxury condominiums, and the ground floor has several independently owned shops: Busted Bra Shop, Frida and The Peacock Room. There’s also a few dining spots. Eckert recommends the highly acclaimed Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails, which focuses on locally sourced ingredients.
Location: 15 E. Kirby, Detroit
Phone: (313) 872-7175
5. Explore Eldorado
In Eckert’s opinion, the Eldorado General Store is “Detroit’s coolest vintage store.” Across from old Tiger Stadium in Corktown, owner Erin Gavle describes Eldorado on her website as “a well-curated vintage general store that’s stocked with one of a kind trinkets and treasures.” You’ll find everything from suede jackets to sequined handbags and fedoras. “The owner’s displays of leather bags, hats, cowboy boots and tea sets are just lovely,” Eckert says. “And many of the shop’s gently-used clothing items bear a little tag that indicates the city where the find was unearthed.” As Gavle puts it: “It’s a paradise of lost treasure or perhaps a found dream.”
Location: 1700 Michigan, Detroit
Hours: Tues.-Sun. noon-6 p.m.
Phone: (734) 664-8633