4 Reasons to Love Detroit (Yes, I said LOVE. And, no, I’m not kidding.)

December 21, 2014

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You guys, I went to Detroit last weekend, and I LOOOOVVVEEED it.

I’m sure you weren’t expecting me to say that.

Heck, I wasn’t expecting me to say that.

The truth is that Detroit and I haven’t always been besties.

The only other time I’d been to Detroit was about six years ago. I was on a whirlwind weekend trip to meet up with a guy who I kinda, really thought I liked.

I should probably mention that this whirlwind weekend trip happened while I was still living in Japan

Let’s just say that things did not work out so well. Probably because flying eleventy-jillion miles to spend a weekend in Detroit with someone who you kinda, really think you like but you kinda, really don’t know all that well while you are kinda, really jet-lagged and kinda, really emotional is a kinda, really bad idea.

Who knew?

Of course, I could have blamed myself for the way things turned out.

But instead I chose to blame Detroit.

In fact, it’s possible that when I returned to Japan, I wrote a personal essay entitled, “Detroit: Where All Good Things Go To Die” based on my experience there.

But, after last weekend’s trip to Detroit, I’m happy to say that all has been forgiven.

At least between me and the Big D.

(As for me and the boy who I kinda, really thought I liked? We don’t really talk anymore. Mostly because I’m not good at keeping in touch with people who remind me of the horribly awkward and mildly disastrous life choices that I’ve made. Which is, not surprisingly, every single person I’ve ever dated.)

4 Reasons to Love Detroit

1. The Food

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For me, traveling is all about having an excuse to go out to eat and stuff food into my face.

And I’m happy to say that almost every bit of food that I stuffed into my face while I was in Detroit was AMAAAZZZZING. Which is saying a lot. As I stuffed a whole lot of food into my face.

First, there was a portobello mushroom and goat cheese sandwich that I had at this German biergarten in the middle of Greektown that seriously gave me LIFE. (I would have taken a picture of it, but I was too busy cramming it into my throat. But I did take a picture of the beer I had with it, so there’s that.)

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BEER!

There was a breakfast bagel sandwich at the fabulously named Detroit Institute of Bagels that had some of the most incredible bacon I’ve ever eaten. And, you guys, I’ve eaten a LOT of bacon in my day.

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BACON!

There was this apple-pastry-turnover-thingie that was like apples wrapped in heaven wrapped in phyllo dough.

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HEAVEN!

There was a Coney dog smothered in chili-sauce and mustard and diced onions and AWESOMENESS.

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AWESOMENESS!

And there was this graham-cracker-encrusted French toast that I woke up at 7 AM on Sunday to go eat because I had heard the restaurant had impossible lines for breakfast and I wasn’t about to leave the city without eating graham-cracker-encrusted French toast. I mean, I really wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself.

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EVERYTHING EVER!

2. The Free Stuff

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If there’s one thing I like almost as much as food, it’s free stuff.

And, well, Detroit has so much fun free stuff to do, I got to save my money for other un-free stuff, like, well, FOOD.

I started my weekend off by heading to Belle Isle, a Michigan state park located in the middle of the Detroit River. (Read: FREE. As long as you have your Recreation Passport. But nobody really seemed to be checking from what I could tell.)

I attended the park’s Holiday Stroll, which meant the park’s buildings, including the Conservatory, the Aquarium and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, were all done up in lights and bows and trees for the holidays.

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The Christmassified Belle Isle Conservatory

This also meant there was free food — like donuts and cookies and hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows.

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Hanging with the owls at the Great Lakes Museum, drinking my free hot cocoa.

Free stuff AND free food? I was pretty much ready to move in.

Then on Saturday I went on two free tours.

First, I took a tour of the amazing Guardian Building with Pure Detroit.

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The Guardian Building

You guys, stepping into this building was like stepping directly into The Great Gatsby. Everything was golden and glamorous and totally, ridiculously fancy-pants. I wanted to be wearing a flapper dress and smoking a cigarette in one of those long cigarette holdery thingies.

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This is just the ceiling of the Guardian Building. What? Your ceiling doesn’t look like that?

And, then, I spent the afternoon on a walking tour with D:Hive, a non-profit organization and information center in downtown Detroit.

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At D:Hive

I learned all kinds of fun tidbits about Detroit’s history and recent resurgence, as well as all about the places where I should eat. (Sadly, I forgot most of the factual odds and ends, but I did stockpile all the restaurant suggestions into my brain. Because FOOD, you guys!)

And then on Sunday, I checked out the Heidelberg Project, a neighborhood on the Eastside of Detroit which has been turned into an open-air art exhibit.

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Yep, that’s a polka-dot street. I think we can agree all streets should have polka-dots, right?

It was wacky and wonderful and fun and thought-provoking and kind of made me want to buy a big old house and paint it with birthday cakes. Or just eat a lot of birthday cake. Either one, really.

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Birthday cake house!

3. The Spirit

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Detroit’s economy may be down and out, but its spirit definitely is not.

Everywhere you look there are signs of hope and optimism and devotion for the city.

From the street art.

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To the souvenirs for sale.

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To the city’s seal which contains two Latin mottoes. One means “We hope for better things” and the other: “It will rise from the ashes.”

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You guys, I can’t tell you how much I loved this. First of all, who doesn’t love an underdog? Secondly, I’m a Buffalo girl. I know what it’s like to live in a city that everyone else has written of. Or, worse, a city that is always the butt of everyone’s jokes.

All that Detroit pride made me want to stand on the street corner with my very own pair of pom-poms and cheer for the city. (But I didn’t. Because that would be weird. And would probably get me arrested.)

4. The Unexpected

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I was expecting Detroit to pretty much be a ghost town.

And, yes, I did see plenty of abandoned buildings and empty streets.

But, the places that weren’t abandoned were so crowded they were, like, the opposite of abandoned. In fact, I had to remind myself more than a few times that I was in Detroit.

On Friday night when I stopped by Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit, it was swarming with families taking pictures with Santa, rowdy teenagers taking selfies in front of the giant Christmas tree and couples holding hands while ice-skating.

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On Saturday night, I went to a divey, hipster burger bar on the outskirts of Corktown, and ended up walking away after being told I’d have to wait at least an hour just to get a seat at the bar.

And then on Sunday, I went to the Eastern Market for their holiday market, which was full of holiday-shoppers and early tail-gaiters.

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Eastern Market holiday market.

I was also kind of expecting that something bad would happen to me. Mostly because when you announce that you’re going to Detroit, people will immediately tell you that you are going to die. (Thank you, Facebook friends! But, hey, the next time I go somewhere, could you please not mention how many times you think I’m going to be shot?)

I spent the weekend being super cautious and super suspicious — looking behind me obsessively every time I walked somewhere or checking a billion times to make sure my car doors were locked every time I drove somewhere.

And then on Sunday afternoon as I was leaving town, I was stopped at a red light when a beat-up car with tinted windows pulled up beside me. I looked over to see two burly guys yelling at me from the front seat. I tentatively rolled down my window, as my heart pounded in my ears and I desperately hoped this wasn’t the moment everyone warned me about — the moment I would die.

“Hey, lady, that’s a sweet ride. You looking to sell?”

Yeah, those two big dudes who I thought wanted to cause me bodily harm?

They just wanted to tell me they really liked my car.

I certainly didn’t expect that.

I also certainly didn’t expect to fall in love with Detroit as much as I did. (Yes, I said the L-word. Again. It’s FOR SERIOUS, you guys.)

After all, the last time I left Detroit, I vowed to never come back. This time, I was already planning my next trip before I’d even left. And, of course, planning all the meals I’ll be eating on that next trip. (Graham-cracker-encrusted French toast FOREVER AND EVER!)

Have you ever been to Detroit? What was your experience like?

42

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On December 21, 2014 at 1:46 pm Tim Schaub said:

    I’m glad you wrote this.

    Being ‘eleventy bajillion’ miles away for a few years I had only a few American news stories to go on and it seemed like the entire city had collapsed into some sort of post apocalyptic nightmare.

  2. On December 21, 2014 at 2:00 pm Pleddie said:

    Hi Unbrave Girl,

    First, let me say I am proud of you for giving Detroit a second chance. Too often we let a bad experience cloud our perceptions and memories. And, for heaven sakes, never let a bad experience with a “guy who you kinda, really thought you liked” do that. That is just adding misery on top of misery.

    Why was I not surprised that Food was number 1 on your list? When I read your intro, I bet myself I knew what you would say was your number 1. I am not a food person and I mainly eat because it is a necessity, however, the Breakfast Bagel Sandwich and Apple Pastry Turnover sounded great.

    Question: Is there any food that doesn’t taste better when you add bacon? I bet you could get people to eat pebbles if you wrapped bacon around them and fried them. Of course, securing the beacon to the pebbles with toothpicks could prove too difficult.

    BTW, I have broken the code. When they advertise a burger with “crispy” bacon, what you can count on it being very, very thinly cut bacon that become crisp within 3 seconds of hitting the frying pan.

    I will also say apples are my favorite fruit, however, the Chili Dog left me kind’a cold. Is that an appropriate term for Detroit? I love green chili (probably the only green vegetable I like), but brown chili with meat and beans is not my thing. I guess it does disguise the taste of the hot dog. Now, a hot dog, wrapped with bacon and a big green chili; that I could go for. Of course it would be better if you threw the hot dog and bun away and just ate the bacon and green chili. 🙂

    • On December 25, 2014 at 11:17 am Sally said:

      “I am not a food person.” Wow. I’ve heard of people like you. But I have no idea how that even works. I usually design my entire trip around what I’m going to eat and where!

  3. On December 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm Rebecca said:

    Yes, Detroit has a lot going for it. Glad you found a lot to do. I love Greektown.

    • On December 25, 2014 at 11:15 am Sally said:

      Greektown is great! I stopped by their on a Friday hockey game night and it was so packed. That was another time I had to remind myself that I was in Detroit.

  4. On December 21, 2014 at 2:39 pm Don said:

    Does China know? Did you guys break up?

  5. On December 21, 2014 at 2:45 pm zoe said:

    You know, I have all these things to do before I leave on vacation tomorrow, and now all I can manage is to look at my ceiling and consider how sub-par it is. Great.
    zoe recently posted..How to pack light for Christmas holidays

  6. On December 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm Erik Smith said:

    We’ve still got a long way to go, but Detroit is further along than at any point in my 42 years. Thanks for positive publicity (and the pleasure of your company at lunch!)

  7. On December 21, 2014 at 5:54 pm Priya said:

    I think went to Detroit once. But I was a kid, and I think my parents made me go to some religious event that bored me, so I, of course, I blocked out any memory of being there what’s so ever. But I’m glad you like it 🙂
    Priya recently posted..It’s Time To Start Travel Planning Or Something Like That

  8. On December 21, 2014 at 9:21 pm Kaori said:

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Detroit, even though I’ve never been there. It seems like a really great city, even more so now that I’ve read through your blog post!

    And you are so right, there’s no way you could have missed eating the graham-cracker-encrusted French toast. It looks amazing! I need to stop by Detroit next time I’m in MI 😀

    PS: Did you drive there?
    Kaori recently posted..The Eureka Skydeck 88 in Melbourne

    • On December 25, 2014 at 11:12 am Sally said:

      Yep, I drove there. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Kalamazoo. It’s also pretty accessible by train and bus. But, to be honest, you kind of need a car to get around Detroit. Unless you’re just staying in and around the downtown area, which is pretty walkable and there’s the People Mover which circulates through downtown. Or unless you’re not afraid of public buses like I am! (I always get so lost!).

  9. On December 22, 2014 at 10:27 am becky hutner said:

    Wow, thank you for providing a full itinerary for my Detroit trip next May. You better believe it’s going to start with graham-cracker encrusted French toast!
    becky hutner recently posted..I B I Z A: The good, the bad & the horrific.

    • On December 25, 2014 at 11:09 am Sally said:

      You’ll love it! I definitely need to go back soon so I can hit all the places I missed… and, you know, binge on more graham-cracker encrusted French toast.

  10. On December 23, 2014 at 9:19 am Tom @ Waegook Tom said:

    OK, now I want to go to Detroit thanks to you. Seriously, all that food looks incredible, and the Guardian Building is so my kind of place. I mean, ALL THE GOLD. Ditto the Heidelberg Project (I didn’t see as much gold there, though). As for those guys that rolled down their car windows…were they cute? Because if so, I may have to move to Detroit.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..I Broke Less Than 80% Of My Resolutions. Huzzah!

    • On December 25, 2014 at 11:08 am Sally said:

      I don’t know if they were exactly your type. But the city was brimming with cutie hipsters — in fact, I read some article that said Detroit was the #1 city for hipsters. So if you’re into beards and skinny jeans, it might just be your kind of city.

  11. On December 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm HotMamaTravel said:

    I’ve been, but then again I was always sorta afraid to visit. Plus, I didn’t think there was anything worth seeing. Now that I’ve read I see that there is definitely stuff to eat! Glad your second experience was better than your first!

    • On December 25, 2014 at 11:06 am Sally said:

      There’s definitely plenty to see and do in Detroit, besides, you know, food. But, if traveling with kids, I’d suggest doing a day in Detroit (especially Belle Isle — so much fun family stuff there and all FREE) and then heading to Dearborn for the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village. I went to the Greenfield Village for their Holiday Nights celebration and I LOVED it. I definitely need to go back, though, as I didn’t see probably half of it in the 3 and 1/2 hours that I was there. I also need to go to the Henry Ford Museum. I’m not a huge car nerd, but they have so many exhibits that look super cool there.

      • On December 25, 2014 at 11:39 am Pam said:

        If you haven’t been, you definitely need to go to the Motown Museum.

        Oh, and Bucharest Grill!

        • On December 25, 2014 at 11:41 am Sally said:

          I didn’t get to Motown Museum this time, as it was closed on Sunday the one day I had free. So the next time I go I’m focusing on the stuff I missed in Midtown, like the Motown Museum & DIA. Also, YES, must hit up Bucharest Grill. I almost went there this time, and still regret that I didn’t.

  12. On December 27, 2014 at 9:53 pm Choi Kum Fook said:

    Even though I have not been U.S.,but from geography,Detroit is a great commercialize city, famous in its vehicle production. Further more many interesting places and food stuff also can be found in Detroit. Miss Sally, thank you much for your post!

  13. On December 29, 2014 at 8:20 am Dominique King said:

    Glad you had such a great time in Detroit! I see folks recommended that you visit the Motown Museum on a future trip (because we know there will be more visits here in your future!). Other places I’d recommend include touring the Fisher building (another of the city’s great 1920s architectural gems), coming in July for the Concert of Colors (great annual world music and diversity fest in the city), heading on over to Dearborn for The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village as well as the Arab American National Museum and the culinary mecca along Warren Ave (different varieties of Arabic/Mediterranean foods), the Detroit Historical Museum with it’s cool “Streets of Detroit”, Wayne State University (my alma mater, which has some cool architectural and public art from multiple decades), the Detroit Film Theater at the DIA (for indie, foreign and classic films), the Redford Theater for more classic films and the cheesy 1920s Egyptian-themed decor…and I’m just getting started! I’ve visited and written about pretty much all of these places at my own blog, and I never tire of exploring the city and the surrounding area and finding new things to do!
    Dominique King recently posted..Christmas tree recalls still more travel memories

    • On December 31, 2014 at 11:56 am Sally said:

      Thanks for all the suggestions! There definitely will be a return trip (or five). I didn’t hit lots of places I wanted to hit this last time around… and now you gave me even more places I’m going to need to do! Thank you so much. (I’m also open to suggestions for food places. So feel free to share those as well!).

  14. On December 30, 2014 at 10:34 pm Anita said:

    A great article. Being from Australia I never would have considered putting Detroit on my travel list. But after reading this, I would certainly love to visit! Thanks for a lovely post.

    • On December 31, 2014 at 11:52 am Sally said:

      Well, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t travel all the way from Australia just to go to Detroit. But if you’re already in the States and you’re nearby Detroit (like, say, in Chicago or Ontario), I’d recommend a visit. It’s definitely a part of the States lots of non-American travelers (and American travelers!) will never see, for sure!

  15. On January 12, 2015 at 8:28 am Gretchen Garrison said:

    Went to Detroit about a decade ago – loved the experience. Definitely would like to take all of our kids back. Found the link to your site on Midwest Guest (http://www.midwestguest.com/2015/01/midwest-travel-links-for-december-2014.html) Thanks for sharing your experiences.
    Gretchen Garrison recently posted..The Legacy of Nebraska: Featuring Todd A. Williams’ Art

    • On January 24, 2015 at 9:56 am Sally said:

      Glad you enjoyed the post & hope you’re able to go back to Detroit. The next couple years are going to be a good time to go — so much excitement and revitalization going on there right now.

  16. On January 12, 2015 at 2:20 pm Gail at Large said:

    When I lived in Toronto, I drove to Detroit for Easter 2011 and I had one of the most memorable long weekends ever!

    Detroit is such an underrated city — I met lots of friendly people, ate very well, and saw interesting things. Including some places you mentioned, like The Heidelberg Project.

    I wrote several blog posts about that weekend, and this linkage is probably going to get me labelled as spam but here goes:

    Detroit Adventures in Food: http://gailatlarge.com/blog/2011/05/04/12533

    Detroit Rock City: http://gailatlarge.com/blog/2011/04/22/12438

    Detroit, Day 2 in 4 Frames: http://gailatlarge.com/blog/2011/04/24/12443

    I hope this encourages more people to ignore the news media and check out the city.
    Gail at Large recently posted..16 Postcards From Cabo Verde

  17. On January 15, 2015 at 12:45 pm Ron@MichiganHomes said:

    There are so many reasons to love not just Detroit, but Michigan as a whole. Agree with all of your points! Thanks for putting this one up!
    Ron@MichiganHomes recently posted..Become A Happy Tenant With These Renting Tips

  18. On March 3, 2015 at 11:30 pm Ceri said:

    The only things I’d ever heard about Detroit was the bad things. The povery and the gang culture.
    Now I kind of want to go there.
    Ceri recently posted..My Five Favourite Things in February

    • On March 6, 2015 at 8:21 am Sally said:

      It’s definitely on the upswing that’s for sure. It’s not quite revitalized yet, but I’m excited to see what happens there in the next 10 years or so.

  19. On May 19, 2015 at 11:46 am Ron said:

    Michiganders gets this question a lot: “Is Detroit really that bad?”

    Thanks to your blog post, Michiganders now have a good proof or hard fact that what the traditional media says about Detroit is not all true.

    🙂
    Ron recently posted..WARNING: This Video Will Make You Want To Explore Michigan This Summer!

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