Once the auto industry center of the U.S., Detroit experienced a sharp decline (and the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country) after car corporations began shipping their manufacturing operations overseas. That said, the city is still an incredible and vibrant hub of culture, food, music, and much, much more — as of late, it’s even been experiencing something of a “revival.”
Whether you’re interested in exploring abandoned buildings or sampling some of the best food in Motown, there’s no shortage of memorable things to do in Detroit. To get a true taste of the city, skip the touristy gimmicks and enjoy some of Detroit’s under-the-radar attractions. Read on for a list of 10 hidden gems to put on your summer bucket list.
1. Tour Abandoned Buildings
Looking for a unique way to see the city from a new vantage point? Consider booking a tour of abandoned buildings in Detroit. Because of Detroit’s population decline, many of the city’s formerly bustling neighborhoods have turned into ghost towns in recent years. For an under-the-radar way to see the city, consider booking an urban exploration trip of these ghost neighborhoods. During the tour, you’ll learn more about the city’s history and architectural influence as you explore abandoned buildings. Be sure to pack your camera, since many of the abandoned buildings make great backdrops for a photoshoot. There’s also a professional photographer on hand to answer any questions you may have about photography and help you get the perfect shot.
2. Drink the Day Away at Spotlite
Looking for a fun place to take out-of-town guests? Consider taking them to Spotlite for the day. Part record shop, part bar, part art gallery, Spotlite offers an array of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The venue also hosts several dances and art shows throughout the year. If the weather is nice, you can sit outside on the connected patio to soak up the sunshine. (It might just inspire you to create your own backyard patio oasis.)
3. Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum
Taking up almost an entire block, Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum is a vibrant cultural site that features sculpture gardens and painted walls with handmade beads and crafts. Originally envisioned by visual storyteller Olayami Dabls, the museum is dedicated to helping visitors “understand the immense power of their African heritage.” Today, the museum is a must-visit for anyone who wants to understand more about the cultural heritage that has shaped Detroit.
4. Heidelberg Project
If you’re in search of an artsy enclave, look no further than Heidelberg Project. In 1986, artist Tyree Guyton began painting abandoned houses in the area and turning them into striking pieces of art. Today, the outdoor art project has become a quirky hideaway complete with whimsically painted houses, murals and cars. Whether you’re looking for a fun place to take out-of-town artist friends or simply hoping to spend an afternoon perusing art exhibits to get some design inspiration, Heidelberg Project is sure to delight.
5. Hamtramck Disneyland
If you haven’t quite gotten your fill of eclectic artwork, head to Hamtramck Disneyland. Located just outside of Detroit, this folk art yard is built on the 30-foot backyard atop two adjacent garages. Now recognized as one of Michigan’s most significant folk art sites, the installation features kinetic structures, brightly colored garages and classic photographs and posters. Donations are welcomed to help keep the art yard in tip-top shape.
6. B. Nektar Meadery
Founded in 2006, B. Nektar Meadery serves up craft ciders, beer and mead in a modern, industrial setting. In addition to choosing from a wide drinks list, visitors can play board games and trivia. It’s a great place to gather with friends for a birthday party or meet someone new for a casual first date. Don’t be surprised if you end up walking away with a bottle (or three) of your favorite new spirit!
7. Cliff Bell’s Jazz Club
Jazz lovers, take note: this is the place for you. Tucked away into a nondescript building, Cliff Bell’s Jazz Club has been fully restored and renovated to become an art deco retreat. While the nightly jazz performances are the main attraction, you won’t want to miss out on the large cocktail and dessert list (we recommend the cinnamon and cheesecake bread pudding, which comes with just the right amount of rum raisin sauce). Ticket prices range depending on the show, but typically start around $20 per person.
8. Mariner Park
For some of the best river views in the city, head to Mariner Park. The small green park space includes a playground, fishing dock and football/soccer field. You can see Lake St. Clair from the park, and Detroit’s canal community is located nearby. Whether you’re looking for a beautiful new picnic spot or a relaxing place to read a book, this is it.
9. Bert’s Warehouse Theatre
For over 30 years, Bert’s Warehouse has been committed to preserving Black culture and serving some of the best food in the city. At first glance, the marketplace looks like a traditional restaurant and bar setup. But as you venture further into the 24,000-square-foot building, you’ll come across a large venue and stage, a second bar and even a museum. From perusing the murals and memorabilia to sampling Bert’s world-famous barbecue ribs and fried chicken, you can’t go wrong by spending a day in this “amusement park dedicated to Detroit’s history.”
10. Fort Piquette Avenue Plant
Since cars are what put Detroit on the map, there’s no better way to honor the city’s heritage than by visiting the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. Considered the birthplace of the Model T, this former Model T factory was built in 1904 as the second outpost for the Ford Motor Company. Since 2000, the factory has functioned as a non-profit museum dedicated to preserving the history of the Model T creation. Whether you love cars or just want to walk down memory lane as you gain a deeper understanding of how the modern-day car industry got its start, this is the palace for you. Tickets for adults cost $15, and tickets for kids cost $5.