Detroit's Having a Renaissance – And You Should Be Part of It

Mar 7, 2018

Whether or not you've spent time here, you'd be forgiven if the phrase "Detroit vacation" didn't spark visions of boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants and cutting-edge culture in your mind's eye. But 2018 is out to prove that perception wrong.

The New York Times recently suggested Detroit may be the nation's most exciting city -- right after Lonely Planet named it a top spot to visit in 2018, second only to Seville, Spain. So if you haven't been to The D lately, you're going to want to see how much it's changed -- and if you've never visited, prepare for instant fandom. Here, five reasons why.

Everything old is new again

Several of the city's most iconic downtown buildings are now (or will soon be) boutique hotels, lending as much character to your stay as comfort.

There's the Detroit Foundation Hotel, built into the old fire department headquarters -- a Neoclassical beauty complete with fire engine red doors out front, charred wood accents in the restaurant and a tricked-out Commissioner's Suite in (where else?) the onetime office of Fire Department Commissioner.

Foundation Hotel Detroit. Photo credit: Joe Vaughn Photography
 

Less than a mile away, the Renaissance Revival-style Wurlitzer Building has been meticulously refurbished (down to the original terra cotta reliefs) -- and reborn as The Siren Hotel, where you'll find a rooftop bar with some of the best views, and drinks, in town. Right around the corner, the Gothic Revival-style Metropolitan Building is steadily morphing into the Element Hotel, slated to open later this year with another vista-blessed rooftop bar. Not to be outdone, the Shinola Hotel (yup, from the same people behind the coveted Shinola Detroit watches) is currently being created from two historic buildings nearby.

The trend's trailblazers? The Neo-Renaissance Book Cadillac Detroit, the world's tallest hotel when it opened in 1924, reopened as a Westin a decade ago. And another Neo-Renaissance gem, the David Whitney building, became the Aloft Detroit in 2014.

Aloft Hotel at the David Whitney
 

All of which basically boils down to a warning: For anyone who likes architecture, history or simply cool hotels, choosing your Detroit digs won't be easy -- but on the bright side, you can't go wrong.


The 'burbs are feeling the burn, too

If you'd prefer something quieter, head for the city's outskirts, which are happening in their own right: Birmingham's AAA 4-Diamond Townsend Hotel has recently made best-of lists everywhere from Travel + Leisure to Conde Nast Traveler to Wine Spectator -- this last one thanks to the wine list at the hotel's famed Rugby Grille. Another AAA 4-Diamond designee, Rochester's Royal Park Hotel wins raves for -- among other things -- its English manor-like library.

Royal Park Hotel

The suburbs are also home to some of the area's biggest attractions -- not least, Dearborn's Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where you'll find the bus on which Rosa Parks made her historic stand. And for any budding biologists in your travel party, there's the Sea Life Michigan Aquarium in Auburn Hills (check out the fresh water exhibit to meet some of the most interesting local lake inhabitants) as well as the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak (don't miss the king penguins).

Convincingly -- if not technically -- suburban, leafy Belle Isle State Park is worth the visit to see what happens when Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmstead gets a 2.5-mile-long island to landscape in the international waters between Detroit and Canada.

King penguins at the Detroit Zoo. Photo credit: Bill Bowen

The food scene is seriously heating up

Always a tipoff to a city's culinary cred, Anthony Bourdain's feelings for this place run deep. In fact, he has a major documentary on Detroit coming out this year. 2018 has also brought James Beard Awards semifinalist status to a number of local chefs and bakers: Thomas Lents, for his new Apparatus Room at the aforementioned Detroit Foundation Hotel; Kate Williams, for her new Lady of the House in the historic Corktown district; Lena Sareini, for her pastry stardom at Selden Standard; and Lisa Ludwinski, for her baking bravado at Sister Pie.

Detroit is also home to such beloved institutions as Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island -- neighboring rival hot dog joints -- and you'd better choose your allegiance carefully, as locals won't allow you to stay neutral. Opinions and options for Middle Eastern staples from baba ghanoush to kebabs are plentiful as well. Two local favorites: the Detroit Free Press loves Birmingham's longtime favorite Phoenicia, while Bon Appetit raves about Shatila Bakery's baklava in Dearborn.

And if all this food talk is making you thirsty, know that Food & Wine recently named Detroit the nation's Next Great Beer City, thanks to great taprooms from the likes of Founders, Jolly Pumpkin, Batch Brewing Company and Motor City Brewing Works.

Selden Standard, Photo Credit: Emily Berger

The Motor City's got new ways to get around

Of course, driving is still an option (preferably in some classic GM or Ford rolling steel), but Detroit's got some new ones as well: the QLine -- a light rail that opened last year -- takes you down the city's famous Woodward Avenue from downtown to the New Center neighborhood for $1.50. Along the way, you'll go through the Midtown neighborhood, home to Jack White's Third Man Records, the HopCat craft beer bar (try the "crack fries") and the Whitney mansion.

Closer to downtown, the city's People Mover can get you from hotel to convention center to ballpark to city center. Running in a large loop around downtown, this is a quick and cheap (75 cents a pop) way to get close to Comerica Park for a Tigers game, Greektown Casino for a couple hours at the blackjack tables, or the Caucus Club (where Barbra Streisand got her start) for a show.

Meanwhile, Detroit's thriving bike share system, called MoGo, offers an $8 daily pass which allows you to ride between any of 43 different bike stations. The city is also working toward completion of the Joe Louis Greenway, a 26-mile bike-friendly system of trails.

 

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Art and culture are everywhere

The aforementioned QLine takes you right past the Detroit Institute of Arts, a must-see, especially for the phenomenal Ford Plant murals by Diego Rivera. Beyond the museum walls, the city itself is awash in art, whether the Joe Louis fist sculpture downtown -- or the murals that have turned The D into a street art star. A few highlights of the latter: the "Whale Tower" mural on the side of the Broderick Tower; works by Shepard Fairey on the sides of the Compuware World Headquarters; and the 100+ murals along the Grand River Street Corridor all the way down to the brick-lined "Fisher Canyon."

Musically, the Motown Museum is a must-visit, but beyond Hitsville USA, you'll find that the city is a hub for garage rock (the White Stripes famously got their start here), electronic music (the world-renowned Movement festival takes place here) as well as jazz (the annual Detroit Jazz Festival is the world's largest free festival to feature the one true American musical art form).

Diego Rivera mural at DIA. Photo credit: Detroit Institute of Arts

Ready to go? Find more information on why It's Go time™ in Detroit, then search for Detroit hotel deals.

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