“Detroit Rock City” is a song your dad definitely knows because his favorite face-paint-covered band scream-sings it. (It’s KISS. All dads love KISS.) I, um, don’t know what the track is actually about but can now say with confidence that this lyric checks out: “You gotta lose your mind in Detroit Rock City.”
A weekend in Detroit isn’t a beach vacation. For one thing, it’s a city. And there’s no time to “do nothing”—but you won’t want to anyway. There is waaay too much to see, eat, drink, and hear, and you gotta do it all.
The Motor City has been through a lot. (White flight, post-industrialization, bankruptcy—just google it.) But the OG friendly, creative, fun-loving energy of the city has stayed intact throughout it all, and today’s exciting, still-going resurgence—there’s tons more work to be done—has brought new, thriving life to Eminem’s hometown.
TL;DR: Detroit is a f*ckin’ blast. Let’s do this.
Actually, forget what I just said about all the sh*t there is to do in Detroit: If you’re booked at the Shinola Hotel in downtown Detroit, you’ll want to cancel all your plans and stay in for the rest of your life like a cooler, chicer version of Eloise.
The boutique hotel is consistent with the brand’s rep—as in, it’s chock-full of super-stylish, luxe stuff you can no longer live without. (Hi, meet the power strip of my dreams.) The rooms are basically why the word “plush” was invented: velvet couches, comfy beds made of actual clouds, remote-controlled curtains from the future.
And if you really, really don’t want to leave the hotel, great news, you don’t have to! Check out San Morello, the yummy Italian restaurant located downstairs. Trust: Ask for a to-go bread bag.
BOOK NOW Shinola Hotel in Downtown Detroit
There are big, bright murals ev-er-y-where. Head to Eastern Market to see some especially splashy ones on narrow yet uncrowded side streets—perfect for taking as many “candids” as your S.O. can handle without breaking up with you.
While you’re there, peep the cool, warehouse-size Red Bull House of Art to see what’s on exhibit from the current artists-in-residence. And stop by the Saturday farmers market (it’s epic) and the local artists lining the sidewalks. The neighborhood is packed with pizza (yeah, Detroit pizza is a thing—we’ll get there), cafés, distilleries, and breweries too. Nothing makes you hangry like a selfie, or something.
You’ll find PDA—public displays of art—everywhere in Detroit. Hop in your rental car (oh yeah, rent a car, the city is huge and spread out) for a quick ride to Hamtramck to see Disneyland, a legendary folk-art installation in a backyard, and to the city’s east side to walk through the massive, multi-block Heidelberg Project by artist Tyree Guyton.
The Heidelberg Project is “an outdoor art environment” first developed by Guyton in the mid-’80s as a way of reclaiming and transforming his childhood home and neighborhood. You’ve never seen anything like it.
There’s stuff to explore inside too. You can’t go to Detroit and not visit the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum to see Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals. You can’t, it’s a fact. Just make sure you go upstairs for a sesh with the impressive collection inside the museum’s General Motors Center for African American Art too.
You’ll recognize The TEN Nail Bar as the setting for that Bernie Sanders x Cardi B video. You’ll love The TEN Nail Bar—either one, there are two convenient locations: Capitol Park and New Center—as the setting of the flyest manicure ever. The sleek yet cozy space screams self-care: exactly what you’ll need to take a breath from running all over town.
Here, the nail technicians = artists. That means you’ll get a no-rush, relaxing mani or pedi from a mega-skilled professional who will kindly interpret “I don’t know, something nude but with gold accents—um, minimalist?” and create the chicest nail art your fingertips have ever seen.
Literally, there’s everything. The best falafel you’ve ever tasted? The best hummus you’ve ever tasted? The best bread you’ve ever tasted? All of the above are at Yemen Café, a friendly, no-frills Middle Eastern restaurant in Hamtramck.
(Hamtramck is technically a small city that neighbors Detroit known for its cultural diversity—the tagline: The World in Two Square Miles—and a teeny thrift toy shop named Mom and Pop Toy Shop.) You will order too much food and you won’t regret it. Get extra green hot sauce.
Keep up the carbo load at Rose’s Fine Food in East Jefferson. Order brunch—get the Silverman’s Special—and sit at the diner-style counter. Slurp deliciously funky udon and rice bowls, followed by your own personal carafe of warm or chilled house sake, at Ima in Corktown.
And get down and dirty with an oozy, cheddar-covered Impossible Burger (they have the real stuff too, if you’re into that) and fries at Lovers Only. Do it again the next morning with a saucy egg and vegan-sausage sandwich at their walk-up window next door, Iggy’s Eggies.
Okay, so let’s talk about the whole Detroit-style pizza thing. As a native New Yorker and therefore a Certified Pizza Expert, I can confirm: It’s yummy. Doughy, square-shaped, crispy. Try it for yourself at Pie-Sci Pizza.
The cocktail menu at Standby is serious: It’s got a spirit, flavor profile, and ’grammable look for everyone on the planet. And admirably chill bartenders who are as friendly as the drinks are fussy to make. Sit at the bar and never leave.
Pause for nature with a visit to Belle Isle. The massive island park is a gorgeous green oasis literal steps from the city. You can do all sorts of casual outdoorsy things: run, kayak, pet people’s dogs. And visit the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory for all your faux-flower-wall photo needs.
PSA: If you’re even thinking of visiting Detroit, book tickets right TF now for the Motown Museum. They *literally* sell out every morning. That’s because you can only walk inside the cute two-story house on small group guided tours. The house—originally part home, part recording studio owned by Berry Gordy—was the first-ever headquarters of Motown Records. Today, you can tour the studio packed with photos, costumes, and all sorts of memorabilia.
If, uh, you don’t get tickets in time, take your Instas on the front lawn with everyone else while dancing to the classic Motown tracks playing from the outdoor sound system, then head over to the Detroit Historical Museum.
There is no more adorbs museum than this one. Do a drive-by in the newest exhibition, but make time for the permanent installations. Namely America’s Motor City, Doorway to Freedom, and The Streets of Old Detroit, an immersive, walkable recreation of 1840s, 1870s, and 1900s Detroit.
Oh, and if you want to go full nerd (guilty!), head to John K. King Used & Rare Books in Downtown Detroit. An entire four-floor warehouse packed with approximately one gazillion used books. Get your bookshelf some souvenirs.
Um, did you really think we were going to talk about Detroit without talking about music? Wild. There are more live music venues and festivals—like the annual jazz festival that *literally* everyone in the city attends over Labor Day weekend—than your ears can handle in a single trip. And no, I don’t know what kind of music you like. But wherever you stay, whenever you go, whatever you’re into, don’t you dare miss Cliff Bell’s.
Make a dinner rez or squeeze yourself through the packed bar for a Sazerac (keep it on brand, ya know?) at the iconic decades-old jazz club any night of the week and catch a live jazz show that will leave you blasting Billie Holiday on your AirPods the entire flight home.
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