Planning Your Trip to the Motor City

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The 2014 National Main Streets Conference is just around the corner. As a conference attendee, you’ll have the chance to witness and be a part of a unique city that’s right in the middle of a huge transition. Now is the perfect time to visit the city of Detroit--for business or for pleasure. As you are making travel plans for the conference, here are the things you’ll want to know. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the abundance of exciting, leisure-time activities available in the Motor City.


Tour D-Troit – An article in Visit Detroit Magazine by Cynthia J. Drake

To some, city tours might conjure up images of buses crammed with fanny-packed rubberneckers. But in The D, where urban decay is being buffed away by innovation and opportunity, there's so much more to see beyond the bus window. And buses aren't the only way to see and learn more about the area. There are multiple opportunities to experience the city with your own individualized twist.

So follow your nose and taste buds on a gourmand's pilgrimage through the cuisines of the various cultures that helped build the area. Take in the array of architectural styles while whizzing by on a Segway, two-wheel electric vehicle or paddleboat. Or give yourself a more physical challenge with a bike ride or walking tour.

Whatever your speed, here's a roundup of some of the best-loved tours that will get you on the road to introducing – or reacquainting – yourself with the Motor City.

Outdoors

One of the best ways to experience Detroit is to get out in the fresh air, where the smells and sounds help paint a picture of the city today. In recent years, several local tour companies have sprung up to accommodate growing numbers of tourists and locals alike who are curious about the new face of The D.

Feet on the Street Tours provides walking, car, bus and bicycle tours for an individual to groups of many. Tours are usually organized around a theme. Prohibition in Detroit, for example, runs through August on Thursday evenings and explores Detroit's role in Prohibition and the origins of the legendary Purple Gang. A public tour of Eastern Market includes sampling delicious cuisine along the way. Tours can be customized to your preference as well.

Get a truly off-road experience zooming through the Motor City on a battery-electric-powered Segway from Inside Detroit Tours, whose mission is to showcase the vibrancy of downtown Detroit. Faster than walking and more personal than a bus, Inside Detroit's Segway tour features stops at major landmarks and historic sites such as Campus Martius Park, Hart Plaza, the Detroit Opera House, Comerica Park and the Fox Theatre.

"You'll see Detroit in a whole new light," remarks Jeanette Pierce, co-founder of Inside Detroit Tours. "The Segways themselves are super fun. You can zoom along the RiverWalk on a beautiful day and see the sights."

Want to add a workout to your tour? Take in the vistas of the city by bicycle. Wheelhouse Detroit is a local favorite where you can rent cruisers, comfort hybrid and road bikes, as well as kid-friendly bikes and accessories. Tours include Eastern Market, Corktown, Grandmont Rosedale, southwest Detroit, Hamtramck, Belle Isle, historic churches and public art.


If you're feeling a little lazy and want someone else to do all the pedaling, take a rickshaw tour with Rickshaw Detroit. You can arrange personalized tours with your pedicab driver.

Architecture

The Detroit skyline is dotted with skyscrapers built during the pre-Depression era. In fact, Detroit is one of the only cities in the country so faithfully emblematic of this architectural style.

Names such as Albert Kahn, George D. Mason and Wirt C. Rowland are synonymous with Detroit architecture. Minoru Yamasaki, who later designed the World Trade Center, also got his start here, where he designed buildings including One Woodward Avenue.

To get a comprehensive glimpse of this work, your itinerary should include the vacant, but magnificent Michigan Central Depot; the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit hotel, built in the 1900s and given a $200-million renovation in 2008; the Chicago style-influenced Penobscot Building, which was designed by Rowland and Detroit sculptor Corrado Parducci; the golden orange art deco Guardian Building; and the Fisher and General Motors Building (Cadillac Place), both designed by Kahn and located in Detroit's New Center area. Check out www.experiencedetroit.com for self-guided tours of Detroit's historic commercial buildings, churches, estates and neighborhoods. Or contact one of the many bus or walking tour companies to arrange for an architectural tour. Preservation Wayne, Detroit's oldest and largest architectural preservation organization, offers trips focusing on Kahn's buildings, downtown skyscrapers and more. Detroit Urban Adventures also offers a tour titled Detroit's Rise, Fall & Renewal ($20) that covers the old and the new.

A tour of the buildings that sprouted up during the city's heyday will inevitably reveal a few heartbreaking examples of grand structures forgotten. For those with a fascination for urban decay, you can take a web-based tour of some of Detroit's "fabulous ruins" at www.detroityes.com.

For a more upbeat interpretation on the topic, feast your eyes on Detroit's Heidelberg Project, which has transformed abandoned houses into works of art – a thought-provoking commentary on decay and rebirth.

Art

After visiting the Heidelberg Project, you'll want to continue to get inspired by the beautiful artistic imagination of other metro Detroiters and visiting artists who left their mark all around the city. Visit Joe Louis' sculpted fist, snap a picture of the Spirit of Detroit statue (sometimes decked out in Detroit Tigers or Red Wings jerseys) or pause to appreciate Detroit's Pewabic Pottery murals that brighten People Mover stations and Comerica Park.

Also get yourself over to the Detroit Institute of Arts, where you'll marvel at Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry fresco cycle, inspired by the grind and grit of the city's manufacturing glory days of the 1930s. Both docent-guided and audio tours are available.

Another worthwhile stop is the Cranbrook Art Museum, which is scheduled to reopen to the public this fall after a grand facelift. While there, architecture fans should stop by the art deco Saarinen House, which was the home and studio of Finnish-American designer Eliel Saarinen from 1930 through 1950.

Food & Wine

A great way to get to know a city is through your stomach. Detroit, with its delectable spanakopita, pierogies and Coney dogs, does not disappoint. Foodies should make their way to Eastern Market, the largest historic public market in the U.S., which has been serving up vegetables, breads, cheeses and spices since 1891. Greektown is a treasure trove of great cuisine and another must. You might also want to add the two famous dueling Coney joints on your itinerary: American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. You can then decide who has the best dog and take part in the lively debate that has been taking place between metro Detroiters for years.

For a more comprehensive tour, check out Culinary Escapes, which offers an insider's view of dining in Detroit and environs such as Royal Oak and Birmingham. You'll munch your way through a moving feast of modern and traditional favorites for about $50 – and you're guaranteed not to walk away hungry.

You can also check out Taste-Full Tours, featuring themed tours including Beer and BBQ, Sip and Knit, Hidden Rochester and Motown Chowdown.

In the mood to imbibe? Sample the latest craft brews on a Motor City Brew Tour, with guided bus transportation, tours at local breweries, beer samples and snacks.

Music

The D is called Motown for good reason. Music lovers visiting the area will be richly rewarded when they fill their itineraries with historic sites and fill their ears with the sweet sounds that defined generations – and continue to influence music today.

No audiophile's journey to Motown is complete without a visit to the Motown Historical Museum, the unassuming little building that launched some very big careers. (Allow us to name-drop: Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Diana Ross, the Jackson 5... We could go on and on and on, but there isn't enough space here.)

Catch even more Motown music fever with a Motown dinner cruise on the Detroit Princess riverboat. Docked in downtown Detroit, the Detroit Princess offers food, drink and live renditions of Motown favorites just about every weekend in the summer and fall.

Fast forward a few decades and you'll find that The D is also the home of one of the most contemporary music forms, as the birthplace of techno music. The annual Movement electronic music festival celebrates the experience of electronic music every May in Hart Plaza.

If you don't feel like going it alone, Inside Detroit offers music tours as well as an Entertainment Options Tour – for people who just can't decide among the 130 bars and restaurants within one square mile of downtown Detroit. Or turn a few heads and class up your tour with a luxury vehicle – a limousine, luxury SUV or limo bus with Metro Party Bus and Limousine.



Because there’s so much knowledge and deliciousness to take in, make sure to give yourself enough time to explore it all. We encourage conference attendees to fly in early or leave a little later to take advantage of these wonderful opportunities outside of the conference schedule. Check out “Discover the D” for more ideas and itineraries for every interest!

Check out the original story by Cynthia J. Drake in Visit Detroit magazine here.