Both gritty and pretty, Detroit is a fascinating, fun-filled vacation destination for families. Sure, “Motor City” is no longer the hub of the American Dream, but it is a transitioning and resilient city chock-full of history, modern offerings, art, nature, and culture.
Kids love hot dogs – or veggie dogs – and so they’ll appreciate that hot dog eating is part of the Detroit local experience. Traditionally, D-town hot dogs are called “Coney Islands” and topped with chili.
However, the Coney Dog – which was invented in Michigan, not New York – isn’t the same as a chili dog, mostly because of its use of beanless chili.
The two diners are owned by rival brothers and many locals have an allegiance to one restaurant or the other, even though they feature very similar food: beanless-chili dogs with raw chopped onions and mustard, a loose hamburger meat called “loosey,” bowls of chili with or without meat and French fries. Of course, they also have traditional hot dogs of all kinds available as well.
More of a burger, pizza or BBQ family? No worries – Detroit has you covered.
Slow’s Bar-B-Q, located inside a restored building from the late 1800s in the hip Corktown neighborhood, is much newer to the scene – it opened in 2005 – but has quickly become a dining staple in Detroit.
Popular sandwiches include The Longhorn, which is a beef brisket slathered with onion marmalade, smoked gouda, and spicy sauce. There’s also a tasty veggie sandwich, The Genius, that’s made with vegetarian “chicken” and topped with homemade coleslaw.
Supino Pizzeria, located in the Eastern Market, is a favorite Detroit restaurant. Known for its thin crust and massive slices, pizzas are presented as “red” (with sauce) and “white” (without sauce). Topping options are as classic as pepperoni to the more daring egg-topped pie.
Go early with kids to avoid a long wait.
Other spots to consider are the Hudson Cafe for a good breakfast or lunch (if you have a sweet tooth, try the cream-cheese topped red velvet pancakes), Avalon International Breads (strong coffee, delicious homemade breads), Greektown’s Pegasus for the saganaki and the GrandTrunk Pub for a fish fry battered in local Detroit beer.
Detroit is most famous, of course, for its great R&B artists like Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. The Motown Museum offers tours for $10. The tour, which lasts about an hour, features a video about the history of Motown, the chance to see famous Motown-related memorabilia – as well as one of Michael Jackson’s sparkly gloves – and the chance to hang out in the famous Studio A where Motown greats such as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and among others, recorded their hits.
The Henry Ford Museum is an absolute must see.
Get up close and personal with the original wiener mobile, what’s believed to be the oldest remaining school bus, an original Volkswagen camper, the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back, the chair Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in and more.
There are plenty of autos on display, too, as well as a hilarious (and scary) section on the evolution of the child’s car seat, which, according to museum information, “weren’t always about safety … (they were) more about parents’ convenience.”
The Heidelberg Project was a fascinating and inspiring neighborhood which started in 1986 when Tyree Guyton and his grandfather first started to transform abandoned houses into art pieces.
Although it’s known as Motor City, these days there’s a lot of focus on making the city a bike-friendly destination. There are many bike trails that range from the off-the-beaten-path to the more urban, including the Dequindre Cut on Detroit’s East Side featuring lots of colorful graffiti.
Wheelhouse Detroit, a bike shop with rentals located along the Riverfront, has over 90 planned bicycle tours of Detroit with different themes, destinations, and special packages.
If your family has passports, Windsor, Canada is on the other side of the river and accessible via the Ambassador Bridge or the Detroit-Windsor underwater tunnel.
Just the concept of traveling to Canada is intriguing, and offers a “foreign country” experience because of the use of Canadian money, different spellings of words on buildings (“mould” and “centre” for example) and people watching.
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