Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Detroit

This is a hard city to love. One of the few large cities in the region the GLCT does not recommend to the beginning casual traveler, Detroit can pose a few challenges even to the most experienced. While the major tourism areas (Downtown, Midtown, Belle Isle, Eastern Market, South Corktown) are at least passable, stray too far away and you might find yourself in the ruins of a once proud neighborhood. Detroit Department of Transportation's trip planner ( is helpful, IF you know exactly where you are wanting to go. Google's version seemed much easier to use. No system map is available and some attractions do not offer public transit information. Two of the largest and most popular museums, Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum (both are nearly all day visits on their own), are located in the western suburb of Dearborn and very difficult to access by public transit. The best time to visit is during the summer when the Detroit Tigers are playing a weekend series. The crowds will offer some comfort of foot traffic on often-deserted sidewalks. 

Detroit-Eastern Market:
-Eastern Market ( Part street fair, part market, part performance space, Eastern Market is one of the largest farmers markets in the region. At the center of the district are six sheds open during the Saturday's public market day. Even on a chilly, rainy May morning the market was packed with eager shoppers visiting the baked goods, food, and flower stalls. The first stop should be the Welcome Center to pick up a map. At the periphery of the main complex are antique shops, restaurants, bars, and meat shops, nearly all open the the public. Eastern Market is a decent walk from downtown hotels or using DDOT 34-Gratiot from downtown. Bring a canvas bag to carry any finds.

-Greektown Casino-Hotel ( Of the three casinos, Greektown is the only one that feels as if it is part of the city. Large picture windows allow passersby to look into the huge hotel lobby and first floor sports bar. The casino is kitty-corner to the hotel and is built into the same area as the former Trapper's Alley space. The complex is also directly connected to the Detroit People Mover. FYI-smoking is still allowed in Michigan casinos. The casino does offer a completely separate non-smoking section. 

-Detroit People Mover (DPM) ( At $0.50 per ride, the People Move is a fantastic way to see Downtown Detroit. Before boarding, pick-up a People Move guide for information on nearby retailers and detailed information on station artwork. Now, getting anyplace is another story. Stations are located near or connected to a few downtown hotels, the Greektown Casino, Rose Parks Transit Center, the isolated Joe Lewis Arena, stadiums, and Cobo Center. Use the Michigan or Times Square stations for a short walk to the MGM Casino or a longer walk to MotorCity Casino. 

-Detroit Beer Company ( Located near the DPM Broadway Station, across the street from the Detroit Opera House, and within walking distance of the baseball and football stadiums, the Detroit Beer Company makes for a good resting spot. A street-side outdoor area is welcoming, but uncovered. On the second floor the front section overlooks Broadway and the PeDPM track. Food is mostly bar fare and the brewed beer tasty. 

Detroit-English Village:
-Pewabic Pottery ( Founded by Mary Chase Perry in 1903, this National Historic Landmark pottery design and fabrication center continues to produce world-famous practical artwork. Installations include the entrance of the Guardian Building, Northwest Terminal, the Detroit Public Library, Comerica Ballpark, and Shedd Aquarium (Chicago). The gift shop is located on the the first floor and the very small museum is located on the the second, non-wheelchair assessable, floor. Self-guided tours are permitted on WEEKDAYS. Use DDOT 25-Jefferson from downtown and recommended to combine with a Belle Isle trip.

Detroit-Belle Isle: Use DDOT 25-Jefferson from downtown. No transit onto or around island. Restrooms are at best somewhat useable, but for extended visits take some tp just in case. Museum and nature center do have on-site maintained restrooms. In addition to the museums, the 982-acre park offers golf, nature trails, biking trails, fishing areas, and other recreation. 

-Dossin Great Lakes Museum ( Located on the shore across the river from Windsor is this nice little museum dedicated to Great Lakes ships. Now operated by the Detroit Historical Society (which also runs the Detroit History Museum), it also has a faded feel as the main museum in Detroit-Midtown. The model ship gallery will be inspiring to any model builders in the group. Overlooking the river is the pilot house of the SS William Clay Ford. Museum is free. 

-Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory ( Built in 1904, the conservatory offers a bit of an indoor resting spot for a traveler needing a break. The south wing contains tropical plants. The north wing hosts the extensive collection of desert plants. The show house has an ongoing display of blooming plants. Admission is free.

-Belle Isle Nature Zoo ( Now run by the Detroit Zoological Society, the Nature Zoo feels like more of a placeholder than a real zoo. The real attraction of the center are now caged fallow deer that once were free to roam the island. Deer feedings can be a big draw. Other animals on display include an open area bird feeding spot (with chairs to enjoy the view), and a collection of small animals such as snakes, spiders, and turtles. Free to tour. 

Detroit-North Corktown:
-MotorCity Casino-Hotel ( Located just northwest of downtown (and feeling a bit isolated) is the city's second largest casino by revenue, the MotorCity Casino. Built in the footprint of an old Wonder Bread factory the casino is easily accessible by expressway, with one exit leading right up to the complex. At night both the hotel and casino are lit-up with a series of horizontal lines that help the building really stand out on a darken skyline. The night this CTer visited a local band was playing in the lounge with the performance viewable from the many video screens on the two-level gaming area. Take DDOT 21-Grand River from downtown. Somewhat walkable from most downtown hotels from the DPM Times Square Station. 

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Great Lakes Casual Traveler Google Earth/Panoramio photo site:

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