Grab your passport. Your Detroit weekend getaway includes a trip to Windsor, Ontario (Canada) — just two miles away via bridge or tunnel. The proximity to Canada is one of the many amazing things about the Motor City. You can go over to enjoy the shopping (your dollar is worth $1.30), pick up some only-in-Canada treats (like Cadbury candies imported from Britain), and more.
I made it in under 5 hours driving from Chicago, Ill. Flying is another option, but you will need to rent a car unless you stay downtown. You can also take Amtrak. Detroit has a great freeway system, and things are spread out, so plan on having a car. Delta has a hub at Detroit airport and Southwest also goes there.
What to Do
Don’t miss the museums of Midtown, easily accessed from downtown via the new Q Line Streetcar or via the new SMART FAST express bus from the suburbs. The Detroit Institute of Arts (5200 Woodward Ave.) is a must. Don’t miss the Michigan’s Great Lakes photo exhibit now through May 3. Also on display are selections of African-American Art (Detroit Collects). Another current exhibit, Humble and Human, features Impressionist era treasures.
The Charles Wright Museum of African American History is another must and is near the DIA at 315 E. Warren. “And Still We Rise” features 22 galleries. It begins in Africa and into America with the horrors of slavery followed by emancipation. It is a stunning eye-opener that everyone should see. Details are at thewright.org. Don’t miss it.
Also nearby is the Detroit History Museum where you can learn about the historic city settled by the French in 1734 after being discovered in 1665. Indeed, it was a fur-trading hub. The museum also chronicles the city’s ups and downs including the 1967 riots. The D also has a rich music history that spans from the Motown Sound (Aretha Franklin and the Supremes) to Eminem (aka Michael Mathers).
Beautiful Belle Isle State Park in Detroit is on the Detroit River. You can watch the ships go by or visit the Nature Center.
Birmingham is a cute suburb full of trendy shops and great restaurants. Like Royal Oak, Ferndale and Midtown Detroit, it is very walkable.
The Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is another must and is open all year. Don’t miss the Royal Oak Farmers Market on Saturdays with antiques on Sundays.
Don’t miss drag queen bingo and drag Sunday brunch at the Five15 (600 S. Washington Ave. in Royal Oak). Next door is Pronto which features a bar and restaurant. Down the road in trendy Ferndale you will find SoHo (205 9 Mile) which features a fun mixed crowd. Ferndale and Royal Oak are the gay-friendly suburbs. Both feature tons of great restaurants and shops. Como in Ferndale is great for pizza.
The Hayloft Saloon is a lot of fun. Located at 8070 Greenfield, it’s a friendly and frisky crowd.
Out in Ann Arbor you will find the Aut Bar which is also a restaurant as well as the Necto nightclub. Up in Pontiac you will find the Liberty Bar and Poutinerie which features music videos on Friday and Saturday.
Where to Stay and Eat
A former resident of Royal Oak, I stayed in Troy at the new Towne Place Suites (14 Mile and Stephenson) as well as at the Baymont (a bargain hunter’s dream). Both are handy to the I-75 Chrysler Freeway and Royal Oak and Ferndale. Nearby is the Powerhouse Gym ($10 daily fee), and next door to them is the new Royal Grill (1467 W. 14 Mile in Madison Heights) which features great Lebanese food. Try the fresh carrot juice.
The Marriott Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit has great views. The new Shinola is supposed to be the new boutique hotel and is also downtown as is the fabulous Westin Book Cadillac. Downtown Detroit high rises are mainly from the 1920s and 1930s and have been revitalized to their former glory.
Corktown just south of downtown features great restaurants including the Mercury Grille, which is known for its burgers and fries.
Michigan roads don’t generally have left turns. Instead, they make you do a U-turn. It’s called the Michigan Left.
Soft drink cans are worth 10 cents.
The 7-11 is known in Michigan as a “party store” as are all convenience stores.
The locals use their hand to show you where in Michigan they are from. The lower peninsula is shaped like a mitten.
You will find great Lebanese food everywhere including food to go at gas stations. The region has a large population of Lebanese.
The mile roads refer to the distance from downtown Detroit.
Some freeways have names. I-75 is The Chrysler Freeway, M-10 is the Lodge, and M-39 is the Southfield Freeway. You can go 70 on the freeways through the region, although the locals frequently go faster, so stay in the right lane.
For more Information
Go to visitdetroit.com for information on The D and to windsoressex.com for Windsor. The gay publications include Metra Magazine which highlights the nightlife as does OutPost which bills itself as Detroit’s gay guide. Between the Lines is now bi-weekly. You will find them online atpridesource.com. They are Michigan’s source for LGBTQ news as well as an informative calendar of upcoming events. The weekly in Detroit is known as Metro Times and has a lot of great entertainment ideas.
The D has been totally revitalized and is a must if you have not been there lately. Written off for dead by the naysayers, it has zoomed back to be an affordable, interesting, fun destination where you won’t have enough time for all there is to do. It is Midwestern-friendly without the attitude of Chicago (or Toronto). You owe yourself a visit to the D.
Bill Malcolm’s syndicated LGBTQ value travel column appears in publications from North Carolina to California. He resides in Indianapolis, Ind. but has lived in Detroit, Mich., San Francisco, Calif., Seattle, Wash.and Portland, Ore.