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An Insider’s Travel Guide To Detroit

There’s no denying that we’re all ready to travel after over a year of pandemic lockdowns. While the light at the end of the tunnel is visible, thanks to the COVID-19 vaccines, we’re still not quite there yet. And the fact that the weather is getting nice again doesn’t make staying at home any easier.

If you’re a metro Detroiter, you understand how important it is to get out of the house and enjoy every bit of nice weather before the harsh winter returns. But, Detroit, Michigan is a culturally rich city over three centuries old and has a lot to offer. So, there’s no reason why you should feel “stuck” in the motor city. You simply have to get out and try to notice the things you may walk by every day. Also, there’s a big difference between seeing the exterior of a nice hotel and enjoying the room and amenities.

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Detroit is more than just downtown and midtown, however, it’s where you’re going to find the most incredible places to stay. These areas are also centrally located to most all notable attractions in the city. If you’re more of the private Airbnb type, we’ve got a great pick. If you want to go the hotel route, we’ve got three excellent options there, too.

There’s really no way to encompass everything to do in Detroit in one guide. However, we’ll try our best to direct you to the cool places to stay, delicious foods, and socially distanced activities during your Detroit staycation.

Where To Stay

Luxury Hotel Option: The Shinola Hotel

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The whole point of a staycation is to treat yourself and experience something in your home town that you don’t get the chance to see very often. The Shinola Hotel is that place. Your stay at the Shinola Hotel can only be described as a “curated experience,” the likes of which the Mac&Lo hospitality group is known for in their hotels from New York to China. This hotel has won a ton of awards, notably Forbes’ Worlds top 10 Boutique Hotels (2019) and AAA’s Four Diamonds Award (2019 & 2020).

The hotel’s creation married two restored buildings — the T.B. Rayl & Co. department store and the former Singer sewing machine store — with a new high-rise. Overall,  this contributed three new modern facilities to the Woodward/Grand River block. The first thing you’ll notice when staying here is the thoughtfulness of design and attention to detail. Both buildings’ facades were carefully restored, especially the T.B. Rayl building, and some of the original wall signage in the mezzanine was kept intact. Within select rooms, you’ll find tributes to the building’s previous glory with original singer-sowing machines that were found in the building during construction. Throughout the hotel, you’ll find stunning art, much of which is from acclaimed Detroit artists.

While staying at the Shinola Hotel, you won’t have to travel far for fantastic food. San Morello, located adjacent to the hotel lobby, is from James Beard Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini — also the driving force behind the New York hospitality group NoHo. There you’ll enjoy authentic, scratch-made Southern Italian and Sicilian cuisine made from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. If you’re in the mood for something more casual yet delicious, Penny Red’s fried chicken is a stone’s throw away. For drinks, you can also stop by the Evening Bar for craft cocktails in a relaxing, retro/modern atmosphere.

Rooms at the Shinola Hotel start at $235 a night, but if you really want to live it up, be sure to book one of their seven suites. An added bonus is your furry friend can enjoy the hotel, too, as it’s pet-friendly.

Price: From $235/night

Budget Hotel Option: The Siren Hotel

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Keeping with historic places to stay in Detroit, the Siren hotel lets you experience Detroit’s elegant yesteryear on a budget. Located in the heart of downtown, this hotel used to be home to one of Detroit’s many music icons, Wurlitzer. The organ-making giant made the building a focal point of the city, with intricate architecture and modern design for the times. It boomed through the 50s and 60s. But, when Detroit fell on hard times, so did the Wurlitzer building, quickly becoming a notorious eyesore.

When Detroit started to make its comeback in the mid-2010s, New York developer Ash NYC jumped on the opportunity to restore the building, and they did a fantastic job. By converting it to a hotel, they’ve allowed people to step back in time to enjoy architecture and design that is hard to come by these days. They’ve also added their own touch of modern-chic elements, which pairs wonderfully. Besides being easy on the eyes, it’s also easy on the wallet, with rooms starting at $179 a night (which is great for downtown prices).

If you stay at the Siren, make sure you visit Karl’s Diner located within the hotel. It’s an upscale diner concept created by James Beard Award-winning chef Kate Williams. As we write this, it’s temporarily closed but will be back open soon. Another great feature of the Siren is the Candy Bar — a small, upscale craft cocktail lounge located off the lobby with a chandelier you have to see to believe (reservations only).

Price: From $160/night

Mid-Range Option: The Foundation Hotel

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We’re on a roll with historic Detroit lodging options. The Foundation Hotel is another refurbished Detroit gem downtown. The lobby and restaurant are built within Detroit’s original fire station and connected to the former Pontchartrain Wine Cellars building.

The Foundation Hotel has hauled in its fair share of awards and recognitions since its opening. In 2018 it was named “One of the 100 World’s Greatest Places to Visit” by Time. It also won the Conde Nast Traveler, 2020 Reader’s Choice award. While we’re on awards, its lobby restaurant, The Apparatus Room, is headed by two Michelin-star-winning chef Thomas Lents. Making ordering in for room service that much more appealing.

Inside the hotel, you’ll find marble floors, reclaimed wood beams, and tons of art from local and nationally acclaimed artists. The Foundation Hotel is walkable to everything downtown and is perfect if you’re planning on attending at the TCF Center, as it’s right next door.

From: $229/night

Airbnb: Woodbridge Farm

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This newly renovated, 2nd-floor apartment is located in historic Woodbridge. It’s hosted by Airbnb super hosts Zac and Renee. The home itself is historic, being built in 1884. It’s within walking distance to the Woodbridge neighborhood’s quaint downtown. On a side note, if you stay anywhere in Woodbridge, be sure to get some curbside pick-up from Pie-Sci Pizza. The Woodbridge Farm offers a full kitchen, washer/dryer, heating/cooling (which can be hard to find in old Detroit homes), and Wi-Fi. However, don’t expect to bring all your buds here for a bachelor party weekend. This Airbnb is limited to two guests, so save this listing for that special someone.

Price: From $90/night

Where To Eat

Like most restaurants across the world, Detroit restaurants are offering takeout and curbside pickup. However, the delivery options in Detroit are limited. If you’re comfortable with dining in, many restaurants are serving at a limited capacity inside and have extended the outdoor dining options.

Starting with breakfast, we have to recognize the Dime Store. This all-day breakfast and lunch spot has not been slowed down by the pandemic, earning best restaurant from Detroit’s Hour Magazine, you’ll find a line out the door almost anytime. The good news is, they have takeout and deliver through DoorDash. Another breakfast/lunch staple in the motor city is Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles, owned by Detroit native and former NFL cornerback Ron Bartell. For a fancier sit-down brunch, you’ll never go wrong with Seldon Standard.

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For an amazing sandwich for lunch, be sure to visit two of Detroit’s best-kept secrets, both located in historic Corktown. The first is Hygrade Deli, a family-owned and operated business for over 65 years. There are no-frills here, just amazing sandwiches. Their tagline is, “If you die tomorrow, you must try the corned beef today.” The second deli you can’t pass up is Mudgies. With sandwiches so big you wonder how you’ll fit them in your mouth, they’re said to have one of the best pastrami reubens you’ll ever eat. If you happen to staycation in Detroit in July, then set a reminder to get one of their limited-time lobster rolls that will put many New England delis to shame.

For dinner, if you’re looking to adventure out from the terrific cuisine located in the hotels mentioned above, Detroit has no shortage of restaurants run by acclaimed chefs. Right around the corner from the Siren hotel, you’ll find Write and Co.— a shared plates concept headed by James Beard-nominated chef Marc Djozlija. Finally, if you’re willing to take a short trip to the suburb of Hazel Park, you’ll find the James Beard — best restaurant semi-finalist, Mabel Gray, founded by hometown culinary hero James Rigato.

While acclaimed cooking is great and all, some of the best places are small, family-owned, and operated restaurants off the beaten path. Detroit isn’t well-known for authentic Mexican cuisine, but there’s no shortage in Southwest, Mexicantown. For next-level Mexican cuisine, be sure to visit El Asador.

For some Asian favorites, look into Ima or Urban Ramen for noodles, Bash for Izakaya, and Shangri-La for dim sum all day. For more culturally diverse cuisine, you have to make a trip to Hamtramck. The two-square-mile city within Detroit is a melting pot of Polish, Yemenese, Bangladeshi, and other Middle Eastern cultures.

For authentic Polish food, be sure to check out Polish Village Cafe and Polonia (made famous by Anthony Bourdain’s, No Reservations). Some Yemenese favorites are the Yemen Cafe and Remas. If you want to try out some authentic Bangladeshi cuisine, ZamZam and Aladdin Sweets & Cafe are local go-to’s.

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If you’re not feeling adventurous, there’s a ton of casual, classic American dining. For some great BBQ, Red Smoke is often overlooked for the more popular Slow’s.  If a good burger is what you’re looking for, there’s a lot of excellent options there too. Royal With Cheese, The Telway, Mercury Burger Bar, Basement Burger, Honest Johns, Motz’s Burgers, Woodbridge Pub, and Green Dot Stables are all classic Detroit burger joints.

Finally, we can’t move on from the Detroit food scene without mentioning pizza. Almost every large city takes pride in its hometown pizza, and Detroit is no different. It’s always up for debate who has the best Detroit-style pizza. Metro Detroiters are familiar with the classics; Buddy’s, Loui’s, and Shield’s. But, there’s a long line of contenders like Michigan & Trumbull, Como’s, Green Lantern, and Amar Pizza. If deep-dish, Detroit-style pizza isn’t your thing, Supino is some of the best hand-tossed pizza you’ll ever have.

Read more: Best Bars in Detroit

What To Do

Unfortunately, some of the greatest activities and attractions Detroit has to offer involve large venues involving many people gathering in one place. Needless to say, most of those things are still waiting to return. So the following activities are more social distancing friendly.

Although many Detroit nightlife has taken a significant hit, some bars are still kicking thanks to their outdoor expansions. Breweries specifically have been able to do this well thanks to their access to more space. Some great Detroit breweries to check out are Batch, Detroit Beer Co, Founders, Eastern Market Brewing Co, Brew Detroit, Motor City Brewing Works, Atwater Brewery, and Jolly Pumpkin. If you’re only in town to drink beer, you’ll have your hands full.

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If drinking isn’t your thing, Detroit still has a lot to offer. For some fascinating Detroit history, there are some great options. The Masonic Temple is known for hosting huge concerts and events like Theatre Bizzare. Although we may not be able to attend these events for a while, you can take a guided tour of the enormous, once-exclusive clubhouse for the secretive Free Masons. To get an idea of its size, it has a Shrine building, a Chapel, eight lodge rooms, a 17,500-square-foot drill hall, two ballrooms, office space, a cafeteria, dining rooms, a barbershop, 16 bowling lanes, 1,037 rooms in total, and a powerhouse that generated all electricity for the complex. Do yourself a favor and check out a guided tour of this stunning, 100-year old structure.

The Masonic Temple is just one of Detroit’s architectural marvels. Although many bus and walking tours of the city’s buildings are postponed, there’s no reason you can’t plan your own. Curbed Detroit put together a collection of historic downtown Detroit buildings that are a must-see. Some of these buildings offer tours, while with some, the best you can do is walk around the lobby level (which can be stimulating enough). Check the building websites for tour availability.

After you check out Detroit’s historic architecture, grab a pizza and head to one of Detroit’s many parks to enjoy the beautiful Michigan day with friends and family. The most notable of the Detroit parks is Belle Isle, designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, the same man who designed Central Park in New York. The 982-acre park boasts hiking/biking trails, a beach, the nation’s oldest aquarium, a beautiful conservatory,  and a nature center. Although the conservatory and aquarium are closed to the public, you can still rent kayaks and canoes and explore the inland creeks and rivers. Other Detroit parks worth visiting are DTE’s Beacon Park, Campus Martius Park, Grand Circus Park, and Riverside Park.

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