Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Detroit. There are few times when I’ve received a more negative response from people than when I told them I was spending 24 hours in Detroit. “Why would you want to spend 24 hours in Detroit?” they’d say. “Isn’t Detroit just a good place to go to get murdered?”
Nothing could be further from the truth! I had an excellent time in Detroit, and I didn’t even get murdered once. Follow me and I’ll show you some amazing architecture, delicious food, and fascinating fun facts It’s Detroit!
24 Hours in Detroit
Where to Stay
Detroit is a large city, so it can be hard to decide exactly where to spend 24 hours in Detroit. I loved my stay at the Inn on Ferry Street. The historic building was such a charming place to rest my head. You’ll love the cozy rooms, the safe and convenient location right by the art museum, and the delicious breakfast!
24 Hours in Detroit
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which can happen in Michigan, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Detroit
Morning: The D You Must See Tour
A walking tour is my favorite introduction to a city, no matter its size. Detroit is not known as a major tourist destination, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Detroit has a branch of Urban Adventures. (Urban Adventures is my favorite international day tour company.
Each branch of Urban Adventures is run by a local guide, so you always get that intimate small group experience. Plus they run for even one guest, so the tours are never cancelled because not enough people sign up. Also they don’t pay me anything to say that. I never accept free tours from anyone.)
The owner of Detroit Urban Adventures, Bob, is a true native. He is extremely proud of and knowledgeable about his city. Going on the D You Must See walking tour with him was the best way to learn more than…
Approximately top 5: 24 Hours in Detroit
1) Downtown Detroit
In the past, Downtown Detroit would not have been on anyone’s list of places to explore. Back in the first half of the 20th century, Detroit was one of the wealthiest cities in the country, thanks to the automobile industry. However, after the decline of the American auto, Detroit had its own collapse. The city famously filed for bankruptcy in 2003. Bob showed me a photo of Downtown Detroit back in 2003, and it looked completely abandoned.
However, Detroit is now on the rise thanks to several factors. The first was the Detroit Tigers baseball team moving downtown, which brings in more visitors. Another is that the mortgage lending company Quicken moved its headquarters to downtown Detroit, which brought in more business. Bob said that now more hotels and businesses are coming into Detroit on a regular basis.
It was fun to go into one of the newer buildings and see the jazzy skylight. I felt like I could see hope for the city streaming in through the window in the ceiling. Of course, it’s possible that was only drippings from the air conditioning.
Hearing this story about how Quicken helped revitalize downtown Detroit made me feel more upset about how Amazon wanted to come to my hometown of New York. New York is already a wealthy city. There are so many places in the country that could have used the business more.
Our next stop was Detroit’s Greek community, which cleverly disguises itself by going by the name Greektown. We took the light rail system to go there. In Detroit, the light rail system is called The People Mover. They really believe in simple names in Detroit, don’t they? The People Mover only costs 75 cents, so it’s a crazy affordable way to get around the city.
I try not to get too overtly political on this blog, but public transit is one of my big causes. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for your legs, and it’s good for me because I don’t know how to drive. Don’t you want me to visit your city? Then build a mass transit system! I can’t always be taking Uber!
We didn’t spend so much time in Greektown. Pretty much there was just time for a pastry. Bob told me that a snack was included with the tour, so I could choose from a baklava now or a hot dog later. I said I would buy the baklava here in Greektown now myself, and I’d take the hot dog from Bob. SMORT! The baklava made an excellent afternoon snack, and a hot dog is much harder to take on the road with you.
3) Joe Louis Tributes
Every city has its favorite sons and daughters. In Detroit, it’s hard to go anywhere without tripping over a tribute to legendary boxer Joe Louis. Louis was born in Alabama, but he grew up in Detroit, and he began his boxing career there, so the city claims him as its own. This photo above shows one of the Joe Louis statues in Motor City. It’s probably the only time in my life when I’ll get to bump fists with a legendary boxer. (Bob was very helpful with the photo ops on this tour, FYI.)
However, we also saw this slightly more realistic tribute to Mr. Lewis. Bob said this statue was built because some people complained it wasn’t clear enough that the fist represented Joe Louis. My goodness Detroit! You really are the most literal city in the United States.
4) Guardian Building
My favorite place in all my 24 hours in Detroit is the Art Deco Guardian Building. Detroit was booming in the 1920s and 1930s, so it’s full of gorgeous Art Deco gems. It’s very hard for me to decide the most memorable aspect of the Guardian Building. Is it the green trim around the exterior?
Is it its gobsmacking domed, colored tile interior? My photo really doesn’t do it justice. You have to go inside the building yourself to really appreciate why they call it The Cathedral of Finance. It looks like Gringotts Bank from Harry Potter minus the goblins.
I think my favorite object is the elevator doors, which look like they were wrought by a master silversmith. If only everything in the world could be made with as much care and attention to detail as The Guardian Building!
5) Coney Dog
For the end of our tour, we stopped for a snack of the famous Detroit hot dog, aka the Coney dog. There are two restaurants right next to each other that sell them. One is called American Coney Island and the other is called Lafayette Coney Island. Bob said American Coney Island is actually older, but it looks newer because it expanded. I think they’re both wrong because Coney Island is actually in Brooklyn. But I’m still willing to give their dogs a try.
Coney dogs are the invention of Greek immigrants to the United States. Detroit coney dogs are served with bean-free chili, mustard, and onions on top. Bob said no one eats the chili by itself, only on the dog. The bread is steamed and the dogs are grilled, which gives them a slightly charred taste that I enjoy. I’m not a fan of those street cart hot dogs that have been soaking in “water” for who knows how many days. I still don’t understand what makes a Coney dog different from a chili dog in general, but it is delicious, and that’s really all I care about.
24 Hours in Detroit
Afternoon: Detroit Institute of Arts
Now that we’ve had our walking tour, it’s time on our 24 hours in Detroit itinerary to get out of the fresh air and into some culture! Head back up to the Detroit Institute of Arts, aka the Museum That Almost Had To Sell All Of Its Stuff But Didn’t! It’s rare that I’ve ever felt like I needed to visit a museum just in case it ended up having a Going Out of Business Sale. But don’t let the near-bankruptcy fool you.
The Detroit Institute of Arts has an amazing collection, one well worth preserving. Please go visit them and give them some of your money, so they don’t need to throw their Van Goghs out on the streets to shake what their momma gave them. I promise you’ll learn more than…
three fun facts: detroit institute of arts
1) Martinez Bowl
This blog is justly not famous for my musings on Native American pottery. There are people who are truly experts on the subject, and I am not one of them. But one of the few things I do know is that two of the most famous Native American potters are Julian and Maria Martinez. They came from the San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico. It is easy to spot a Martinez bowl because of the striking black on black color scheme in their pots. Once again, the photo doesn’t do the pot justice. The different shades of black can only really be seen when you are face to face with the bowl. I mean, bowls don’t have faces, but you get the jist.
Also, that’s the second time in this post I said something in Detroit was too pretty to capture in photos. I freely give this slogan to the Detroit tourism bureau. DETROIT: SO BEAUTIFUL IT WILL BREAK YOUR CAMERA!
2) Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence is one of my favorite American artists. I always go for any artist with a distinct style, and it’s easy to tell a work is a Lawrence, once you get familiar with his deceptively simple style. Lawrence was an ambitious African-American artist at a time when it was difficult for an African-American artist to be taken seriously. He decided to tackle the historical genre of painting, which has long been considered one of the most prestigious genre of arts. However, he didn’t just select any historical figures. He chose people who were significant to African-American history.
This painting is one of a series of 22 about abolitionist John Brown. Brown led a raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. (It’s now West Virginia, but there was no West Virginia in John Brown’s day.) This panel shows John Brown in Canada, training the black soldiers for the raid. It’s interesting how Brown is shown facing the troops, so his face and head are obscure, while the soldiers joining him are all facing the viewer. Their facial features are difficult to make out, which is typical in Lawrence’s paintings. But each one is differentiated by his outfit or skin color in some way, so they look like a group of individuals, and not one mass of soldiers. And look, I can get through an entire section of this blog without making one single joke. BOOYAH!
3) Mosquito Nets
The final American artist I plan on introducing you to today is John Singer Sargent. It is a portrait of his sister Emily and her friend Eliza. Eliza was quite wealthy, being from the Wedgwood Porcelain Family. This portrait was done while the family was on vacation in Spain, and the two ladies are protecting themselves from the bugs with these giant black nets.
It’s hard for me not to feel that Sargent is playing a mean trick on his sister and her friend in this painting. Here they are on vacation, and they look for all the world like two rich ladies trying to shield themselves from the pains of life by wrapping their bodies up in giant death shrouds. But apparently Emily liked the painting, so it’s possible I’m missing some sibling in-joke here.
24 Hours in Detroit
Evening: Dinner at Selden Standard
Detroit is perhaps not as well known for its restaurant scene as some other midwestern cities like Chicago or even Minneapolis. Nevertheless, Detroit has some amazing places to eat, especially if you enjoy the CraCoSmaPla type restaurant. (Craft Cocktail/Small Plates, for the uninitiated.) And no restaurant in Detroit does CraCoSmaPla better than Selden Standard. It’s been nominated for a drillion James Beard Awards, the service is Midwestern friendly, and if you’re a solo diner like moi, you can easily walk in and grab a comfy seat at the bar with no wait.
Small Plate restaurants can be pretty for a solo diner, but I usually go with three small plates and a dessert, which usually works out to the same as an app, a main course, and a dessert. (Never skip dessert is one of my many mottoes in life.) Selden Standard’s menu is seasonal, so what I ordered probably won’t be on the menu when you go. But at least I can give a hint of what you’ll experience.
24 Hour Treat: Selden Standard Cocktails
Even if the Selden Standard served no food, it would be worth going for the cocktails. I mean, what to say about a restaurant that serves a plum flavored cocktail entitled “This is Just to Say”? Sadly, the William Carlos Williams homage was not on the menu when I went to Selden Standard.
I had to settle for Gatsby and the Devil, which was made with tomato gin, lillet, and house made hot sauce. (Lillet is a French wine aperitif made with citrus peels added to the wine.) There are two kinds of cocktails I can drink like water, the sweet kind and the spicy kind. I’ll let your smart brain and the fact that I listed hot sauce as one of the ingredients let you figure out which one this is.
My second cocktail is called Wordplay, and I don’t know why because I don’t see any words in this cocktail. It’s just rum, coconut Chartreuse, and cherry syrup. This was just as scrumptious and drinkable as Gatsby and the Devil, only instead of taking me to some 1920s Prohibition party in Cuba, this one takes me to a beach in my own private island in the Caribbean. I think I’d rather stay on that island because I’ve seen The Godfather Part II, so I know what’s going to happen with both Prohibition and Cuba.
24 Hour Treat: Heirloom Tomatoes
Another one of my life rules is to never say no to heirloom tomatoes. Each one is unique like a summer snowflake! How can you say no to that. These tomatoes were served on a pile of rich, whipped ricotta, and topped with fresh mint. This dish tasted like the first day of summer vacation, but better because when I was in school, I couldn’t afford to eat at places like Selden Standard.
For my next course, I opted for the shishito peppers served with yogurt sauce. I was planning on ordering a rather heavy dish for my final small plate, so I wanted to balance it out with something like. The cooling yogurt and the piping hot and salty shishito peppers were engrossingly snacky. If I ever have my own bar, these will be the bar snacks. (Also if I ever open my own bar, I’m going to name it Ouch!)
I finished off my meal with a duck ragu that felt less like a SmaPla and more like a main course. You’re not hearing any complaints from me! After two lighter vegetable courses, it was satisfying to take the plunge deep into meaty, creamy richness. Part of the reason I like tasting menus so much is that you get to sample a variety of dishes which the chef has chosen to perfectly balance each other. But at a small plate restaurant, it’s like I get to create my own tasting menu, which is a challenge I most enjoy.
24 Hour Treat: Apricot and Chamomile Sundae
You can tell just by looking at my dessert that I went to Selden Standard in the summer, can’t you, Internet Stranger? Nothing says summer like stone fruit unless it’s an heirloom tomato. I had never tried chamomile in an ice cream sundae before, but it added a refreshing herbal quality that made the dessert complex instead of cloyingly sweet.
Also, this dessert featured the single greatest Amaretti cookies I have ever eaten. Usually, I think Amaretti cookies taste like almond-flavored hockey pucks, but these were moist perfection. Like when good Italian almonds die and go to Paradiso, they get turned into these cookies.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Detroit!
What would you do with 24 hours in Detroit? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Detroit right now? Do you enjoy CraCoSmaPla restaurants, or would you rather have a glass of wine and a proper three course meal? And is that man reading his newspaper in the People Mover mad at me because I kept taking his photo? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Detroit. If you have time for another 24 hours in Detroit, try this itinerary!