Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a one day in Detroit tour. Detroit, Michigan is famous for so many things: cars, Joe Louis, bankruptcy, etc. But one of its great contributions to the world is the remarkable sound known as Motown. No one should visit Motor City without taking a trip to the Motown Museum and learning about where the music that changed the planet comes from. But that’s not all we will do in our one day in Detroit tour.
There will be contemporary art, there will be beautiful scenery and architecture, there will be ravenous tigers, and there will be cocktails. Let it never be said that Detroit is a city that doesn’t know how to drink!
One Day in Detroit Tour
Where to Stay
Detroit is a large city, so it can be hard to decide exactly where to spend the night for your one day in Detroit tour. 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!
One Day in Detroit Tour
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!
One Day in Detroit Tour
Morning: Motown Museum
The Motown Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Detroit. It was started by Esther Gordy Edwards, the sister of Berry Gordy. (Berry Gordy was the man who founded Motown. We’re going to learn a LOT about him on this tour.) The Motown Museum is located in the former headquarters of the Motown record label. Motown moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s, so its old building, aka “Hitsville, USA”, was just lying dormant for over a decade until Mrs. Edwards decided to make good use of it.
24 Hour Tip
The only way to go through the Motown Museum is on a guided tour. I recommend going to the Motown Museum as soon as it opens so that you won’t have to wait long for a tour. The tours themselves last for about an hour, and there is a 16 minute film on the history of Motown before the tour begins.
Photo taking is strictly prohibited inside the museum, so you’ll just have to be satisfied with my many gray photos of the exterior of the building. But if you’re here for my amazing picture taking skills, Internet Stranger, you’re bound to be disappointed! And without further ado, let me present…
three fun facts: motown museum
1) His name is Berry Gordy
It’s not Barry Gordy or Gordy Berry, both of which I have said by mistake. Love him or hate him, it’s for sure that without Berry Gordy, there is no Motown. Gordy started in life as a songwriter from Detroit.
He was most famous writing hits for Jackie Wilson. (If you’ve ever heard “Lonely Teardrops”, you’re familiar with Mr. Gordy’s work. If you’ve never heard “Lonely Teardrops”, you’re not living life right, Internet Stranger!) However, Gordy wasn’t satisfied with the chump change that a songwriter pulls in. He wanted a higher percentage of the profits! So with a 800 dollar loan from his massive fam–Gordy was one of eight children–he began Motown Records.
Now you might be asking yourself, “What exactly is a Motown?” Detroit’s nickname name was Motor City because it was the center of automobile production in the United States. Gordy wanted to pay tribute to Detroit, so he named his label Motown, short for Motor Town. And the rest, as they say, is history.
2) All the legends
If I were to sit here typing the names of every artist who played for Motown Records, I’d be here typing all day. That wouldn’t suit me because I have errands to run and I need to eat lunch at some point. So I’ll just play a little game with you.
Out of the following lists of artists, how many of them do you think recorded for Motown Records: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Funk Brothers, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Stevie Wonder? Spoiler Alert! It was a trick question because ALL of them recorded for Motown. Without Motown basically American pop music doesn’t exist.
One of the neatest things about touring the Motown Museum is getting to see the artifacts that belonged to some of these great stars. There’s an old candy machine in the corner of the Motown Museum that even had significance.
Our guide told us that there was a blind kid who used to hang around the older musicians. Some of them liked to leave a dime for him so he could get a Baby Ruth from that same candy machine. (Of course the blind kid in question was Little Stevie Wonder.)
One thing to keep in mind is that some of the artists with artifacts in the museum, like Michael Jackson, are controversial. Berry Gordy himself is a controversial figure in many ways. Some Motown artists felt he wasn’t always ethical in his business dealings. But you won’t hear about any of those controversies on the tour. Remember, the museum is run by Gordy’s sister! I hope if my sister ever ran a museum about me, she’d say only nice things too.
3) Studio A
Studio A was Motown’s original recording studio. Almost all of the original recording equipment is still there. Songs like “Shop Around” and “Please Mr. Postman” were recorded in the very room you will enter when you go visit the Motown Museum yourself! And as Us Weekly likes to reminds its readers, celebrities are just like us! In this case, that means they like to go visit the Motown Museum too!
Beyonce and Jay-Z, Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney, and other celebrities have all shut down the place in order to visit Studio A. Some of them have even been known to kiss the floor. So just keep an eye out when you head for the Motown Museum. If the museum is temporarily closed, and there’s a limo outside, it could be Lady Gaga or Kanye West getting a private tour. Anything’s possible in Motown!
One Day in Detroit Tour
Afternoon: Explore Detroit!
There are only two kinds of people in this world: those who appreciate Detroit and those who have not yet learned to appreciate Detroit! And the best way to learn to appreciate any city is to get out there and explore it! See if you can find a strange stone depicting a lion eating a shield with Latin on it! Challenge yourself to go on an adventure and not plan every moment of every day.
However, just as every adventure begins with a strange, scrawled map written on a brownish piece of parchment, your adventure can begin with a list of my random…
approximately top 5: One Day in Detroit Tour
1) Lunch at Chartreuse
Detroit might be one of the best cities in the nation for what I call CraCoSmaPla restaurants. (These are places that specialize in craft cocktails and small plates. I guess their business model is that they get you tipsy on delicious beverages with lots of liquor you can hardly taste. Then you get very snacky and just order all the small plates on the menu. Even a drunk person is not likely to order more than one main course. But small plates are just so easy to order.)
Anyway, Chartreuse Kitchen is another Small Plate gem. Of course, I suggest starting your lunch with their house cocktail. Our One Day in Detroit Tour is already halfway through, which means we need to start drinking! It’s made with chartreuse, a green French liqueur made with about 130 herbs by Carthusian monks. (I’m not making that up.)
Some might say that lunch time is too early for cocktails. I say when you have a chance to drink Herbal Monk Liqueur, you take it any time of day!
24 Hour Treat: Twice Cooked Egg
This is one of Chartreuse’s house specialties. It’s made with brussels sprouts, wilted greens, and a pleasantly salty cheese. Starting your lunch with this dish makes it feel like brunch, even if you happen to be dining in Detroit on a Tuesday.
One of my rules in life is to never say no to an heirloom tomato. That’s why I ordered the heirloom tomato BLT which was served on two perfect pieces of grilled bread. Keep in mind that Chartreuse serves seasonal ingredients, so if you don’t go to Detroit in the summer, this BLT probably won’t be on the menu.
2) Detroit Public Library
Lucky for us, our next destination is just around the corner from Chartreuse. You might be wondering why I’d suggest a library as a tourist attraction. But the Detroit Public Library isn’t just any library. It was designed by Cass Gilbert, one of the most famous American architects in history. He is also the architect of the Woolworth building in my hometown of New York City, which is one of our most beautiful skyscrapers.
You certainly don’t need a Detroit library card to explore the building and admire the beauty of its Renaissance-style ceilings!
And you don’t need to be a Michigan resident to appreciate the murals dedicate to Detroit and its history. (I imagine that naked man on the right has his arms stretched out shouting his demands to know where all the automobile manufacturing jobs went. He should quiet down though because this is a library.)
3) Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
We spent time in our last 24 hours in Detroit visiting the larger Detroit Institute of Arts. Today, we’re heading for the smaller and more modern Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Like most contemporary art museums, it doesn’t really have a permanent collection, so I can’t guarantee what you will or won’t find on any given day here. You might find giant neon Rorschach blots and portraits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Who even knows with contemporary art? That’s part of the adventure!
What I can guarantee is that the Museum of Contemporary Art has a little cafe called Cafe 78. They serve baked goods from award-winning Detroit bakery Sister Pie. So no matter what exhibition is on at MOCA, you can find a delicious chocolate chip cookie. It’s nice to know that in a world filled with uncertainty and contemporary art, there are always cookies.
4) Fox Theatre
The Fox Theatre is one of the most interesting buildings in Detroit. It was built to be a movie palace in the 1920s by the Fox Film Corporation. (This was the predecessor to 20th Century Fox Studios.) There were other Fox Theatres built around the country at the time, which explains why you can find a Fox in Atlanta as well. Now the Fox Theatre hosts concerts and other performances, so if something is on when you’re in Detroit, I suggest getting a ticket! Nothing is more glamorous than a 1920s movie palace! Plus, if you go in the evening, you’ll have the advantage of seeing the exterior all lit up.
As pretty as the Fox Theatre is, I do have one small note about the exterior. I’m no animal expert, but I am sure that foxes are not winged cats. Maybe the Fox Theatre should get some actual foxes on the outside. They could consult a veterinarian or a zookeeper if they aren’t sure what a fox looks like.
5) Comerica Park
Now this is a place that knows what animals actually look like! Comerica Park is home to Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers! I don’t follow the Tigers much because they are an American League team, and I am an Atlanta Braves fan. But from what I can tell, the Tigers sure know how to build a ballpark! SunTrust Park where the Braves play doesn’t have anything like this on the outside.
That’s right! Detroit is home to the world’s largest collection of baseball eating tigers! This definitely belongs in the Guinness Book of World Records! I didn’t know that tigers could even eat baseballs. I just assumed they were carnivores, and I don’t think baseballs have any meat in them. But perhaps that just shows how little I know about felines and architecture. I’d suggest seeing a game here if the Tigers are playing at home, but I’d be a little bit nervous to catch a foul ball at Comerica Park. What if one of those tigers runs up and snatches it out of my hand?
One Day in Detroit Tour
Evening: Dinner at Standby
Because this is Detroit, and we can never get enough CraCoSmaPla, at the end of our One Day in Detroit Tour, I bring you to Standby. Standby is primarily a cocktail bar. In fact, it has repeatedly been a James Beard Semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get an outstanding dinner here!
First up, we have our cocktail of the evening. I ordered a Negroni because it was a sweltering summer evening, and drinking a Negroni in the summer makes me feel like I’m in a retro Italian ad for Campari wearing a big patterned scarf around my head and giant sunglasses even though I’m indoors and it’s nighttime. This Negroni was extra glamorous because it had purple flowers in it.
24 Hour Treat: Wedge Salad
One trend I am always here for is an upscale wedge salad. Nothing is more delicious than blue cheese + bacon, and any dish that lets me feel glamorous while eating a salad that my Great Aunt Iva perfected is all right by me. This wedge salad has heirloom tomatoes, which my Great Aunt Iva would just have called “Tomatoes”.
Nothing goes better with a Floral Negroni than a big ole cheeseburger. That’s just science. The cheeseburger was very tasty, but the fries were the real standout for me. I love a fry that still tastes like a real potato, and you could definitely tell that these babies were hand cut. Also apparently the pickles on the cheeseburger are made with bourbon. I couldn’t taste the bourbon at all, but it’s always nice to know it’s there.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Detroit Tour!
What would you do with One Day in Detroit Tour? Are foxes secretly cats with wings? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Detroit right now? Is it healthy for tigers to eat baseballs, even baseballs that are not made out of meat? 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 have a One Day in Detroit Tour. If you have time for another One Day in Detroit Tour, click here.