Today I’m introducing a new limited-run series all about great weekend getaway destinations around the country that I personally love. The project is done in partnership with Marriott International, continuing a relationship that I’ve had for a long time and deeply value. Even before I started my blog I was an enthusiastic guest of Marriott International properties, so it just makes sense. For the next couple of months I will be highlighting a number of different cities around the U.S. that I think are ideal places for a long weekend escape. Whether you live regionally and can drive there or simply hop on a plane for an easy flight, they all have one thing in common – they’re fun cities to explore. I’m kicking things off with a city that has definitely come into its own in recent years, Detroit.
After several years the image of Detroit is finally changing and I for one couldn’t be more excited. Known for years simply as the city that went bankrupt, Detroit had a perception problem that I’m sure was hard to shake. People weren’t visiting for the incredible food or the museums, they were there for other reasons but in 2019 the city has turned a corner, once again reimagined itself and visitors are returning to those places within the city that never went away, people just forgot about them. I’ve been to Motor City a couple of times and I honestly love visiting. There’s more to see and do in Detroit than in most cities its size, and when you add in outstanding food, relaxing hotels and kind people, that’s the recipe for a perfect weekend getaway destination. To help you plan your own weekend getaway in Detroit, here are some of my favorite experiences, bites to eat and places to stay in a city that thankfully is coming back into its own.
Experiences in and around the city
Located in Dearborn, just outside of Detroit, The Henry Ford Museum is not only one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever visited, I think it’s also one of the most underrated. Originally started by Henry Ford himself, the museum began life by showcasing the founder’s own collection of eclectic Americana. Sure, the museum today is home to one of the most impressive collections of cars in the world, but as I learned walking through the exhibits, it’s about much more than the automobile. Ford had many interests in life, and the museum captures that imaginative spirit through collections that include everything from transportation to farm equipment and even social history. You’ll find beautiful classic Ford cars, but also included is the bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, the chair on which Lincoln was shot and a variety of aircraft that chronicle the history of aviation. In other words, it’s a fascinating place and I could have easily spent an entire day wandering through the expertly curated exhibits.
Most visitors to the Henry Ford pair it with another unique experience, a visit to one of the world’s most impressive manufacturing experiences – the Ford Rouge Factory. When it was originally built in 1928, it was the largest factory in the world and was the physical manifestation of Henry Ford’s amazing ingenuity and progressive ideas. Some of America’s most iconic cars were built here including the Model A, the Ford Thunderbird and then the Mustang. But the Rouge Factory of 2016 isn’t a relic, not even close. Today a new factory complex calls the space home, producing thousands of Ford F-150 pickup trucks every year. While you may have visited other manufacturing sites before, I guarantee you’ve never seen anything quite like the Rouge. Not just due to its size, but due to its history. Ford created most of the modern methods of manufacturing still in use today and this site was one of his many laboratories where he tinkered and adjusted his way to becoming one of the most transformative figures in world history.
The tour around the Rouge Factory, from the multimedia presentations to seeing workers on the line itself, was fascinating. It’s one thing to read about the history of Ford, but it’s quite another to be at the heart of the company, to walk the floor and to understand on a base level just how massive and important the industry has been to the world over the last century.
Detroit is a city of culture, and one way that’s seen is through the city’s many museums. Benefiting from wealthy early patrons, today those museums now rank amongst the best in world, especially the Detroit Institute of Arts. Before visiting the DIA, I didn’t realize that it is one of the largest museums of its kind in the U.S. With more than 100 galleries it covers everything from ancient Egyptian art to Andy Warhol and everything in between. I spent quite a bit of time exploring those galleries, not wanting to run through the museum at a breakneck pace, and even joined one the museum’s free docent-led tours through the galleries. It was on that tour when I learned the backstory to what is arguably the Institute’s most famous installation, the Diego Rivera Court. Painted by the famed Mexican artist in the 1930s, the 27 panels depict industry and technology in Detroit, with a heavy emphasis on Ford, the benefactor. To stand there in the court surrounded by the panels is amazing and easily the highlight of any visit to the DIA.
There are several other museums just a block or two away from the DIA including one of my personal favorites, the Detroit Historical Museum. Free to enter, the quirky museum shares the history of the city from its early days up through to the pop culture of today. It’s a fun way to learn more about Detroit and, frankly, to gain a much deeper appreciation for the city and the people who have called it home over the years.
Motown & More
Music has long played a key role in Detroit’s culture, from the Blues to Eminem, but none may be as famous as Motown. The house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard was purchased by Motown founder Berry Gordy in 1959 and soon became simply known as Hitsville U.S.A. Visitors can visit the house today, which is now a museum but only on organized tours through the property. I usually shy away from such tours, but since it’s the only way to visit Motown I decided to see what it was all about. I’m glad that I did, because the hour spent with our guide learning all about the history of Motown and music through the 60s, 70s and beyond was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on. With a clear passion for the house and the history that occurred there, the tour guide’s energy was infectious. This is a must-visit spot in my opinion and I can’t imagine anyone having a bad time experiencing one of the most important sites in music history.
It seems that any time a city or even neighborhood anywhere in the world falls on hard times, it’s the creative types who come in to rescue it. That’s absolutely the case in Detroit and the results so far have been amazing. Whether it’s the art communities strewn about everywhere or businesses like Shinola, the effects are all the same. They’re lifting up not just the economic spirits of the city, but the emotional ones as well. This is nothing new though for the city and one of the best places to learn more about the artistic flair in Detroit is by visiting the 30-year old Heidelberg Project. Conceived by artist Tyree Guyton, his goal was to transform his childhood neighborhood back into a habitable area through art. Slowly evolving over time, the massive, neighborhood-wide urban art collection did indeed achieve the artist’s goals, turning a blighted community into one in which residents took pride and tourists even visited. Art and creativity though aren’t limited to just one neighborhood or part of town, it really is everywhere. I discovered it in the brightly colored murals of Eastern Market, but also on the menus of new restaurateurs and the beers of up and coming brewmasters. This new entrepreneurial spirit is amazing and yet another reason why I have no doubt that Detroit is about to see its best days yet.
Where to stay
Like a phoenix, Detroit is on the rise and once again the city is reinventing itself. Along with this has come new hotels and luxury properties to spend the night. Not only are there new hotels, but even the historic properties in town have taken on new looks and themselves are reenergized by the city’s evolution. Here are a few properties that I think are fantastic places to spend the night on your easy weekend getaway to Detroit.
The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit – I love great historic hotels and in Detroit that means a visit to the classic The Westin Book Cadillac. Opening in 1924 to usher in a new sense of luxury in Detroit, at the time it wasn’t only the tallest hotel in Detroit, but the tallest in the world. For decades this was the place to see and be seen, where major deals and meetings took place and a spot where Detroit history was influenced any number of times. Today part of the Westin family of hotels, it has a new and energetic look while preserving those incredible details that only historic hotels possess. I loved my stay at the Book Cadillac, not just for the history but for its incredible location and service as well.
Aloft Detroit at The David Whitney – Detroit has no shortage of fantastic old buildings, and discovering the architecture around town is one of my favorites activities. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed my time at the Aloft so much, since it’s housed in the newly refurbished David Whitney building in Detroit’s Circus Park district. They simply don’t make buildings like the Whitey anymore, and stepping into the main lobby I was blown away by the attention to detail. I like Aloft hotels in particular because they’re luxurious and well designed, with the feeling of a small boutique property. With discreet yet attentive service and incredibly comfortable rooms, it was the ideal home base for my time in Detroit.
Element Detroit at the Metropolitan – The Metropolitan is yet another grand old building from Detroit’s past, and when it reopened with the Element it was the first time the building had welcomed visitors in 40 years. Designed for guests staying a little longer, the rooms are large and spacious, featuring kitchens and plenty of space to sit back and relax. Plus, to spend the night in part of Detroit’s long and vaunted history is worth the trip in itself.
What to eat
While I’m a luxury traveler at heart, when it comes to food I always seek out the more common eats. Local delicacies aren’t usually found in 3-star restaurants, they’re in food halls and on street corners. Delicious morsels that define any city or region are almost always comfort foods, affordable and loved by all. That was certainly the case in Detroit as I relied on advice from friends and locals familiar with the scene and it’s also why I left Detroit arguably a few pounds heavier. The food culture though ultimately is a mirror to the Detroit experience. Ethnic foods like Polish and German fare point towards the millions who immigrated there lured by Ford’s promise of a $5 workday. It’s this older wave of immigration that created one of Detroit’s best loved meals, the Coney. Simply hotdogs with mustard, chili and chopped onions, you can’t visit Detroit without trying one although locals are split on which purveyor offers the best version. Just as the Coneys were once introduced by new immigrants to the city, every successive generation brought new life into the city and with it their cuisine creating a melting pot in and around Detroit that is delicious to discover. It’s not all about the past though, Detroit’s economic issues have lured in new chefs with promises of low rents and a talented workforce. The result is a renaissance of cafes, bistros, breweries and restaurants throughout the city and its neighborhoods. It’s actually part of a larger, worldwide trend towards redeveloping central business districts back into cultural centers, but it was heartwarming to see that this trend hadn’t skipped by Detroit.
Relaxing and enjoying the weekend getaway
There are any number of reasons to spend a long weekend in Detroit. It’s easy to get to, whether you’re in the region and can drive or take advantage of the fact that it’s one of Delta’s hubs. Once you get there, you’re welcomed by a legion of individuals who are thrilled that you decided to visit not to see ruin porn or to commiserate over their past, but to help celebrate the recent changes in the city’s landscape and to usher in an exciting future. If you want an active trip, then you’ll be spoiled for choice at the Henry Ford Museum, DIA or beyond. Similarly, if you just want to kick back and relax, then the luxury hotels in the city along with the vibrant nightlife will ensure an experience that you’ll never forget. Really, whatever your own travel style you’ll find it well matched in Detroit, which is why it’s on my short list of American cities that are perfect for weekend getaways.