Last Updated on December 12, 2023
Growing up on the Eastside of Detroit, I lived about a twenty-minute drive to downtown. Prior to roughly 2010, however, trips downtown involved parking the car in front of the place we were going and then leaving immediately. That was Detroit was at the time. It would take me going on one of the walking tours in Detroit to replace this perception.
Fast forward and today’s Motor City has overcome bankruptcy and is winning awards as one of the coolest travel destinations, alongside places like Istanbul. The city is booming with new restaurants, hotels and tech jobs.
Downtown Detroit has become the hip place to live – and visit.
Preservation Detroit walking tour
Living overseas, I only come back to Detroit once a year, staying for about a month.
In the summer of 2022, I found one of the walking tours in Detroit, Preservation Detroit, and decided to give it a try. I’m embarrassed to say that I did not know much about the city I grew up in. One of the volunteer guides asked if I was visiting Detroit and I told him that I’d once lived nearby.
Completely engrossed by the city’s history and unique buildings on this fascinating tour, I wondered why I’d never considered taking it before.
I gazed in awe at the cobalt blue, sea-green and yellow mosaic ceiling inside the Guardian building, learning how it once served as one of the largest cash reserve banks in 1929. The colorful stained-glass windows on the first floor had me feeling like I was inside a grand basilica.
The walking tour in Detroit progressed by the iconic Hudson’s site, one of the largest department stores in the country until it was demolished. Currently under construction, the location will eventually include a hotel, restaurants, office space and more.
Exploring The City’s Alleys
As we continued, I noticed several alleyway murals. One that caught my attention was the faded white painting of a face; my attention was drawn to its eyes. Pieces had long since chipped away so I am sure this mural has been here for decades.
When traveling, I appreciate local murals. Again, I wondered why I hadn’t thought to wander around Detroit over the last few years the way I explore other cities when traveling?
While walking through the city’s Greek Town, I heard guitar and violins and learned that a festival was happening there that very day. I planned to return to Greek Town after the tour to check it out.
I had not had enough of this surprising city; it was fantastic seeing so many events happening in one day – walking tours, festivals, a baseball game. Energy. Enthusiasm. Pride. Detroit was awash in culture and celebrating life.
Greek Town was indeed lively with three blocks of restaurants, cafes, live music, traditional dancing and street Jenga.
What to do in Detroit downtown?
The tour lit a passion for wanting to spend more time downtown. For the rest of my holiday, I drove into Detroit, working at a funky coffee shop or finding new places to eat.
I friend introduced me to Baobab Fare, an East African restaurant. This Burundi restaurant opened in April 2021 and has been thriving, winning awards such as one of the best new restaurants in America in 2022.
I even returned to the Detroit Institute of Arts after nearly twenty years; I seemed to have forgotten all about this incredible museum.
My mom and I were enjoying the ‘eye spy’ clues in the exhibition rooms, trying to find the correct answers. Something not to miss at the DIA are the Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera. All four walls, almost floor to ceiling, of a large, light-filled room pay tribute to industry and workers by showcasing the processes and opposing sides. For example, building planes benefits humanity by promoting travel, but they’re also built for the service of war.
Dancing to the Beat at Motown
On another morning I found myself dancing along to “My Girl” during my Motown Museum studio tour. I learned how famous record producer Berry Gordy would ask his producers, sales staff, and artists this question, “if you had one dollar left and were hungry, would you buy a hotdog or a record?’
If the answer was a record, he knew that record would be the next one to be released. If the answer was a hotdog, the record was not ready. This is another tour I highly recommend to everyone visiting Detroit.
Detroit has experienced a total makeover. Cool vibes have replaced blight. The transformation has been the result of thousands of Detroiters working their best in ways big and small to bring the city back to prominence. Through 40 years when the city served as a national punchline, they worked without any guarantee their efforts and vision would be rewarded.
They may have expected what Detroit is today, I never did.
I’ve already booked another of Preservation Detroit’s walking tours in Detroit for summer of 2023, this time choosing the Midtown and Eastern Market tour. I’m sure to find another cool new coffee shop to do my work and there will be even more restaurants to try.
I look forward to enjoying this vibrant city again, continuing to rediscover the city – my hometown – a Detroit which has undergone one of the most dramatic positive transformations of any major city in American history.
Everyone likes a good comeback story and Detroit has one of the best.