Heavyweight champ Joe Louis is one of Detroit’s best-known native sons and a fitting icon for the city; Detroit resembles an aging slugger, caught up on the ropes in the seventh round but determined to stay standing until the final bell. Violent race riots in the 1960s spurred a massive exodus to the suburbs, while the decline of the auto industry in the late 1970s chiseled away at the city’s industrial base and left behind a weary, crumbling shell of Motown’s glory days. Detroit continues to shrink with each succeeding census, and yet the stalwarts who have stayed behind love their city with an almost cultish ferocity. With a generation of young DJs reinventing the Detroit sound, this plucky town won’t go down without a fight.
Detroit lies on the Detroit River, which connects Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. Across the river to the south, the town of Windsor, Ontario, can be reached by a tunnel just west of the Renaissance Center or by the Ambassador Bridge. Those planning to make the crossing should expect delays because of heightened border security. Detroit can be a dangerous town, but it is generally safe during the day; expect to be approached by panhandlers and avoid walking alone at night. Office buildings and sports venues dominate the downtown, while neighborhoods like Corktown open out to the west. Detroit is spread out, so driving is the best way to get around town.
Detroit’s streets form a grid, through streets tend to end suddenly and reappear several blocks later. The numbered Mile Roads run east-west and measure the distance away from downtown. Eight Mile Road is the city’s northern boundary. Woodward Avenue (Rte. 1) is the city’s main north-south artery and divides both city and suburbs into “east side” and “west side.” Gratiot Avenue flares out northeast from downtown, while Grand River Avenue shoots west. I-94 and I-75 also pass through downtown.
Sections of Detroit and the surrounding area allow visitors a chance to explore everything from books to wildlife while enjoying the city’s public parks. You’ll find exotic animals like tigers and red pandas roaming the surburban grounds of the Detroit Zoological Park. In posh Bloomdfield Hills, 15 mi. north of Detroit, Cranbrook’s scholarly campus holds public gardens, several museums, and an art academy. The best escape from Detroit’s urban wasteland is the 1000-acre Belle Isle, where a conservatory, nature center, aquariums, and maritime museums allow animal lovers to drift from sight to sight.
Detroit has something for everyone. Click the links to explore and book tours and local guides.
Gourmet restaurants may have cast their lot with the northern suburbs, but city dwellers continue to dine in the city’s ethnic neighborhoods. At Greektown, Greek restaurants and bakeries line one block of Monroe St., east of Beaubien St. To snag a pierogi, cruise Joseph Campau Ave. in Hamtramck (ham-TRAM-eck), a Polish neighborhood northeast of Detroit. Mexican Town, just west of downtown, is packed with restaurants, markets, and nightspots.
Detroit’s festivals draw millions of visitors. Most outdoor events take place at Hart Plaza, a downtown oasis that hugs the Detroit River. A recent and successful downtown tradition, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival lures over a million ravers to Hart Plaza on Memorial Day weekend. Jazz fans jet to the riverbank during Labor Day weekend for the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival, which features more than 70 acts on three stages. The international Freedom Festival, a weeklong extravaganza in late June, celebrates the friendship between the US and Canada. The continent’s largest fireworks display ignites the festivities on both sides of the border. Detroit’s African World Festival fills Hart Plaza on the third weekend in August for free reggae, jazz, and gospel concerts. The nation’s oldest state fair, the Michigan State Fair, at Eight Mile Rd. and Woodward Ave., beckons with art and livestock two weeks before Labor Day.
In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.
Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.
One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.