Los Angeles may have perfected urban sprawl, but Detroit invented it. Although the landscape is mostly flat, recreational opportunities abound, most of them centered around water. To the northeast of the city sprawls Lake St. Clair, a shallow but broad lake popular for boating and fishing. The Detroit River is a resource that the city has never fully exploited though a system of parks and greenways is now gradually taking shape.
Downtown The old downtown of grand movie houses and department stores is all but vanished, but lively areas have sprung up around the perimeter of the aging banking-and-commerce center. The north end of downtown is the latest hot spot.
On the eastern edge of downtown is
Other pockets of activity include the Cobo Convention Center and the
Cultural Center/New Center
Detroit's Cultural Center is situated between Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center, an impressive complex of hospitals and research facilities. The Detroit Institute of Arts is famed for its Diego Rivera murals, which chronicle history through the eyes of laborers, and Auguste Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker". Nearby is the
Farther north, the New Center Area boasts the ornate, golden-towered Fisher Building and its
South of the Cultural Center, a major renovation effort is underway to preserve the acoustically rich
The West Side
Near the Ambassador Bridge is Mexicantown, the heart of Detroit's growing Hispanic community, with dozens of great restaurants. Dearborn is home to the Ford Motor Company world headquarters, the
Farther west is the bustling Metropolitan Airport, which is undergoing a major expansion to handle increasing traffic. A new trade center is taking shape in nearby Romulus. Livonia has
Oakland County is vast and diverse. It is one of the nation's wealthiest counties, and the site of the world's first enclosed shopping mall (the Northland Center). Many other shopping opportunities abound, including the upscale
In the southern part of the county, a vibrant restaurant and nightclub scene has sprung up in once-stodgy Royal Oak. North along Woodward Avenue, Birmingham's thriving downtown features upscale shops of taste and variety.
In the northeastern part of the county, Auburn Hills is home to the
Each August, the Woodward strip from Ferndale to Pontiac hosts the
The East Side and Macomb County
Go east from downtown along Jefferson Avenue parallel to the Detroit River and you will pass the bridge to
One of the few places in the United States where one can travel south into Canada is from downtown Detroit. By way of the
Detroit was founded in 1701 by the French explorer and fur trapper Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. He established a European settlement called Fort Pontchartrain, named after a French count. It was located along the strait, detroit in French, which is now known as the Detroit River, and which connects Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie. The settlement was a fur-trading outpost, and fell to the British in 1760.
After American independence, Detroit became part of the Northwest Territory and was incorporated as a town in 1802. A fire in 1805 destroyed 299 of the town's 300 buildings. Territorial Governor Judge Augustus Woodward laid out a plan to rebuild the city, featuring public squares and circular parks based on the model of Washington D.C. The British reoccupied the city for a year during the War of 1812. Woodward established a state university, the University of Michigan, in 1817 in Detroit.
Detroit served as state capital for the first ten years after Michigan became a state in 1837. In the 1850s, Detroit began building railroad cars, ships and stoves, and major industries were established that exploited Michigan's vast resources of iron ore, copper and water. The population surged from 2,222 in 1830 to 79,577 in 1870.
When the first automobiles were seen on city streets in the late 1890s, Detroit's main industry was stove making, but Michigan was a leading producer of carriages, buggies, wheels and bicycles, and Detroit was already making marine gas engines. Its access to water gave it an industrial advantage because freighters could ship raw materials such as iron ore from northern areas. Still, the automobile made little impact on the city at first, as most people believed it would never replace the horse or the bicycle.
In 1908, however, Henry Ford built the first Model T, and cars quickly became popular. In 1914, Ford ran the first assembly line, at his factory in Highland Park, offering the unheard-of wage of $5 a day for eight hours' work. By 1921 Ford had produced more than 5 million cars. The city's population more than doubled from 1910 to 1920, reaching nearly a million people, as workers from the South and across the country and the world came for jobs in the automobile plants.
The 1920s were a time of unprecedented prosperity for Detroit. The booming city was a metaphor for American opportunity. For decades, it enjoyed the highest percentage of home ownership in the nation. Huge, ornate theaters were built downtown for movies and stage shows. The J.L. Hudson department store was one of the world's biggest and most famous. The city developed a superb system of streetcars and trolleys. Belle Isle became one of the most beautiful urban parks in the nation. The Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel were built to link Detroit to Canada. Navin Field (later known as Briggs Stadium and then Tiger Stadium) became one of the nation's most acclaimed sporting venues.
During the Prohibition Era, a thriving underground business developed as mobsters shipped liquor across the waters from Canada. The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Detroit hard initially, but the automobile industry survived. The modern movement for labor unions began with a famous battle between organizers and police at the Ford River Rouge plant in 1937. Led by Walter Reuther, the United Auto Workers survived and grew during sit-down strikes and organizing drives.
During World War II the auto companies converted their factories in short order to production of planes and tanks. The war effort was centered around Willow Run Airport, and the Edsel Ford Expressway was built between downtown Detroit and the airport to facilitate that work. It was the nation's first great freeway—but a smaller example had opened a few years previously, the Davison, in Detroit and Highland Park.
Major shifts occurred in Detroit's demographics after World War II. The post-war economic boom was accompanied by the construction of a network of freeways that decimated Detroit's old neighborhoods while making possible the exponential growth of suburbs. For a while downtown Detroit remained the thriving center of the metropolitan area, and its population peaked at 2.1 million in the late 1950s. In the 1960s it became a cultural center for the nation, exporting the most popular music of the era, the catchy rhythm-and-blues known as the Motown sound.
But as more prosperous people fled the city and left poorer ones behind, racial tensions heightened. They exploded in the infamous 1967 riots, which left dozens dead and hastened white flight. The city plunged into a long decline, as key components of business, industry and culture shifted to the suburbs. Even football's Detroit Lions left Tiger Stadium to move to a new stadium in Pontiac.
Civic leaders made efforts to turn things around, starting with the building of the Renaissance Center office-hotel-retail complex in 1973. But for years, the Renaissance Center remained an isolated fortress with little effect on surrounding areas. The city kept losing people and money, and its fine housing stock suffered from neglect and abandonment. The automobile industry was hit hard by a severe recession caused by rising oil prices and competition from Japanese imports. Factories in the city closed and thousands of good-paying jobs for unskilled workers disappeared, never to return.
But the metropolitan area continued to grow and thrive, and downtown's resurgence took halting steps. In the 1980s, Joe Louis Arena was constructed as the home of the Detroit Red Wings. The Millender Center opened near the Renaissance Center. Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch saved the Fox Theater, and its revival began a genuine downtown resurgence in the 1990s. Through that decade, Detroiters debated the merits of casinos and a new baseball stadium, finally approving both ideas. During the 1990s, the city's population finally stabilized at around a million people, and business investment began returning to the city.
The growth of the suburbs has permanently changed the city's landscape. Most jobs, hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and entertainment facilities are now outside the city limits, creating a sprawling metropolitan area that remains heavily dependent on the automobile. Yet a more unified approach to the area's problems and prospects has civic leaders optimistic. Detroit retains its rich cultural treasures, its vibrant entertainment and dining scene, and above all its strength as a genuine melting pot, with immigrants from around the world bringing their own cuisine and traditions and religions. It has proven to be a resilient place and one of America's greatest cities.
Detroit's accommodations are scattered across a sprawling area, so many travelers find it most convenient to stay downtown, near the airport or in nearby Dearborn.
Because downtown has suffered so many decades of decline, the choices in accommodations remain limited. Luckily, the reinvention of the area promises more accommodations than in previous years. If you want a room with a view, you can't beat the Marriott Renaissance Center, Detroit's tallest building. If you don't care about the view, but want great service and a location at the heart of the entertainment scene, the Atheneum Suite Hotel is ideal, and you can walk from there to the Renaissance Center. If you have an event at Cobo Arena, the Hotel Pontchartrain is close by. Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Detroit is ideally located.
Cultural Center/New Center
You don't have many options if you want to stay in this part of town, but fortunately the St. Regis Hotel is an excellent small hotel. If your business takes you to the Medical Center or Wayne State University or somewhere else in this area, you can also stay downtown—it's only a short ride away, but you won't want to walk it. The other option is to stay in Dearborn, which will add only about 15 minutes of travel time.
The West Side
Many people like to stay in Dearborn, because it's only 15-20 minutes to the airport or downtown, and it's home to the top attraction in the Detroit area, Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Choices in Dearborn include the top-end Hyatt Regency and the Ritz-Carlton, both on the periphery of Fairlane Mall, and the historic Dearborn Inn.
If you're in town for the first time or for a quick business meeting and you prize convenience, there are many hotels around the airport in Romulus. Most of them are chains. The Clarion Barcelo, the Hilton Garden Inn, the Doubletree Hotel and the Detroit Airport Marriott have easy access to the airport and the freeway system. The airport is only a half-hour's drive from Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan.
Hotels have sprung up around Laurel Park Place in Livonia, only a 20-minute drive north of Metropolitan Airport, including an Embassy Suites.
Because of its location at the hub of a number of freeways, Novi has become the leading place for accommodations in Oakland County. It's a reasonably short drive from here to just about anywhere in southeastern Michigan. The Hotel Baronette and the Doubletree Hotel Detroit Airport are among the choices.
Hotels in Troy, in the eastern part of the country, near some of the area's wealthiest communities and most successful businesses, include the Somerset Inn and the Kingsley Hotel and Suites.
Another cluster of hotels is centered in Auburn Hills, convenient to the Chrysler Technology Center. Extended-stay facilities such as Candlewood Suites tend to dominate the landscape in this area, though the Auburn Hills Hilton Suites and Holiday Inn Select are both good choices for busy travelers.
The East Side & Macomb County
This is not the area to go to find fine hotels. If you absolutely need to stay in Macomb County, Best Western Sterling Inn is a convenient choice. There are a couple of hotels on the east end of downtown, including Omni Detroit River Place, as well as a number of inexpensive options if you don't mind bare bones accommodations.
A lot of Detroiters believe the best view of Detroit can be found across the river in Canada. Windsor presents an intriguing option for Detroit-area travelers. Trade the usually minimal inconvenience of crossing the border for a location within walking distance of casinos, clubs and great restaurants—and benefit from the currency exchange rate. The Hilton Windsor and the Radisson Riverfront are large hotels with stunning views of the Detroit skyline. And if you like bed and breakfasts, Windsor is about the only place in the Detroit area with a number of good choices.
Few people know it, but Detroit is one of the best places for eating out in the United States. The great restaurants are not concentrated in a few spots, but are found throughout the metropolitan region. Getting off the beaten track and finding these places is worth the extra effort, particularly if your taste runs to the adventurous.
During the lean years in the 1970s and '80s, Greektown's single block of Athenian restaurants, known for their saganaki, or flaming cheese, kept downtown from going completely dark at night. Now Greektown has grown and prospered. Carrying on the Greektown tradition are places like the Laikon Café, the New Parthenon and the New Hellas Café. Nearby can be found the Cajun excitement of Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Café.
A little further east, the warehouse district known as Rivertown offers several American restaurants, including the trendy Rattlesnake Club. On downtown's north end, in the new theater district, are the elegant Century Grille, filled with old-world charm, and the bustling Hockeytown Café.
Mexicantown, which starts about a mile west of downtown, is the port of entry to the city's large Hispanic section on the southwest side. The revival of this vibrant neighborhood has been heralded by restaurants such as Xochimilco and other innovators. The farther west you go along Bagley or Vernor avenues, the cheaper and more authentic the food—- and you can branch out into Central and South American cuisine at El Comal.
Cultural Center/New Center
The eclectic fare that can be found in and around the Wayne State University area includes the unique Whitney, located in an elegant old mansion; the local favorite Traffic Jam & Snug; the Majestic Cafe for Middle-Eastern fare; and two of the city's oldest traditional Italian restaurants: Mario's, and, farther east in the Eastern Market area, the Roma Café.
The West Side
Detroit has the largest Arabic population of any American city, and it is concentrated in the eastern end of Dearborn. Here, along Michigan and Warren avenues, is an unmatched assortment of Middle Eastern restaurants. La Shish, one of the first, is the most well-known, but there are myriad other good choices, all offering nutritious, tasty food at remarkable prices.
The food gets blander as you travel farther into the suburbs, but there are plenty of neighborhood bars and family restaurants along streets like Telegraph Avenue.
Northville, a quaint village in the northwestern corner of Wayne County, offers several upscale dining options which are worth the trek, including Genitti's Hole-in-the-Wall, a reservation-only Italian restaurant which serves traditional seven-course wedding-feast meals.
An unlikely transformation in the late 1980s and early '90s turned the aging downtown of an unremarkable suburb into Detroit's trendiest evening destination, and downtown Royal Oak remains the closest thing Michigan has to a New York or San Francisco experience. The punk and resale clothing shops still exist, along with jam-packed eateries and a few clubs. This scene generated the unique BD's Mongolian Barbeque, where you make your own stir-fry and watch chefs grill it using big sticks; the place is so popular it has become a multi-outlet franchise.
The rest of the county has restaurants of great variety flung far and wide. Birmingham and Troy offer more staid, upscale options, such as the Capital Grille in the Somerset Collection. In Farmington Hills and to the north and west, an amazing array of ethnic restaurants hide in strip malls along Orchard Lake Road, Haggerty Road, and around Novi Town Center in Novi, with more places opening around Auburn Hills and Pontiac.
The East Side and Macomb County
Along East Jefferson Avenue, across from Belle Isle, is the urban hideaway known as Indian Village, where there are gems such as the Harlequin Cafe, one of Detroit's few French restaurants. Along Lake St. Clair, from the Grosse Pointes to Mount Clemens, seafood is king, and fresh lake perch or pickerel can be found on the menus. For the complete Great Lakes experience, spend the time to go all the way out to Sindbad's, a marina resort along Anchor Bay.