Summertime in the City: Ideas & Inspiration for Your Day Trip to Detroit
One thing that is true of all big cities? You'll almost always discover something new each and every time you go back. Michigan's largest city, Detroit, which is shedding its negative reputation faster than its professional sports teams can disqualify themselves from the playoffs, is no exception. I've been to the Motor City numerous times — I even lived there for the final three months of 2016, wouldn't you know — and there are still countless things I have yet to do.
This past Saturday I had the chance to cross a few more items off my list, however, as my girlfriend and I decided an impromptu day trip to the city was in order. Setting off from Grand Rapids at about 10 a.m., it was just past high noon by the time we rolled into Detroit's city limits with our eyes turned toward our first destination: Eastern Market. On every Saturday throughout the year — and on each Sunday and Tuesday, as well as select Thursdays, from June through September — this historic commercial district just northeast of downtown Detroit hosts Michigan's most prolific farmers market, which takes a slightly different form depending on which day of the week you visit.
While Saturday is reserved for your more traditional farmers market — traditional here meaning more than 225 market vendors selling their goods to upwards of 40,000 visitors — Sundays serve to showcase the work of local artists, cooks, jewelers, musicians, and others, and Tuesdays come with a more scaled-down marketplace but also free Zumba and yoga classes. The Thursday Night Market, meanwhile, is a brand new venture offering food, drinks, music, art, and shopping every third Thursday night from 5 to 10 p.m.
Our intention, or at least my intention, in visiting Eastern Market was more just to check the place out than anything else, but short of leaving empty-handed, we walked out of there with a bouquet of sunflowers ($5) purchased from one of the many vendors proffering plants. As the farmers market is buoyed in practically all directions by other shops and restaurants, we nabbed lunch before leaving the area, as well, stopping in first at Beyond Juicery + Eatery for a smoothie and a salad and then at Zeff's Coney Island for the obligatory coney dog. (Find a complete list of Eastern Market businesses right here.)
Next, because we spied them docked at a station along Gratiot Avenue, would be a bike ride through downtown brought to you by MoGo, the Detroit bike share system that launched just a few short years ago. With stations spread from the riverfront to just shy of the North End neighborhood and from Mexicantown to West Village, the bike share system is definitely your friend — especially considering the fact that you can get a 24-hour pass for just $8 (think of the Uber/Lyft savings!).
From the station at Gratiot near Russell Street we rode through town, hopping onto Woodward Avenue for a stretch before ultimately making our way to West Lafayette Boulevard and our second official stop of the day: John K. King Used & Rare Books. Much like stopping at Eastern Market (with the farmers market in session), hitting up this hulking, four-story bookstore on the west side of downtown was a first for me. The outside of the building may not look like much — it'd be easy to mistake it for an empty office/warehouse — but inside the shelves are lined with more than a million books.
It didn't take long for me to find the section I was looking for either, because the classics are clustered right near the door on the first floor (hello Henry David Thoreau). And even though I found a book almost instantaneously, you know I had to check out the rest of the place. From old comic books to even older Michigan literary reviews, existential poetry collections to modern-day mystery murders, and psychological tomes to shelves upon shelves of the history of war, there's something for every book lover at John King's palace of pages. Just make sure you get there before the books take over the building completely.
Following our stop at the bookstore, it was time to make like giant stone head statues and get our booties over to an island — Belle Isle, to be exact. Home to the Belle Isle Aquarium and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, which is locally referred to simply as the Belle Isle Conservatory, this 982-acre island park is a rather popular summer destination. And if you don't believe me, you can just go ahead and ask the four wedding parties, the three family reunions, the two kids' birthday parties, and the multitude of people who were lounging by the shore on the afternoon that we made an appearance — they'll tell you the same thing.
Saturday was my second-ever excursion to Belle Isle, though it was my first time visiting during the summer. So beat after walking from Mt. Elliott Park, where the closest MoGo station is situated, and all the way across the MacArthur Bridge, all we had the energy to do once we got to the island, however, was to take a break (and some photos) along the shoreline near Sunset Point and to check out the nearby James Scott Memorial Fountain, where a handful of couples-to-be were getting in their own photo shoots.
With the clock quickly approaching 6 p.m., our tumblies becoming rumbly, and no MoGo bike stations in sight (you want to get on that, Detroit?), we decided getting back to the mainland would be accomplished most expeditiously by summoning a Lyft. Not seven minutes after I'd requested a ride, there was Rashida in her silver Chrysler Pacifica, ready to transport us to the heart of downtown for less than $10.
Soon and very soon, we found ourselves smack dab in Campus Martius Park, which was buzzing with live music, food trucks, and people darting this way and that. Literally at the center of downtown Detroit, there is always something going on at Campus Martius Park, whether that be a beach party on the sand, a performance by Shakespeare in Detroit, or ice skating in the wintertime. Skipping Parc, the upscale eatery that opened in the park in 2016, we opted to sit down at The Fountain Detroit, the casual, open-air, full-service restaurant and bar that sits adjacent to the beach at Campus Martius Park.
As we sat down to eat, all around us kids played in the sand, people old and young took each other on in matches of ping pong and corn hole and giant Jenga, and a band serenaded the park's visitors with live music on the stage over yonder. A burger and a Dirty Blonde from Atwater Brewing hit me just right, and it was nearly the perfect end to a fantastic day trip — except we had one more stop to make before heading home.
Feeling the need to go out in style, Wright & Co., a gastropub situated above the John Varvatos store on Woodward, provided our nightcap: a stiff glass of Old Grand-Dad whiskey on the rocks for him and a purple-tinged, semi-frozen cocktail made especially for her. After downing those, it was just a matter of finding the car again.