DETROIT—To the world, Detroit is usually regarded as the home of cars and Motown music. But this gritty Midwestern city offers a full list of options for the adventurous traveler.
Within a one-hour flight from Midway or O'Hare or a 260-mile drive or train ride from Chicago, Detroit offers an art museum that ranks among the country's top five and a new downtown baseball stadium, plus less obvious gems scattered throughout the city, from a 1,000-acre island park in the middle of the Detroit River to a historic pottery that has produced renowned ceramics since the Arts and Crafts era.
And due to an anomaly of geography, the Canadian city of Windsor is just south of the Motor City across the Detroit River. A short bridge or tunnel ride away, Windsor boasts nightlife, many fine restaurants and its own casino.
On the Detroit side, the city will celebrate its 300th birthday this July with fireworks, a fleet of tall ships and a re-enactment of its 1701 founding by French explorer Cadillac, who two centuries later gave his name to a line of luxury cars.
One caveat: Since this is the home of the automobile, you'll need one to get around. Attractions are spread out and public transit consists of the occasional bus plus a small elevated light rail system, the People Mover, which loops downtown.
Henceforth, we offer some suggestions to make a trip here whether you're traveling solo, as a couple or as a family. Granted, there's overlap, but something to get you going (All addresses are within the Detroit city limits unless noted otherwise.):
Singles and others looking for laughs can find them in a place with a familiar name, the Detroit branch of Chicago's famed Second City (2301 Woodward Ave.; 313-965-2222), right across from Comerica Park, the Detroit Tiger's new den.
The best place to catch national headliners is at Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle (269 E. 4th St.; 248-542-9900) in the nearby northern suburb of Royal Oak. This town's many coffeehouses, restaurants, galleries and clubs also make its Main Street a youthful entertainment destination.
While still known for creating the 1960s black pop sound known as Motown, Detroit can also claim to be the 1980s birthplace of the electronic dance music known as techno. Among the places to hear it is at Motor Lounge (3515 Caniff Ave.; 313-369-0090), a club tucked improbably in Hamtramck, a once-solidly Polish enclave within the city. Techno and electronic music also get their own festival on the riverfront Hart Plaza over Memorial Day weekend; last year's drew upwards of 900,000 fans.
For the best listings for events and clubs, from downtown's St. Andrew's Hall (431 E. Congress St.; 313-961-MELT) to suburban Pontiac's Clutch Cargo's (65 E. Huron; 248-333-2362), check the local papers and the Metro Times, the area's free alternative weekly.
As for the original Motown sound, it began in a converted blue-and-white house called Hitsville USA in the city's midtown area. Now open as the Motown Museum (2648 W. Grand Blvd.; 313-875-2264), it's faithful to the way it looked in the 1960s when it was home to such stars as Stevie Wonder, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye.
Along Woodward Avenue, the city's main drag, is its museum district, anchored by the well-regarded Detroit Institute of Arts (5200 Woodward Ave.; 313-833-7900). The fifth largest museum in the country, the DIA's 100 galleries offer a world-class collection from prehistoric art to late 20th Century sculpture plus Diego Rivera's giant "Detroit Industry" frescoes.
A block away is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History (315 E. Warren Ave.; 313-494-5800). The largest of its kind in the world, the MAAH presents the black experience from slavery to present day.
In between is the Detroit Science Center (5020 John R.; 313-577-8400). Under renovation, it will reopen in late July after a $30 million project to more than double its size. Among its new facilities will be a planetarium.
Though little remains of the city's pre-Civil War past, visitors seeking a look back can wander the Streets of Old Detroit exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum (5401 Woodward Ave.; 313-833-1805), located kitty-cornered from the art institute.
Families spending time here in the city's Cultural Center, may also want to make a short stop at the Children's Museum (67 E. Kirby St.; 313-873-8100). Just north of the DIA, it's the building with the seven-foot tall horse out front made from chrome car bumpers.