Detroit: A Weekend Guide for the Curious Traveler - Atlas Obscura

Weekend Guides for the Curious Traveler

Find secret vistas, labyrinthine bookstores, and eclectic public art.

Day 1
Home-Grown Lore

Verdant urban farms and art parks in the footprints of abandoned buildings.

Historic Marketplace

1. Eastern Market

Come early, and hungry. On Saturdays, the open-air sheds start buzzing as soon as the sun wakes up, and the first arrivals get prime pick of the heaping greens, tomatoes, jams, and pickles. More than 125 years after the market debuted, a busy afternoon might see 45,000 people browsing the produce, plants, and packaged foods. Many of the goods on offer arrive from farms in neighboring counties, and some are harvested within city limits. Wander the market’s stalls, nibbling as you go, and duck into some of the surrounding letterpress print shops, record stores, and antique shops flanking the main drag.

2934 Russell St, Detroit, MI 48207

The Detroit Market Garden starts seedlings in sizable hoop houses. Jessica Leigh Hester
Urban Farm

2. Detroit Market Garden

Once you’ve had your fill, walk a few blocks over to the Detroit Market Garden, a 2.5-acre farm that donates half its yield to local charities. Urban gardening sprouted in Detroit in the 1890s; today, the city is home to roughly 1,500 plots, where growers tend to everything from kale and collards to pigs, goats, and emu. These grounds and hoop houses close to visitors at 3 p.m., so show up earlier to survey seedlings up close, and the skyscrapers in the distance.

1850 Erskine St, Detroit, MI 48207

In warm months, the Greenway also features concerts and food trucks. Michelle and Chris Gerard
Pretty Path

3. Dequindre Cut Greenway

The farm opens up right onto this path, a two-mile long stretch of lonely and disused land made beautiful. The former rail line is now a paved greenway, most of which is below street-level. The route is a pretty spot for an afternoon amble or bike ride, streaking past colorful murals and graffiti. Rent wheels at one of the city’s local bike shops, or buy an $8 day pass to borrow one from MoGo—the city’s bikeshare program—which has a station in the market, at the corner of Wilkins Street and Russell Street. 

Dequindre Cut Greenway, Detroit, MI 48207

Bert's is a monument to the city's music history. JEFF KOWALSKY/ Contributor
Motown Munchies

4. Bert's Marketplace

Chances are good you’ll smell Bert’s from down the block—there’s often a meat smoker puffing away on the sidewalk—but there’s plenty more inside. Locals stuff in for barbecued ribs, fried catfish, cookie-smothered banana pudding, and fruity pound cake, to be eaten in booths crowded with records, photographs, and other paraphernalia that nod to the glory days of Motown. At night, the backroom's red leather barstools and checkerboard floors fill up for blues and jazz sets, dance lessons, and wrestling matches. If you’ve got space left in your belly, walk over to Mootown Ice Cream & Dessert Shoppe and order a Boston Cooler, a vanilla float made with a can of throat-prickling Vernor’s ginger ale, a local speciality.

2727 Russell St, Detroit, MI 48207

The rare book room is home to pricier treasures. Dustin Blitchok/ Benzinga
Gigantic Bookstore

5. John K. King Used and Rare Books

Deliciously musty books, maps, magazines, and assorted ephemera—roughly a million in all—are stacked across four floors of this drafty former glove factory. (Chandeliers, framed notes, photos, comics, and the odd taxidermied critter jut out from ceilings and walls, so mind your arms and head.) The staff doesn’t keep electronic tabs on what’s on the shelves, so you’ll need to put some stock in serendipity. If you’ve called ahead to make an appointment, you can peruse first-editions and leather-bounds in the rare book room. Otherwise, grab a map by the entrance to get your bearings, then get to wandering. Rifle through magic and Freemasonry titles on the first floor, then head upstairs for biology, mythology, and hundreds of startlingly precise categories, from “holiday cooking” to “clowning and juggling.” Plastic milk crates in the narrow aisles double as step-stools and mildly uncomfortable chairs.

901 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226

Beads dangle from hooks hung all over the MBAD gallery. Nick Hagen
Singular Collection

6. MBAD African Bead Museum

Thousands of strands of beads—spanning centuries, African countries, and materials, from shells to seeds and snake vertebrae—hang in this gallery that occupies the entire first floor of a rowhouse spangled with bright paint and mirrored mosaics. Olayami Dabls, the driving force behind the project, has been collecting beads for decades, and holds court in the gallery. He also built a sprawling sculpture park behind the house, full of poetic fables rendered in rock and metal.

6559 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48204

At Lincoln Street Art Park, artists repurpose castoffs into something magical. Sarah Rose Sharp
Evolving Exhibit

7. Lincoln Street Art Park

All over this city, artists have also transformed vacant lots into vibrant outdoor installations. Make a quick detour to this park with an eco-minded mission. Built on a former industrial site, and on the grounds of a recycling facility, Lincoln Street Art Park is home to an evolving slew of installations—painted tires, plastic lean-tos, and more, all made from repurposed materials.

5926 Lincoln St, Detroit, MI 48208

Local Institution

8. Cinema Detroit

You’re just a few minutes away from this nonprofit indie theater, which sits inside a former furniture warehouse. This is an unabashedly lo-fi operation: The screens are a far cry from IMAX, and the seating consists of mismatched, charmingly sagging couches, plus rows of seats salvaged when a fancier movie palace, a few miles north, was renovating. Grab a little bag of popcorn, a can of local Faygo soda, and settle in for a new documentary or a re-release.

4126 3rd Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Day 2
Wonders and Rivalries

Marvelous views lead to delicious competitions.

Ferns flourish beneath the glass domes at Belle Isle's Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, which opened in 1904. Lee Rentz/ Alamy
Island Adventure

1. Belle Isle

Start your day in the middle of the Detroit River, on this verdant, 982-acre island just barely across the border from Windsor, Canada. A full loop around the perimeter will wind you past most of its tucked-away sights, from the ruined, fenced-off remains of the Detroit Children’s Zoo to the glass-topped conservatory and the recently restored aquarium, known for its collection of paddle-nosed gar. For a lesson in the region’s maritime history, stop at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, where exhibits include a sleek hydroplane and an anchor from the wrecked SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in Lake Superior in 1975. As you round the last turn on the way back to the bridge, pull over and admire the Detroit skyline from a surprise patch of sandy beach.

3 Inselruhe Ave, Detroit, MI 48207

The more chili, the better. Jeff Kowalsky/ Bloomberg/ Getty Images
Hot Dog Taste Test

2. Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island

Back on the mainland, it’s time for lunch. Detroit’s hot dog of choice is the Coney Dog—piled high with chili, diced onions, and a squiggle of mustard—and a number of restaurants wrestle to lay claim to the best in town. Two of the contenders happen to be right next door to each other. Local legend has it that Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island were founded, in the early 20th century, by two brothers, and the two greasy spoons have jostled for dominance ever since. Your best bet is a taste test with a side of fries.  

118 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226

The Guardian Building is a colorful hodgepodge of architectural styles and artistic influences. Ken Lund/ CC BY-SA 2.0
Colorful Designs

3. Guardian Building Art Deco Lobby

From the outside, this Art Deco skyscraper is imposing: It shoots 40 stories high, and two stone figures stand sentry by the doors. The real marvel, though, isn’t visible from the sidewalk. The building’s promenade is one of the city’s best views, just upstairs from an unassuming snack shop and the county commissioners’ offices. Everything from the elevator banks to the soaring vault ceiling is awash in color. The geometric blue, green, and ochre mosaics—made by Pewabic, a local pottery firm—borrow from Aztec and American Indian patterns, while a massive mural of the state of Michigan, ribboned with gilded details, looms on the far wall. The apparel company Pure Detroit, which has a shop in the building, offers free history tours on many Saturdays and Sundays. RSVPs are not required, but email or call (313) 873-6004 to learn more.

500 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226

More than a century after it opened, the Garden Bowl is still a charming dive. Matt Orlowski
Urban Legend

4. Garden Bowl

A trip up Woodward Avenue will land you at the Garden Bowl, where bowling balls have been rolling for 105 years. It’s the oldest continually operating bowling alley in the city, and is steeped in local lore. Chatty staffers regale visitors with stories about how National Guardsmen and police officers bowled a few frames in the summer of 1967, as riots roiled the smoldering city beyond its doors. One rumor, since dispelled, told that Houdini performed his final show in the theater upstairs. (In reality, his last bow was at the nearby Garrick Theater, and he died in a local hospital on Halloween, 1926.) It may not have felled an infamous magician, but the Garden Bowl has neon signs, a carpet decorated with patterns of pins, and plenty of pizza and beer.

4120 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Where to Stay
Inn at 97 Winder

Built in the late 1800s, this Brush Park mansion was once a single-family home. Now, it’s a boutique hotel that won’t blow the budget. Tufted sofas, velvet curtains, and opulent jewel tones conjure a Victorian bordello with Chinoiserie accents.

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If you thought Pensacola, Florida—with its powder-white sand beaches, near-perfect weather, and fresh seafood—was just a place to soak up the sun, think again. In fact, the city and beach of the same name is the site of the first European settlement in the continental United States. Established by Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna in 1559, it was christened Panzacola, a name of Native American origin and the precursor to the city’s modern name. The destination is also the birthplace of U.S. naval aviation and is still home to a naval air station and the thousands of service members stationed there, as well as the Blue Angels, the flight squadron famous for their death-defying fighter plane stunts. This delightful coastal city is an ideal, if somewhat quirky, blend of historical sites (on land and underwater) and activities to get your adrenaline flowing.


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North Iceland’s Untamed Coast

Any travel enthusiast would be hard-pressed to open any social media channel and not see photos of Iceland, with its jaw-dropping peaks, natural hot springs, pure glaciers, northern lights and snow-covered landscapes. But the island nation’s appeal goes well beyond the well-worn paths of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the southern region's countryside. Travel to the untamed north along the Arctic Coast Way to discover otherworldly beauty—sans crowds—around every bend.

Look closely and wander widely: Parliament Square is full of charm.

Hidden Edinburgh

Crowds clog Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the main artery between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The road is dotted with stores selling Nessie trinkets and lined with bagpipers and street performers pulling off dazzling tricks. But look beyond the tartan tourist traps, and you’ll discover tucked-away gardens, remnants of the city’s medieval past, and much more.


Hidden Haight-Ashbury

In 1967, 100,000 artists, activists, and hippies gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for the Summer of Love. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix played free concerts for fields of college dropouts, and San Francisco established itself as a countercultural capital. More than 50 years later, in a city increasingly known for Twitter and tech rather than art and activism, travelers who come on a pilgrimage are often disappointed to find expensive, skin-deep psychedelia. But if you know where to look, you’ll find a walk down Haight Street to be wonderfully weird, full of historic links to hippiedom and modern takes on the vibe.


The Many Flavors of NYC’s Five Boroughs

More than eight million diverse individuals call New York City home, and many of them share their heritage through food. Whether it’s a billiards hall that serves stellar Bhutanese fare or a mosque where Malian vendors sell snacks for just a few hours each Friday, the city offers a vast culinary landscape for those willing to explore it. Venture beyond the flashy hotspots with months-long waiting lists and you’ll find New York’s true flavor lies within the small restaurants and stands rooted in its thriving immigrant communities.

Musical instruments in the courtyard of SecondLine Arts and Antiques in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Hidden French Quarter

It may be famous for Mardi Gras, but New Orleans has subtle, surprising wonders on tap all year long—even in the touristy French Quarter. Around every cobblestoned corner, you’ll find historic ephemera, bits of Creole culture, environmentalism, and no shortage of spooky stories, whenever you happen to visit.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hard to miss: The institution’s two-million-square-foot main building, at 1000 Fifth Avenue, spans four New York City blocks and stretches into Central Park. Inside the galleries, you’ll find thousands of objects spanning 5,000 years of world history. With so many treasures under one roof, it's inevitable that some fascinating pieces are tucked into the museum's lonelier nooks and crannies, hiding in plain sight. The next time you spend a day at the museum, keep an eye out for these overlooked wonders.

The RV/MH Hall of Fame.

Motown to Music City Road Trip

Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.

The East Texas Bayou.

Gulf Coast Road Trip

The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.

Coachella Valley Preserve.

Hidden Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley and its environs boom in the spring, when tens of thousands of music lovers flock to catch their favorite artists perform in front of a dramatic, mountainous backdrop. But this region stays wonderfully weird all year long. If the festival drew you to the area and you only have a day to explore, choose a direction: Either head north, toward Joshua Tree and Landers, or southeast to the Salton Sea and nearby oases for a blissful respite. If you can spare a couple of days, lucky you—go forth and see it all.

A view of L.A. from the top of Highland Park.

Highland Park

Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.

The heart of Venice.


Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.

Artist Colette Miller's tribute to the City of Angels.

L.A.’s Downtown Arts District

The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.

The Whitehall Banqueting House is full of topsy-turvy views.

Hidden Trafalgar Square

Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.

An elevator shaft in Tribeca opens to reveal a museum of small wonders.

Secrets of NYC’s Five Boroughs

Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.

Plenty of sweet treats are on offer at Pastelería Ideal

Mexico City's Centro Histórico

Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.

View of the Hollywood Sign from Babylon Court

Hidden Hollywood

Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.

A subway entrance in Times Square.

Hidden Times Square

There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.

Upper Hoh Road, Olympic National Park, Oregon.

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Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.