When people think about unique travel destinations around the US, Detroit doesn’t really come to mind. And that’s fine; Detroit is not a tourist town. You won’t find a Macy’s or a pay to enter photo op spot here. What you will find is centuries of rich American history from cars to music, gangsters to sports. You’ll find city pride and a heartbeat, a world of different cultures of food and art.
From a Detroiter’s perspective, here are a handful of my favorite walkable Woodward spots to take out of towners that show true Detroit love. There is much much more to see and experience here, so think of this as more of a small walking tour of the Detroit River side of town.
Hart Plaza Intersection:
At the corner Jefferson and Woodward are Hart Plaza, the Fist of Joe Louis and the Spirit of Detroit- all iconic spots for any Detroit OR traveler. This trio is as touristy as we get, really. Hart Plaza is home to the Electronic Music Festival, the Cultural celebrations and festivals, the Target Fireworks VIP party and much more. At its back end Hart Plaza serves as the dock for the Detroit Princess riverboat and the landmark of Detroit’s Gateway to Freedom for the Underground Railroad. Detroit was one of the largest terminals helping people to safety and freedom; Detroit’s Underground Railroad name was Midnight.
The Fist of Joe Louis was commissioned as an anti-Jim Crow monument to legendary Boxer Joe Louis to celebrate the Detroit Institute of Art’s 100th birthday but now serves as the backdrop to wedding photographs.
The iconic Spirit of Detroit is just about 10 sidewalk squares away from The Fist on Woodward in front of the Municipal building. The Spirit of Man holds God in one hand and humanity in the other, but became a specific representation of Detroit over the last century. A favorite icon of the city, it represents a rebirth of man, which is part of Detroit’s motto, Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus, and is captured in every film, show, commercial and literature piece about the city.
Michigan Central Station (Corktown):
The landmark of all Detroit Landmarks. Explorers from all over the country have come here to sneak in and get their photos taken within the decrepit walls of this monument. Built in the early 1900’s, Michigan Central Train Station boasted office space, a hotel, a barber, shops, an arcade and cafes. The Roman inspired architecture is still standing, mind you a few coats of spray paint are holding some of the walls up (load bearing graffiti?), but it doesn’t stop people from sneaking in and climbing the 18 stories to the roof for the spectacular views. To some it’s an eyesore, to many it’s the beauty of the decay that makes it magnificent. Hopefully Ford will keep her how she is with the new architecture repairs.
Rooftop views- 18 stories up
The Renaissance Center:
I've been here for a myriad of reasons; fashions shows and photo shoots, Galas, Opening Ceremonies for museums, sometimes just to walk around, stalking the rumors that Jimmy Hoffa's body was put into the concrete at the time of building...and lately to visit my favorite restaurant downtown, Granite City. (Though not born in Detroit, GC has far and fast become one of it's hotspots right along the river).
Serious Nacho mood at Granity City.
It used to house the luxury spot Coach Insignia, a fine dining restaurant at the very top of the RenCen's tallest tower (72 stories!), which is rumored to be getting something new soon. But the best part is the 360* views from the top, plus the glass elevator ride up.
That's Belle Isle on the right! (Not walkable from here)
One of the best parts of Detroit is the street art. Some real talented people come through these streets to make their usually anonymous mark- Banksy included! Though Banksy’s pieces are all long gone, power washed or literally stolen brick by brick, a few notable pieces in the city always seem to smile for the camera. Some tell a story, some are just something cool and special, and some, though well meaning (or just someone's dumb name), are just layers upon layers of color and memories that cause a full on collage of hooliganism.
Top of Michigan Central
These rings lit up all over Woodward
Me standing in Kelsey Montague's famed wings. Notice the Detroit theme.
Banksy in Detroit- On Cass Ave: I got to this one the day after it was power washed off, but you can still see the outlines of a boy coloring. The locals brought chalk every day for a month or so and recreated the colorful part of the wall the the boy was "drawing" which is one way the community showed Banksy some love and respect. It was eventually painted over to be a gray wall again because some people just don't play along. (Another disrespectful act was 555 Gallery literally stole a piece of wall that Banksy tagged the same night and tried to get people to pay admission fees just to see it- which is SO against Banksy's message.)
Plus we get some pretty great skyline shots!
All photos are mine or with the special courtesy of my galpal Angie at ANB Photography