As the largest city in Michigan and with its location just across the river from Canada, Detroit offers a lot of things to see and do for both people from the US and Canada. If you don’t live too far away and can drive or take a flight that isn’t too long, it’s the perfect spot for a weekend trip.
Detroit had been known as a hub of industry and manufacturing for a number of years and then in 1896, Henry Ford built his first car in Detroit. He soon invented the moving assembly line to manufacture cars. With nearby iron and copper regions, other automobile companies joined Henry Ford in opening manufacturing facilities in Detroit. For this reason, Detroit became known as the Motor City.
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
Henry Ford did a lot for the city of Detroit and the surrounding area and it’s evident in the multiple attractions you can visit related to Henry Ford and the entire Ford family.
One of the top things to see in Detroit is the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, located outside of downtown Detroit in Dearborn Michigan. This museum explores the American innovations over the years. It’s a fun and educational museum for the entire family. While it explores many American innovations, there is a large part of the museum that explores the automobile, this is the Motor City, so it must.
The Driving America Exhibit displays cars from Ford’s first vehicle built in 1896, the Quadricycle to the famed Model T all the way thru the cars of today. It’s fun to look back at the evolution of vehicles thru the years. But it’s not just the everyday vehicles that are on display. There is also a full exhibit on race cars thru the years as well as the Presidential Vehicles thru the years.
The museum also reminds us that cars were not the only innovation along the American roads, there were also many other things like fast food restaurants and roadside motels which the museum pays homage to with a collection of roadside signs. There is even a great spot for lunch, Lamy’s Diner, in the midst of this exhibit, it’s the perfect example of a roadside diner.
Along with automobiles, you can also explore other means of transportation. The Heroes in the Sky exhibit features the evolution of flying from the early days of the Wright Brothers first flight to the planes of today. There are also exhibits for the railroad in America and agriculture vehicles throughout the years.
There are many other exhibits that do not relate to transportation. Some of these include:
- Made in America: Power which explores innovations that powered the country, like the steam engine.
- Clockwork featuring timepieces throughout the years
- Mathematica which features thought provoking exhibits that help make math playful and fun.
- With Liberty and Justice For All which features exhibits exploring the history of freedom in America. This exhibit reminded me alot of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
- Fully Furnished which features furniture dating back to 1670 all the way to the present day.
- Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery
- Your Place in Time which features items that helped define the past century. I really enjoyed seeing all the 80s items from my childhood including the calculator pictured below which I used to own.
They also have temporary exhibits (check the website for the current temporary exhibit). While I was there in September 2022, they had the Art of the Disney Costume exhibit. As a huge Disney fan, I of course really enjoyed this exhibit. It featured costumes from some of Disney’s popular movies like Mary Poppins and Hocus Pocus.
This was one of the most comprehensive museums I have been to in a while. You could definitely spend the good majority of the day in this museum.
Located just outside of the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is Greenfield Village. This 80-acre village consisting of 7 historic districts explores the formation of America. It’s a beautiful spot to walk around and take a step back in time.
The seven historic districts are as follows:
- Working Farms – see the farms of the past including farm animals
- Liberty Craftworks – Here you can view pottery being created and glass blowing demonstrations. There is even a store where you can buy products made right here at Greenfield Village.
- Henry Ford’s Model T – Check out a replica of the first Ford Factory and even take a ride thru the village in a Model T (separate cost from admission).
- Railroad Junction – Check out the locomotives and be sure to take a ride on one to get to other districts in the village (separate cost from admission).
- Main Street – Visit the main street of yesteryear to see an old schoolhouse, post office, homes and shops. You can even take a ride on a horse drawn carriage (separate cost from admission).
- Edison at Work – As pioneers of innovation in America, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were also great friends, they even had neighboring winter homes in Ft. Myers, Florida. So, it’s no surprise that there is a district dedicated to Edison at Greenfield Village. Here you can visit the laboratories and workshops of Thomas Edison.
- Porches and Patios – Explore replica homes of some of the people who helped shape America including Thomas Edison, Robert Frost and the writer of the dictionary, Noah Webster.
Greenfield Village is great for everyone who enjoys taking a step back in time to experience history firsthand.
Fairlane – Home of Henry and Clara Ford
Also located in Dearborn is the home of Henry and Clara Ford, Fairlane. The Fords lived here from 1915 until each of their deaths in 1947 and 1950.
Fairlane includes the family home, the powerhouse which supplied energy for the home and the 1,300 acres it sits on.
When I visited and also at the time of writing this, the home and powerhouse were both closed for restoration. You can still visit the 1,300 acres of grounds and gardens at Fairlane. Visit their website to see if the home is open before you visit.
While I was not able to visit Fairlane, I was able to visit Ford House, which is the home of Henry’s son who took over the company from him, Edsel and his wife Eleanor’s home.
Located about a half hour drive north of Detroit along the shores of Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores Michigan, the Ford House is definitely worth the drive to see.
Edsel and Eleanor moved into Ford House in 1928. They designed their home to look like the cottages of Cotswold in England, but on a slightly larger scale. During their time in the home, they had many updates that took place including as late as 1950 after Edsel’s passing. This led to some fairly modern looking rooms in the home that you don’t tend to see in other historic mansions in the US.
Along with touring the home, there is also a visitors’ center which includes a restaurant, exhibits and event space. The 87-acre grounds are also worth exploring. Located on Lake St. Clair, the grounds are a relaxing spot to enjoy the day. Not only can you take in the lake views, but there is also a rose garden and many other flowers around the grounds to enjoy.
While I was not able to visit the Motown Museum when I was in Detroit, I would be remiss if I did not mention it. Detroit was not just famous for their part in the automobile industry, but they were also the birthplace of Motown music.
In the midst of the civil rights movement in America, in 1959, Berry Gordy founded Motown Records in Detroit. The museum is located in the original recording studio of Motown Records.
The museum explores the history and legacy of Motown music. Due to general maintenance and an anticipated expansion, the museum is currently closed, but does plan to reopen in February 2023. Make sure to visit their website prior to your visit.
Located in the Detroit River between Downtown Detroit and Canada is Belle Isle. This 982-acre island is the perfect spot to escape downtown without having to go very far. With picnic areas, trails, and gorgeous views of Downtown Detroit, it’s a great spot to spend a couple of hours or a day.
Located on Belle Isle is the Belle Isle Aquarium. Opened in 1904, it’s the oldest aquarium in the US. It’s a great spot to take the family as admission is free with an encouraged $5 donation.
There is also a racetrack located on Belle Isle and each June the Detroit Grand Prix takes place there. As you can imagine this is the biggest draw to Belle Isle.
There are many things to see in Downtown Detroit. There are plenty of parks to visit, restaurants to dine at and shops to explore. Throughout the year, many events take place right downtown, like the Detroit Auto Show which took place the weekend I visited, bringing a lot of excitement to downtown.
If you are a sports fan, you can root for Detroit in all four of the major sports. Little Caesars Arena (home of the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings), Ford Field (home of the Detroit Lions) and Comerica Park (home of the Detroit Tigers) are all located right downtown.
When I visited, I attended a Tigers game at Comerica Park. Not only was the game a lot of fun, but the stadium was just beautiful with lots of special touches. The tiger statues outside of the park were very impressive and as a huge ferris wheel fan, I now think that all baseball stadiums deserve a ferris wheel.
Also located downtown is Fox Theatre. This National Historic Landmark is the largest surviving movie palace of the 1920s. Today it’s home to many live performances including concerts, comedians and children’s shows. The interior of the theatre is supposedly beautiful, I wish I had a chance to take a look inside. The exterior reminded me of Broadway. If you have an opportunity to catch a live performance here while in Detroit, I would definitely do so.
I do wish I had a bit more time to walk around downtown, there was a lot of street art and sculptures to see as well. One of the great things about downtown is they also have a monorail which runs a circular loop thru the city, making it convenient to get between places in poor weather or if you are just sick of walking (although I always suggest walking as a great way to explore the city if it’s feasible).
There is definitely plenty to keep you busy for a weekend in Detroit. So much that a longer trip is definitely possible. Detroit was one of those cities I never thought to visit but was pleasantly surprised at how much I did enjoy it. Definitely a bit of a hidden gem among US cities.
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