The Inside Out Guide to Detroit

Credit: David Clifton

From Motown to the automobile, the Midwestern metropolis of Detroit is the birthplace of some pretty awesome things. But the city has also been in the throes of major change, revitalization, and, yes, in recent decades, contentious gentrification. After economic hardships spurred in large part by the dissolution of the local auto industry and major white flight to the suburbs in the latter half of the 20th century, the local landscape became one of abandoned buildings and foreclosed homes. In spite of these rough times, though, Detroit is rebuilding. The city has emerged as a cultural hub, complete with unique public art works like The Heidelberg Project, and new, luxe hospitality developments like the Shinola Hotel (funded by the Detroit-born watch and bike purveyor).

Ahead, some worthy suggestions for where to eat, drink, get inked, take in the culture, and more in Motor City.

Where to get tattooed in Detroit

Independent Ink Tattoo Studio It’s a bit of a trek from Detroit proper (though nearly everything requires a drive in these parts; it is Motor City, after all) but you should definitely consider a trip to Independent Ink Tattoo Studio to see Nathan Wilson. The lines that make up his blackwork designs are some of the cleanest you can find in the city. The shop also offers more delicate pieces from tattooer Savannah Foxx, though, whose portfolio includes plenty of fine line designs focused on animals and botanicals. 33476 Van Dyke Ave, Sterling Heights

North Main Tattoo Studio At this popular studio and art gallery in in Plymouth, you’ll find standout tattooers who specialize in a range of styles from minimalist designs to vibrant, illustrative pieces. Take Eric Mulka, for instance⁠—the studio’s 24-year-old resident artist started his career tattooing in the American Traditional style, but he quickly expanded his repertoire to include black and gray designs and precision line work. 418 North Main Street, Plymouth

Iconic Tattoo Right in the heart of the city, you’ll find local artist Robert Casper—his father was also a tattooer and encouraged him to get into the family craft, so you could say that tattooing runs in his blood. The Detroit native has lots of hometown pride and longtime local intel, so you can leave the shop with both ink and some invaluable Motor City native-vetted recommendations to really get the most out of your stay. 3401 Cass Ave., Detroit

Where to get inspired in Detroit

The Heidelberg Project While Detroit is filled with interesting public art, The Heidelberg Project, an outdoor exhibit and local non-profit, is definitely a must-see. The organization was created in 1986 when artist Tyree Guyton—who grew up on Heidelberg Street—came home to see his childhood stomping grounds in a state of despair. Guyton’s grandfather, Sam Mackey, urged him to channel his frustration into action by cleaning up the decrepit area, starting with the very street he’d grown up on. Guyton and Mackey worked together with children from the neighborhood to revitalize vacant lots along Heidelberg Street. Together, they turned abandoned houses into art installations that are equal parts whimsical and optimistic. In the 33 years since it was founded, The Heidelberg Project has become a beloved cultural space for locals and a must-see attraction for visitors; it’s a completely unique and unforgettable experience. 3600 Heidelberg, Detroit

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So much more than a street.

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Motown Museum Besides its automobile legacy, one of Detroit’s most central claims to fame is Motown: the trailblazing, infectiously feel-good music genre that perpetually dominates hit-the-dance floor worthy soundtracks at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and more. As the hometown of greats like Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross, Detroit birthed the Motown genre in this humble-looking home-turned-recording studio. This modest house was the HQ of Berry Gordy Jr., the songwriter and producer who propelled the careers of Dianna Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5. Now, the digs are preserved as a music history-filled museum with guided tours that include endless, fascinating tidbits about the birth and growth of Motown. And soon, the small but mighty museum will expand in a big way, adding another 50,000 square feet (Gordy himself donated $4 million to the expansion in September 2019). 2648 West Grand Blvd., Downtown Detroit 

Eastern Market This sprawling market dates back to the 19th century. Here now, though, you’ll find over 225 vendors set up every Saturday selling ultra-fresh produce and prepared foods perfect for a snack or lunch. And then on Sundays you’ll find local artisans peddling their wares, from paintings to jewelry. There are also Tuesday and Thursdays Night Markets during the summer, a perfect time to check out the historical open-air market and enjoy some live music; and Holiday Markets in November and December. Pro tip: Be sure to spend some time meandering around the market as well. Check out the nearby mural-painted warehouses before heading across the street to Supino Pizzeria for a slice (or a full pie)—the delicious thin-crust pizzas are topped with gourmet toppings like smoked turkey, gouda, and roasted garlic. 2934 Russell St. and surrounding blocks 

Where to eat and drink in Detroit

Buddy’s Pizza The original outpost of Buddy’s Pizza—arguably the finest (and certainly one of the oldest!) version of Detroit-style pies—is located on Six Mile Road and has been serving up irresistible, ultra-cheesy ‘za since 1946. For the uninitiated, here, the regional style is less casserole-like than a Chicago deep-dish pie, and roughly the thickness of a Sicilian slice at an NYC pizzeria but denser and almost completely devoid of crust. Then there’s the cheese, which the chef piles all the way to the edges of the pan, creating a lacy chip-like crisp of cheese around the pie’s perimeter. Start with some antipasti (we recommend salad and minestrone soup to share) before digging into a few pies. You can’t go wrong with a classic combo like sausage and ‘shrooms or any of the Motor City or Great Lakes specialty pizzas, but if you’re looking for something a little lighter—that’s still absurdly delicious—opt for the Antioxidant pie. This “healthy” pie starts with a multigrain crust and a tomato basil sauce base and is topped with artichoke hearts, spinach, mushrooms, roasted garlic, and, of course, cheese. 17125 Conant St., Detroit

Takoi The cool space that houses Takoi is actually a former auto body shop refinished with a bright, white exterior and vibrantly lit inside with neon shades like bright purple and hot pink. The location sets the ideal stage for the restaurant’s delicious modern takes on Thai sharing plates. You can also grab a creative cocktail (which are available in half sizes should you want to try a few different flavors), and if you’re planning a mid-week Motor City trip you can take advantage of Takoi’s happy hour specials which include an $8 Thai-fried chicken sandwich, $7 cocktail specials, and more great deals from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday. 2520 Michigan Ave., Corktown 

Astro Coffee Since opening its doors in 2011, this intimate café fit with painted brick walls and plants strewn about, has become a hipster haven and community gathering spot for the city’s growing population of freelance creatives. Owner Daisuke Hughes (who opened Astro with his wife, Jessica Hicks) grew up in nearby Ann Arbor. He spent years working at coffee shops both locally and abroad in London and Sydney before launching Astro. Along with great java, this spot is famous for its excellent sweet treats and egg sandwiches. 2124 Michigan Ave., Corktown 

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😍😍✨ @ochrebakery

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Where to stay in Detroit

El Moore Lodge The eco-friendly El Moore Lodge is a great pick for a home away from home thanks to its genuine charm and character. It’s located in Midtown, which provides a more relaxed environment than downtown Detroit but is still close to the action and attractions. El Moore also offers some interesting accommodations designed for snoozing in style that start at just $75 per night, including its Rooftop Urban Cabins with decks and handsome wooded interiors and its Garden-Level Bunkrooms which are economical and cozy with an adult summer camp vibe (yes, there are actual bunkbeds). 624 W Alexandrine St., Midtown

Hostel Detroit Emily Doerr, the founder of Hostel Detroit, has always loved hosting. At first, she was a casual host on sites like Couchsurfer, but in 2011 she officially converted her funky digs into a full-time hostel. Uniquely set up as an educational non-profit, Hostel Detroit is an accessible, hands-on, enthusiastic-about-its-city retreat for travellers. The space provides guests with maps for self-guided tours and “adventure-planning” help from volunteer ambassadors so visitors can truly get a taste of Detroit’s rich heritage. It also includes communal spaces like a spacious backyard, fire pit, tree-grazing deck, and trio of kitchens that encourage networking with fellow guests. And the Corktown location is perfect—close to hip spots to eat, drink, shop, and explore. Perhaps best of all? Prices start at just $68 per night. 2700 Vermont St., Corktown 

Element Hotel This 14-story Neo-Gothic building dates back to 1925, but it was vacant for four decades before reopening as the Marriott-owned Element Hotel in 2019 following a $39-million renovation. The result? Sleek, spacious digs that feel like apartments—not cookie-cutter hotel rooms—perfect for an extended stay. Rooms start at $170 a night and while you’re here, you can grab a drink at the hotel’s Monarch Club, a rooftop bar with the a stunning view of the city. 33 John R St., Downtown 

Want more? Check out the rest of our City Guides, including New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto.

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