Thursday, June 20, 2024
Home MI Places MI Destinations Discover Detroit

Discover Detroit

Urban adventures await in Michigan’s largest city

By Wensdy Von Buskirk

The Monarch Club’s rooftop || Courtesy of Visit Detroit

There’s a reason Condé Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, and Afar listed Detroit as one of the top places in the world to travel this year. From the city’s art and culture to its sports, music, and growing roster of hotels and food venues, there is much for visitors to discover in “The D.”

In naming Detroit one of its Best Places to Go this year, the editors of Condé Nast Traveler noted, “In 2024, Detroit will welcome a host of new hotels, green spaces, and cultural attractions.” Award-winning travel media brand Afar included Detroit in its annual Where to Go list of 25 exciting destinations to visit this year, citing the reimagined Michigan Central train station and recently opened Cambria Hotel Detroit Downtown as examples of the city’s growing vitality. Architectural Digest’s 24 Best Places to Travel in 2024 list similarly cited a long string of developments that are “transforming the Motor City and increasing its appeal.”

When BizBash was looking for a spot to host its annual Connect Marketplace in 2022, it chose Detroit. In planning the event that brings 3,000 event suppliers and planners together for networking and education, BizBash looks for cities with easy access to airports, walkability, and hotels. “Detroit really did check all the boxes,” says Michaela Giovannotto, director of brand experiences for BizBash. “It has all the things you need for a great event.”

About the Motor City

Detroit is the biggest city in Michigan and the second largest in the Midwest, with the busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing in the country. It sits on the Detroit River with views of Windsor, Ontario, across the water. The last two decades have brought a whirlwind of reinvestment and revitalization to Detroit that has centralized Detroit Lions (NFL), Tigers (MLB), Pistons (NBA), and Red Wings (NHL) games. Many historic buildings also have undergone overhauls. New retailers, restaurants, residents, and recreational opportunities continue to be attracted to downtown.

In fact, there are so many places to stay, dine, and check out, it can be downright overwhelming. Christopher Moyer, senior director of communications for Visit Detroit, says his organization specializes in matching meetings and events of all sizes with the perfect fit in the city. “Our job is to help bring your event here,” Moyer says. “We’re going to find a way to put the right meeting in the right space.”

Getting Around

Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), one of the busiest hubs in the country, offers flights from around the world. From DTW, it’s just 25 minutes to downtown Detroit.

True to its heritage as the Motor City, Detroit’s streets are laid out like the spokes of a wheel. The free QLINE streetcar runs along Woodward Avenue, connecting downtown with the Midtown, New Center, and North End districts.

The People Mover elevated tram circles 13 stops throughout downtown Detroit, making it easy for meeting-goers to get to and from Huntington Place, the Renaissance Center, Greektown, and other hot spots. Meeting-goers can also hop aboard a Rickshaw Detroit Pedicab, or one of the city’s traveling bicycle pubs, where guests pedal as they partake in team building and brew tasting.

Aerial view of Detroit’s African World Festival held at Hart Plaza near the Renaissance Center || Photo by Charles Falsetti, courtesy of Visit Detroit

Venue Variety

When it comes to staging meetings and events, Huntington Place is the crown jewel. Home to the iconic North American International Detroit Auto Show, it features 723,000 square feet of exhibit space with easy access, parking, and proximity to downtown. The venue’s Grand River Ballroom alone is the largest banquet and event venue in the state, with an open-air terrace overlooking the skyline.

Also on the Detroit River is Waterview Loft, where groups can customize spaces to suit as many as 450 attendees. For an event to impress, add a team-building cruise on the Infinity-Ovation Yacht. For a newer space, Chroma boasts a cool vibe for up to 300 people with full catering available. “It’s in the artists’ and creative Milwaukee Junction neighborhood with breathtaking views and public art all around,” Moyer says.

Beyond Detroit’s borders, The Henry Ford provides unforgettable settings for up to 4,500 people just 12 miles from downtown. Book events in the museum’s car court or big-screen theater; schedule a daytime picnic or evening buyout of Greenfield Village; or book a Ford Rouge Factory Tour for a glimpse of manufacturing past and present.

About 20 minutes up Woodward Avenue, the Detroit Zoo offers meeting spaces amid animal habitats, from breakfast with the butterflies to nocturnal adventures. For larger gatherings, The Suburban Collection Showplace exposition, conference, and banquet center in Novi provides 460,000 square feet to host a variety of functions including public expos, trade shows, corporate and association gatherings, and other events.

Other less conventional meeting places in the Detroit area include the Gem and Colony theaters, the Detroit Opera House, the Roostertail, Book Tower’s elegant skylit Conservatory Ballroom, and the Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores.

Where to Stay

Among hotels frequently tapped for business events and conferences are the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center; Fort Pontchartrain, a Wyndham Hotel; and DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Detroit Downtown–Fort Shelby. Others well suited to service the convention center include the Cambria Hotel Detroit Downtown; Hotel Indigo Detroit Downtown, an IHG Hotel; Courtyard by Marriott Detroit Downtown; The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit; and Detroit Foundation Hotel.

The Westin Book Cadillac just wrapped up a $20 million renovation that included a redesign of its 453 guest rooms, 36,000 square feet of meeting space, and all public areas of the property. Here, the new Sullivan’s Steakhouse can host cocktail hours and small groups of its own.

“I have seen the city go through such a tremendous renaissance,” says Scott Stinebaugh, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. “There’s a little something for everybody.” And Detroit’s casinos—MotorCity, MGM Grand, and Hollywood Casino Greektown—offer a wide array of rooms, meeting spaces, and amenities. The Godfrey Hotel Detroit in the heart of Corktown has a 5,100-square-foot grand ballroom and the city’s largest rooftop lounge.

Belle Isle and Detroit skyline at dusk || Photo by Charles Falsetti, courtesy of Visit Detroit

Out & About

Detroit’s gritty, DIY spirit makes it a great place for attendees to explore. Campus Martius Park, which scored the No. 1 spot in USA Today’s list of Top 10 Best Plublic Squares (2023), is a central hub of activity with ice skating in the winter and an urban beach in the summer. The action will kick into overdrive when the 2024 NFL Draft comes to Detroit April 25-27, with many of the activities centered on Campus Martius and Hart Plaza downtown. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend, as millions more watch from around the world.

The Detroit Institute of Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History offer formal cultural experiences while murals, sculptures, pop-up concerts, and music festivals yield more laid-back fare. Get attendees outside along the 3-mile Detroit RiverWalk, where they can walk or bike from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle State Park. Not far away, the graffiti-filled Dequindre Cut greenway is a hidden gem.

When it comes to dining, classic Detroit venues like The Whitney mansion, local favorites like Selden Standard and Slows BBQ, and international enclaves like Mexican Village and Greektown are complemented by exciting new restaurants including Grey Ghost, The Apparatus Room, Mad Nice, and Oak & Reel.

Attendees can experience activities like the NFL Draft Celebration. || Photo by Charles Falsetti, courtesy of Visit Detroit

The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit has 19 event spaces. || Courtesy of The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit

“There has been this great investment in restaurants with high-caliber chefs—James Beard Award-winning chefs; chefs who had Michelin stars in restaurants in Chicago, New York, and other places; and chefs who have come back to Detroit to bring their talents to the Motor City and southeast Michigan,” Moyer says. And if there’s any cuisine the Detroit area does best, he notes, it’s Middle Eastern “because of the more than 100-year history [of immigrants coming to the Detroit area], particularly from Lebanon and Jordan and Syria, and more recently, Yemen.”

Atop the notable Renaissance Center, steak house Highlands Detroit accommodates up to 300 attendees, who can enjoy panoramic views of the city. Moyer also gives a shoutout to nearby Dearborn Meat Market, which he says, “is not fancy, but is just exceptional dining in a no-frills, hole-in-the-wall type of place.”

With this year ushering in the restoration of Michigan Central Station and the completion of Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, there will be an abundance of new things to discover around Detroit well into the future.