How to Take a Cheap (but Elegant) “Staycation” in Detroit

Fall is spectacular in Michigan, and Detroit is a cornucopia of fun.

So you know those articles in the travel sections entitled “Three Days in Chicago”, “Three Days in L.A.” etc.? I decided Detroit needed one. There may be a few already written but I wanted to do my own version and early fall is a good time to try it out.

Recently, my niece from the suburbs came into the city for a weekend. I planned to treat her visit as a true three day vacation. And to make it really a treasure hunt, our aim was to seek out great things to do – as if we were on vacation for real but with little or no cost.

Day One:

Starts in the afternoon. First on our agenda are appetizers and a glass of wine at Fountain Bistro. Cost: free. Why free? I follow them on Twitter and responded to the invitation on their web site.

Outdoor music at The Fountain Bistro in Campus Martius

We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the park and a great combo.

Though this event was specific to that particular weekend, it’s not uncommon to find this flavor among Detroit restaurants. And for Downtown Detroit residents, like us, the Fountain makes for a true neighborhood bistro.


Onward to one of Detroit’s most popular neighborhoods – Corktown. Even if you don’t imbibe, it’s worth a visit to the Sugar House Bar in Corktown for the ambience, the cool design and the bartenders’ avant garde dress.

Mixology maestros at the Sugar House

You could well end up in conversation with some savvy yet authentic and folksy Detroiters – one of the reasons I love this town.

Known for what it calls handcrafted cocktails, Sugar House’s drinks are tasty and their bartenders whip up some mini works of alcohol art. No meals but several snacks. A big bowl of peanuts is one dollar.


Detroit loves its comfort food. Sliders & fries at the Greendot

Staying with our bargain theme, we giddy upped over to Green Dot Stables on the very edge of Corktown for dinner. They offer many combinations of good and cheap. Most everything to eat or drink is no more than $3. Popularity has seized this place – their vast array of sliders may have something to do with that, not to mention they’re open til 2:00 in the morning, six days a week.


We headed to the Riverfront and strolled from the Renaissance Center to Rivard Plaza and on through wild and woodsy Milliken State Park, which is the first urban park in Michigan.  It has a lighthouse, long wavy grasses, wetlands, a bike path, sections for fishing and a heartfelt memorial to Peter Stroh, a noted conservationist who spent millions of his family’s beer fortune revitalizing Detroit’s riverfront.

Michigan’s first urban park

By the way, I know it may sound sappy but you might want to stop and thank one of the police officers who bike and hike the riverfront with the rest of us keeping it, well, hikeable and bikeable. They apparently like their beats and are more than willing to chat with the local citizens and tourists.

Worth mentioning – you need to check the schedule but there are free Tai Chi classes, a walking club and yoga on the riverfront in the mornings.

Make room for (pretty) sugar … at Joe Muer’s

Rounding out the evening, we walked over to Joe Muer’s, a sophisticated restaurant also on the Riverfront. We sat at the piano bar, ordered coffee and their rave-worthy coconut cake. We soaked in the atmosphere, the people and the view, and spent an hour listening to arguably the greatest music ever written – the standards.

Muy delicioso at Los Galanes in Mexicantown

Day Two:  The faux vacation continues!  And we’re reveling in the real Detroit. Today we started with breakfast at Los Galanes in Mexicantown.  Sit inside or out on the patio and order one of the Mexican favorites.  The wait staff is attentive and likeable.

You might find yourself chatting with enthusiasts of Detroit’s bicycle clubs as they make this their favorite morning stop.


Folks could (and do!) spend the entire day at Eastern Market

After breakfast, we headed over to Eastern Market which is jumpin’ on Saturday mornings.  If this is your scene you could really make a day of it.  There are nearly a  hundred stores and restaurants which provide endless people watching and that’s not counting the farmers and their stands.

Some of my favorite farm stands include Sweet Potato Sensations, Mumby Pies and Detroit Mercantile Company. I highly recommend the Eastern Market tour – it’s fascinating and a bit morbid from a historical perspective as the market started out as a downtown slaughterhouse.

Our young niece in front of the fanciful and stately Waldorf school, 2555 Burns Ave

Only five minutes east of downtown off of Jefferson is Indian Village. We took a leisurely ride through the neighborhood where palatial homes from the early 20th century are just plain fun to look at in all seasons.

I always tell people to stop and take pictures at the Waldorf School, which is straight out of the Harry Potter movies.

The Manoogian … so THIS is where Kwami had those wild parties!







We crossed Jefferson and headed toward the Detroit River in order to zip past the mayor’s place, the grand Manoogian Mansion (with its colorful history especially since Kwami) in the Berry Subdivision Historic District.

Pewabic pottery rolls out objet d’art from tiles to statuary

We also saw the place recently purchased by Kid Rock a few doors down. It was parked-up and buzzing. No celebrity sightings but total tourist fun factor!

Staying in The Villages area, we drove to Pewabic Pottery, founded in 1903. More than a hundred years later, the building and the institution are still nationally renowned.

The creations of Pewabic founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton encompass countless tiles, vessels and architectural ornaments that adorn our venerable and beloved Detroit buildings.

I’ve spent a few dollars in my time at this place, but this weekend we approached it as a museum looking at all the pieces for sale and perusing the historical exhibits.

Speaking of art, how ’bout some handcrafted beer?

All that driving drove our appetites to Motor City Brewing Works in Midtown where we shared a small personal-sized pizza.  The Bronx Bomber is my favorite (heavy on the meat and cheese please). Swill it down with their handcrafted beers and sodas.

We also popped into two urban homesy boutiques next door, City Bird and Nest.



Lollipop Dips at 24Grille

We ended the evening at 24 Grille in the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel as they have an eclectic menu.

We opted to sit outside on the patio and people-watch on Michigan Avenue. We ordered the tapas-like ‘bites’ instead of dinner  There’s also intriguing views of the abundant architectural styles in the surrounding buildings.


Day Three: 

We started by going to church for both religious and touristy reasons.  Have you ever traipsed through cathedrals in other cities and marveled at their beauty?

Detroit holds its own in Church sightseeing. St. Anne’s among them

Touring the churches in Detroit is one of the most popular tours through the Detroit Historical Society.

We chose Saint Anne’s in Mexicantown.  It’s the second oldest continuously operating church in the entire United States- founded two days after Cadillac landed in Detroit in 1701.  Masses are in both English and Spanish.

Hip and brunchy, Hudson’s Cafe on Woodward

Brunch at the Hudson Café on Woodward downtown was our last stop.  Though several of the breakfasts are elaborate, you can easily get a couple of eggs and toast or a simple bowl of oatmeal. (Try chicken and waffles just once.) Also has an outdoor patio.

This place teems with the diverse beat of downtown.


In our weekend adventure with the weather in our favor, we hit quite a few neighborhoods and with the tours and meals got to spend quality time with our niece and did it all pretty much on the cheap.

We were ambitious; that may not be your style. You may want to build some time in for lollygagging  (or sleeping late) but know that Detroit awaits especially now during these beautiful fall months.


Photo credit: homepage slider image: jasonwoodhead23


About Joanne

Joanne McNary qualifies as having a full-on case of “Detroit-itis,” a condition characterized by swooning at the sight of new business openings, cheering on women leaders and going gaga over local theatre. She grew up in the city and found her way back four years ago - now dwelling in downtown. Joanne's "Deeply Detroit" blog highlights Detroit's crazy patchwork of neighborhoods percolating with the miracles that are breathing new life into the city. She revels always in the warmth of her family. Her children, their spouses and one spectacular granddaughter are her treasures. In Joanne's mind, Twitter rules. Follow her on @DetroitRocks.

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