19 Epic Things to Do in Detroit: Kayak Canals, Skate the Midway, Dine Downtown & Experience the Riverfront

Downtown Detroit Campus Martius Beach in the Summer

The Best Things to do Downtown Detroit – And a Few Beyond

Summer is here! And that means it’s time for Michigan summer vacations.

It’s the perfect time to visit Detroit.

But what to do in Detroit?

From restaurants and shops to unique neighborhoods, Detroit is full of delightful surprises.

Biking, walking tours, kayaking, live music, culture – in addition to serendipitous urban spaces – make this city a that’s fun to explore with friends or family.

Exploring Detroit on foot will let you discover the little spots that aren’t even on Google maps.

capitol park downtown detroit
Downtown Detroit, Michigan

Read on to see how we spent our time and our suggested things to do in Detroit area.

Things to Do Downtown Detroit, MI

1

Start In the Center of the City with a Visit to Campus Martius Park & Capitol Park

Campus Martius Park
800 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

Campus Martius Park in the center of downtown changes with the seasons.

In the summer, it’s an urban beach with sand, toys, a bar, and more.
In the winter, it’s an ice rink and winter wonderland.

There’s one word for Detroit summers – dreamy.

Downtown Detroit Campus Martius Beach in the Summer
Campus Martius Beach, Summer in Downtown Detroit, MI

Resident DJs play on the weekends as people dance and vibe out to the music by the beach. The city is so alive and will engulf you right into its chill atmosphere.

We’ve visited Campus Martius both on summer weekends and during the week. Although the crowd differs greatly between the two times, the consistent dreaminess remains.

Campus Martius at Night
Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit in the Summer

Winter in Detroit? Absolutely!

To visit Detroit in the Winter and holiday season has become a tradition for our family. One year they had a walkable pine tunnel lining Woodward Ave that smelled like Christmas itself. Another year it was light tunnels.

Winter in Detroit Holiday Pine Tunnel
Pine Tunnel during Winter Holidays in Detroit, MI

Each year, Santa awaits families in several locations around the area and the entire destination is bursting with interactive holiday cheer.

You can expect markets, restaurants, and coffee shops, all pop-ups amongst the bustling buildings. It truly feels like another wonderful world.

But it doesn’t stop during the holidays or summer. You can visit this area throughout the year and there will always be something magical happening.

Capitol Park
1201 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226

Restaurants, bakeries, a dog park, coffee shops, and more make this little neighborhood a wonderful downtown Detroit destination. One of the spots we adored here was Eatóri Market a tiny adorable market and patio.

It’s a 6-minute walk from Campus Martius Park to Capitol Park in Downtown Detroit

Eatóri Market
We happened on this spot in Capitol Park on our recent visit. We arrived for dinner and stayed past sunset because their patio feels like a cozy set you’d see in a movie or at someone’s perfectly currated backyard party.

Lights span across the whole park lighting up the night as if it’s just for you. The drinks were gorgeous and the food was tasty.

Downtown Detroit Campus Martius Pop up shops
Campus Martius Pop Up Shops Downtown Detroit, Michigan
Capitol Park Eatori Market
Eatóri Market at Capitol Park in Downtown Detroit, MI
2

Make it to the Riverfront

No trip to the Motor City is complete without a stop at the riverfront.

The Detroit Riverfront should win an award for creating a space where people want to be.

Gorgeous walkways, beautiful gardens and parks, and plenty of trendy seating options go on for miles.

Things to do in Detroit - walk the Riverfront Dad walking with kids and nephews
Riverfront in Downtown Detroit MI

Any spot you pick to start is gorgeous. A couple of our favorites, though, are in front of The Renaissance Center and at Mt. Elliot.

If you visit The Renaissance Center, head outside to the river where you’ll be greeted with lounge chairs, a splash pad, and the bright blue of the Detroit River.

Detroit Riverfront Splash Pad
Splash Pad in front of The Renaissance Center on the Riverfront in Downtown Detroit, MI

You can walk, bike, rollerblade, or however you like to saunter, over to Mt. Elliot from this location where you’ll run into a carousel on the way.

At Mt. Elliot, you’ll love the ship splash pad, a hilly green space, and tables to stop and eat or chill. And this is all on the chill days!

Many days out of the year, the Riverfront is popping with events and fun things to do.

Mt. Elliot Detroit Riverfront splash pad
The Splash Pad at Mt. Elliott Park is a hit with kids
Detroit lounge seating riverfront
Lounging on the Detroit Riverfront after a bike ride.
3

Head to Belle Isle State Park

Belle Isle is an island between Detroit and Windsor and is a part of Detroit. You can get there by bridge.

Here are some of our favorite things to do in Detroit on Belle Isle:
– Nature Center
– Playgrounds
– Conservatory
– Aquarium
– Fountains
– Museum
– Swimming
– Huge burlap bag slide
– Boat launch sites and club
– Biking trails
– A pier
– Sunset park

Belle Isle at Sunset dad and son
Belle Isle at Sunset in Detroit, MI

The Island is a state park so during peak months you’ll need the state park pass or you’ll need to pay.

During off-peak months the park is free to visit. You’ll want to check their website to plan your trip as some attractions are open at certain times of the year.

Belle-Isle-Conservatory-Palm-room
Belle Isle Conservatory

You can make this stop a full day trip of activities or just pop over for a bit and take in the wonder for a short moment, picnic, or sunset.

However long you spend on Belle Isle, beware, you’re going to fall in love: with the architecture, with the beauty, with the city.

Want to know more about Belle Isle? Read more here.

Belle Isle Conservatory Aquarium
Belle Isle Park Conservatory – Detroit
Belle Isle Fountain
Fountain on Belle Isle in Detroit, MI
Belle-Isle-Michigan-aquarium-tiles-Hunt
The Aquarium on Belle Isle in Detroit, MI
Belle Isle Conservatory Detroit Michigan
4

Bike the Dequindre Cut

Dequindre Cut
Dequindre Cut Greenway, Detroit, MI 48207

We rented bikes and spent hours cruising along the riverwalk and around the city.

They have a newer rails-to-trails project that cuts through the city, the 1.65 mile Dequindre Cut. (Pronounced də-KWIN-dûr.)

Dequindre Cut Greenway Space Rails to Trails family biking
Dequindre Cut Greenway Space in Detroit, MI

You’ll like it because of the graffiti art, it’s below street level, and it takes you out to the Eastern Market.

If you’re lucky, you’ll go on a day when fun activities are happening as well. Like concerts, pop-up bars, yard games, and more.

Bike the Dequindre cut yard games pop ups
Dequindre Cut Greenway Space Pop-Up Restaurant, Yard games, rest stop in Detroit, MI
Graffiti Art Along the Dequindre Cut in Detroit
Bike Riding Along the Dequindre Cut in Detroit
5

Shop the Eastern Market on a Saturday

Eastern Market
2934 Russell Street, Detroit MI 48207

I’m a market kind of girl.

I just love everything a market represents, and Eastern Market did not disappoint.

Eastern Market Saturday Market
Eastern Market in Detroit, MI

FIVE sheds of fresh stuff to choose from – it was sensory overload in the best kind of way. This is why Eastern Market repeatedly tops lists of things to do in Detroit.

If you visit the Saturday Market, find that cinnamon roll lady from the thumb and stock up on those delicious morsels. Wish we would have brought home more and frozen them!!

Eastern Market Shed Detroit
Eastern Market in Detroit, MI

But, the Eastern Market district is actually more than just the “market” or the sheds.

Intertwined on the surrounding streets are so many shops restaurants, coffee shops, local businesses offering amazing goods and services, and wrapped around all of this are Murals in the Market!

You haven’t experienced Eastern Market until you’ve seen this portion as well.

So, if you haven’t yet, it’s just another great reason to get back there soon!

Eastern Market Murals in the Market
Murals in the Market in Eastern Market Detroit, MI
Signal Return print shop in Detroit
Signal Return is a print shop near Eastern Market in Detroit.
Eastern Market Art Garden
Eastern Market Art Garden Lounge area – Detroit MI
6

Kayak the Canals

Detroit River Sports
14601 Riverside Boulevard, Detroit, MI 48215

We had no idea that Detroit canals were a thing until our recent visit.

These canals have been a part of Detroit’s story since at least the time of the Underground Railroad.

Detroit River Sports is located next to Coriander Kitchen and Farm’s Patio Restaurant

Located adjacent to the Detroit River near the northern end of Belle Isle, visitors today can paddle the canals on a guided tour, learning the history of the canals as you go.

We toured with Detroit River Sports and were impressed with the information provided by our tour guides about the canals and the helpful hints they gave to the new paddlers in our group.

detroit canal kayaking
Detroit Canal Tours include Local History Talks

They also offer nighttime glow paddles and trips for advanced kayakers as well.

The trip was about 2.5 hours from start to finish. Highly recommend.

kayak canals in detroit mi
Kayaking the Canals in Detroit, MI
7

Admire the Guardian Building

The Guardian Building
500 Griswold Street, Detroit, MI 48226

This art deco masterpiece isn’t just for architecture buffs. (Though enthusiasts beware – you might be knocked off your feet.)

Detroit is home to some incredible feats of architecture from the early 20th century, and a huge favorite is the Guardian Building.

The Guardian Building in Detroit, MI

While a majority of the building is leased to local offices, the breathtaking lobby is open to the public 24/7. You could even sign up for a tour in pre-covid times, and we anticipate them returning soon.

The Guardian building is a celebration of Native Peoples and Aztec cultures, and you can find beautiful details in the tilework that point to these cultures. There is something to notice everywhere you look.

There’s a Michigan map in the Guardian Building in Detroit. Minus points for the artist leaving out the Upper Peninsula!
8

Drive the Streets of Indian Village

Indian Village is a historic neighborhood in Detroit that’s worth driving through, or if you have time, walking through.

Many notable historic people have lived here, like Edsel Ford, and the homes are reflective of affluent early 20th century Detroit.

Indian Village home in Detroit
Historic home in Indian Village in Detroit.

We stopped at The Red Hook in neighboring West Village for coffee and pastries before exploring the amazing homes that span so many architectural types from 1895-1920’s.

The Red Hook coffee in Detroit
The Red Hook in Detroit’s West Village.
9

Look for Murals Everywhere

Looking for free things to do in Detroit? Go mural hunting!

Public art is a part of Detroit’s story and journey. It is the voice of the people in visual form.
I’m no artist, but ArtPrize has taught me a lot about what art can do for a city, and Detroit has applied that lesson, too.

Mural art Detroit MI
Murals in the Market in Eastern Market Detroit, MI

Stroll down the BELT or Murals in the Market and you’ll see what I mean.

The Belt is a re-developed alley connecting Grand River and Gratiot Avenue between Broadway and Library Street in downtown Detroit. If you’re looking for a cool parking spot, park in the nearby Z Lot and you’ll be greeted by 130-foot-wide original murals on every level.

The Belt Z Lot
The BELT in Detroit, MI

Just walking around Detroit, you’ll encounter a lot of art, including architecture. Get ready to walk!

Plan to spend part of a day just walking around the city to take in what the city is saying, what it’s all about, and plan to learn along the way.

indian village detroit mural
Mural in Indian Village

Here are a few places to get you stared:

The BELT: 1260 Library Street Detroit, MI 48226
Z Lot: 1234 Library St, Detroit, MI 48226
Parker’s Alley: 1413 Farmers Street, Detroit, MI 48226
Murals in the Market: Russell Street, Detroit MI 48207

Sydney James Murals in the Market Detroit
Artist Sydney James’ piece in Eastern Market for Murals in the Market Detroit, MI
Z parking Garage Mural
One of Many Murals in the Z Parking Garage Adjacent to the BELT
Stevie Wonder // Welcome to Detroit Mural
Parker's Alley Detroit Murals
Parker’s Alley Detroit Murals
Mural Art in Detroit MI Pat Perry
Artist Pat Perry piece in Eastern Market, Detroit, MI
Mural art in Detroit Mi
Mural art in Detroit MI
10

Enjoy the Midway

Roll Out Detroit is a part of the Monroe Midway Decked Out Detroit.

Do you know the roller skating rinks of old?! Yeah, this isn’t like those. I mean, those old rinks still have their place for sure, but this is a whole new experience – it’s outdoors.

Midway Roller Skating in Downtown Detroit
Roller Skating at Midway in Downtown Detroit, MI

We roller-skated in Downtown Detroit, y’all!
With a DJ!
With the twinkling lights of the city and buildings as our vibe setter!

This Midway activity is SO MUCH FUN. It took a second to feel comfortable on skates again, but after a few turns around the rink, we were golden.

We’ve already got plans in the works to get back there again this summer.

Midway Roller Skating in Downtown Detroit Basketball entertainment
Midway in Downtown Detroit, MI
11

Visit the Siren Hotel – And Take Those Selfies


The Siren Hotel
1509 Broadway St, Detroit, MI 48226

The Siren Hotel is an experience, one of those hidden gem things to do in Detroit.

You’ll step into another time when you walk through the doors and may not want to leave.

The architecture is breathtaking, the decor memorizing, and the cafe’, restaurants, bars, etc. keep the atmosphere inviting.

Karl's in the Siren Hotel Downtown Detroit
Karl’s Restaurant in The Siren Hotel – Downtown Detroit MI

Inside The Siren gem:
– Coffee Shop/Cafe’
– The Candy Bar
– Karl’s and Albena Restaurants
– Magazine and gift shop
– Lounge area including vintage furniture (even a bed!)
– Music and venues (Sid Gold’s Request Room and Paramita Sound)
– Barbershop (Social Club Grooming Company)
– The Roof (rooftop bar and view of the city)
– Stay at the hotel

The Siren Hotel Lobby
The Siren Hotel Lobby and Cafe’ – Downtown Detroit MI
The Siren Hotel Lobby Coffee Shop Cafe' lounge
The Siren Hotel Cafe’ Lobby – Downtown Detroit, MI
12

Give Yourself Time for the Museums

DIA – Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202

The DIA is another place you’ll want to experience while in town. Just being inside of the building inspires.

If you do visit, don’t miss the famous, gigantic, Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals on two walls of the inner courtyard.

Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Located on Wayne State University’s campus, the Museum of African American History is the world’s largest permanent exhibit on African American culture.

It is a compelling place to learn about the African American experience and celebrate what it means to be African American.

Detroit Historical Museum
5401 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202

The Detroit Historical Museum is the only museum dedicated to telling the area’s history.

Go back 300 years in the history of the Motor City in the permanent exhibits such as The Streets of Old Detroit.

Rotating and visiting exhibits round out your trip.

Motown Museum
2648 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48208

Music lovers will dig a trip to Motown Museum.

Come stand in Studio A, where some of your favorite historic musicians recorded their hits. View artifacts and become inspired.

13

Pretend It’s Just the Kids Having Fun at the Outdoor Adventure Center


Outdoor Adventure Center
1801 Atwater St, Detroit, MI 48207

The Outdoor Adventure Center took us by surprise!

The DNR managed to put the great outdoors in the middle of downtown Detroit – great news for kids.

Driving an ORV Simulator at the Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit, MI

The kids loved the experience simulators and hands-on exhibits at the Outdoor Adventure Center. I loved the low price tag.

I’d say this place is good for kids up to age 12.

Plan to spend at least a few hours playing, snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, kayaking, and practicing archery when you visit.


Running through a Tunnel at the Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit, MI
14

Ride the People Mover

When your feet get tired, hop on the People Mover.

It’s under $1 a person and is a great way to see the city. Kids love it.

View from the People Mover, downtown Detroit
15

One of the Classic Things to Do in Detroit: Catch a Game


I’m talking sports last because most people know that Detroit is home to major league sports teams.

But many people drive in for a day, cheer their team, and then leave.

Cheering on the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park

If you have the chance, stay a little longer and start exploring. The neighborhood near the new Little Ceasars Arena, Brush Park, is undergoing major revitalization right now and it’s amazing to see these historic mansions in various states of transformation.

It’s a great time to cheer for your team and cheer for Detroit, too.

Detroit Tigers Baseball – they play at Comerica Park
2100 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Detroit Lions Football – they play at Ford Field
2000 Brush St, Detroit, MI 48226

Detroit Red Wings Hockey – they play at Little Caesars Arena
2645 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Detroit Pistons Basketball -they play at Little Caesars Arena
2645 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Things to Do in Detroit …Beyond Downtown

16

Make a Pit Stop in Ferndale

About nine miles north on Woodward Ave is Ferndale, one of Detroit’s funkiest suburbs. If you love shopping local, and love good food, you must stop in Ferndale.

We only had a couple of hours to spare, so we hit up the top of our list – The Rust Belt.

We are not normally big shoppers, but we all found things we HAD to have from The Rust Belt, where unique, artisanal and designer come together in one place.

Woman shopping plant shop
The Plant House is located inside The Rust Belt in Ferndale.

We lunched across the street at Como’s Pizza and were served the BEST gluten free pizza we’ve ever experienced in our lives. No contest. They know how to do Detroit style pizza. And everything else.

Comos Detroit Style Pizza in Ferndale
Como’s serves epic Detroit style pizza in Ferndale.

There are so many other unique shops to peruse and we wished we had an entire day to hang out in Ferndale.

Ferndale is home to many popular festivals and events, so whatever weekend you visit, you’re bound to find something exciting happening.

Funky Ferndale Art Fair in the fall is one of the top art fairs in Michigan.
17

Spend a Morning at the Detroit Zoo

Detroit Zoo
8450 W 10 Mile Rd, Royal Oak, MI 48067

Like just about everything in Detroit, the Detroit Zoo is historic.

Nearly 100 years old, the zoo was built to have a “cageless” feel for both the animals and visitors. This gives the Detroit Zoo its beloved park-like feel.

Notable parts of the Detroit Zoo include the Arctic Ring of Life, The Polk Penguin Conservation Center, and the Wild Adventure Zone.

Be sure to stop at the famous Rackham Fountain, which includes beautiful bear sculptures.

Rackham Fountain at the Detroit Zoo
Detroit Zoo’s historic Rackham Fountain
open walking spaces at Detroit Zoo
Detroit Zoo has wide walkways and a park-like feel.
Wallaby path at the Detroit Zoo
You can walk among the wallabies! No barriers!
Zebra at the Detroit Zoo
While the Detroit Zoo animals are more than an arm’s length away, it feels like you can reach out and touch them.
18

Learn All of the Things at the Henry Ford Museum

Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI 48124

Squeezing in all of the things to do in Detroit on one trip is pretty much impossible. Even folks that have lived near the city are discovering new and cool places to visit almost daily.

Putting the Henry Ford Museum on your visit list is a must, though.

henry ford museum detroit
Campus of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Metro Detroit

This staple attraction in Metro Detroit has been hosting visitors for decades and we don’t see why that would change anytime soon.

The Henry Ford Museum is also the site of Greenfield Village (see the next stop on our list) and makes a great day trip for families.

Lest you think that the Henry Ford Museum is all about cars and the man Henry Ford, let me share about our visit.

Yes, there are Model T automobiles in this large indoor/outdoor history museum, and yes, you will learn about Assembly Lines and Henry Ford.

henry ford museum detroit
The Henry Ford’s Automobile Exhibits are Top-Notch

But, you will also be transported to unexpected worlds, including a retro 50s round aluminum house, a world of numbers brought to life (Mathmatica), and special exhibits.

Restaurants and gift shops round out a trip to the Henry Ford.

Plan to spend a full day at this destination if you can. The Henry Ford Museum is an indoor attraction.

henry ford museum detroit
Hands on Exhibits at Mathematica Repeatedly Draw in Visitors
henry ford museum detroit
19

Do All of the Things at Greenfield Village


Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum
20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI 48124

Greenfield Village is a collection of buildings — workplaces, homes, working farms — that were either moved to the site or re-created on location. The Village is made up of seven historic districts:
– Working Farms
– Craftworks
– Model T
– Railroad Junction
– Main Street
– Edison at Work
– Porches & Parlors

greenfield village detroit michigan
Meet people in historical dress as you walk Greenfield Village

When you visit, you’ll be walking through over 300 years of history from the United States and beyond.

Encounter people dressed from past eras demonstrating crafts from their time – weaving, glass blowing, pottery-making, printing, and more.

Some experiences even allow you to participate and get hands-on with the old-time innovations.

Definitely take a ride on the steam engine, model T, or carriage if you can.

You’ll also want to find and play on the playground built for children of all abilities, the Donald F. Kosch Village Playground.

Designed to look like a 1930s construction site, the playground is a mixture of new play elements and real historical objects, including a 20-foot long boiler tunnel and 1931 Model AA truck.

Play at the All Abilities Playground at Greenfield Village

You can get a combo ticket to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village or just visit Greenfield Village on its own. Either way, plan to spend a full day at this stop in Detroit’s suburbs.

Pro Tip 1: Dress for the weather when visiting Greenfield Village. Getting from one attraction to another will take you outdoors, where you’ll spend most of your time.

Pro Tip 2: Check their website when planning a visit – Greenfield Village is not open every day of the week.

greenfield village detroit
greenfield village detroit
Authentic Horse and Carriages

Coffee Shops in Detroit

Have you even experienced a city if you haven’t done the coffee? I think not.

Coffee shops are everywhere in Detroit, most unique in atmosphere, and worth the cup.

Here are some of our favorites to get you started:

Anthology
1948 Division St, Detroit, MI 48207
Anthology Coffee Eastern Market Detroit
Anthology Coffee in Eastern Market District – Detroit MI
Anthology Coffee Eastern Market Plant Wall
Anthology plant wall and sodas – Detroit, MI
Red Hook
West Village: 8025 Agnes St, Detroit, MI 48214
Ferndale: 220 W 9 Mile Rd, Ferndale, MI 48220
Downtown: 2761 E Jefferson, Detroit, MI 48207
Red Hook Coffee Indian Village
Red Hook in Indian Village – Detroit MI
Red Hook baked goods Detroit
Red Hook baked goods and Mural in Indian Village – Detroit MI
The Commons Coffee, Venue, and Laundry
7900 Mack Ave, Detroit, MI 48214
The Commons Coffee shop Detroit
The Commons Coffee shop, venue, and laundry – Detroit, MI
Oloman Cafe and Art Gallery
10215 Joseph Campau Ave, Hamtramck, MI 48212
Oloman Cafe and Art Gallery
Oloman Cafe and Art Gallery in Hamtramck MI
Madcap
1413 Farmer St, Detroit, MI 48226
Madcap Coffee Downtown Detroit
Madcap in Downtown, Detroit MI

Where to Stay in Detroit, MI

We LOVED our room at the DoubleTree  – Fort Shelby.

I mean, it came with a fish for the kids to feed!

As a family of five, it’s hard to find hotels in cities that can accommodate us. But our 2-room suite had more than enough space for us to spread out.

DoubleTree  – Fort Shelby
525 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226
Double Tree – Fort Shelby – Hotel in Downtown Detroit, MI

And since it was located just a block away from the people mover, we could get around the city without driving and worrying about parking.

Another spot we’ve stayed in Detroit and can recommend for its great location is the Hilton Garden Inn on Gratiot. We parked and walked almost everywhere downtown.

Hilton Garden Inn
351 Gratiot Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

I can’t wait to visit again – there are so many more things for us to explore, like the Motown Museum.

Do you have tips or destinations for us to consider? Please drop us a note in the comments. 

If you do plan a visit, Metro Detroit Mommy and Visit Detroit are two amazing resources.

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