Itinerant Fan

Detroit city guide

With teams in the NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball, plus one of the nation’s most prominent college athletic programs just 45 minutes away, Detroit is a prime destination for sports fans. And the sports scene is thriving: the Tigers have become a perennial championship contender, the Red Wings continually make noise in the self-proclaimed “Hockeytown,” and Ford Field has hosted a Super Bowl and the Lions are looking to rise.

But there’s plenty more to see in Detroit than sports. The city isn’t thought of that highly as a tourist destination — let’s face it, its reputation among travelers is not good — but, having visited the city a few times ourselves, we can tell you that Detroit has a lot to offer. You just have to know where to go, and this guide is meant to help you get the most out of a sports trip to the Motor City.

Click placemark in index to find on map | View Detroit city guide in a larger map

The landscape

Most of Detroit’s pro venues are downtown, after Comerica Park and Ford Field opened in the early 2000s and helped liven up the area. The Red Wings have played at Joe Louis Arena since leaving the old Olympia in 1979; they’ll only be at the Joe until the end of the 2016-17 season, after which they’ll be moving into a new facility that will be the center of a new entertainment district. In November 2016, the Pistons announced that they would join the Wings in what will be called Little Caesars Arena, meaning all four pro teams will be playing within the downtown core.

Out in the suburbs, the Palace has been the home of the Pistons since 1988 and helped usher in a wave of arena-building around the country because of its luxury suite-heavy layout. Before that, the Pistons played in the cavernous Silverdome in Pontiac, which was pretty much abandoned after the Lions left in 2001.

To find another site of Detroit’s sports past, visit the corner of Michigan and Trumbull avenues in Corktown, west of downtown, where the old Tiger Stadium stood. The structure is now gone but the playing field remains, maintained by a group of volunteers.

The venues
Comerica Park: Home of the Tigers: Located at 2100 Woodward Ave. downtown.
Ford Field: Home of the Lions. Located at 2000 Brush St. downtown (next to Comerica Park).
Joe Louis Arena: Home of the Red Wings. Located at 19 Steve Yzerman Drive downtown, along the Detroit River.
The Palace of Auburn Hills: Home of the Pistons. Located at 6 Championship Drive in Auburn Hills, a suburb about 30 miles north of downtown Detroit.

Joe Louis Arena

Joe Louis Arena

The strategies

Getting in
Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) sits about 20 miles west of downtown and is a Delta hub. Fly in via Delta and you’ll find yourself in one of the longest terminals in the country — so long that it needs its own tram. Other airlines serve the airport from points around the midwest, and service to and from Chicago in particular is plentiful and occasionally very cheap.

Detroit is also served by Amtrak, but routes that lead to the station at 11 W. Baltimore Ave. only go as far as Chicago. To get to farther points in the midwest, Greyhound and Megabus operate numerous routes.

Interstates 75, 94 and 96 converge in downtown Detroit and lead to most big cities around Michigan (use 94 to arrive from Chicago/Grand Rapids and 75 from Toledo). In Canada, Route 401 leads from Toronto to Windsor, and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel connects the two cities.

Where to stay
Between the many “brand-name” hotels and the casinos, there’s plenty of lodging to be found downtown, including numerous options within walking distance of Comerica Park, Ford Field and Joe Louis Arena. The Marriott hotel at the Renaissance Center has the distinction of being the tallest hotel in North America at 73 stories.

For the Palace of Auburn Hills, several hotels and motels are available along Interstate 75 near the arena and in the nearby cities of Pontiac and Rochester Hills. In Ann Arbor, just about every major brand has a hotel near the University of Michigan.

Getting around
Other than the usual big-city bus network, the closest thing to a mass-transit line in Detroit is the People Mover, a driverless train that makes stops at various points around downtown. Riders can board for just 75 cents per ride. Joe Louis Arena has its own stop; use Grand Circus or Broadway for Comerica Park and Ford Field.

Roads in Detroit aren’t too difficult to navigate as long as it isn’t snowing — the main roads downtown, such as Woodward Avenue and Jefferson Avenue, are quite wide with large medians. The downtown grid can be rather confusing to the uninitiated, though, with Michigan Avenue cutting diagonally through the area and several streets curving to conform with the semi-circular Grand Circus Park. If your plan is to spend the day around downtown, consider parking your car somewhere and walking — as long as the weather isn’t too harsh, the stroll should be very pleasant.

Downtown Detroit is full of lots and structures that sports fans can use. Joe Louis Arena is next to the massive Cobo Center, the city’s convention hall, which has an equally massive parking structure. Despite their downtown locations, Comerica Park and Ford Field have sizable parking lots as well, though cheaper options can typically be found around downtown, as can free or metered street parking on a number of streets within a few blocks of the venues.

In Auburn Hills, the Palace is surrounded by plenty of parking, with four entrances at your disposal depending on your route in.

The Detroit River and Windsor, as viewed from the Renaissance Center

The Detroit River and Windsor, as viewed from the Renaissance Center

The extras

Get to the Greek
Arguably the most interesting part of Detroit’s downtown is Greektown, a vibrant area within walking distance of Comerica Park and Ford Field. Historic sites, popular eateries and even a couple of casinos are contained within, and you’ll find many fellow fans in the district before or after Tigers, Lions and Red Wings games.

Other nearby districts worth visiting are Midtown just to the northwest, less touristy but with a fine selection of restaurants and bars (likely more popular with hip locals than downtown), and Windsor, which is across the river in Canada but also full of eateries and casinos and accessible by bus (you’ll need a passport if you choose the latter, of course).

Coney and fries from Lafayette Coney Island

Coney and fries from Lafayette Coney Island

Try a taste of Detroit
Like most big cities, Detroit has its share of interesting eateries — some of them help define the cuisine of the region, while others are just good places to learn about what makes up local character. Here’s just a small sampling of places worth checking out:

American Coney Island (114 W. Lafayette Blvd.) and Lafayette Coney Island (118 W. Lafayette Blvd.): These two establishments stand next to each other in the heart of downtown and serve the same things — Coney Island hot dogs (basically chili dogs, but the type of chili placed on them is what makes them distinctive to the region) and other things slathered with chili. But they have had a long-running rivalry and most Detroiters are loyal to one or the other, which makes it all the more worth it for a visitor to try both in order to make an informed decision about which side to choose.

Astoria Pastry Shop (541 Monroe St.): Expect crowds at this bakery in Greektown known for tortes, baklava and other European pastries.

Hockeytown Cafe (2301 Woodward St.): Worth visiting as much, if not more, for the atmosphere than the food. Though closer to Comerica Park than to Joe Louis Arena, it’s a veritable Red Wings shrine and a great place to watch hockey games (and other sports) if you can’t get into the arena.

Pegasus Taverna (558 Monroe St.): One of the most popular restaurants in Greektown, its main attraction is its saganaki, a “flaming cheese” appetizer.

Roast (1128 Washington Ave.): Operated by celebrity chef Michael Symon, it’s the most upscale choice on this list but also worth visiting for its lively happy hour.

Slow’s Bar-B-Q (2138 Michigan Ave.): Detroit isn’t known for BBQ but this restaurant is one of the most highly regarded in the region and nearly always busy, especially if there’s a game going on.

Sample museum life
There are many opportunities throughout town to find out a little about Detroit’s history and culture. There’s the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, a sprawling complex that exhibits far more about American history than just the development of the automobile. There’s the Detroit Institute of Arts in Midtown, with a stunningly expansive art collection. And for music lovers, there’s Hitsville U.S.A., also in Midtown, where Motown Records got its start.

For an example of how sports and culture collide in Detroit, see the Joe Louis Fist, a monument to the groundbreaking boxer that stands at the intersection of Woodward and Jefferson avenues, in front of Hart Plaza.

More sports
The college sports scene in Detroit centers largely around the University of Michigan, located about an hour west of downtown in Ann Arbor. There, the Wolverines play football at the famed Michigan Stadium, nicknamed “The Big House,” and basketball at Crisler Center. (Michigan Stadium also hosted the NHL’s Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs in 2014.)

Though it’s in East Lansing, a two-hour drive from Detroit, Michigan State also captivates much of Detroit’s attention; it’s not uncommon to see fans of both the Wolverines and Spartans packing bars in Detroit on a fall Saturday. In the city proper, the University of Detroit-Mercy and Oakland University play Division I basketball, among other sports.

Return to City Guides | Return to The Itinerant Fan homepage