Detroit, Michigan: It's Motown and More

You'll be dancing in the streets after a visit to the house where Berry Gordy Jr. started his Motown empire.
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Destination Guide

It's Worth a Trip

Auto shows and Tigers' games have always been great reasons to visit Detroit with the kids, but Motor City also has a cultural side (and not just the Motown variety). There's so much to do here, it's easy to stretch a day at the ballpark into a weekend of sightseeing, museum-hopping, even theater-going.

Mummies and Michael Jackson

Jump-start your visit with a quick ride on the Detroit People Mover. Kids love the high-above-the-street view of downtown and the riverfront. The 12.9-mile loop takes 15 minutes roundtrip.

Next up, the museums. Pay no attention to the sounds of "Yuck" coming from the backseat as you head to Detroit's Cultural Center, a cluster of half-a-dozen museums. Once inside, your kids will be pleading "Just another minute," as you try to hurry them along. Here's what awaits at these and other family-oriented museums:

Spirit of Detroit,
copyright MDCVB

The Detroit Historical Museum. An enormous Lionel train exhibit is THE main attraction. Enjoy a moment of silence as the model train choo-choos around a track, hypnotizing your little ones. The best part? The look on your kids' faces when it's their turn to press the buttons that control various gates, bridges, traffic signals, and whistles. A thumbs up, too, to the authentic re-creation of 1850s Detroit before the horseless carriage came to town. Kids will get quite the history lesson strolling down cobblestone streets, peering into shop windows, and comparing yesteryear's prices to today's.

Detroit Institute of Arts. Egyptian mummies and knights in shining armor draw the biggest crowds at this decidedly unstuffy art museum. Don't leave without letting your young Rembrandts create their own works of art. Free, drop-in art workshops are held Thursdays and Sundays. Nominally-priced art classes are offered on Saturday afternoons. Sign-up in advance and your 6-year-old can sculpt clay creatures while the 11-year-old dabbles in animation.

Motown Historical Museum. You'll be dancing in the streets after a visit to the two-story house where Berry Gordy, Jr. started his recording empire. The museum isn't interactive, but tour guides and the rhythm of Motown tunes keep the visit moving along. Gordy's apartment is well-preserved, so kids get a close-up view of how people lived and worked in the "olden days." The biggest highlights? The famed Studio A, Michael Jackson's legendary glove, and the flashy evening gowns worn by the Supremes in their heyday.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History. Detroit's African-American roots run deep. So, it's no wonder this city, often the last U.S. stop on the Underground Railroad, is home to the world's largest museum of African-American history. Its cornerstone exhibit is an imposing 70-foot replica of a slave ship with 40 life-like statues on board. A stirring audio visual display chronicles 600 years of history -- from life in Africa before the slave trade to the present day.

The Detroit Science Center. Long known for its hands-on science and technology exhibits, this museum is even better after a recent, massive expansion and renovation. Virtual reality trips into space and rainforests with interactive waterfalls are guaranteed to be crowd pleasers.

Outdoors in the City

Enough museums already -- the kids will only be able to handle one or two a day. Instead, hustle them outside to burn off some of that pent-up energy, weather-permitting.

  • Belle Isle: Detroit's answer to Central Park is this 1,000-acre park on an island in the Detroit River. The isle is home to a small zoo, freshwater aquarium, and nature center. Like the People Mover, the zoo had short people in mind when it designed the elevated boardwalk. Kids can stand on their own two feet (rather than on Dad's shoulders) to view the animals.
  • Comerica Park: There's action both on and off the field at the Detroit Tigers' new 40,000-seat ballpark. On Monday nights, kids can run bases after the game. On Fridays, it's post-game fireworks. And don't miss the carnival rides in the Big Cat Food Court, located behind first base. The merry-go-round features -- what else? -- hand-painted "tigers." And the Ferris wheel has baseball-themed passenger cars. Behind-the-scenes tours are available June-September.
  • Greektown: Once inside this ethnic enclave of shops and restaurants, you'll feel like shouting Opa! Come hungry; the thing to do here is eat. Go into any restaurant and order a flaming cheese platter. It's delivered to the table with the proper theatrics. Tip: If you can get a friend or relative to watch the kids, now's a good time to roll the dice and head to the nearby Greektown Casino.

Enter Stage Right

Speaking of theatrics, Detroit has an active theater scene. The following venues and performance companies often have kids in mind:

  • Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts - Family fare generally includes a range of performances, such as tap dancers, opera for children, acrobatics, and comedic jugglers.
  • PuppetArt Theater - Fairy tales and international folk legends starring elaborate marionette, hand, and rod puppets delight kids of all ages on Saturday afternoons from September to May at the PuppetArt Theater located in the Biegas Art Gallery building.

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