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Discovering Detroit- Great Attractions & Family Fun

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(Photo courtesy of Visit Detroit/Vito Palmisano)

Our stay was provided by the Courtyard Detroit Downtown and the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. We want to thank them for their hospitality. All opinions are my own.

by Robin B 

 
 

I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased toward the west side of the Mitten; the beach towns along Lake Michigan are pretty hard to pass up when considering travel within the state. However, our spring break this year took us to the east side of the state – The D. As a Michigan native I had been to Detroit a few times – a school trip to Greenfield Village, a visit to the Detroit Auto Show prompted by my car-fanatic husband. This is pretty much the extent of it, until now.

The family attractions in and around Detroit were plentiful and entertaining – there was something for everyone to enjoy. I likened our trip to a huge banana-split sundae – layers of yummy surprises to uncover. So let’s delve right in to all the great things for families to enjoy in the Motor City.

ATTRACTIONS

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THE HENRY FORD MUSEUM

The museum offers an abundant collection of not only cars, but a rich history of the everyday and the rare items to see:

  • Driving America – not limited to Ford cars, there is every conceivable make and model on display. The Presidential Vehicles exhibit is not to be missed.
  • The Dymaxion House – tour through the ‘house of the future’ designed to be the lightest and most cost-efficient house ever built. We learned the house is made out of airplane fuselage and it resembles an umbrella!
  • Your Place in Time – a walk through the technology and artifacts of the 20th
  • With Liberty and Justice for All –the Rosa Parks Bus on display.
  • Heroes of the Sky – early pioneers of aviation are explored along with details on what it was like during the first 40 years of flight
  • An elaborate Railroads Collection – this mammoth collection showcases one of the largest steam locomotives ever built the Allegheny Steam locomotive.

We went on the Ford Rouge Factory Tour upon arrival. I was at first a little apprehensive at the suggested 1.5-hour tour time, but I must say this was absolutely one of the best parts of the day. The 10- minute multi-sensory film experience detailing the creation of the F-150 truck (with vibrating chairs, wind gusts and more) is spectacular. Check out more detail about this tour from a visit last year HERE.

Good to Know

  • Parking requires a separate fee
  • The single-level museum is spacious – great for strollers; plan on wearing comfortable walking shoes
  • We took some time to eat lunch at the American Dog House which offers specialty hot dogs and sandwiches at a reasonable price.

ADDRESS: 20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn, MI or call 800-835-5237

HOURS: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm, open 7 days a week (closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas)

Tickets start at $21.00 per person. *Purchase online and save 10%!

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MOTOWN MUSIC

Known as Hitsville U.S.A., the museum is home of the famous Studio A where favorite artists such as the Temptations recorded much-loved music. The museum pays homage to Detroit’s music legacy with an extensive array of memorabilia and artifacts on display. In addition, you’ll tour the upper level – the restored home of Berry Gordy during the early days of the Studio company.

The tour lasts about 1.5 hours and our tour guide, Jordan, made the music come alive. He sang along to just about any song and completely engaged the tour group in the experience. I would suggest the tour appropriate for school-aged and older children. Entrance into the museum is through guided tours only.

ADDRESS: 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, MI or call (313) 875-2264

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LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Michigan

“When do we get to build LEGO’s®?” our children asked no less than 5 times each day on our trip! Located about 25 minutes north of Detroit in Auburn Hills, this center is a must-stop for the LEGO® lover in your family. Check out our full review HERE.

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SEA LIFE AQUARIUM

With over 5,000 sea creatures, Sea Life Aquarium offers all things marine life – tropical fish, stingrays, jelly fish and of course sharks. We comfortably viewed all of the exhibits in about 1.5 hours. Feeling the urge to pet a sea urchin? Don’t miss a stop at the interactive Touchpool aquarium where you are invited to touch a crab or sea star. Near the end of the exhibits is a children’s play zone (think McDonald’s play land). Make sure to have the kids wear socks if you want them to play on it. Something I wish we had done – review the Feeding Times schedule online for a chance to see feeding times and learn more about stingrays.

Good to Know

  • Weekends are busy and walk-up ticketing cannot be guaranteed. I strongly suggest pre-booking tickets to guarantee entry. In fact, we arrived mid-afternoon and a sign was posted they were no longer able to accommodate walk-up entry.
  • There are no storage lockers/area; so try to pack light.
  • The Rainforest Cafe is located across from the Aquarium inside the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets. Plan to stop for lunch or dinner (make reservations in advance). Our girls loved the Rainforest Cafe and the food was delicious and plentiful.

ADDRESS: 4316 Baldwin Road, Auburn Hills or call 866-622-0605

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(photos courtesy of Michigan Science Center)

MICHIGAN SCIENCE CENTER

A dynamic hands-on museum that offers live stage shows, a Planetarium, an IMAX and so much more! This was one of the last stops on a busy day (translation cranky kids and hungry parents) and I would definitely say to allow at least half a day (if not more) exploring:

  • The pint-size Kids Town Area is a scaled-down town designed for ages 2-5.
  • Stroll across the Mini Mac Bridge (an 80-foot replica of the Mackinaw Bridge) in the Roads Bridges and Tunnels
  • Visit the new Spark!Lab for an opportunity to become inventors and engage in hands-on activities.
  • Included in general admission is a Chrysler Science Stage Offered several times a day, the shows allow families to interact with stage performers on such topics as space, music, the human body and more.

ADDRESS: 5020 John R Street, Detroit or call: 313-577-8400

Tickets start at $14 for general admission

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OUTDOOR ADVENTURE CENTER

Opened in July 2015 with the tag line bringing “Up North, Downtown” the DNR’s Michigan Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) does that and more! This was absolutely my favorite attraction our family visited in Detroit. Not only in terms of exhibits and hands-on experience, but the OAC is great for families on a budget (and who isn’t?) Adult admission is $5 and children (age 2-12) admission is only $3. Located on Detroit’s riverfront across from William G. Milliken State Park & Harbor the OAC offers:

  • Michigan’s Rivers & Lakes exhibit – step into a fishing boat and attempt to reel in ‘the big one’ in a simulation.
  • Experience a realistic 35-foot-tall bur oak tree by climbing the inside of it to the second story and carefully navigate over a suspension bridge.
  • Hop on another simulator and feel what it is like to ride a snowmobile or other off-road vehicle.
  • Climb aboard an airplane to see how the DNR may attempt to spot wildlife.
  • Don’t forget to go to the 3rd floor and have your family picture photo-shopped into an eagle’s nest. Provide your email on the screen and a picture will be sent to you; it’s a riot!

Good to Know

  • The OAC is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
  • Parking is free right across the street; a fact we failed to notice as we parked 4 blocks away in below freezing temps.
  • Free lockers are provided to store your belongings (loved the ‘free’ theme).
  • A strong emphasis placed on child safety is evident throughout the building (i.e. signs posted). This seems a bit silly to post; but I could see how a child could be distracted by all of the activities and easily become lost. Docents were quick to notice any children who may have strayed from their families.
  • The ‘Try It’ archery experience is offered on select days and requires pre-registration.

ADDRESS: 1801 Atwater Street, Detroit or call: 844-622-6367

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EXPLORING

We had an evening to explore and made sure to take a ride on the Detroit People Mover. With 13 stops on a loop around downtown Detroit, the kids enjoyed this elevated transit ride immensely! Tokens are only .75 cents (children under five are free). We made a stop at popular Greektown to have dinner. The streets were alive with activity as the Red Wings played that evening. It was fun to explore in the bustling crowd. Make sure to grab a copy of the Station to Station Guide.

Our intentions were to visit the Eastern Market one morning, but the weather simply didn’t cooperate. The nation’s largest historic public market offers an assortment of produce, flowers and local food producers. The Market is open year-round on Saturday’s from 6 a.m. – 4 p.m. (with select openings during the year on Sunday and Tuesday). Visiting for the first time? Check out Things to Know before you go!

Situated on the Detroit River between the U.S. and Canada is Belle Isle Park. This island park features a zoo, aquarium, conservatory and a Great Lakes museum. Open daily from 6 am – 10 pm.

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is among the top ten museums in the nation and offers more than 100 galleries with ancient to contemporary art. The DIA offers “Family Sundays” where you can watch family performances, storytelling, art-making workshops and more!

A visit to Detroit wouldn’t be complete without a sports stop. We had a chance to take a quick glance at Comerica Park and Ford Field. The Detroit Tigers season is underway and if you happen to be visiting on a weekday during a Tigers home game, check out their Weekday Value Packs – a ticket for under $20, complete with a hot dog/chips meal!

Located just south of Wayne State University is the Traffic Jam & Snug. The restaurant offers an in-house bakery, made from-scratch food, microbrewery and the most delicious ice-cream. The clown ice-cream dessert that comes with the kids’ meal was so yummy, my husband and I each had to order our own.

*Do make sure to verify current hours/days of operation with all attractions ahead of your trip. Many museums are closed on Monday or may have a special event planned.

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UPCOMING EVENTS

We are already planning our return trip to the D this summer! Here’s why:

The Henry Ford is host to a new exhibit The Magical History Tour: A Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition through mid-September with the most comprehensive exhibition ever assembled of clothing, instruments, rare photos and more. Find about this one-of-a-kind display HERE.

The new exhibit, which opened April 18th, at the Detroit Zoo sure makes a splash! There are more than 80 penguins across four different species at the world’s largest penguin facility. The Polk Penguin Conservation Center (PPCC) is a large aquatic area where you will be able to see penguins as they explore their habitat and deep-dive. Admission to the Penguin exhibit is included in the general Zoo admission price. Visitors will receive timed-entry passes to help with crowd control.

Dearborn’s Greenfield Village hosts Historic Base Ball Games every Saturday and Sunday from June 11 -August 21. You can learn about baseball rules during the 19th century. Attendees can also enter to win Detroit Tigers tickets.

Have a Thomas the Train fan in the family? Weekends in May Greenfield Village holds the Day out with Thomas™ where you can ride Thomas around the village and meet Sir Topham Hatt™ face-to-face. Advance tickets are strongly recommended to this popular event.

Coming in June is the GM River Days. The festival takes place along the Detroit riverfront on June 24-26th. Stay and check out the 58th annual Ford Fireworks along the Detroit river on June 27th.

Take in a Michigan tradition – The Michigan State fair held this year September 1-5. Located in Novi, the Fair celebrates Michigan’s agricultural industry and includes entertainment, art exhibits, the Shrine Circus and more! Go to www.michiganstatefairllc.com for more information.

And finally, since saving money when you travel is a must – consider the D Discount Pass. You’ll save over 20% on popular Detroit attractions. The Pass will be accepted at participating venues until December 31, 2016. Go to www.visitdetroit.com/discount for more information.