If Detroit isn’t on your list to consider for a family vacation, it should be. This historic city has automobile and music legends to spare, plus unique outdoor spaces, which add up to plenty of kid-friendly activities.
From chowing down on Detroit-style pizza to learning about automotive history in nearby Dearborn, here are 10 suggestions for family fun in the Detroit area.
Catch a game at Comerica Park
Even if you’re not a baseball fan, Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, is worth a visit for the action both on and off the field. There’s a carousel where kids big and small can go ’round and ’round on the back of – what else? – snarling tigers, and the Fly Ball Ferris Wheel, where you can get a bird's-eye view of the park from a baseball-shaped capsule. Booster seats are available for smaller kids. At least half of the fun of checking out a game is the food, so don’t forget the hot dogs.
Make a sand castle at Campus Martius Park
The city of Detroit is decidedly urban, but that doesn’t mean it’s all concrete and tall buildings. Residents and visitors can find plenty of grass (and sand and ice!) at Campus Martius Park. During the summer there’s a sandy beach here, even though the only water in sight is spurting out of the various fountains. Set up a beach chair and umbrella and relax while the kids build a sand castle. Winter finds the park ready for the holidays, with an ice skating rink and an annual tree-lighting ceremony.
Grab a slice, Detroit-style
Detroit-style pizza isn’t as well-known as New York- or Chicago-style pizza, but it should be. Square and deep, a Detroit-style pie places pepperoni and other toppings under the cheese – and plenty of it, going right up to the crispy, buttery edge of the pie. Sauce is drizzled on top. Give it a taste in the place it all began: Buddy’s Pizza, which has been serving up thick, crunchy slices since 1946.
Explore Belle Isle Park
It’ll be hard to get your child to leave Belle Isle Park – which is OK, because with 982 acres of activities, there’s plenty to do. If your little one has a green thumb, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is sure to delight, with decidedly non-native Michigan plants split into areas like Palm House and Cactus House. The Belle Isle Aquarium, the oldest aquarium in North America, is another favorite, open Friday-Sunday. The island is also home to a beach, giant slide and nature center.
See the animals at the Detroit Zoo
Animal-loving children shouldn’t miss the Detroit Zoo, with thousands of animals, including polar bears that swim right above you. Beyond the animals you’ll find a 4-D theater, carousel and simulator ride. Make it an interactive visit by purchasing the Giraffe Encounter, which lets kids get up close and personal while feeding giraffes. In case walking all over the zoo isn’t enough to burn off that kid energy, there are also two play areas.
Find a feast at Eastern Market
No, we’re not suggesting you take your kids grocery shopping. Should you need picnic provisions, this is certainly the place, but there’s much more to enjoy at Eastern Market, a historic covered market near the center of town. The Saturday Market takes place year-round, and has over 200 vendors of meat, baked goods, produce and other products. Sunday Street Market focuses more on crafts and art, so it’s an ideal time to grab a Michigan-made souvenir. During the summer, the smaller Tuesday Market has cooking classes for kids and adults, in addition to the food products.
Uncover the past at the Detroit Historical Museum
Little history lovers will enjoy the Detroit Historical Museum. Going beyond the city’s automotive ties, exhibits here also cover the Underground Railroad, the city’s blue-collar roots and musical history. In the Kid Rock Music Lab, kids can make their own tunes at the mixing station or see how much they know about music with a trivia game. If you have a genius-in-training, they’ll love The Gallery of Innovation, which highlights Detroit’s many inventors and lets visitors test their own creativity.
Play the day away at Rivard Plaza
Detroit’s riverfront is the centerpiece of downtown and Rivard Plaza will keep the kids occupied. Take a walk, splash in the fountains, rent a bike or enjoy the view of Canada, just across the Detroit River. The highlight of the plaza is the Cullen Family Carousel, which features local fauna, including frogs, snails and walleye.
Visit the Hands-On Museum in Ann Arbor
Sometimes kids find it hard to keep their hands to themselves; luckily, they’re encouraged to touch everything at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, in nearby Ann Arbor. Various exhibitions focus on Michigan nature and the human body, and there's an area just for the four-and-under set featuring water tables and dress-up clothes. The World Around You exhibit, with its giant bubble wand that lets kids encase themselves in a bubble they'll have to pop to escape, draws the biggest giggles.
Go car-crazy in Dearborn
Less than half an hour from Detroit is Dearborn, site of the world headquarters of Ford Motor Company. Of course, the Henry Ford Museum is a highlight, and there’s plenty inside that even the not-so-car-crazy will find interesting. Amid the classic cars, you’ll find exhibits on politics and innovation, and famous artifacts like the Montgomery city bus where Rosa Parks refused to move to the back, and the chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot. Kids will also enjoy the adjacent Greenfield Village, which features historical buildings like the house where Henry Ford grew up. You can take a ride around the village in a Model T or horse-drawn shuttle.
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