In “5 Things,” I ask some of my favorite bloggers in cities all over the country to share insider travel tips on where to eat, shop, stay, and play in their neighborhoods (plus, what to pack to make the adventure complete). This week, Nicole Dula of Dula Notes shares insider tips on Detroit, Michigan.
5 Things: Detroit
Nicole Dula of Dula Notes
It’s hard to put into words what exactly makes Detroit so special, but when you’re there, you just feel it. The sense of community, entrepreneurship, grittiness, hard work, and overall positivity has me visiting as often as I can. Its checkered past has inspired its citizens to take action and start to develop a different story for the city—urban farms, great restaurants, charming shops and creative businesses are popping up seemingly everywhere these days. If you’ve never been or have been away longer than a year or two, it’s time for a visit!
La Feria, 4130 Cass Avenue, (313) 285-9081
La Feria just celebrated its one-year anniversary and it continues to be one of my favorite spots to eat. They were the 2012 winner of the Hatch Detroit contest, which helps budding entrepreneurs by offering $50,000 to the winner after the community votes. Their authentic Spanish tapas are fresh and delicious, and they offer variety for all tastes and dietary preferences. My go-tos are the grilled sardines, Spanish omelette, serrano ham and tomato on baguette, cremini mushrooms with salsa verde, patatas bravas, and seared shrimp. The olive oil they use is exceptional and you’ll want a little bread on the side to catch every drop of sauce. Order up a glass of Rioja or local beer to drink while you browse the menu—and keep the tapas coming!
Nora, 4240 Cass Avenue, (313) 831-4845
Just a block away from La Feria is my favorite shop, Nora. Walking into Nora makes my modern minimalist heart happy. Scandinavian and Japanese home goods and locally-sourced products are expertly curated and thoughtfully placed in the bright white space. I love chatting with its co-owner, Michelle, about Calder mobiles on Antiques Roadshow, local eats, and our Pinterest boards. While you’re in the area, pop into their sister store, Hugh, (right next door!) for a mix of vintage and mid-century modern goods for your home. (Also, make sure to have a chat with the owner, Joe—he’s really nice and has an encyclopedic knowledge of kitsch.)
Westin Book Cadillac, 1114 Washington Boulevard, (313) 442-1600
The Book Cadillac was opened in 1924 as the tallest building in Detroit and the tallest hotel in the world. The Book brothers sought to make Detroit’s Washington Boulevard the “Fifth Avenue of the West” and used local architect Louis Kamper to design the building in the neo-classical style with brick and limestone. It operated successfully until the Great Depression, but has changed hands many times since. Its latest revival came in 2006, and it is beautiful inside and out. Michael Symon’s Roast (great happy hour!) and 24 Grille are located inside, and there’s the Motor Bar Detroit on the second floor, where you can have a cocktail and appreciate the architecture of the building. If you’re booking your stay in Detroit far enough in advance, consider the charming Honor & Folly located in Corktown, with lots of fun places to visit close by. (There are lots of reasonable Airbnb options, too.)
Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Avenue, (313) 833-7900
A visit to Detroit Institute of Arts is such a treat. My husband and I had one of our first dates there, and I think of that day every time I visit. The building is grand, and houses one of the most prestigious art collections in America. My personal favorite areas are European Art, Modern Art, Contemporary Art, and Rivera Court, which is covered in Diego Rivera’s murals. You can read up on Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s time in Detroit from 1932-1933 while the murals were being painted—it’s fascinating! DIA also has lectures, Friday night music, movie nights, and workshops for kids, too. So much to do!
Belle Isle to 8 Mile: An Insider’s Guide to Detroit, $22
Pom-pom knit hat, $50.81
Kiriko scarf, $78
Detroit feels like a best-kept secret, and if you want to navigate it like a local, siblings Andy, Emily and Rob Linn put together Belle Isle to 8 Mile: An Insider’s Guide to Detroit for just that purpose. The book features tips on 750 attractions, bars, and restaurants, with maps, reviews, and hand-drawn illustrations to boot. (Side note: Andy and Emily Linn own the shops Nest and City Bird, not far from Nora and La Feria in Midtown Detroit. Nest has unique home goods and gifts, while City Bird has the best selection of funny cards, jewelry and art, most of it locally-made. I was just telling my husband that I should go to City Bird every January and pick up cards for the whole year, and this year I’m doing it.)
An additional packing tip: Detroit can be cold November through April, and my philosophy is that I may as well look cute while keeping warm. My red pom pom hat comes from a favorite French Etsy seller, Tortilla Girl, and my scarf comes from Portland’s Kiriko.
P.S. Previous 5 Things travel guides.