Detroit, even with all of its big personalities, positive press and epic evolutions, can feel intimidating still to those who haven’t been there in recent years.
So there is nothing more tempting to those newbies than the promise of a tasty lunch, a Whole Food tour and some frolicking in the downtown beach. A beach tucked among Detroit skyscrapers? Sounds ridiculous. And it is.
And that is what makes the Placemaking moves that Quicken Loans and its business brethren are doing so damn fantastic. Visiting Campus Martius and its neighboring Cadillac Square right now is paramount to hanging out at Millennium Park in Chicago. The crowds are there, the sights are there, the magic is there.
Lest you think I exaggerate, I recommend you see the sights for yourself. Take a dear friend with you – the one that has suffered through infant sleeplessness, strange motherhood rituals and endless play dates with you. Make sure she has a daughter about your girl’s age so they can dig in the sand together and offer the excuse to grab lemonade and an ice cream cone afterward. It helps if they are both willing victims of your poor navigation skills and want to see the strange village known as Detroit with surety and sincerity.
Let’s start with Whole Foods. It is beautiful – its colorful racks of radishes, radicchio and peppercorns. The local foods are everywhere. The aisle of cold beer is the stuff of legend. The bakery looks delicious. The salad bar is overflowing with health and tastiness. The cheese case is as luscious as anything you’d find in town, a mini Paris for our refined tastes. I’m not saying you have to do all of your shopping here, but it is well worth the trip.
What wowed us the most was the downtown experience. This experiment in making memorable places within the city center is an unequivocal success and worth every penny, in our estimation. On the Campus Martius beach, we were able to sit back on comfy sling chairs, sip on a beer split between the two of us adults and watch two adorable tots work on burying one another in the sand. There was a live singer in the nearby pavilion, lots of people to watch and a professional sandcastle maker at work on a huge airplane sculpture to add to the atmosphere.
When the kids got hungry, we crossed the street and went into the newly revived Cadillac Square, where we found the Markets. These food trucks turned food shacks were ideal for a barbecue-sandwich-and-soda lunch. I finally got to try a Slows To Go pork sandwich, and I have to admit it was worth the wait, the hype and the $9 fee. If that’s the cost to eat lunch under the shade within the city that has come alive with the summer, I’ll pay that any day.
Afterward, we walked along the Square and watched the little boys as well as the pretty 20-something office workers play bags. Even more fun watching came when we caught the end of a Pétanque match that pitted retirees against fathers against single dudes looking as sharp as they ever will. Their friendly banter with our girls was silly and sincere, and there was a sense of community there that gave this once quiet park a soul that it previously never had for me.
A walk back to the car near Lafayette Green was punctuated by a few pats to the Detroit Police Department horses that stood guard over the whole scene. And what a scene it was – a place where two families could walk about without a care in the world, snacking on our Whole Foods treats, sipping on what was left of our lunchtime sodas and feeling the warm sun on our skin.
The final piece of our trip? The RIverWalk, of course. Because if you want to show off the best of Detroit, that’s where you take any relative newcomer. The fountains, the carousel, the ice cream and the company was just about perfect. The only problem was we had run out of time.
That was the problem because there was more to see, more to experience. Detroit is lush with experiences right now – places to visit, live, love and more. If you haven’t gone in years, let me know. Because I’m becoming an excellent tour guide, if I do say so myself.