What’s a hidden gem? It’s a place you only know because you’ve been there, or learned of it by word of mouth. It isn’t a destination, it doesn’t advertise, but the locals know it.
Oakland County is the largest county in the US without a city with over 100,000 residents.
Troy comes the closest at 87,294, but the 1.27 million people calling Oakland County home are in 62 cities, townships, and villages. Some of these municipalities have those major attractions, some don't, but every one of them has at least one hidden gem. While we won’t be going over 62 of them, here are some of the lesser-known spots I’ve stumbled across in my years in Oakland County:
The 42 acres of nature found around Carpenter Lake often get overlooked by the larger county and Metroparks of the region, but this can be a much closer adventure for someone in the southeast part of the county. On the south side of 10 Mile, you will find trails that lead you to native plants, native trees, a meadow filled with reused soils and replanted with native species, a dam, and opportunities for fishing in the lake. Depending on the time of year, you will find a vernal pond that’s either empty or full.
I stopped into this unassuming diner for lunch one day while working. I tried the barbecue because that’s part of the name, so it had to be good right? It was incredible. I’ve had a barbecue in Texas, and in the Carolinas, and I won’t necessarily say this was better, but it was on par and certainly the best I’ve had in Michigan. It’s now a frequent lunch stop. I’ve heard the whitefish and the drinks are great here too and have been meaning to stop by sometime during non-work hours to give it a try. The entrance is in the back near the parking lot.
You’ve heard of Crispelli’s, and you’ve been to downtown Royal Oak, but a half mile north of 11 Mile and Mail is Bread, or the Crispelli’s Bakery. This little bakery and coffee shop is my favorite hidden gem of Royal Oak. Stop in because you need fresh challah or sourdough for dinner, but don’t have the time to bake it. Grab a pastry and a coffee while you’re there and thank me later.
It may be in the 248, but the 313 pizza bar serves incredible Detroit-style Pizza. They also have a good rotating tap selection complete with Michigan beers, and a few familiar domestics. Don’t sleep on the appetizers either as roasted broccoli and cauliflower may be what you need to stay healthy before that pizza and beer.
Do you ever wish you’d kept those old childhood video games? Sure, there are subscriptions where you can play some of them, but RetroTaku sells it all. Everything from original NES and Sega systems and games through discount accessories and games for modern systems. There’s a room next to the main store that’s a floor-to-ceiling maze of shelves with games for systems like the PS1, PS2, and 360. If John K King books had a video-game counterpart, this would be it - although on a much smaller, and digital, scale.
This undeveloped part of Oakland County was originally formed by glaciers, and though those glaciers receded about 12,000 years ago, many of their lakes, moraines and other features remain. Rose Oaks is 640 acres and accessible to hikers, cyclists, cross-country skiers, fishers, and even equestrians.
Judging by the name, you might think you’re here to buy vitamins or skincare, but you’re actually here for the tea. They have a bagged and loose-leaf tea selection of any variety you can imagine, along with plenty of accessories for brewing and serving tea. The shop has other health products too, but if you’re a fan of tea, stop by and try a few varieties. Since you’re in Downtown Berkley here, stop into Toadvine Books or Flipside Records, both across the street and worth a visit.
As you can probably guess from the name, Sullivan’s is an old-timey Irish pub, located in downtown Oxford. We may be a long way from Ireland, but you don’t have to travel across the pond to get the feeling of being at an Irish pub. Sunday brunch is my preferred experience here, but the weekday dinner hours are also great.
While fancy cookies have recently seen some mainstream commercial success, Detroit Cookie Company is a local baker making 25+ varieties daily and selling them fresh. Owned by a Wayne State graduate, and made with Detroit products and regional flavors, this is the local cookie spot you’re going to want to try.
A mile or so south of the I-96 exit for New Hudson, you may have driven past what appears to be any other cemetery, but it’s one for our canine companions that have served the country. This is a solemn place, respecting the lives of our companions that we have lost, but for a dog lover, it can be an emotional place to visit.
Is Noble Fish a hidden gem? Maybe not for long-time Detroiters, but a transplant or visitor may not know this was the spot that introduced sushi to many in Metro Detroit, and has remained on top of the Detroit sushi world. Noble Fish is a Japanese market, with fresh sushi available for lunch or dinner. While you’re here, explore Downtown Clawson - another hidden gem of Metro Detroit.
At 5,500 square feet, Lily Pad Springs is the largest splash pad in Michigan. While West Bloomfield residents all know this and get a discount, this outdoor play-scape is less-known to others, but open to everyone. At a cost of $6, it’s an affordable family-friendly afternoon. Enjoy the slides, waterworks, and sprayers, but beware of the giant bucket that dumps 55 gallons of water when it fills.
Lily Pad Springs, @wb_parks
Asian Food of John R and Dequindre - Various locations in Madison Heights:
I don’t think most people think of “high-quality, authentic Asian food” as their first thought when they consider Madison Heights, but maybe they should. My favorite is ima, where I love ordering the forest udon, which is full of unique mushrooms. A block north is Lao Pot where you can enjoy dine-in or take-out hot pot, an experience you should absolutely try if you have not. A mile over is Little Saigon which has incredible pho, and I’m barely scratching the surface of the Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and other foods you can find in this part of town.
Brandon Alger is a professional geologist who moved from Salt Lake City to Metro Detroit in 2015. He has a wife, two kids, and a dog. He enjoys coffee, video games, science fiction, and helps to run various Detroit social media pages. He's passionate about urban reuse, local geography, and exploring the metro area which he now calls home.
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