Detroit is an art lover’s paradise. Whether you enjoy a morning spent wandering an art museum’s quiet halls, or an afternoon exploring a new neighborhood’s street art, there is something for you in Detroit.
his three-day itinerary will take you through Detroit’s vibrant art scene. You will experience the city’s full range of artistic styles – from experimental sculptures, to urban art installations, to impressionist paintings. By exploring the entire spectrum of Detroit’s art scene, you’ll get to know the city, and maybe yourself, a little bit better. Story and photos: Sarah Bence
This itinerary takes you all across Detroit, from downtown to midtown to southwest Detroit and beyond. So, if you’re making it a weekend getaway, the neighborhood you choose to stay in doesn’t really matter.
Instead, extend the artistic theme to your accommodations by choosing one of Detroit’s up and coming boutique hotels. Try the Siren Hotel in downtown Detroit for a central location in an historic building, midcentury opulence, and the popular pink Candy Bar. In Corktown, Trumbull & Porter is another great pick. Its minimalist design mixes with made-in-Detroit art and furniture, plus a regularly changing mural on its outer wall.
2. DAY 1: Friday
Chances are, you’re hungry and don’t have the energy for a full evening of art museums. Instead, spend the evening in southwest Detroit where you can grab an incredible local meal alongside your art fix.
5 p.m. – Explore the Mexicantown murals
Mexicantown, a community within the southwest Detroit neighborhood, is a celebration of Mexican culture, art, and food. The area is filled with street art and murals – some in plain sight, and some that take a bit of hunting. A few of the murals date back to the 70s, and many were painted as recently as this year.
Head to Bagley Street near Mexican Village if you want to park and explore on foot. You’ll find murals like Hubert Massey’s mosaic mural, and “The Cornfield” by Vito Valdez, plus many others, off Bagley Street.
6 p.m. – Grab dinner at Tamaleria Nuevo Leon
When you start to get hungry, walk a couple blocks off Bagley to Tamaleria Nuevo Leon. This place has a constant line of local Detroiters in the evenings, who come here for the city’s best tamales. While you’re waiting, you can admire the Elton Monroy Durán mural of the Monterrey skyline on the restaurant’s front.
7 p.m. – Make an appointment to get your aura photographed
Eat your tamales while walking or driving west down Vernor Highway. There are plenty more murals to appreciate, but for an interactive experience, make a private appointment at AURA AURA.
Here, Detroiter Eileen Lee uses special photographic equipment to take a photo of your body’s aura, or energy field. You can opt for a solo photo, a couple’s photo, or even a photo of your pet. Lee provides a full analysis of your aura colors after the shoot, plus your photo to take home. It’s like taking a piece of Detroit art as a souvenir.
3. DAY 2: Saturday
Saturday is all about exploring Detroit’s most iconic outdoor art. You’ll spend quite a bit of time outside, so make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing.
9:30 a.m. – Visit the Heidelberg Project
Start your morning by driving to the Heidelberg Project in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood. Don’t worry – you’ll definitely know when you arrive, as this street is unlike any other in Detroit.
The Heidelberg Project is an outdoor art installation created by Tyree Guyton in 1986, and is evolving to this day. Guyton grew up on this street (in what is now the Dotty Wotty house). He started the Heidelberg Project in response to the urban blight he noticed in his childhood neighborhood.
Using found objects and vacant lots, Guyton created a work of art that is now recognized in publications like the New York Times, and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. Best of all, he’s providing art education and enrichment within the local community.
Be sure to download the Heidelberg Project app before your visit, which will guide you to the meaning behind the various installations.
10:30 a.m. – Discover the street art around Eastern Market
From the Heidelberg Project, drive over to the nearby Eastern Market. The Eastern Market is a beloved Detroit institution, known for its Saturday markets. In addition to the freshest produce in the city, this is also a major hotspot for some of Detroit’s best street art.
Each summer, apart from 2020, the Murals in the Market festival is held, and the street art around the market gets a facelift. You can explore the street art year-round, though, just know that it changes regularly.
It’s fun to wander the area, discovering murals as you go. Type-A art lovers might prefer a more organized approach, though. Use the official Murals in the Market map (which can be downloaded to your phone) to guide yourself to the area’s best murals.
12 p.m. – Eat brunch near Eastern Market
You’re probably getting hungry, so take a break and grab some brunch. There are plenty of restaurants around Eastern Market. For a quintessential “Detroit” experience, though, you’ll want to get a table at Vivio’s and experience their famous Loaded Bloody Mary, which is a work of art in and of itself.
1:30 p.m. – Walk the Dequindre Cut and admire the street art
The street art viewing continues in the afternoon, with a stroll down the Dequindre Cut Greenway. The Cut is a paved urban path that runs nearly two miles from Eastern Market to the East Riverfront. Enter via Gratiot Avenue, and take your time walking the path and admiring street art and graffiti on either side.
3 p.m. – Make your way downtown via the Z Lot, Detroit’s artsiest parking garage
In the afternoon, head to downtown Detroit for more art, food, and drink. You can either walk here via the Cut, or park downtown.
You can even extend the art theme to which downtown parking garage you choose – this is Detroit after all! Park at the Z Lot off Library Street, which is known for not only its panoramic views of the Detroit skyline (from its top level), but also its art. The parking garage is decorated in 130 murals from a collaboration of 27 artists. Check out all ten levels to get the full experience. Plus, there is a great skyline view at the top of the garage.
3:30 p.m. – Check out downtown’s art scene
The rest of your Saturday is dedicated to exploring the downtown Detroit art scene. While it’s still light out, make your way down to the Detroit riverfront and the Philip A. Hart Plaza. Besides stunning views toward Windsor, Canada, you can also explore the many sculptures along the riverfront.
Most famous of the riverfront sculptures is perhaps the Monument to Joe Louis, also called The Fist by Detroiters. The sculpture is a huge fist, suspended from a minimalist pyramid, with the high rises of downtown Detroit in the background. Joe Louis was a famous Detroit boxer, but also a civil rights activist, and artist Robert Graham designed the statue to represent Louis’ fight against racism.
The Gateway to Freedom sculpture isn’t far from The Fist. Facing Windsor, Canada, the sculpture memorializes Detroit’s history as the last stop on the Underground Railroad.
In terms of murals, downtown Detroit has quite a few well-known ones that are worth a stop. A mural dedicated to Stevie Wonder is on the backside of Detroit’s Music Hall. There are two large-scale murals in Capitol Park, one by famed Detroit artist Charles McGee and one on the back wall of the Isaac Agree Synagogue. Plus, on Woodward Avenue, don’t miss your photo op with the wings mural by Kelsey Montague.
5 p.m. – Happy hour and street art in The Belt
After taking some time to explore downtown Detroit, head to The Belt, an art-filled alley adjacent to the Z Lot parking garage. The Belt is so named in honor of its past life as part of the downtown garment district. Today, it’s a go-to spot to view street murals, which line either side of the alley.
The Belt is also an ideal stop for some pre or post-dinner drinks. Stop at The Skip or Standby, both located in the alley, for some creative cocktails.
6 p.m. onwards – Dinner in downtown Detroit
The rest of your Saturday evening is up to you, but you’ll have to eat dinner at some point – so why not choose one of the artsier restaurants in downtown? Detroit is increasingly becoming a foodie destination, and some of its best-known restaurants are downtown.
Try San Morello in the Shinola Hotel for delectable Italian food with fine dining vibes. Wright & Co. is another good pick. Their executive chef is a recipient of a James Beard Award (so you know the food is good), and the views down Woodward Avenue are equally stunning.
If you want to make your way up Woodward for dinner, you can get an authentic Detroit experience at The Whitney. This fine dining restaurant is built in an 1890s mansion, so architecture and interior design lovers will be right at home.
4. DAY 3: Sunday
It’s the final day of your Detroit art tour, but there’s still plenty to see. You’ll spend most of the day wandering museums, but cap things off with two of the city’s best outdoor art installations.
10 a.m. – Visit the DIA, MOCAD, and the Sugar Hill Arts District
After grabbing breakfast near your hotel, head to the Sugar Hill Arts District in Midtown. The neighborhood is a thriving center of art in Detroit and it will definitely take a few hours to explore
Of course, your first stop should be the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). This art museum is ranked as one of the top 10 museums in the country, and it’s easy to see why, with its 100+ galleries spanning six continents and countless artistic movements.
The nearby Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD) is another good choice for museum lovers. The 22,000 square foot museum is home to contemporary visual art, as well as music and performing art events.
1 p.m. – Lunch at Seva in the N’Namdi Complex
There are plenty of other artistic destinations to explore within the ever-evolving Sugar Hill Arts District, and you can even eat lunch at one of these. Seva, located within the N’Namdi Art Complex close to the DIA, is a popular vegetarian restaurant with a large indoor space and heated outdoor patio. The yam fries and pad thai are particularly good.
After lunch, walk just a few doors down to the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, a non-profit art center and gallery. Here, you can view the work of local artists and attend dance performances or even classes.
2:30 p.m. – View the City Sculpture Park
Next up is the City Sculpture Park, which is just a 20 minute walk from Seva, but also easily reachable by car.
Local Detroit artist Robert Sestok designed this outdoor art park as a way to display his welded, geometric, contemporary sculptures. Sestok was instrumental in the Cass Corridor artist movement of the 70s, and now hopes that his art park will serve not only as a way to display his large-scale works, but also as a way to artistically invigorate the neighborhood.
The City Sculpture Park is currently closed, and pending moving to a new location due to rezoning. However, it can still be viewed from outside the gates, and is worth a visit. Updates on the new location can be found on the City Sculpture website.
3:30 p.m. – Wander the Dabls MBAD African Bead Museum
Olayami Dabls is the curator and artist behind the African Bead Museum. The museum itself spans an entire city block. Indoors, you’ll find the extensive African Bead Gallery, where walls are lined with authentic beads once used for trading in various African countries. Some of these beads, especially the ivory beads, are valued at over $5,000. If you’re lucky, you’ll visit on a day Dabls himself is there, and you’ll be treated to conversation about his travels, art, and the history of the beads and artifacts.
Outdoors, you’ll easily spend an hour exploring the sculpture garden and mirror-lined walls. Each sculptural creation sparks different emotions – Dabls consciously creates his art to spark conversations and emotional healing.
5pm – Head home
This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the art in Detroit. In addition to its many museums, Detroit’s street art and installations are constantly changing and evolving. However, this three-day itinerary should give you an in-depth overview of the city’s art scene and all that it has to offer.
Mentioned Attractions And Venues
Tamaleria Nuevo Leon2669 W. Vernor Hwy.
Detroit, Michigan 48216