Before the suburbanization of Detroit consumed most of Oakland County, the county was full of little enclaves that existed somewhat independently of Detroit. They grew up with their own downtowns and their own Main streets. Today, they’re all part of the greater canvas of Metro Detroit, with Downtown Detroit as the center of our local universe, but most of these old downtowns and original main streets still retain a lot of local charm and many are worth a visit. Here are some of the notable ones in Oakland County:
- Pontiac – Pontiac is the county seat of Oakland County, and its downtown does not disappoint. It is home to 59 retail shops, 13 bars, many restaurants and cafes, 4 theaters, and thousands of employees – both private and public. This central downtown is known for its “Loop” which in some ways isolates downtown Pontiac from the rest of the city, but is planned for a more pedestrian-friendly redesign in 2024. Investments by companies such as Auch Construction and McLaren have helped anchor the comeback of this historic downtown. Some highlights in Downtown Pontiac may include catching a show at the Crofoot, browsing M1 Music, or visiting the numerous locally owned retail shops.
- Royal Oak – Arguably the largest and most well known downtown district in Oakland County is found in Royal Oak, off Main Street (Livernois) near 11 Mile. With over 5.3 miles of walkable downtown sidewalks, Downtown Royal Oak boasts over 70 restaurants, 90 boutiques, salons, and retail shops, office space, thousands of apartment units, live music venues, a movie theater, and one of the best farmers markets in the state. Parking has long been a critique of visiting Royal Oak, but with the addition of new garages that provide 2 hours of free parking, this is no longer the case. Royal Oak hosts many festivals, including Winter Blast and Arts, Beats, and Eats.
- Birmingham – The downtown district in Birmingham is located right off Woodward Avenue, along Old Woodward, which was maintained as the city’s primary “Main Street” after a 1920s road widening required the main boulevard go around the east of Downtown Birmingham. With nearly 300 total retailers, a farmers market, and a nearby city park, Birmingham is known for its upscale aesthetic and abundance of fabulous restaurants.
- Rochester – Downtown Rochester bills itself as a “mix of historic and hip” and this is an accurate assessment of the more than 350 shops, salons, and services. Downtown Rochester can be accessed by Rochester Road, as it turns into “Main Street” when it crosses the Clinton River. Paint Creek also runs through downtown Rochester, near the Rochester Mills brewery. The Big, Bright Light Show is a winter holiday favorite that makes Rochester worth a visit at least once, every winter.
- Ferndale – With its epicenter at 9 Mile and Woodward, Downtown Ferndale extends in all 4 directions with dining, shopping, sweets, and the well-known Rust Belt Market, featuring unique craft vendors and a full bar. This market is alone worth a visit to Downtown Ferndale. Downtown Ferndale is uniquely bike-friendly while still boasting over 1,000 parking spots. Ferndale is home to two annual art fairs and don’t miss the popular rainbow crosswalk across 9 Mile, west of Woodward.
- Berkley – “Retro feel and Metro appeal” is how Downtown Berkley describes its mid-century modern aesthetic. Berkley’s mid-century design features two walkable strips along Coolidge Highway and 12 Mile Road. You’ll find free streetside parking, public art, and 150 unique businesses catering to hobbies like rare book and comic collecting, Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering, Berkley Music – known to all locally aspiring musicians, and unique food items found at Mongers’ and Ulman’s.
- Farmington – Near Grand River and Farmington Road, and nestled between neighborhoods and a city park, sits Downtown Farmington. Its historic buildings line Grand River and one contains the historic Farmington Civic Theater, which still shows movies today for around $4 a ticket. With around 150 businesses Farmington features unique spots such as the 1-Up Arcade and Bar, and don’t miss the Farmer’s Market at Riley Park.
- Clawson – Clawson’s charming hometown feel can’t be missed when you visit. Located at 14 Mile and “Main Street” (Livernois), Downtown Clawson is only 3 miles north of downtown Royal Oak and offers more great shopping, dining, and fun. Noble Fish is a well-known mainstay of dining in the region as it brought sushi to Detroiters before sushi was mainstream. Downtown Clawson also features Warp Nine Comics and a magic shop.
- South Lyon – Featuring 12 walkable blocks of shops, salons, dining, and proximity to trails, downtown South Lyon is a nice break from the typical township development found on the western side of the metro. This district, located at 10 Mile and Lafayette Street, makes for a relaxed casual weekend out, on the west side.
- Milford – Main Street Milford runs north and south from Huron Street, extending slightly north of Summit Street. Proving Grounds makes for a family-friendly coffee shop with ice cream for the kids, and the Burger Joint has some of the best sodas you’ll find in the region. Main Street Milford also borders the city’s central park, Mill Pond, and Hubbel Pond, giving the district a very outdoorsy feel.
- Madison Heights – Did you know Madison Heights has a downtown district? It does! Incorporated in 1997, the Madison Heights DDA oversees development and investment into the districts along 11 Mile Road and John R, in Madison Heights. If you’re into video gaming, Retro Taku is a must-see, and if you’re looking for a bite and a drink Cadillac Straits features beer, mead, kombucha, and much more. There’s also Telway, which needs no introduction. Who knew Madison Heights was so cool?
- Auburn Hills – Another lesser-known downtown is found in Auburn Hills, right alongside the Clinton River, at Auburn and Squirrel Roads, and only a couple miles south of Oakland University. This district blends with the nearby Clinton River trail, the Knight Amphitheater, and has been experiencing significant reinvestment since its establishment in 2002. You can also enjoy coffee, hookah, or taste some unique wines at the Tasting Room.
- Clarkston – The Village of Clarkston is one of the smallest cities in all of Michigan. Incorporated in 1884 as a village and later as its own city within Independence Township, Clarkston boasts history, dining, shopping, and many professional services. The Fed offers an enjoyable brunch and a large wine menu.
- Oxford – Located in the far northern reaches of Oakland County, this metro area main street, located along Washington Street, near Burdic, features an almost Up-North feel. The downtown business district of Oxford has an aesthetic from a century ago, but is and feels updated and well-maintained.
It’s fun to try new things, so next time you are looking for a quick weekend adventure, consider trying one of our many local “main” streets or downtown districts. They’re always changing and always improving. Park the car and walk, and you’ll find shopping, dining, and exploring feels a lot more enjoyable as you see your local downtown, at human scale.