Across Michigan the cultural, shopping, dining, entertainment and event options are on the upswing in downtowns where, as the 1960s hit tune promises, “everything’s waiting for you...” In downtowns you can watch a dance performance in a historic opera house, study masterful works of art, browse independent boutiques, eat good food, catch a ballgame and admire great architecture. And in the Great Lakes State you’re never far from the peace and beauty of the water, even when you’re in the heart of a busy downtown.
Each city has a vibe all its own, from the largest on the Detroit River to the oldest in Sault Ste Marie and the Capital City of Lansing to the Queen City of the North, Marquette. So “forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go downtown” and enjoy the energy and of a Pure Michigan city.
Motown is Go-town again as young entrepreneurs move into lofts and condos and remake spaces into open cafes and boutiques. Rent a bike or stroll the Detroit Riverfront RiverWalk between the state’s first urban state park and harbor and the GM Renaissance Center, which offers free tours that include breathtaking views from the top of the “RenCen’s” 72-story centerpiece hotel tower.
Trust the Detroit insiders that offer guided walking, Segway, and culinary tours of downtown as you learn about the history and sample the flavors of the city. Take in a Tigers baseball game at Comerica Park---yes, Opening Day is just weeks away! The city sizzles with gaming action and entertainment at the Greektown Casino, MGM Grand Detroit, and MotorCity Casino, where you can spend a night in luxury guest room, savor a gourmet meal, and perhaps enjoy a spa treatment.
Dinosaurs Alive! dominates the Detroit Science Center through Labor Day, and the fascinating Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries hangs at the Detroit Institute of Arts through April 10. Music fans will want to tour Studio A at Hitsville USA, the Motown Historical Museum and learn about the distinctive Motown Sound.
A Grand City
If you haven’t been to Grand Rapids lately you might not recognize Michigan’s second largest city. The pleasant and walkable downtown is bustling with eateries, shops, museums and a lively entertainment district. The Grand Rapids Art Museum overlooks Maya Lin’s Ecliptic at Rosa Parks Circle, a year ‘round gathering space. Learn about the 38th leader of the U.S. at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum; a special photo exhibit pays tribute to the contributions of the “The American Soldier” through June 17. The Grand Rapids Public Museum houses a planetarium, natural history exhibits and a 1928 Spillman Carousel.
Book it to College Towns
Expect to find an eclectic mix of restaurants, galleries, quirky shops, bookstores and boutiques in university towns like the two largest in the state: Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan and East Lansing, address of Michigan State University. The 49th Annual Ann Arbor Film Festival showcases independent movies and premieres from March 22-27, 2011 at the historic Michigan Theatre. Giant and colorful handcrafted FestiFool puppets parade through Ann Arbor April 3. The gentrified Old Town Lansing neighborhood hosts a “Taste & Tour” progressive food event April 2.
Up North Downtowns
In contrast to the natural beauty of woods and water and the wine and cherry-growing region of the northwest Lower Peninsula, Traverse City has a lively downtown filled with interesting shops, restaurants, entertainment and sweet events like the Chocolate Festival happening April 10.
The first permanent settlement in Michigan, Sault Ste. Marie, was established in 1668 at the rapids between Lakes Superior and Huron. In 1855 the Soo Locks were built to allow boat passage between the waters. Each March boat nerds look forward to the reopening of the locks after the annual two-month shutdown for maintenance. Learn more about the area at the River of History Museum and buy nautical art by area artists at local galleries.
Marquette’s most famous recent visitor was President Barack Obama, who took time to have a sandwich at Doncker’s, a historic sweet shop and restaurant in the heart of downtown. The home of Northern Michigan University is the largest city in the UP with a population of about 20,000. It’s known for the variety of cultural and sporting events expected of a college town and a scenic Lake Superior location and four seasons of outdoor recreation. Take a ride on a bicycle path that winds through town, where handsome red sandstone buildings give the downtown its architectural interest and house one-of-a-kind shops, galleries and restaurants. Visit the new Marquette Regional History Museum for an overview of the area.