With summer vacation right around the corner, I thought it was the perfect time to write a Top 10 list of of kid-friendly activities in Detroit. All items on the list were approved by my kids (5 and almost 8 years old) – and they helped with the ranking too. I hope the list inspires you to head to the D with your kids this summer!
10. Detroit Institute of Arts
“Eye Spy” Clue at the DIA
Starting out our list at number 10 is the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). On other top 10 lists, the DIA (a world class museum) would likely rank higher, but remember this list was kid-influenced. And while the DIA has made great efforts to be kid friendly, there is still some of the typical art museum vibe of “don’t touch” and “talk quietly”. But don’t let that scare you away – especially now that the DIA has free admission for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Some kid friendly touches at the DIA include the “Eye Spy” game that can be found in every gallery. Each “Eye Spy” board gives a written and picture clue for a piece of art in that gallery. Definitely a great way to keep kids engaged! The DIA also hosts “Family Sundays” - check the DIA website for information. The events include family performances, storytelling, art-making workshops and much more. Times vary, but events usually start around noon or 1 pm. You can read more about the DIA in our past blog.
9. People Mover
I know the People Mover usually doesn’t make many top 10 lists. But have you asked a 5 year old? It’s like an amusement park ride for them! And at 75 cents per ride, you really can’t go wrong. Start at the Ren Cen (maybe after spending some time on the Riverwalk), stop at the Grand Circus Park station to throw some coins in the fountain and take short walk to snap some pictures by the big Tiger at Comerica Park, or stop at Greektown and head into Astoria bakery for a treat. (You really can’t go wrong when your day includes a stop at Astoria!) Or don’t stop at all and and enjoy a lap (or 5!) around the City enjoying the sites from your awesome window view.
8. Michigan Science Center
Inside the blast furnace in the US Steel Fun Factory
What kid doesn’t like a good Science Center? (Says the Engineer mom.) Take your science-loving kids over to the Michigan Science Center for a great day of hands-on learning fun. The Michigan Science Center has a lot of the same displays as the former Detroit Science Center with a few new additions and some better organization. Some my kids’ favorites are the US Steel Fun Factory (test your manufacturing skills on the assembly line), the new Hot Mix Asphalt Plant (walk through a moving cement mixer), and the Jam Room (rock out on the drums or guitars). My 5-year old still loves ”Kids Town” on the lower level which caters to the 5 and under set with water tables, a play diner, dress-up stage, and even a crawling area for the littlest scientists. There’s also many live shows and demonstrations including the DTE Sparks Energy Theater which features lightening bolts from a Tesla coil. And until May 26th check out the “BODIES HUMAN: Anatomy in Motion” special exhibit. Read more about the human body exhibit and more in our past blog.
7. Eastern Market
You might be wondering why you should drive to Detroit for a farmers market when there is a perfectly good one in your local community. I admit to wondering the same thing – but just take a ride down one Saturday morning and you will find out for yourself! Eastern Market is huge (43 acres with 5 open air Sheds and many brick and mortar businesses) and the variety of items that you can buy in the distrct is amazing. Fruits, veggies, plants, flowers, syrup, bread, sauces, spices, meat, cookies, jams, there’s way too many things to list. The best part for kids (and adults too)? FREE SAMPLES! Many of the vendors in the Sheds offer free samples, so you can eat your way through the market. Eastern Market also has a great atmosphere with musicians and lots of good people watching. For more information about the sheds and brick and mortar businesses, read this and that.
Sam and his art.
6. Free Art Friday Detroit
For those of you who have never heard of Free Art Friday Detroit (FAFDET), it’s a really simple concept. Artists (and anyone can be an artist) hide pieces of art in Detroit on Fridays, post picture clues on Facebook and Twitter, and the person that finds it gets to keep it. The only other rule is to post a picture of your find back to FB/twitter. This happens EVERY Friday in the D. My kids and I took part in the fun in April and had an absolute blast. If you decide to try it out one Friday, remember that hiding art is almost as much fun as finding art. Read about our adventures here – along with some other tips.
5. Belle Isle
Beautiful green tiled ceilings inside the Aquarium
With 982-acres on an island in the Detroit River, a trip to Belle Isle is the perfect way to spend a lazy summer day. Check out the aquarium (on Saturdays), conservatory, Nature Zoo, Dossin Great Lakes Museum (reopening on May 18th!), play on the huge playscape, or take in the great views of the Detroit skyline. There are so many options (too many to list) all located on one island – if one attraction is a bust with your kids, just move on to the next. Spend an hour or spend the whole day - there’s ample parking and most activities are free. Read more about Belle Isle in our past blog here.
4. The Henry Ford
Ok, I cheated a bit on this one. The Henry Ford is located in Dearborn, not Detroit, so technically speaking it shouldn’t be on this list. But it is one of my family’s favorite places and just screams “Detroit” with its rich automotive, manufacturing, and engineering history. The main highlights of The Henry Ford are the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
The Henry Ford Museum boasts 9 acres of American history in a single building. From trains, planes, automobiles, tractors, the Rosa Parks bus, the Lincoln chair (where he was assassinated), and MTV videos, there is much to explore! Many improvements have been over the past 5 years and most of the updates have made the museum more kid-friendly. The old diner car now serves food, kids can go inside and “drive” the Alleghany Locomotive, and the “Driving America” exhibit now includes many touchscreens and other hand-on activities like a service station where kids can change the tires on a car. We’ve probably been to the Henry Ford Museum over 80 times in the last 8 years and my kids are never bored!
The Greenfield Village train
Located next door, Greenfield Village is an 80-acre history playground that includes 83 authentic historic structures, a working farm, artisian district, and a locomotive that circles it all. It truly is a step back in time. Since Greenfield Village is large, don’t try to cram too much in to one visit. Instead meander through at your kids’ pace - there’s plenty to keep their interest. Animals on the farm, trains at the roundhouse, crawling through large pipes outside the machine shop, and just getting a first hand look at the “olden days”. For some extra excitement, purchase a “ride pass” so that you can ride the train, Model T, horse drawn wagons, Model AA bus, and the Herschell-Spillman Carousel. Also check out the many special events hosted at Greenfield Village – a few favorites include Day Out with Thomas the Train, Historic Baseball, and Motor Muster (classic cars).
Having fun at the Riverwalk fountain!
My favorite part of the Riverwalk is the fountain outside of the Ren Cen. There just really isn’t anything better than watching the kids play in the water on a warm summer day. My advice is to plan for the fountain fun by putting your kids in swimsuits and then packing a change of clothes (we change in the bathroom inside the 1st floor of the Ren Cen). The fountain is just so much fun – the kids can’t help but get soaked. And really, why would you want them to try to stay dry on a warm summer day?? If you have time to explore more of the riverwalk, Rivard Plaza is a short walk (east) from the Ren Cen and is home of the Cullen Family Carousel. A little further east is Milliken State Park and Harbor – stroll through the wetland area and snap some photos of the lighthouse. If your family is a bit more adventurous, bring your bicycles (or rent some from Wheelhouse Detroit) and explore the entire Riverwalk including the Dequindre Cut which will take you from the Riverwalk up to Eastern Market.
Inside the Allesee Gallery of Culture
2. Detroit Historical Museum
We’ve only visited the Detroit Historical Museum once, but it quickly made it to the top of my kids’ list. Re-opened after a 6 month, $12 million renovation, the Historical Museum includes lots of hands-on interactive displays and was a huge hit with my kids. Stroll down the cobblestone “Streets of Old Detroit” on the lower level, play (using interactive buttons) with model trains in the Glancy Trains exhibit, reminisce about the cultural icons (including the old Tiger Stadium sign) of Detroit history in the “Allesee Gallery of Culture”, and learn about Detroit’s rich music history in the Kid Rock Music Lab. There were so many interactive displays (including touch screens) that my son commented “They should call this the Hands-on History Museum”. Oh, and did I mention that it’s FREE? Read more about the Detroit Historical Museum here.
1. Sports! Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, Detroit City Futball Club (and more!)
Photo Day shot with Prince Fielder
Everyone knows that Detroit is an awesome sports town, so why not get the kids involved! Of the professional teams, watching a Tigers Game is probably the most kid-friendly. But don’t hesitate to check out a Lions or Red Wings game too. (Or drive up to Auburn Hills for the Pistons – when are they going to move back to the D?) For some minor league fun, another option is the Detroit City Futbol Club (FC). Detroit City FC is a minor league soccer team that plays its home games at Cass Tech High School and is said to have the largest and loudest home crowds in minor league soccer (does that really surprise you?). With season tickets at $35 (for the WHOLE season), individual games are definitely affordable.
Now, back to the Tigers. Comerica Park has many kid-friendly features including the ferris wheel, carousal, Sunday Kids Day (kids can run the bases after the game!), and Friday/Saturday night fireworks. Don’t forget to check out other Comerica Park special events/promotions too. My family’s favorite last year was On-Field Photo Day where you can snap photos with the players before the game. (Ask my son about his infamous Phil Coke story!) And while it’s true that many games attended with the kids involve multiple trips to the ferris wheel, too much cotton candy, and more cheering for the “biggie bagel” promotion then the game, there are also those rare magical nights where the kids are fully engaged, your row wins free hot dogs, Justin Verlander almost has a no hitter, and you end the night under the fireworks feeling proud to be a Tigers fan and Detroiter. And while those nights might be rare (especially for those with little kids), they make it worth it! (Isn’t that the case for most aspects of parenting?)