A Couchsurfer’s Guide to Detroit

Detroit, Michigan is well known for being the automotive capital of the world and for being the birthplace of Motown sound and techno, making it extremely influential in the international music world.  

Tourists flock to Detroit for its rich industrial and manufacturing history, the Movement festival or simply because they love Eminem’s 8 Mile. However, none of these things alone are enough to capture the Detroit spirit. To help your experience the real Detroit, we interviewed some local Couchsurfing hosts in the city for tips on how to get the most out of your visit.

Attendees of the 2015 Detroit Couch Crash in front of The Spirit of Detroit.

Experience Detroit at its best by becoming part of it.

“If you come here, you should come to participate in Detroit. We’re not a place to consume culture, but to create and contribute to it. Come for more than a couple days and do something really cool – create some art, plug into something.” – Mars

Mars, a Detroit native, frequently hosts Couchsurfers at his place off W. Grand Blvd and emphasizes the importance of actively participating and contributing to Detroit in order to fully experience the city. He highlights several ways you can get involved:

A few other urban farming and volunteering opportunities worth checking out:

If you’re not coming for an event, visit Detroit in the summer.

Michiganders joke that it can be 80 and sunny one morning, and snowing later that evening. When traveling to the state of Michigan make sure to note the time of year and pack accordingly, as the average temperature will range from 19 (-7) in January to 65 (18) in July with highs of 85+ (30).

“Movement weekend is not the time to have a local Detroit experience. Come during the summer with time to properly explore” – Mars.

Thousands flock to the city every May for the Detroit Movement festival and this is a very popular week for Couchsurfing. If you’re in town on Movement weekend make sure to send out Couch Requests well in advance. Use the date filters or a Public Trip to increase your chances of finding a great host. Some other popular events that draw large crowds to the city include the North American International Auto Show, Woodward Dream Cruise, the Detroit Jazz Festival and Arts Beats and Eats.

Explore Detroit’s Museums and other popular sights.

“For someone new to the city I’d highly recommend checking out museums to get a better sense of the city’s history” – Michelle

A few good places to start include:

Check out MetroTimes.com and DLY’s Guidebook for info on many of Detroit’s top sights,” Nathan, another local Detroiter who frequently hosts in the city, advises.

He provides an extensive list of places for his guests to check out. Here are a few:

  • The Heidelberg project, the Red Bull house of Art, and Hamtramck (Ukranian) Disneyland, which are all inspiring pieces of art and part of someone’s home
  • The Guardian building, the Detroit Building or the Fisher Building for beautiful Detroit Architecture
  • The Detroit Experience Factory, “Detroit’s unofficial welcome center”
  • The Works, Fox Theatre, Redford Theatre, St. Andrew’s Hall for live shows and music

It’s easiest to get around by car, depending on the neighborhood.

“Since Detroit was built on the automotive industry, it’s built around cars and has very little public transit. However, there are parking lots everywhere and is very driver friendly.” -Melissa

Public transportation is a relatively new concept for the city. That being said, your two main options are buses or the QLine.

  • Buses: A reliable (and cheap!) option at $1.50USD base fare. You can find more information on DDOT bus schedules here.
  • QLine: New as of 2017, the QLine is far from an all-encompassing form of transit but is Detroit’s first major step in the right direction. The 3.3-mile track will take you down Woodward, through Midtown and to the river, while passing some of Detroit’s most iconic venues and historic buildings. This is a good option if your host lives in Midtown or New Town.

Also worth mentioning is the Detroit People Mover (the DPM), a 3-mile suspended single-track system that’s been in operation since 1987 and is still going strong. While some locals commute using the DPM daily, most no longer use it.. However, at 75 cents a ride it’s a great way to see a piece of Detroit’s history as well as stunning views of Windsor, Ontario and the Detroit River!

“A bike is the best way to experience Detroit. You can rent one from Kelly at the Wheelhouse.” –Mars.

While Mars may be a bit biased after biking 2,800 miles from San Francisco to Detroit, he stresses that the best way to see the city is on a bike. He’ll often take his couchsurfers on biking tours of the city and says it’s a great way to get to know the different neighborhoods without having to rent a car or spend money on ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft.

Stay in Downtown, Midtown or Corktown if you want to be in the city center.

“I don’t think there’s anything you shouldn’t consider. Detroit is a story, and just like any other you need to see both where it’s going and where it came from to understand.” – Melissa

Melissa is also from the Detroit area originally, and along with much of the city, considers herself a die-hard Detroit sports fan. She gave us the following direction in terms of which neighborhoods to look for while Couchsurfing in Detroit.

Downtown has a lot to explore and is a good place to start. There’s always new businesses opening up and it’s very lively because all Detroit sport teams are hosted right in the city”

Midtown is technically part of downtown, but now commonly referred to separately and is a very up and coming neighborhood. It’s also near Eastern Market which is a huge street market every Saturday” If you’re around Midtown recommends checking out Honest John’s for their breakfast or burgers, and the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery for pizza and brews.”

Corktown is the oldest neighborhood in the city with great food and is close to Southwest Detroit. More family oriented but a lot to see,” she said. “I recommend checking out a relatively new concert venue called El Club, it brings in some great artists.”

Renting a car? Some other great neighborhood with cool shops and restaurants include Indian Village, West Village, Grandmont Rosedale and New Center if you want to be further from urban core of downtown Detroit.

Staying Safe in Detroit

Like any other big city, it’s important to take a few precautions to stay safe while traveling. If you rent a car, be sure to lock it and take your valuables with you when park. When exploring Detroit at night, we recommend that you bring a friend with you and stay in lit areas. If you are traveling alone, invite your Couchsurfing host to come with you, or make a new friend with Couchsurfing Hangouts!

In the event of an emergency, the local number for the police, ambulance, and fire station is 911.

Before you go, keep in mind…

“Humble yourselves and let go of your pre-dispositions of Detroit.”  – Mars.

“People are really cool and generally very friendly in Detroit. If you have an open mind you’re going to have a good time no matter where you go.”  – Melissa.

Detroit often gets a bad reputation stemming from difficulties it has faced from the international disruption of the automotive industry, political corruption and infrastructure challenges. These factors lead to a population dip from 1.8 million people in the 1950s to a more recent population estimate of ~760,000 people. However, this is just a small part of Detroit’s story.

Detroit is and has always been defined by its roots in Motown, techno, jazz and other genres of music, and is also becoming a hub for urban farming, innovative living and urban planning, technology, and entrepreneurship. You’ll also find that many Detroiters are die-hard sport fans, so whether you’re in town for Hockey, Basketball, Football or Baseball season try to meet up with some locals and join them in cheering on the home team!

Oh, and if you’re planning a trip sometime soon, keep in mind that Detroit shares a border with Windsor, Canada and is only a few hour drive from Chicago, Illinois and Cleveland, Ohio. All are great options if you’re looking to expand your travels beyond the Motor City!

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