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Viranel Clerard jumpstarted his career as a photographer at the age of 13, and he credits the city of Detroit as his inspiration for doing so. After spending his younger years exploring abandoned buildings and ruins, he returned to the city after college and became a writer for The Detroit News. Soon after, Clerard began the “Detroit Mural Project,” a compilation of Detroit’s public art (exploring many noteworthy and up-and-coming neighborhoods along the way).
Here, he shares his tips on the best places to visit in Detroit.
A trendy neighborhood where visitors can soak up the art scene is:The McDougall-Hunt neighborhood, which is home to The Heidelberg Project. At more than 20 years old, it’s one of the oldest art environments in the city.It was started by Tyree Guyton, a local who saw that his neighborhood was in disarray and strived to make it respectable again. His grandfather put a paintbrush in his hand, and he took it upon himself to make the area beautiful.
Where do you go to unwind and recharge? I head to Astro Coffee in Corktown (or, as I call it, “Detroit’s living room”). When Astro started, there was no Wi-Fi access; the whole point was to go there and have a coffee, read a book and mingle with locals. There’s Wi-Fi now, but the premise is still the same. Or, head to Rivera Court, which is like a family room in the middle of the Detroit Institute of Arts. And just around the corner, there’s a giant mural by Diego Rivera.
What’s a tourist hot spot worth the hype? The Z Lot and The Belt are very much worth the hype. During the day, Z Lot is just a parking garage. But after 5 p.m., visitors should be sure to check out high-quality murals on every floor from world-renowned artists. The top level also offers a great view of the city. The Belt, the alley right next door, has several James Beard-nominated restaurants, as well as Deluxx Fluxx, a speakeasy that’s all under blacklight.
A great place for a quick bite is: Hot Taco, which is right behind the historic Fox Theatre. For lunch, head to one of the downtown Coney Islands, which serves the classic Coney Dog: a hot dog with chili and mustard. For a nice dinner, I’d recommend Gold Cash Gold, Takoi or Selden Standard.
Where’s the best place for an Instagram-worthy photo op? You can walk up any street and find at least three or four murals at Eastern Market. There are rental scooters — Birds and Limes — to make your way around, and people love to take pictures. Every year in September, the Murals in the Market festival takes place there.
Detroit’s best-kept secret is: Belle Isle Park. It’s truly a Detroit gem. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City’s Central Park. Not many people make it out there because it’s a bit of a drive, but there’s a beautiful conservatory on the island, and it’s very bikeable. Not too many cities have their own island attached to it, especially one with no residents on it. It’s simply there to serve as a public park.