Summer in Michigan is when the state really comes to life. Traffic jams fill northbound I-75 on Friday evenings as metro-Detroiters head Up North for a weekend of fun. Lazy summer days stretch into long nights and campfires. Nothing beats a Michigan summer. Here are 9 reasons to add it to your vacation list this year.
Spring in Michigan is a wonderful time when the gray of winter melts away and blue skies, green grass, and colorful flowers return to the state. As temperatures reach the 50s, you’ll see residents – like me! – sporting shorts and flip flops and flocking to local parks to enjoy the outdoors. There’s a lot going on as the state comes back to life. Here are six reasons to visit Michigan this spring.
Marche du Nain Rouge
The Nain Rouge, French for “red dwarf,” is a legendary creature that has been described in local Detroit lore for centuries. Reported sightings typically precede disasters like the 19th century fire that destroyed much of the city, the surrender during the War of 1812 that handed the city over to the British temporarily, and the 1967 riot.
In recent years on a weekend day in late March, residents have banded together to banish the Nain Rouge from the city to prevent disasters from striking in the upcoming year. Participants often dress in costumes – some in a Mardi Gras style – so that if the Nain Rouge returns the following year, he won’t be able to recognize them to take revenge. There is a lively parade down Cass Avenue in the Midtown area, followed by a ceremonial burning of the dwarf in effigy. And who knows? Maybe it’s working. Since the first Marche du Nain Rouge in 2010, the city has seen steady improvements, new businesses, and a rebounding population. It’s fun. It’s quirky. It’s unlike anything else. Read about this year’s event schedule here.
Tigers Opening Day
There’s something magical about the start of a new baseball season. Combined with the gradually warming weather and lengthening days, Opening Day in early April brings a sense of reawakening to the city after a long, cold winter. The Tigers haven’t won the World Series since 1984, but that doesn’t stop their faithful fans from throwing a party before the first game of the season. Many co-workers and classmates will be suspiciously absent from offices and schools as playing hooky to attend the game is a time-honored tradition for many.
Bars around Comerica Park pull out all of the stops with live music, parties, and outdoor barbeques. Don’t have a ticket to the game? Don’t let that stop you from joining in the fun. Grand Circus Park hosts a block party sponsored by the local sports radio station which features a projection of the game on a large screen for those fans unable to make it into the stadium. More info about the block party here.
Holland, a small town on the western side of the state, is famous for its Dutch heritage. For two weekends each May, the city comes to life for the Tulip Time festival celebrating its Dutch heritage and famous tulips. Events and attractions are scattered throughout the city and visitors can experience everything from parades and Dutch folk dances to concerts carnival rides. Food is plentiful and sure to satisfy all diners. You can even tour a working Dutch windmill. Amidst all of the fun, don’t forget to take time to enjoy the magnificent tulip gardens the festival is named for. More information about the festival can be found here.
Eastern Market Flower Day
If you haven’t had enough flowers at Tulip Time, make sure to attend Flower Day at Eastern Market, a large public market area in Detroit. The area is fantastic year round, but it especially shines on Flower Day. Each year on the Sunday after Mother’s Day growers of flowers pack the market area with beautiful flowers for shoppers to peruse. This annual tradition, dating back to the 1960s, allows buyers to browse through a large selection and interact with the growers for tips to keep them blooming. Food trucks and live music will also be featured during the event. More info here.
Mackinac Island Lilac Festival
Mackinac Island is a small island located between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas in Lake Huron. It’s a spectacular tourist destination that allows visitors to step back in time to an age without motorized vehicles and enjoy the scenery on bikes or in horse drawn carriages. For ten days in early June, the island celebrates the beautiful lilac trees that bloom during the spring.
Festival highlights include a 10k run/walk as well as a kids’ race, concerts, a parade, wine tastings, and a dog and pony show. Enjoy a carriage tour or explore the island’s natural beauty on your own. Don’t forget to pick up some of the island’s famous fudge while you’re there. Learn more about the Lilac Festival here.
Springtime at the Detroit Zoo
The Detroit Zoo, located in the suburb of Royal Oak, offers great animal encounters year-round. It really shines during the spring, as I’ve found that the animal are most active during this time of year. While many of the animals prefer to rest during the hot summer days, cooler spring weather offers the perfect opportunity to see them actively exploring their habitats.
The zoo offers several events and lectures throughout the spring as well. There is an Earth Day celebration called GreenFest, which features crafts, zookeeper talks, and a community art project. The zoo also offers guests discounted admission if they bring a cell phone to recycle that day. Adults will also enjoy the Zoo Brew event in May, which gives guests over the age of 21 access to the zoo until twilight hours, as well as live music and samples of beer from Michigan craft breweries.
What are your favorite things about springtime in Michigan? Did I miss something that should be on the list? Let me know in the comments.
If you’re a hockey fan, you’ve probably heard that the Red Wings are playing their final season at Joe Louis Arena, their home since 1979. While the building has never been known as a model of luxury, it’s well-worth a trip to say goodbye. There aren’t many games left, so if you haven’t already bought tickets to one, here’s a list that is sure to convince you to pay The Joe a visit before you miss out forever.
1. You’re a hockey fan.
Many of the game’s greatest players from the last four decades have played here. This is the ice Steve Yzerman called home for his entire career. Nicklas Lidstrom. Pavel Datsyuk. The list goes on and on. The Wings have spent most of their tenure at the Joe in the upper echelon of the league, and the Joe’s history shows it.
2. The banners.
There are a lot of them. I’ve been to NHL games in Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Ottawa over the last few years and I find their lack of banners disorienting. Especially St. Louis. They’ve been in the league since 1967 and at one point had a 25-year playoff streak, yet don’t have a single Stanley Cup to show for it. (For reference, the Wings won four Cups just in their Joe-based years.) In contrast to the Blues’ naked rafters, the Joe is covered with so many banners for retired numbers, Stanley Cups, conference championships, Presidents’ trophies, and division championships that it’s almost impossible to photograph them all.
3. The history.
The Wings broke their 42-year Cup drought on this ice. This is where Nick Lidstrom scored his first hat trick at the ripe old age of 40. Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe took the ice together here. Sergei Fedorov scored five goals in one game here (it was the first game after I received his jersey as a Christmas gift and I may or may not have been convinced that that caused his success). This was the site of the unforgettable Fight Night that fans still smile about to this day. Steve Yzerman scored his iconic Game 7 goal to finish off the Blues (This is really not a Blues-bashing post, I swear.) The 2002 team with its collection of future Hall of Famers skated the Stanley Cup around this ice. These things may mean nothing to you if reason #1 doesn’t apply to you, but I assure you that they’re a big deal.
4. You’re a thrill-seeker.
Adventurous visitors will get to try their luck on the Joe’s iconic outdoor staircases. If you’ve ever wanted to try navigating very narrow, steep stairs that are frequently covered in ice with a few thousand people who’ve been drinking beer, you only have a few chances left. I’ve always been baffled by this architectural choice, especially given Detroit’s climate for most of the hockey season. Why not just make the staircases indoors? Or less steep? The world may never know. Don’t worry – if you’re handicapped or have difficulty with stairs, there’s a ground-level entrance with an elevator that you can use to enter the arena.
5. They finally fixed the bathroom situation.
It only took them about 35 years after the building opened to figure out how to alleviate the notoriously horrendous bathroom lines. (Seriously, just a few years ago, making it from your seat to the women’s bathroom and back during an intermission was a rare feat worth celebrating with a beer. Except that there was no way you were going to find time to fit a concession stand visit in too before puckdrop.) The Joe’s problem is that it only has one concourse level – the upper and lower bowls empty into the same area with limited food and bathroom space. A few years ago, someone got the fantastic idea to go vertical and two enormous restrooms were installed above the concourse. Now you can breeze up a flight of stairs, and while I can’t speak for the men’s rooms, the women’s ones are an endless sea of stalls in which I’ve never waited even one second. For some reason, people still wait in line for the older original bathrooms, but the savvy visitor can easily save themselves a 10-minute wait by just walking a couple sections over to find the upstairs bathrooms.
6. You want to hang out with the best fans in hockey.
This is a science-backed, totally unbiased fact. Probably. The Wings faithful have long been one of the most enthusiastic crowds in the NHL. Hockey is a big deal here and an entire generation of fans has grown up knowing nothing but excellence (seriously, two of my adult siblings have never seen the team miss the playoffs). Even through the struggles of the last couple of years – sadly, that playoff streak doesn’t seem likely to continue – the Joe has remained packed with slightly disheartened, but still diehard fans.
7. You want to marvel at its vintage charm.
Check out that old-fashioned scoreboard. It’s so…un-digital. The smaller scoreboards are even more old-school – only one color! Seriously though, one of my favorite aspects of the Joe is it’s lack of flashing LED screens everywhere. I really don’t like the modern buildings with LED rings encircling the whole building with bright lights and ads. I’m probably in the minority, but I find them distracting and a little annoying. The Joe pre-dates all of that sleek stuff so you can focus more on the game than the flashing lights.
8. You like good views.
The Joe was built for hockey fans. My dad was recently mourning how close to the action the upper bowl was at the old Olympia building (the Wings’ home before the Joe), but since that ceased to exist before I was born, I have no frame of reference for that. I can say, that after visiting four other NHL buildings (and sitting in the upper bowl in all of them – I’m not rich, ok?), the Joe offers fans the best views from up above. I’m a fan of the upper corner seats because they give the best angles, but those views have been somewhat hampered by the safety nets that were installed several years ago. My ideal seats would be in the lower bowl near center ice, about 8-10 rows back so you have a good view of the whole action, but if someone wanted to toss some front row tickets my way, I wouldn’t complain one bit.
9.You want to know how not to build a hockey arena.
I love the Joe. I really do. But, um, it has a lot of flaws. (See item #5 above.) For starters, the builders forgot to include a press box and had to install it later by removing seats. Whoops. Despite the fact that it occupies prime riverfront space, it was designed as a concrete bunker with no windows. I’ve long joked that I’d choose to ride out a nuclear apocalypse in the Joe’s musty confines on the theory that it’s probably the most well-insulated place in Detroit.
The suites are also way up in the rafters. I’m pretty sure that if I were a few inches taller, I’d be able to touch the banners from one of them. I secretly kind of like this because it means that seats I can afford are closer to the action, but I recognize that it’s not a great selling point.
It’s also thoroughly aggravating to get to. It’s super close to a couple downtown freeways…and yet it’s also totally cut off from the rest of downtown. On my most recent trip, we parked at a meter on the street and then had to backtrack a few blocks to cross an entrance ramp to The Lodge, and then climb a winding ramp that circles through a tower that most casual observers would probably assume was a nuclear missile silo, and then walk through a tube that takes you over the highway before finally emerging onto the second level of the entrance area – but hey, you don’t have to navigate the stairs that way. Good luck driving up to it if you’ve never found the place before. I’d visited a dozen times before I made an ill-fated attempt to drop a friend off at the box office one day and had to actually try to navigate up to the building. It’s truly an icon of poor urban planning.
10. You don’t like corporate sponsors.
When the Joe closes, there will only be one NHL building left without a corporate sponsored name. I know that’s the way things are these days, but I’ll honestly miss it. I love saying “The Joe.” It’s classic. I’m at peace with the decision to name the new building Little Caesars Arena because at least it’s a Detroit business and owned by the same family, but in a world of silly names like Jobing.com Arena (now the Gila Rivers Arena, which isn’t much better) and PPG Paints Arena, the Joe always stood out as special.
What to do before the game
Detroit has really been rebounding over the last few years and sometimes it seems like there’s a new restaurant opening every week. There aren’t many places by the Joe (see point #9), but many of the bars and restaurants around town have game shuttles.
Hockeytown Cafe is sort of the official Wings restaurant as it’s owned by the team owners. It’s a pretty classic bar and grill type place, and it offers shuttles to and from the Joe. You can get yourself pumped for the game while dining in a multi-story restaurant decked out with team memorabilia. And if the weather warms up toward the end of the season, you might even get to visit the roof deck. You’ll also likely be able to catch a glimpse of the Wings’ future home, as it’s being built just up the road.
Cheli’s Chili Bar
Located close to the Hockeytown Cafe, Cheli’s Chili is owned by former Wings defenseman Chris Chelios. It’s also a great place to hang out before Tigers games if you don’t quite make it to Detroit in time to visit The Joe.
You really can’t go wrong in the Greektown area. The casino has a variety of restaurants, although I’ve never personally sampled anything but their rooftop bar. Pizzapapalis makes some delicious Chicago-style deep dish pizza, though you’ll have to order early if you want to eat before the game. New Parthenon and The Golden Fleece both offer some delicious Greek food. Greektown is also home to the new Detroit home of Wahlburgers, in addition to a variety of trendy chain restaurants. The best part of Greektown is that you can park in the casino garage and hop the People Mover, Detroit’s one-way monorail system around downtown, over to The Joe for only $1.50 round trip.
So have I convinced you to come pay your respects to The Joe before it’s demolished? Did I miss a good pre-game hangout spot? I have tickets to a couple more home games this season, so I’ll have a chance to check them out.