RENAISSANCE CENTER DETROIT
Carlos Osorio  /  AP file
Detroit's elevated people mover drives by the Renaissance Center. The skyscrapers of the Renaissance Center - the most recognizable feature of the city skyline - have been overhauled along the redeveloped waterfront of the Detroit River, which separates the U.S. and Canada.
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 7/24/2006 1:33:39 PM ET 2006-07-24T17:33:39

Detroit may be one of the few cities in the world more famous for what it makes than for its culture, architecture or people. Say “Detroit”, and you might as well be saying “Motown” or “Motor City” -- pop music and fast cars are what make this Midwestern city unique. Instead of fighting it, go with the city’s strengths, and spend your 24 hours here exploring these two American obsessions.

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: Start your morning with several big slabs of juicy ham, sided by eggs, at Famous Mikes Ham Place . That’s the only choice you’ll have for breakfast at this single-minded, Edward Hopper-esque diner, but it’s so darn tasty locals keep this place jammed throughout the day (if you like what you taste you can come back for lunch when the menu is expanded…to soup with ham or a ham sandwich.).

9 a.m. - noon: To really dig deep into auto history, you’ll have to leave Detroit proper and drive out to Greenfield Village, which is home to the Henry Ford Museum and the Rouge Factory as well as being its own living history park. As you might expect, the Henry Ford Museum is THE place to see vintage cars, including a number of presidential limousines and the last Model T ever produced. Recently, an informative soup to wing nuts tour of the Rouge factory opened, which takes visitors through the entire manufacturing process from design through polishing the hubcaps.

But the museum itself is much more than cars. What you might not know is that Ford was quite the Renaissance Man, and the museum reflects his interests in aviation and Americana of all sorts (from clothing to farm implements to the actual bus where Rosa Parks took a seat and launched the Civil Rights movement). Its accompanying attraction, the “Village”, is open only in the warmer months and consists of a collection of historic homes packed up and shipped here from across the US. Among the more famous houses are George Washington Carver’s cabin, Thomas Edison’s grandparents’ homestead, and the homes of Noah Webster and Robert Frost. Living history presentations take place throughout the day, illustrating what life must have been like for pioneers on the prairie, slaves on a plantation, colonists in New England, etc. Sounds hokey, but it’s so intelligently presented you won’t feel like you’ve been transported back to your 8th grade civics class (I promise). You could easily spend the entire day here, so choose your sightseeing carefully if you decide to devote just the morning to a visit.

MORNING ALTERNATIVE

If music means more to you than cars and planes and women in hoop skirts, head to the MoTown Historical Museum and channel your inner teeny bopper with a tour of Studio A, the legendary sound studio where the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and countless others created that groovy “MoTown sound”.  Spangled costumes, dozens of pieces of memorabilia, and producer Barry Gordon’s apartment (aka Hitsville, USA) are also part of the fun.

Noon - 2 p.m.:  Hunker down over a hunk of corn bread, a mess of collard greens, some sweet potato pie and a wedge of BBQ’d chicken at Steve’s Soul Food . Yeah, the plates are plastic, the service cafeteria-style and the décor stuck in the 1950’s but when big wigs like former Presidential candidate John Kerry come to town, this is where they eat. It has no peer when it comes to finger-lickin’, down-home, just plain delicious food.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: While visitors will obviously focus on cars and music, the money from those enterprises built the sixth largest museum in the US and it’s a wonder. Take some time off from pop culture to explore high culture at the Detroit Institute of the Arts , founded in 1885 and at the forefront of the American art scene ever since. DIA was the first museum in the US to purchase works by Van Gogh and had the foresight to acquire Diego Rivera’s Auto Industry murals, today considered one of the artist’s most outstanding works. Wander the halls and commune with Rembrandt, Titian, Rubins, Rodin, Cezanne, Degas, Seurat and others (if they were in your Art History textbook, it’s likely that one of their works will be represented here). Along with Western Art, DIA has superb collections of Asian, Native American and African sculpture and paintings.

AFTERNOON ALTERNATIVE

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a trip to the zoo, and the Detroit Zoo is one of the finest in the nation. Along with the usual menagerie, it boasts the world’s largest polar bear exhibit (which you can view both from the ground level and via an underwater tunnel), and a new and remarkably open Australian Outback area, where kangaroos are separated from viewers only by  puny but somehow effective knee-high cables.

5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.: Head to Greektown for a meal of tasty, fresh Mediterranean fare accompanied by shouts of “Opa!” as flaming cheese is paraded through the dining room. Your best choice here is PegasusTaverna where classic Greek specialties are cooked up in a large open kitchen that scents the entire room with the homey smell of roasting meats. You won’t go wrong with anything lamb-based (especially the juicy chops); the spinach pie and lemon chicken soup are also first rate.

8:30 p.m. - 11 p.m.: You gotta go hear music when you’re in Detroit, but Motown is no longer the dominant sound. Instead head to Memphis Smoke for a knock-down, drag-out blues session with some of the most accomplished players in the nation. A full menu of BBQ is served for those who dance themselves into a famished state.

11 p.m. -  on: The hottest late night action is at the city’s relatively new 24-hour casinos (the first opened in 1999). Make your way to the MGM Grand Detroit for baccarat, poker, blackjack, Caribbean stud, crabs and all the slots you can stomach. Karaoke, lounge acts and a 24-hour coffee shop offer a welcome break from losing money…er, amusing gaming.

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Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

Famous Mikes Ham Place, 3700 Michigan Avenue; telephone 313-894-6922

Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, 20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn; phone 313/271-1620; www.hfmgv.org/. The Museum is open year round but the Village closes between Jan 2 and April 1. Admission costs:  Museum $14 adults, $13 seniors, $10 children 5-12, free for children under 5. Village $20 adults, $19 seniors, $14 children 5-12, free for children under 5. Factory tour $14 adults, $13 seniors, $10 children 3-12, free for children under 3. 1-day combination:$26 adults, $24 seniors, $20 children 5-12

MoTown Historical Museum, 2648 West Grand Blvd; phone 313/875-2264; www.motownmuseum.com/. Open Tues-Sat 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., admission $8 adults, $5 children under 13.

Steve’s Soul Food, 8443 Grand River Avenue; phone 313/894-3464. Open daily 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Detroit Insititue of the Arts, 5200 Woodward Avenue; phone 313/833-7900; www.dia.org/. You can pay what you wish to get in, though the suggested donation is $4 for adults. Open Weds-Thurs 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Fri 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sat-Sun 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Detroit Zoo, 8450 W. 10 Mile Rd, Royal Oak; phone 248/398-0400; www.detroitzoo.com. Open daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., $11 admission adults, $8.50 seniors.

Pegasus Taverna, 558 Monroe Street; phone 313/964-6800; www.pegasustaverna.com/. Open Mon-Thurs 11 a.m. - 1 a.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. - 3 a.m., Sun 11 a.m. - midnight.

Memphis Smoke, 100 South Main, Royal Oak; phone 248/543-4300.

MGM Grand Detroit, 1300 John C. Lodge Freeway; phone 313/393-7777; www.mgmdetroit.com/.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: Inventions & Motown

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  1. Art work

    The sculpture "Transcending," located in Hart Plaza, is dedicated to working men and women. (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'And Still We Rise'

    An exhibit at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History entitled "And Still We Rise" recreates a slave auction. (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A big hand for the Brown Bomber

    The Joe Louis fist sculpture in the heart of downtown Detroit during a Labor Day parade. Commissioned in 1987 with a $350,000 grant from Sports Illustrated magazine, the 24-foot bronze monument was created by sculptor Robert Graham and came as a gift to the city as a tribute to Detroit's great boxing hero. (Carlos Osorio / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Motown Museum

    A woman walks past the Motown Historical Museum on West Grand Boulevard. Berry Gordy lived upstairs and operated what became known as the Motown Record Corporation downstairs, which he christened "Hitsville U.S.A." (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Tiger town

    A view of the Detroit skyline seen from the Detroit Tigers' home, Comerica Park. (Jeff Kowalsky / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Renaissance Center

    Detroit's elevated people mover moves past the Renaissance Center -- the most recognizable feature of the city skyline. (Carlos Osorio / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Cool zoo view

    Visitors to the Detroit Zoo's Arctic Ring of Life Exhibit get an up close and personal view of a swimming seal. The 4.2 acre, $14.9 million exhibit is the largest polar bear exhibit in the world. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Urban escape

    Campus Martius Park is a centerpiece of the city's downtown revitalization efforts. (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Wienermobile mania

    A 1952 version of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. Oscar Mayer created the original Wienermobile in 1936 to transfer the company spokesperson from store to store. The original was a 13-foot-long metal hot dog on wheels with an open cockpit in the center and rear, so the hot-dogger could pop up. (Carlos Osorio / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rosa's way

    A tourist takes a picture of the Montgomery city bus Rosa Parks rode when she refused to yield her seat at the front of the bus to a white man, an event that touched off the Civil Rights movement. (Carlos Osorio / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Postcard perfect

    Detroit's skyline at dusk. (Carlos Osorio / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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