Detroit’s Riverfront: Always an Adventure


I never would’ve thought that living in Detroit would rekindle my love for life on the water.

Between my daily commute on the People Mover, the everyday commotion of downtown and midtown, and biking to explore the uniquely characterized neighborhoods of the city, I almost felt consumed by the urban experience and living on dry land.  After three years of living on the Detroit River (which is so large it’s actually classified as a strait), I’m ecstatic to enjoy all the amenities that come with Michigan summers on our beautiful riverfront. Today I want to share some with you!

For those that don’t know, the Detroit River is the one of the busiest freshwater shipping channels in the world.  With its ideal location between major cities in the U.S.—and its status as an international border—the Detroit River helped solidify Detroit as a manufacturing powerhouse throughout the industrial revolution.  Somebody gifted me a “Lake Boats” coffee table book as a housewarming gift, and I’ve been fascinated by the types (and sizes) of vessels that travel the Great Lakes ever since. I sometimes track the routes and payloads of these ships, especially the Paul R. Tregurtha (or the “Queen of the Lakes” as she’s more commonly referred, being the largest ship on the Great Lakes at a whopping 1,014 feet).

Another interesting tidbit that makes Detroit’s water-scene unique is the tugboat J.W. Wescott II—the only floating Zip code in the United States.  The tugboat is currently contracted by the United States Postal Service, and is notorious for delivering mail to the crew members of other vessels while they are underway!  It’s always an interesting sight if you spot the exchange taking place when the crew aboard the Wescott drops mail into a bucket that descends from the deck of a freighter towering above it.

For those who prefer to stay on land, you can always find great activities taking shape along the river.  Earlier this year, Detroit’s Riverwalk was named “Best Riverwalk” in the country by USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards.  With the recent addition of Atwater Beach, the memorial rebranding of Chene Park to the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater, and future plans to develop the vision for the Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park, Detroit’s riverfront continues to make waves (pun totally intended, by the way).  From biking to beach volleyball, there is so much to explore on the 3.5 mile stretch that extends from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle (and even into the Marina District just beyond).

At face value, the sound of swimming in the Detroit River may be unappealing to some. However, with the direction the river flows—and the sheer volume of water flowing through it each day—many Detroiters flock to the beach at Belle Isle to take in the sun & go for a dip.  I’ll admit I spend a great deal of time here throughout the summers.  Belle Isle offers much more for water enthusiasts too: you can kayak the historic canals & lakes and admire the architecture, visit the aquarium to explore some aquatic life, or even fish from one of the numerous fishing piers on the island.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the great food options along Detroit’s riverfront as well.  From some of the classics (Atwater Brewery and Bucharest Grill) to “date night dining” at the Renaissance Center (Highlands/Hearth 71, Andiamo, Joe Muer Seafood), there are all types of cuisines scattered throughout the area.  Jefferson Avenue continues to see new restaurant openings as well, such as a new favorite Ivy Kitchen & Cocktail bar, or the soon-to-be new location of Breadless.  Additional options are available on the weekends too, with quick grab & go offerings at Bob’s Barge (Atwater Beach) or a libation at the Dequindre Cut Freight Yard.

If you haven’t attended an event at one of Detroit’s riverfront destinations, you’re surely missing out!  From the serene vibes of Port Detroit, to the breathtaking views from atop the Renaissance Center, to the historic halls of the Detroit Boat Club, and even the classic settings of the Rattlesnake Club or Roostertail, the Detroit River adds a layer of excitement to any occasion.

I spend a great deal of time on the river, and I’m still discovering new gems I haven’t uncovered before.  For me, the riverfront is the treasure that solidifies Detroit as a premier destination to Live, Work, and Play; I encourage everybody to come downtown to visit, spend the day with friends and family, and consider Detroit as a destination for your next event or reception—who knows what you’ll discover as you explore!

Taylor Hunter is the Workforce and Business Development Lead at Rock Ventures.  He has been connecting people & living, working, and playing in the city since 2008; connect with him on LinkedIn

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