‘Motor City’ Magic: Detroit’s Resurgent Charm

by Sima Thakkar on November 2, 2023 in Travels,

Nicknamed ‘Motor City’, Detroit effortlessly charmed its way into our hearts. This city has been burdened with unfair stereotypes of pervasive danger and sense of despair. But in reality, it is quite the opposite. 

Despite the challenges it has faced, Detroit has a spirited sense of self and is rediscovering its vibrancy. With a population of approximately 600,000, the city offers classic car tours, a fascinating journey into history at the Motown Museum, and a dynamic culinary scene filled with both new and established restaurants to explore. The resurgence of the city is palpable and invigorating.

Nestled in the heart of Detroit, the newly opened and stunning Cambria Hotel is within walking distance of numerous local attractions, making it a perfect base for exploring the city. This modern hotel boasts a contemporary design, comfortable rooms, and top-notch amenities, including a beautiful bar with an outdoor patio (pictured below). Whether you’re looking for a relaxing stay after a day of adventure or a comfortable place to work and unwind, the Cambria Hotel offers a welcoming and stylish retreat in the heart of the Motor City.

In the heart of downtown Detroit, the recently opened Cambria Hotel captivates with its modern elegance. This hotel stands as a perfect starting point for exploring Detroit, being within a few miles of numerous attractions. Photo Sima Thakkar.

Savoring Detroit’s Culinary Delights

Upon check-in, our stomachs were yearning for none other than the famous Detroit-style pizza at Buddy’s Pizza. Detroit pizza is characterized by its square shape, heavenly cheesy corners, and signature thick crust. Buddy’s isn’t just where Detroit-style pizza originated, it’s where the magic happens, and it unquestionably lived up to its legendary reputation. Even with its rich historical roots, the establishment has successfully embraced modern-day diners with enticing gluten-free and vegan offerings. There are multiple locations, but the one downtown is situated right next to a cluster of sports stadiums. 

In 1946, Detroit-style pizza originated with Gus and Anna Guerra, the owners of Buddy’s Pizza, at the restaurant’s inaugural spot on Six Mile and Conant Street. Anna’s family had immigrated from Sicily to the United States, carrying with them a cherished recipe for a Sicilian pizza variation that evolved into Detroit-style pizza. Photo Courtesy Visit Detroit.

Shortly afterward, we strolled over to the renowned jazz haven, Cliff Bell’s, an establishment exuding the charm of the prohibition era, where bespoke cocktails, delectable cuisine, and live jazz performances harmoniously come together. The dimly lit, art-deco-inspired interior of Cliff Bell’s was thick with nostalgia, creating an atmosphere that transported us to a bygone era, where the clinking of glasses and the smooth notes of the saxophone filled the room with a sense of timeless allure. Cliff Bell’s wasn’t just a venue; it was a portal to a jazz-infused, glamorous world of yesteryears. 

Exploring Detroit’s Automotive Legacy

The following day, we embarked on an exploration of Detroit’s rich automotive history with the Antique Touring Company. Our expert guides chauffeured us in vintage Ford Model A convertibles, weaving captivating narratives of Detroit’s automotive legacy, with a strong focus on the renowned “Big Three” – Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. During the tour, our guides provided a comprehensive history of the city’s evolution as we cruised in these classic cars. Along the way, we were greeted by the warm waves and cheerful honks of local residents as we cruised around in our convertible. As Detroit continues its resurgence from the automotive industry’s downturn, traces of its former vibrancy and charm are still evident throughout the city.

Antique Touring Company was founded by wife and husband duo Lisa Stolarski and Brian Donovan as a way to offer visitors and residents a delightful way to experience the automobile capital of the world. Photo Sima Thakkar.

For lunch, we stopped at the delightful Baobab Fare, a restaurant that takes you on a culinary journey through East Africa. This establishment pays a heartfelt tribute to traditional Burundian cuisine, which holds a special place in the hearts of its owners, Nadia Nijimbere and Hamissi Mamba, a husband-and-wife team who also happen to be former refugees. They opened this restaurant as both a homage to their roots and a symbol of gratitude to the city that embraced them. The menu is a treasure trove of flavors, featuring standout dishes like Mboga, a delectable blend of tender spinach and finely ground peanuts simmered in an array of aromatic spices. It is no surprise that Chef and owner Hamissi Mamba has garnered acclaim, including a victory on Food Network’s Chopped.

A Cultural Journey at the Motown Museum

Nestled in the heart of Detroit, the Motown Museum is a must-visit. Housed in the legendary Hitsville U.S.A., this museum offers a captivating journey into the iconic Motown sound that reverberated across the world. As you step through the very doors where music legends like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson 5 recorded their hits, you’re transported back to the birthplace of a cultural revolution. The museum is an immersive experience where you can explore original recording studios, witness memorabilia that chronicles the Motown story, and even stand where some of the world’s most celebrated artists once stood. It’s a poignant reminder of Detroit’s enduring legacy and an essential stop for those exploring the city’s vibrant cultural tapestry.

From Diana Ross to the Supremes to Marvin Gaye, the Motown Museum preserves the musical legacy of Motown’s iconic artists, who all graced the very recording studios within its walls. Photo Sima Thakkar.

For dinner, dining options include the farm-to-table gem Selden Standard. This culinary haven offers the backdrop of an enchanting, string-lit patio and also satiates your palate with a creative and diverse menu. Under the artistry of Chef Andy Holliday, the award-winning menu is a testament to locally sourced ingredients expertly prepared in a wood-fired oven, and served in perfectly shareable small-plate portions. From the delightful Sweet Potato Agnolotti to the savory Roasted Mushrooms and the refreshing Roasted Beet Salad, Selden Standard offers various innovative and farm-fresh dining options. For an upscale French dining experience, visitors may also enjoy Le Supreme Detroit.

Our grand finale was the Detroit Concours d’Elegance, a haven for classic car enthusiasts to revel in their shared passion. The famous event–which also takes place in Pebble Beach and draws in celebrities like Bill Murray– features Detroit car enthusiasts and their incredible vehicles. The event is alive with excitement, featuring live music, dynamic DJs, a delectable array of food, and a host of other attractions to keep everyone entertained.

One of the classic cars on display at the 2023 Detroit Concours d’Elegance. Photo Courtesy Detroit Concours.


Just shy of three hours from Austin, you can explore Detroit, a city rewriting its own story and inviting the world to be a part of its journey. Detroit is a testament to resilience and reinvention, a place where old and new coexist harmoniously, offering a truly unique and captivating exploration for all who visit.


Cover Photo Courtesy Visit Detroit

Sima Thakkar is a nonprofit Content Strategist and Online Learning Producer and is also the founder of Good Indian Girl. She has spent the last 20 years working and volunteering for a global network of NGOs and is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School.