The Motor City may catch plenty of flack for the mess it is in these days, but frequent travelers know that the city's airport is one of the most laid back, most modern and easiest to use in the country. Heading this way? Here's a quick guide to get you up to speed.
In decentralized Detroit, who knows where you're going. Ann Arbor? The Oakland County suburbs? Canada? Maybe the actual city of Detroit? Not only is everything super spread out, few of these places are actually connected to each other by anything other than the most perfunctory of bus services. If that. But, hey – you want to take a bus? It's possible.
For downtown Detroit, catch the SMART Bus; Route 125 offers occasional service to the heart of the downtown area for $2 (exact amount not required, but change is issued in the form of ride credit.) Find more info at smartbus.org. The Ann Arbor-bound will have better luck – just hop the public AirRide coach service, $12 each way and $22 round-trip. You can book and buy tickets in advance, online at myairride.com; walk-ons are available, with some stipulations.
Shuttle / Taxi
Detroit's famously lacking in affordable shared-ride shuttle services or, for that matter, plentiful cabs. Which is okay, because what you will find ends up being pretty expensive – Downtown Detroit is nearly 22 miles from the airport, after all, and that's one of your closer-in destinations. The most popular option is to book with Metro Cars, the ubiquitous black car service based out of the Ground Transportation Center, located inside the garage at both terminals. A sample fare to Downtown would be $56 – not much more than a taxi. And this way, you're actually riding in style (metrocars.com).
Much cheaper than car service – and far less time consuming than taking public transit – will be renting your own wheels. Visitors to Detroit enjoy – at most times of the year, anyway – some of the cheapest car rental rates found at any major U.S. airport. Complimentary shuttle buses serve the various airport-adjacent agency locations from the Ground Transportation Center, located on the garage side at both terminals.
Finding a sit-down restaurant in either terminal is easy, but they aren't all created equal. Particularly in the McNamara Terminal (that's the one with all the Delta flights), where too many passengers brush right by the terminal's two best addresses in favor of more recognized national brands. Don't fall into that trip. Where you want to be is the Mediterranean Grill, which up fresh and healthy Middle Eastern staples – heaping piles of fresh tabouleh, hummus and more.
The other spot to know is Sora, an honest-to-goodness sushi bar and Japanese restaurant, which has some travelers showing up to the airport a little early, for plates of beautiful sashimi and other atypical airport fare. Over in the North Terminal, your options are a little more limited; if you want a true Detroit experience, hit up National Coney Island, a branch of the popular local diner chain, with Greek fare, Detroit-style dogs and a couple decent beers on draft (sit at the counter, if you can).
For a sure bet and something speedy, head to Earl of Sandwich, found down by Gate D36. The chain has wildly popular outposts at Disney World in Orlando, Disneyland in California and on the Las Vegas Strip. You can't go wrong with their tuna melts.
Where to go drinking
It's Detroit. You go drinking everywhere. But if you're in the McNamara Terminal, keep it classy with wine and cheese at the stylish Vino Volo. Over in the North Terminal, go native at the Hockeytown Café, a boisterous location of the popular downtown sports bar, ranked one of the best in the country.
The shopping at McNamara Terminal is currently undergoing somewhat of an overhaul. When it opens, expect lots more upscale brands, plus fun stuff like the first-ever airport location of Dylan's Candy Bar into the fold. Then again, if it's candy you're after, Detroit's own Gayle's Chocolates, a long-running Royal Oak sweet shop famous for truffles, is your best bet for a tasty souvenir. (You can't eat a t-shirt, after all.) Gayle's has locations in both airport terminals.
Passengers receive 30 minutes of free access via Boingo; beyond that, paid service varies by time and device used. Sign up or add value to your account at Boingo.com in advance and save yourself some hassle. Coverage is good throughout most public areas beyond security.
Get away from it all
Located directly adjacent to the McNamara Terminal and even boasting a quiet and efficient security checkpoint, the Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport is one of the best places to be when you have to be in the airport but would rather feel like you are anywhere but. Buy a pass to the top-notch fitness center for just $15, hit the spa for a treatment (there's a very nice pool) or just have lunch at DEMA, the pretty good restaurant that opens out to the hotel's 80-foot atrium lobby (westin.com).
The long layover
Sticking around awhile? There's loads to do within a half-hour of the airport, but the cost – and logistics – of getting out and back in time can make leaving a bit of a risk for those who don't have at least six hours to kill. If that's you, then suck it up, rent a car and get out. (Walkup rates at Detroit can be surprisingly low – check out carrentals.com to get a quick vibe on what's available.)
Once you've got wheels, you can go anywhere, but – with apologies to everywhere else in the region – your first stop should definitely be Ann Arbor's Kerrytown district. Just twenty minutes drive from the airport, this is where you'll find the famed university town's equally famous Zingerman's Deli, with its addicting sandwiches and some of the best cheese and bread for sale in the Midwest today.
Up the block is the excellent Kerrytown Market – a mini-version of Seattle's Pike Place – plus the very good Saturday Ann Arbor Farmers Market and plenty of other shopping. Pop down Main Street for a pint of Belgian-style ale at Jolly Pumpkin, one of Michigan's best breweries, then head on out to Zingerman's Roadhouse, located on the western edge of town, where they do great cocktails and some really decent food. (The best seats are at the bar that faces the open kitchen – keep your eye on the food coming out and just order what looks good.) Don't miss your flight!
Best airport hotel
For all the reasons previously mentioned and more, the Westin is definitely the way to go; however, if price is a factor – and sometimes the prices here are too high – there's a cluster of very affordable hotels just outside the airport on Merriman Road, a short – and free – shuttle ride from the terminals. The nicest these days is the SpringHill Suites Detroit Metro Airport, featuring that Marriott brand's soothing, spa-like décor in spacious, suite-like rooms. Free breakfast, free wireless, an indoor pool and Jacuzzi plus a nice workout room make this a great value for money; figure on grabbing a rate somewhere close to $100 per night (marriott.com).
For more about Detroit's airport, visit metroairport.com. To learn more about travel to Detroit, check out visitdetroit.com.
Low airfares to Detroit, found by our Dealhounds.
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New York-LaGuardia (LGA)
George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.