Layover: Detroit

Detroit’s long association with the automotive industry led to poor public transportation development during the 1900s. As a result, the airport, which is thirty minutes from either downtown Detroit to the east or Ann Arbor to the west, is poorly connected to the cities. While there are a couple of public buses that visit the airport, neither lines go to any worthwhile destinations at any reasonable speed, so unless you want to rent a vehicle or get a pricey cab, it’s usually best to stay in the airport. Fortunately, both the McNamara and North terminals are modern, airy structures with plenty of restaurants and activities to keep you busy, so even longer layovers won’t be spent poorly.

Shorter (2 hour) layovers

With only a couple of hours to kill at the airport, it’s best to not go outside of security unless you have a specific reason. There isn’t much out there anyway except for the Westin restaurant in the Mac and a bar in the baggage claim of the North terminal.

If you’re flying on any airline except for Northwest, Delta and Continental, you’ll find yourself in the newly opened North terminal, that despite it’s simple design is perfectly functional and clean. To keep yourself busy for a couple of hours, you can start by ducking into one of the many shops throughout the terminal, including a Brookstone, two Borders and an ASAP for electronics. Your best bet, however, is to sit down for a good relaxing meal, which you can do at Hockeytown Cafe, Ruby Tuesdays or Fridays.
In the McNamara terminal you have many more options. First, if you haven’t seen the tunnel between the A and BC terminals, it’s worth taking a visit to the seizure-inducing display. A combination of loud music, pounding lights and changing colors liken the 5 minute voyage to watching Requiem for a Dream inside of a kaleidoscope, and if you aren’t awed when you ride through the first time you will be when you get back. On the A terminal side of the tunnel you can also hang out and watch the fountain deposit laminar streams of water precisely across the giant, stone expanse, well worth a few minutes of gawking.

If you’d like a bite to eat, McNamara has three expansive food courts in the center and termini of hall A where you can grab both American and Japanese fast food (several flights from Tokyo connect here.) If you’ve got a little bit of extra time, try the Japanese restaurant or the National Coney Island for a plate of remarkably delicious airport food.

Northwest and Delta’s Sky Clubs are a great escape from the rigor of the everyday airport melee. If you haven’t got an annual pass, you can stop in any of the four lounges in the airport, buy a pass for about $50 and enjoy free wireless, snacks, comfy chairs and drinks. So if you think that you can consume more than $50 at the airport bar, use the Sky Club instead – the drinks are self serve. This is also a great place to deposit your luggage if you want to leave the premises for a while.

If you’re willing to risk sneaking out of security for a bit, the Westin at McNamara terminal has a wonderful ground floor that is a million miles away from the bustling airport terminal. Grab a drink at Dema, the hotel restaurant while you gawk at the monstrostic, relaxing surroundings.

Longer layovers (4+ hours)
Should you decide to leave the airport during your layover, there are a few local options that you can enjoy within a (long) stones throw. You’ll need to either rent a car or have someone pick you up though, or you can arrange some sort of deal with a local taxi. Just make sure that if you’re going somewhere with little cab access that you have a ride back.

Greenfield Village (pictured): The largest outdoor museum in the world is an 18 minute cab ride away from the airport, in Dearborn, MI. The village hosts a sprawling 240 acres of reconstructed and original buildings across US history, focusing on the way that Americans lived in colonial times. Character actors play the role of ancient colonists and there are enough activities to keep you busy all day — just make sure that the weather is good. Tickets are $22 for adults and $16 for children over 5.

Casinos: Three casinos in downtown Detroit are a fun way to kill a few hours. It’s 25 minutes by car to either Greektown, Motor City or the MGM Grand.

Downtown Detroit: Outside of the several casinos, downtown Detroit has experienced a bit of a revitalization in the last few years. The area around Comerica Park and Ford Field including Greektown is interesting and safe to mosey around, though you’ll see more interesting architecture than boutique shops. Our recommendation? The MGM Grand.

Ann Arbor: Recently covered in our “Budget Destinations” series, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan and is a quiet, quaint town about a half hour west of DTW. You can read more details about tree city in that post, but our specific suggestions for a long layover are a stop at Dominick’s for a sangria and a homemade pizza and a stroll through the law quad and campus. You can easily make it to Ann Arbor and back in about 3.5 hours.

Other tips

— If you’ve got some range on your wireless card, the skyclubs upstairs at either end of terminal A have free wifi. On a good day you can sit below the clubs on the chairs and pick up a signal.

— Keep an eye out for the planters with giant trees in them. Several of them are host to autograph rocks where people stop by, sign their name and leave a mark.

Plan your next layover with Gadling’s Layover Guides.

Budget summer vacations from Detroit: Ann Arbor

Forty miles west of downtown Detroit and twenty minutes from its airport, Ann Arbor is the complete antithesis of it’s next door neighbor. Unemployment and crime are among the lowest in the state, property values are high, education is top notch and the city is alive with innovation and activity.

Sure, The D has it’s virtues (as Mr. Lansel from the Post gently reminds us,) but there is a quaintness about Ann Arbor that’s hard to find in a large city: A two-lane downtown Main Street bustling with boutique shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment. Lush green trees that arch over sleepy neighborhood streets. Rolling parks, a top notch university and a summer festival unrivaled in the state.

Spending time wandering through the Kerrytown Farmer’s market then bouncing among the locals you being to wonder: “Am I really in Michigan?” Ah, but you are. A small blue pocket in an oft red state, Ann Arbor defies many of the stereotypes cast onto Michigan and the Midwest. Stick around and we’ll tell you what to see

The Sights

Home to the University of Michigan, a large part of downtown tree city is devoted to campus, where a leisurely stroll through The Diag will introduce you to many of the architectural hits, including the voluminous Graduate Library and recently remodeled (and free of charge) art museum. Stop by on the first Saturday of April to see Hash Bash, the annual celebration that brings thousands of hippies and revelers out to celebrate their love of weed under the towering, silent Oak trees.

At ether end of The Diag, nose through campus boutiques and restaurants, remembering to pass through the gorgeous Law School (above) before getting a jug of the best sangria in town at Dominicks.

The Big House, Michigan’s enormous football stadium is just south of the Law School, and on most days is open for the public.

Back downtown, you can walk west down Liberty Street and see the world’s first Border’s Book Store on your way past the Michigan and State theaters. During the Ann Arbor Art Fair every July, these streets fill up with hundreds of artists and vendor stalls in one of the largest art fairs in the country.

On Main Street, a host of boutiques including Peaceable Kingdom and the ever popular Moosejaw should keep you busy shopping for the entire afternoon while Kerrytown, a short walk north, hosts a variety of eclectic shops, restaurants and even a local butcher.

If you’ve still got time left in your day, walk North on Main Street to Argo Pond, where you can cross the dam and rent canoes and float down the Huron River past the University of Michigan hospital and sport fields.

The Food

There are far too many fantastic places to eat in Ann Arbor to make a comprehensive list, so we’ll give you the best of the best. For dinner, Bella Ciao is a cozy, privately owned restaurant serving outstanding Italian food, while Ryan and the team at Logan serve modern Americana. On the cheaper end, Fleetwood Diner is open all night while Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger fires up the legendary burgers recently filmed on the Food Network.

If you’re not too full from dinner, stop by Bab’s Underground Lounge, where Giancarlo will pour you a stiff vodka tonic, Babs will scowl at you from behind the register and you can play a few rounds of pool on their plush, red tables. Have a few extra drinks and stop in the photo booth on your way out.

Where to Stay

You can stay right on campus and walk everywhere by booking a room at either the Bell Tower Hotel or The Inn at the Michigan League. If that’s to expensive for you taste, try booking a room at the Holiday Inn on North Campus to save a few bucks. Prices range from $200 at the high end to $100 at the Holiday Inn.

Finally, remember that Ann Arbor isn’t the metropolis that Chicago or San Francisco is — you can cover the entire city in two days or even one if you try. The key is to enjoy the setting, soak in the collegiate atmosphere, shop and eat well. If you stick to those standards you’ll have a great time.

Check out more budget summer vacations here!

Eateries near an airport

We’ve covered the best places to eat inside certain airports, and have given a big nod to the In-N-Out Burger just a mile from LAX Airport in Los Angeles, but here are other dining options in case you have a layover and want to find food that’s worth a bit of effort to get to.

In this Washington Post article, Joe Brancatelli gives a rundown of major airports in the U.S. and where he heads to eat if he has some time. In-N-Out Burger is one of his suggestions.

Here are the first 10 of his other suggestions, along with their distance from the airport. If you’re flying out of one of these cities, I’d also consider these as ideas for where to eat before you head off on an airplane. There’s nothing like a good meal to help face the uncertainties of air travel. Eating close to the airport helps food digest instead of attempting a mad dash across a city to catch a plane.

  • AtlantaThe Brake Pad. This is a converted gas station that serves up “pub grub.” It’s four miles from the airport.
  • Chicago— Here are two suggestions for Chicago-style pizza that are not at O’Hare airport. The Rosemont branch of Giordano’s is four miles from the airport and the Park Ridge branch of Lou Malnati’s is seven miles. If you’re heading to or away from Midway, try Giordano’s on South Cicero. It borders the airport. About five miles away is Lou Malnati’s on West Ogden.
  • Charlotte–Eight miles from the Charlotte/Douglas Airport is Villa Antonio on Southern Blvd. where you can find a pork sandwich, Italian style.
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth–Brancatelli suggests taking at 10 mile drive for the Mexican food at Via Real in Las Colinas.
  • Denver–I concur with Brancatelli about this airport. There is not much close by. He did find Blue Bay Asian Café and recommends the Thai food and the dumplings.
  • Detroit–To find good food here, you don’t need to go any further than the Westin hotel that’s connected to the McNamara terminal at the airport. Dema’s serves decent food any time of day.
  • Honolulou–If you can call ahead, try Mitch’s Fish Market and Sushi Bar. It’s only a mile from the airport’s runways. I’d say you can walk, but it might be further than it sounds.
  • HoustonChez Nous is in a converted Pennecostal church and dishes out French food worth the seven mile drive from Bush Intercontinental Airport.
  • Los Angeles–Along with the In-n-Out Burger, Brancatelli suggests Mariposas at the Hacienda Hotel for Mexican dishes and breakfast. It’s only two miles from LAX.
  • Minneapolis/St. PaulCafé Levain, about eight miles from the airport only serves dinner.

For Brancatelli’s suggestions for New York/Newark, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and San Francisco, click here. [The photo is from Mitch’s Fish Market and Sushi Bar.]