Spring has arrived. Grab a basket, or takeout, and enjoy a socially distanced meal in the great outdoors. With restaurants selling groceries and meals to go, it’s a perfect time to enjoy the weather while supporting a local business.
Here are a handful of lovely spots around Detroit where you can enjoy a nice meal outdoors, and restaurants nearby to shop for a perfect picnic.
With 982 acres, this diverse island park in the middle of the Detroit River is arguably the city’s most famous having been designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the man behind New York’s Central Park and the U.S. Capitol. There are plenty of picnic tables — and a beach — to choose from. The entry fees of $12 a year for residents and $9 a day for out-of-state residents are currently waived during the pandemic. After a meal, take a bike ride around the island, or repetitive ups and downs on the giant slide. Unfortunately, the aquarium and the conservatory are temporarily closed due to COVID restrictions, but they make a lovely backdrop for a day in the sun.
What to eat: Fill up on gas and food items at the same time. Detroit Chill and Grill, tucked inside the Sunoco gas station, has delicious burgers, Philly cheesesteaks, and pitas. The rice bowls include a dizzying number of options that include lamb, fried or jerk chicken, and tabbouleh. The Belle Isle rice bowl comes with grilled onions, green peppers, tomatoes, pineapples, corn, spring mix, and sweet teriyaki sauce.
Detroit, MI 48207
The riverfront offers many beautiful locations along its 5 1⁄2 miles to watch the river flow by, admire Canada, and enjoy your meal. Benches facing the river are spread out throughout the riverfront, as well as numerous parks and many grassy locations along the stretch from the Ambassador Bridge to Gabriel Richard Park. There’s also a sandy beach, a children’s musical garden, and a community barbecue pavilion. To rent a picnic shelter, visit the Michigan DNR website or call 1-800-44-PARKS.
What to eat: At Atwater Beach, inside Valade Park, Smokey G’s serves barbecue ribs, pulled pork, and brisket sandwiches, along with turkey legs and chicken. All of the meats are slow-smoked over embers of fruitwood. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. Pair any of the meats with baked beans, Brussels sprouts, or mac and cheese to round out the meal.
The Greening of Detroit - Lafayette Greens
Right outside the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel and nestled in the middle of the downtown landscape, Lafayette Greens is an urban garden and public green space. The Greening of Detroit grows organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers here, creating an environment where visitors are surrounded by vibrant and lush nature pollinated by bees and butterflies. The park also holds educational sessions, tastings, and a farmers’ market.
What to eat: Grab a classic coney from Lafayette Coney Island or American Coney Island, soul food from Savannah Blue, a chicken sandwich or savory crepe from the Hudson Cafe, and a bottle of red from House of Pure Vin.
Campus Martius Park
Campus Martius is one of the nation’s best public squares. The downtown centerpiece is a perfect place for gazing at the skyscrapers, and people-watching around the fountain. The ice rink disappears after the winter to make room for dog-friendly yoga classes; movies on the lawn; and a pop-up beach, complete with sand, volleyball, and shovels for the little ones. The large monument commemorating the end of the Civil War shouldn’t be missed.
What to eat: The Downtown Detroit Partnership has brought back food trucks that will serve barbecue, seafood, and soul food classics in adjacent Cadillac Square. Visitors can also grab a bite at nearby restaurants such as Parc, Shake Shack, Calexico, Roasting Plant, or Central Kitchen + Bar
Detroit, MI 48226
Capitol Park, in one of the city’s trendiest enclaves, is not only surrounded by restaurants and cafes, it comes with a dog park, and is near a coffee shop, a bike store, and the stylish grocery Eatori. If you take a four-legged friend, City Bark can supply treats and dog-friendly water bottles.
The largest of the downtown parks, the contemporary and visually stunning Beacon Park has vibrant art installations and events year-round on its astroturf. On warm days, families can play cornhole and putt-putt golf, or get their faces painted.
What to eat: Lumen, a full-service restaurant and bar, anchors the park and has a rooftop patio that overlooks the park grounds. The restaurant has an assortment of snacks perfect for outdoors: Everything Bagel Wings, with dill, lemon, and celery; calamari with cherry peppers and local herbs; cheese and charcuterie; and pretzels with Dijon mustard.
Detroit, MI 48202
In a prime location a block from the Detroit Institute of Arts, Peck Park is an excellent mini oasis within Midtown. The park, at Brush and Frederick streets, has a quaint playground with swings, picnic tables, and a large swath of green space suitable for a quiet blanket picnic.
What to eat: Pick up a salad, truffle fries, fruit, or crispy wings at Babo Detroit. The menu at the popular Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails rotates but ranges from options such as perfectly fried green tomatoes to house sourdough bread to a green papaya salad served with yuzu and peanuts.
A city favorite for more than 100 years, Palmer Park is spread out over 281 acres of meadows, athletic fields, native woodlands, and recreational areas on the city’s northwest side. After a picnic, enjoy the playground, biking trails, or tennis courts. You’re likely to spot a wild animal or two here while listening to the warbling of the throngs of songbirds.
What to eat: Pink Flamingo To-Go, which is temporarily delivery-only, whips up grab-and-go salads, rice balls, veggie curry, and flavorful lemonades. The beloved Dutch Girl Donuts has been met with long lines of satisfied customers since 1947. Next door, Cynt-Sensational Popcorn will bring its famous array of seasoned popcorn to a storefront this season.
Although still under development, Innovation Hills Park is a perfect spot for a picnic with water sculptures, ponds, rivers, and a one-mile trafficked loop trail for hikers of all skills. There are also benches and picnic tables to take a load off. Dogs are also able to use the trail. There are doggy bag stations to clean up after your pooch, who must stay on a 6-foot leash and be controlled. Access to restrooms is currently suspended.
Where to eat: The Original Buscemi’s has a variety of hot small or large pizzas, made round or square, or Italian subs to go.
North Rosedale Park
North Rosedale Park is the only neighborhood in Detroit that owns a community center and park. In the heart of the neighborhood, the 100-year-old Community House is surrounded by a four-acre park with an extensive playground, a baseball diamond, and three soccer fields.
What to eat: In May 2021, Little Icy’s Luncheonette is setting up shop permanently inside the Community House, with brunch bread (whole wheat vegan English muffin dough filled with savory, seasonal ingredients), vegan strata (caramelized shrooms, leeks, yellow mung dal “egg” custard, Spanish EVOO, Sicilian ammoghio, and crispy bread), and Michigan cheese boards with fresh fruit. The owner also will be renting picnic baskets, umbrellas, and other equipment.
Plymouth Township Park
At 80 acres, the expansive Plymouth Township Park is one of the area’s best. It has sheltered gathering spots with fireplaces and grills, walking paths, children’s play areas, a fishing pond and dock, and four baseball diamonds. The park is adjacent to an 18-hole golf course. Reservations for shelters are first-come, first-serve.
What to eat: Visit Mumbai Market for hot samosas, fresh veggies or spicy Indian snacks, and other groceries.
Part of the Henry Ford museum, this outdoor historic village includes old-timey shops to visit, a carousel to ride, and other fun discoveries within the grounds. Museum eateries are closed for now, but family picnics are permitted.
What to eat: Pack your basket (no alcohol, please) but take a few extra bucks, to buy cones of creamy frozen custard for dessert.