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Top 8 Best Kept Secrets in Detroit

Detroit has something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for places for drinks or meals, art or music, or outdoor adventures, there’s something for you in this amazing city.

Of course, sometimes you want to get away from top tourist attractions. If you’re looking to get in touch with some less-well-known places in the city, there’s plenty to explore, too. Goodman Acker put together this list of some of Detroit’s best secrets to get you started.

John K. King Used & Rare Books

John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit
Image via Unsplash by tomhermans | License

Book lovers, rejoice. Detroit’s very own John K. King Used & Rare Books is a true oasis for those looking to explore literary wonders. The bookstore sprawls out over four huge floors, offering the perfect escape from city life when you want to get lost in the stacks.

You can grab a map when you first walk in here, and you’ll likely need it. With a million books in stock, this unique bookstore has so much to explore. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for obscure books and more. In fact, the stock isn’t cataloged by computer, so you’ll get to take a trip back in time with a visit here. Don’t worry, though, plenty of knowledgeable and friendly staff members are around if you’re feeling overwhelmed while you explore.


What’s more mysterious than a speakeasy? Detroit has you covered with Standby, a real speakeasy complete with a concealed alley doorway and moody atmosphere. This modern cocktail bar in the heart of the city exudes vintage charm, all while delivering new flavors.

Complement your drink selection with the dinner menu, which offers up locally sourced, from-scratch treats. Standby is open Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and on Sundays from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. They do have limited reservations, but only accept walk-ins after 9 p.m., so plan ahead when you’re in the mood for a fun night out.

Harbor, Klenk, Fox Creek, and Grayhaven Islands

You know Belle Isle, of course. But do you know about the islands of Detroit’s Eastside canal? Get to know Detroit beyond its skyline by exploring the city from the river. You can get in a kayak and see the world beyond Detroit’s landlocked, better-known neighborhoods.

With full communities of waterfront properties, Detroit has plenty to explore beyond the typical city hustle and bustle. These island communities have offered a lively place in the city for decades, so make some time for exploring when you want to see a different side of Detroit.

Belle Isle Aquarium

Here at Goodman Acker, we’re dedicated to serving Michiganders with resources and advice. We know our local history, too, and know that Belle Isle Aquarium is the place to go for some real Detroit tradition. The aquarium first opened back in 1904 to a throng of thousands of visitors looking to take in the 44 fish tanks and gorgeous green-tiled walls. The next few years saw thousands more come through the aquarium’s doors — the Beaux Arts building was even one of the world’s biggest aquariums at the time.

The small structure sits on Belle Isle in the Detroit River, part of the way between the United States and Canada. Belle Isle Aquarium became the oldest continually operating aquarium in America for some time, but the city closed it down in 2005 to cut costs. That wasn’t the end of this unique aquarium’s story, though. Locals voted to reopen the site, and a nonprofit volunteer group called the Belle Isle Conservancy reopened the building after a 2012 restoration. So, you can still check out the saltwater and freshwater fish from this interesting island spot.

Ivanhoe Cafe

If you’re searching for a unique place to grab a meal, you’ll want to have Ivanhoe Cafe on your list. This historic spot is locally known as the “Polish Yacht Club,” and it serves everything from traditional Polish dishes to seafood to sandwiches and more.

Relax in the welcoming, cozy environment while checking out the weekly menu. Ivanhoe Cafe has been family-owned for over 100 years, getting its start in 1909 as a bar, gas station, and small shoe store. Today, it’s the place to go for a delicious meal with a side of authentic Detroit history.

The Guardian Building

Sure, the Guardian Building is a landmark skyscraper, two words not often associated with “secret.” You’ve probably even walked past this building hundreds if not thousands of times. The inside boasts quite the treat, though, so if you’ve never taken the time to step inside, you’re really missing out on a gem of Detroit.

The architectural wonder, built in 1928, is also home to some truly stunning mosaics. The designs include materials like famed Rockwood tile and Pewabic pottery, and they’re something to behold. Step inside the building to check out this cool attraction.

Bell Isle Hipster Beach

Past the lighthouse and around the bend. That’s all we can say about the Hipster Beach on Belle Isle! This secret spot features a great strip of beach where Detroit’s hipsters drink beer, enjoy music, and relax on summer days.

Belle Isle overall is one of Detroit’s cultural hubs, thanks to 982 acres of natural beauty on the Detroit River. Whether you’re stopping by to visit the Great Lakes Museum or the nature center, you’ll find plenty of ways to fill your day when you visit Belle Isle. If you’re looking for a less-publicized outing, though, you’ll want to look for the Hipster Beach.

El Club

Head over to El Club to enjoy an all-ages art venue. Located in Southwest Detroit, El Club is a quirky yet accessible centerpiece of Detroit’s cultural scene. This is a great place to go to check out local and national arts, musicians, comedians, and more.

Intimate performances, craft beers and cocktails, even pizza  — El Club really has it all. Check out the schedule and find a show that suits your tastes, then visit El Club for a uniquely Detroit night out.

That concludes Goodman Acker’s list of some of Detroit’s best secrets. Do you have a can’t-miss cool or unusual spot to recommended? Let us know so we can add it!

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