The 10 Things You MUST Do Outside In Metro Detroit This Summer

"The summer night is like a perfection of thought."
-Wallace Stevens

Oh sweet idyll of summer, we can feel you inch closer.

We've gone a long time without you. It feels like years. We here in the Midwest have turned into one of those sun-starved plants that stretches itself impossibly toward any stray shaft of sunlight. And while enjoying your golden warmth is hardly rocket science, we may have gotten a bit rusty while holed up in our igloo-like existence this long winter.

So forgive us, dear Summer, if in anticipation of your arrival we take a few moments to consider some of the best ways to enjoy your splendid offerings.  You can also call it the "10 Outdoor Things You Must Do in Metro Detroit."

The following are in no particular order. In other words, please don't go all nuts because the Detroit Riverwalk or Slow's Bar B Q isn't listed. Including Detroit would have been a whole other ball of cookie dough, so this list sticks to the metro area.

Kayaking on the Detroit River (Wyandotte)

Riverside Kayak Connection, which offers tours up and down downriver, is based in Wyandotte, which is also where kayakers enter the watershed. So even if the tours drift into parts of the Detroit section of the Detroit River, this really cool and unique thing to do can still be considered a really cool thing to do in the metro area. Tours are held every Wednesday and on weekends and typically range from an hour and a half to two and a half hours. Tours fill up insanely quickly, so visit the company's Web site at or call 734-285-2925 for prices and to reserve your space.

Defying the Law Bike Club (Ferndale)

If Marlon Brando in The Wild One got sick of motorcycles, got a bike and developed a taste for garage sales and microbrews, he would so be in this club. It's a cool mix of professionals, students, blue collar, and artsy types who meet up in Ferndale every Saturday to bike around and see what they can find going on or going down, whatever the case may be.

Worried you're not exactly in shape for a bike club? No worries. "If anyone wants to ride, they just have to show up," says Mike Kawamoto of Berkley, who has been a member of the group for three years. "It's usually a pretty casual-paced ride."

By day, Kawamoto is a mild-mannered engineer, by noon on Saturdays, he's "Mike Club," the baddest club secretary there is. Or something like that. Kawamoto says the Club will typically stop at local garage sales, shops, or anything interesting along their bike routes. The Club was started four years ago by local friends Carey Gustafson and Eugene Strobe, who wanted to create something like a motorcycle club, but without the motorcycles and studded leather. The idea is to have fun, meet new people, explore the area, get a little exercise, and maybe fit in a bike ride or two somewhere in between.

Kawamoto says bike riding in groups just makes good safety sense, since it makes car and truck drivers more aware of your presence. Recently, the Club has been trying to get more structured, and is planning more elaborate rides as the summer goes on. For now, you can join in every Saturday at noon. Meet with other riders at the Mobile station at Nine Mile and Woodward. For more information, visit the website here. They also have a page on Facebook with information on "special event" rides and a list of the Club's officers.

Cranbrook Gardens (Bloomfield Hills)

You have to have a garden walk in the summer. And you can't do much better than the 40 acres outside the majestic Cranbrook mansion in Bloomfield Hills. A self-guided tour will take you through formal gardens, as well as gardens centered around bogs, herbs, wildflowers, and Oriental themes - all punctuated by sculptures, streams and paths. The gardens are open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Labor Day. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $15 for families. Season passes are available for $25 for individuals, and $45 for families. For more information call 248-645-3147.

The Detroit Zoo (Royal Oak)

Screaming lemurs! Sleeping tigers! Those gorillas that moon your children! Seriously, did you really think we could exclude the Zoo from this list? There's a reason voters in three counties approved a millage to support it. The Zoo is a gem. You can feed giraffes or watch polar bears swim over your head. The Zoo is open seven days a week, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Wednesdays in July and August it's open until 8 p.m.). Call (248) 541-5717.

Ford Wyoming Drive-In (Dearborn)

If you want to get your patriotic spirit on, you could fly the American Flag. Or you could park at the drive-in and order a Coke. There's something so American Graffiti about the drive-in, harking back to a more innocent time. And the Ford Wyoming Drive-In does it up old school with speaker boxes to stick in your car window. The Ford Wyoming Drive-In is located at 10400 Ford Road, just west of Wyoming, in Dearborn. For more information and for showtimes, call 313-846-6910.

Beach Grill (St. Clair Shores)

The Beach Grill bills itself as a "restaurant and resort," so you know the place is sort of serious about recreating that island feel. There is food at the Beach Grill and it's quite good, but the real attraction is the crazy outdoor deck where a Tiki bar and music blaze into the wee hours of a warm summer night.

Base Ball at Greenfield Village

Multimillion dollar salaries and paternity scandals are just balderdash. Baseball used to be a gentleman's game, and players often wore neckties on the field. Greenfield Village recreates that time every weekend in summer with old-fashioned Base Ball games. The La Dee Dahs and the Greenfield Village Nationals face off in period dress, period slang and 1867 rules, which dictate that pitchers throw "hittable" balls to the batter or else be sternly scolded by the umpire. It's a delight even if you hate baseball and love history, or love baseball and hate history. Visit for details and the summer schedule. Or call 313-982-6001.

Erma's Custard (Shelby Township)

"You can't forget about the dirt cup, my gosh!" says Jeffrey Horbatiuk, 11, while sitting outside the venerable Erma's Frozen Custard stand on a recent warm evening.

And what, exactly, is a dirt cup? It's ice cream layered with ground Oreo cookies and gummy worms so that it looks like you're eating dirt.

Weekly flavors at this Macomb County staple are posted months in advance so that you can literally plan your summer with ice cream. The small roadside stand on 6451 Auburn Road started in 1942 and has been a summer destination ever since.

"They are open April 1 and we are here, they close Oct. 31 and we are here," says Kim Horbatiuk of Shelby Township, who was there on a recent warm evening with son Jeffrey, 11.

Horbatiuk has been coming to Erma's since she was a kid and says that while other custard stands may try, they never quite match Erma's creamy sweet creations. Weekly flavors range from Malted Milk Ball to Mai Tai to pumpkin custard in the fall.

Erma's is a frozen custard stand, so it has fashioned a very pleasant outdoor seating area, making this a must-do during the summer. If Shelby Township is a little far, Erma's will be opening a second location at 14 Mile and Dequindre. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday. For more information call 586-254-3080.

U-pick farms (Macomb and Oakland counties)

Miller's Big Red in Washington Township isn't just an apple orchard. It opens in May and offers pick-your-own strawberries and raspberries as well as a greenhouse and fresh produce. The farm is located at 4900 32 Mile Road, between Rochester Road and Van Dyke. Call 586-752-7888 for information.

The strawberries at Middleton Berry Farm in Ortonville are typically ready for picking in mid-June. The farm also offers tomatoes and raspberries to pick later in the summer. The farm is located at 4888 Oakwood Rd - five miles east of Ortonville, MI, between M-15 and M-24. For information, call 248-628-1819.

Outdoor festivals

It's not summer until an elephant ear's been eaten or beer's been consumed out of a plastic pint cup. Yes, it's time for outdoor gatherings. Here are a few favorites in the area:

June 19 - Cruisin' Gratiot (Eastpointe): The Woodward Dream Cruise's little sister.
July 9-11 - Plymouth Art in the Park (Plymouth): It's grown into Michigan's second largest art festival.
July 31 - August 1 - Maker Faire at The Henry Ford. It'll be ground zero for mad inventors, do-it-yourselfers, tinkerers, and artists as the landmark Bay Area fest lands in Dearborn for the weekend.
August 6-8 - 2nd Annual Buy Michigan Now Festival (Northville): A celebration of Michigan products, artists, and entertainers.
August 21 - Woodward Dream Cruise: Enough said.
August 28-29 - Great Lakes Bat Festival (Bloomfield Hills): Yep. Exactly what it sounds like. Bat experts, demonstrations, kid's activities, live music, family barbecue (!), and bat science evening.
Sept. 17-19 - DIY Street Fair (Ferndale): A three-day extravaganza of handmade talent, crafts and general eco-friendly vibes.

Megan Pennefather is a Royal Oak-based freelance writer. Her previous feature was "Welcome to the Velodrome".

All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


Ford Wyoming Drive In

Detroit River

Kayaking Detroit's channels

Defying The Law Of Bicycle rides along Woodward Ave - Pleasant Ridge

Greenfield Village - Dearborn

Erma's custard menu

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