Guide to Labor Day in Detroit: Festivals, Events, Things to Do

Detroit, Michigan, the most populated city in the Midwestern state, has earned the nickname "Motor City" because of its strong connection to the auto industry. It's also where the famous record label Motown Records got its start in 1959. Music remains an important part of the Detroit culture, and the Labor Day weekend is a good time to soak up some of the creativity.

Catch the renowned Detroit Jazz Festival during the holiday weekend, as many musical artists perform in the area during this time. You'll also find the Michigan State Fair and a diversity of local events crafted to cover the entire weekend. It's a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy those last days of summer, so take advantage of the local parks, beaches, and water sports, whether you are a longtime local or a traveler passing through Detroit.

01 of 09

Detroit Jazz Festival

Detroit International Jazz Festival

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The Detroit Jazz Festival has been entertaining people in Michigan since 1979. The event, typically held in downtown Detroit on the Friday through Monday of Labor Day weekend, is moving to a virtual format for 2020. All of the concerts will be performed without an audience but broadcast live—no replays and no on-demand watching—on local television, the event webpage, or through the Detroit Jazz Fest LIVE! app.

The festival kicks off on the evening September 4, 2020, and continues daily with eight to 10 hours of live music through September 7. Even if you aren't located near Detroit, you can enjoy this annual tradition from the comfort of your own living room.

02 of 09

See the Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera

Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera

Deb Nystrom/Flickr/CC BY-2.0 

One of the city's claims to fame is the Detroit Industry Murals from 1932 and 1933—now declared a National Historic Landmark—painted by Diego Rivera, the Mexican artist who was married to the also world-famous artist Frida Kahlo. Located at the Detroit Institute of Arts near Downtown, the 27 panels depict laborers at Ford Motor Company, humanity's spiritual and physical aspects, and the coexistence of life and death, among other themes. Visit the famous murals in Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which houses one of the biggest and most important art collections in the United States. 

In summer 2020, the museum has temporarily updated its admission policy. All guests must reserve a ticket with a time slot before entering since the maximum capacity has been reduced. However, tickets are free for all visitors through Labor Day weekend 2020, after which they are free for residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties but out-of-town guests must pay normal admission.

03 of 09

Soaring Eagle Arts, Beats & Eats Festival

Arts, Beats & Eats Festival

Arts, Beats & Eats

The Soaring Eagle Arts, Beats & Eats Festival is canceled in 2020.

On the Friday through Monday of Labor Day weekend in Downtown Royal Oak, the annual Soaring Eagle Arts, Beats & Eats Festival promises its usual celebration, humanitarian efforts, and several stages filled with live entertainment. Among the more than 200 live performances are national music acts, local bands, and acts catering to children. The festival includes a juried fine arts show plus local restaurants and caterers cooking up great food.

Festival admission varies based on the time of day.

04 of 09

Hamtramck Labor Day Festival

Hamtramck Labor Day Festival

Hamtramck Labor Day Festival

The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival is canceled in 2020.

For three days of Labor Day weekend, all ages are welcome at the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival—where all things Polish have been celebrated for 40 years. Located about 10 minutes south of downtown Detroit in Hamtramck, the event will feature the beloved "yacht race," which is made up of push-carts that appear to be canoes, heading down Joseph Campau Street in a historic district.

You also won't want to miss the Polish Day Parade, carnival rides, or the two stages of entertainment. The festival has traditionally offered food from several restaurants, a pierogi-eating contest, a pub crawl, and Polish dancers. 

The admission is free and the event even includes a free bike valet.

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05 of 09

Michigan State Fair

Michigan State Fair

Michigan State Fair, LLC

For five days over the Labor Day Weekend, the Michigan State Fair is usually held at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, about 30 minutes by car from Detroit. The second oldest state fair in the nation began its long run in 1849 and closed permanently in 2009 after 161 years, but was resurrected on a limited scale in 2013. As in days of old, the fair includes livestock exhibits, circus performers, entertainment tents, a beer garden, and the Moovin' thru the Midway 5K race.

In 2020, the fair is moving to a virtual format. The typical carnival rides and festivities won't be available, but you can take part in online contests, watch concerts via live stream, and learn local history through educational social media posts.

06 of 09

Catch Some Shows and Concerts

Stomp performance in Detroit

Steve McNicholas / Getty Images

As of August 2020, large events and gatherings are prohibited in Michigan until further notice.

At any given time throughout the holiday weekend, both indoor and outdoor Detroit-area venues host a variety of concerts and shows, such as music and comedy. On or near the Labor Day weekend dates, a diversity of musicians—including everything from Lenny Kravitz's retro style to guitarist and singer-songwriter Ted Nugent to the American rock band Steely Dan—have performed here.

If you'd like a fun historical adventure, tour the Garden Bowl in Midtown Detroit, a landmark for more than 100 years. Not only can you use the 16-lane bowling alley that has been made modern, but you can catch a show in the lounge and sip on a drink from the bar.

07 of 09

Michigan Renaissance Festival

Michigan Renaissance Festival

Michigan Renaissance Festival

The Michigan Renaissance Festival may be canceled in 2020, pending government orders. Check the official event web page for the most up-to-date information.

Beginning Labor Day weekend and lasting an entire month, the Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly—about 55 minutes from Detroit—is one of the best family-friendly events in September. Gnaw on an enormous turkey leg, watch a jousting competition, and dress up in ye olde costumes as you go back in time to the Elizabethan era and experience life among the peasantry. Permanent buildings help create the illusion of 16th century England while jugglers, comedians, and sword swallowers set the mood by providing their own unique brand of entertainment.

Admission prices vary, with several reduced-cost options for college students, seniors, groups, and advance purchases. Children aged 4 and under are free.

08 of 09

Enjoy Local Beaches and Parks

Kensington Metro Park

Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority

The Metro Detroit area is a great place to enjoy a range of swimming and outdoor recreational activities during the summer season and Labor Day weekend. As might be expected, the Great Lakes State has plenty of opportunities to visit the local beaches and swim. From small swimming holes to jet skiing at Pontiac Lake to playing volleyball at Seven Lakes State Park to fishing on an island by Proud Lake, the Metro Detroit area has it all.

Metro Detroit area beaches and parks have different amenities and hours, including boat rental opportunities, so check individual beach and park websites for holiday schedules and updates.

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09 of 09

Enjoy Detroit Area Water Parks and Slides

Kensington Metro Park

Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority

If natural ponds and lakes don't provide enough excitement for you this summer, check out the many water parks and slides in Detroit and the surrounding area. For a family day full of fun and splashes, get sprayed at the Squirt Zone, or sunbathe and hop on a tube slide at Turtle Cove. If you are just looking to do some laps, you may want to venture out to one of the pools like the Fuller Park Pool or Buhr Pool.

Before you plan your day trip, see individual park and attraction websites for schedules and closures. Not all facilities are open in summer 2020 and many of those that are have special guidelines in place, such as timed sessions.