Whether you're visiting family for the holiday or you're in town for business, Detroit offers plenty of ways to celebrate Thanksgiving each year. Fun things to do over the long holiday weekend include concerts, musicals, sports games, and one of the best Thanksgiving parades in the nation. However, keep in mind that the weather in Detroit can fluctuate heavily this time of year, so be sure to pack clothing appropriate for weather between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Detroit Turkey Trot
The Detroit Turkey Trot starts off a Thanksgiving Day full of events at the Cobo Center downtown, setting the tone for the big parade later in the day. For over 35 years, runners and walkers have taken part in this annual tradition, which traces the parade route starting at 6:30 a.m. The event features a 10K Turkey Trot, a 5K Stuffing Strut, and two combination events—the Drumstick Double (both the Turkey Trot and the Stuffing Strut) and the Cranberry Combo (a 1-mile run paired with the Stuffing Strut).
Much more than a variety of races, thousands of participants dress in costumes and strut their stuff in front of people gathering to watch the parade. In fact, judging for the costume contest is the first thing that happens to kick off the event. Registration is required to participate in any of the Detroit Turkey Trot events and must be completed prior to Thanksgiving Day.
One of the country's largest and most impressive parades for the holiday, America's Thanksgiving Parade takes place on Thanksgiving Day in downtown Detroit.
On Thanksgiving morning each year, thousands line Woodward Avenue to watch the huge floats, colorful helium-filled balloons, uniformed marching bands, dance teams, and equestrian units. A holiday tradition that dates back to 1924, America's Thanksgiving Parade starts off from the corner of Kirby and Woodward at 8:50 a.m.
Additionally, in the days leading up to the parade week, you can even take a studio tour to see how artists make the floats and get an up-close preview of the new floats. The tours take one hour and are not available during Thanksgiving week, and reservations are needed to attend.
Thanksgiving weekend marks the beginning of the holiday season in Detroit, which brings a variety of cold-weather activities to the city. The Rink at Campus Martius Park opens its gates over Thanksgiving weekend, offering ice skating for the entire family in the heart of downtown Detroit.
The trees surrounding the rink are typically illuminated with bright lights, setting the stage for a winter wonderland in Martius Park. Once the rink opens for the season, you can skate any day of the week, including holidays through mid-February the following year. Rental skates are also available, and all experience levels are invited to skate at this beautiful outdoor urban rink.
Earlier in November, the Detroit Zoo kicks off its annual Wild Lights event, which features more than 5 million LED lights illuminating the buildings, trees, and sculptures throughout the front half of the zoo. Wild Lights thrills visitors for 24 nights from November 16, 2019, to January 5, 2020, during which time there will be holiday entertainment and special activities for guests of all ages.
Tickets are required to attend and can be purchased in advance online. Special highlights of Zoo Lights include the “Polar Express 4-D Experience” and skating on the synthetic plastic Glice skating rink for an additional price, and carousel rides will also be available for purchase. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition in the Ford Education Center, however, is included with admission.
Held in Detroit since 1934, the Thanksgiving Day Classic is just as much a tradition in the city as the holiday parade. This annual football game is hosted by the city's National Football League team, the Detroit Lions, and usually sells out fast once tickets go on sale. Attending the game or even just watching it on television before or after your Thanksgiving meal is a great way to spend the holiday with your family.
Detroit's 80th Annual Thanksgiving Day Classic takes place on Thursday, November 28, 2019, at 12:30 p.m. The Lions welcome the Chicago Bears this year, which will be the 18th time the two teams have faced off for this event. You can also watch a live national broadcast of the game on Fox.
The Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association hit the hardwood for the holiday weekend at Little Caesars Arena in the District Detroit, a sports-friendly section of downtown that's filled with food and entertainment options.
Detroit plays two Eastern Conference rivals during Thanksgiving week in 2019: The Pistons host the Orlando Magic on November 25 and the Charlotte Hornets on November 29.
If you miss the Pistons, head over to Little Caesars Arena to watch the Detroit Red Wings, who play two home games during the week of Thanksgiving this year. Originally founded as the Detroit Cougars in 1926, the Red Wings are one of the original six teams of the National Hockey League.
The regular season for the Red Wings runs from October through early April each year. Over Thanksgiving week in 2019, the Red Wings host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, November 27, and the Washington Capitals on Saturday, November 30.
For some, the day after Thanksgiving is as celebrated as the holiday itself. "Black Friday" is the time to go shopping for bargains and holiday gifts, and if you're looking for a great place for these deals, the Detroit metro area offers a downtown collection of independent and brand-name shops as well as walkable shopping districts, outlet centers, mega-malls, and upscale boutiques across the city.
In downtown Detroit, you'll find a variety of shops along Woodward Avenue. Big brands like Nike, UnderArmour, Mooselaw, and Lululemon Athletica draw shoppers to the area, but Detroit staples are also sprinkled along the avenue including Detroit is the New Black, The Handmade Company, and House of Pure Vin.
You'll be so busy watching parades, going to shows, and shopping that you may be relieved to know that there are some great restaurants in Detroit serving up holiday fare, even on Thanksgiving Day. However, early reservations are advised for these popular restaurants, so plan ahead and book your table now.
The Moose Preserve in Bloomfield Hills offers both its regular menu and a special Thanksgiving menu. Meanwhile, the Dearborn Inn serves a traditional Thanksgiving buffet in the Ten Eyck Tavern with a variety of salads, a carving station with roast beef and ham, turkey breast and all the trimmings, and assorted traditional Thanksgiving desserts. Additionally, the Whitney also hosts both a Thanksgiving brunch and a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Since you are in Detroit, it makes sense to enjoy a little automotive history over the holiday weekend. The Henry Ford is a large indoor and outdoor history museum complex and a National Historic Landmark in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn.
The 9-acre museum is filled with fascinating exhibits and artifacts from automotive history, including several presidential limousines and the Rosa Parks Bus. The museum also features an IMAX theater, and you'll find the Greenfield Village living history museum adjacent to the Henry Ford as well as the Automotive Hall of Fame, which is dedicated to preserving the automotive and labor heritage of Michigan and Detroit.
If you're in the mood to dance off some Thanksgiving calories to music or otherwise fill the holiday weekend with music, there are plenty of shows coming to venues across the city. From classic operas to the biggest indie bands in the city, there's no shortage of options this Thanksgiving weekend in Detroit:
Taking in a show is another option over the holiday weekend, and Detroit offers several venues where you can enjoy a play or musical the week of Thanksgiving this year:
- The Fox Theatre: The Illusionists' "Magic of the Holidays" on Friday and Saturday, November 29 and 30, 2019, and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical" on Sunday, December 1, 2019
- Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts: "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" on November 24, 2019
- Fisher Theatre: "Hello, Dolly!" every day of Thanksgiving week