Michigan Scenic Drives: Woodward Avenue

The Motor City put the world on wheels, so welcome to Detroit's main drag: Woodward Avenue. Stretching out from the base of Detroit at the Detroit River, this scenic drive follows the pathway of growth from the heart of the city.

Lined with history, cultural institutions, and beautiful architecture, Woodward Avenue travels through downtown Detroit, the Boston Edison neighborhood, past Highland Park, the Detroit Zoo, the delightful city of Birmingham, the Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills, and into the city of Pontiac. Nearly every mile of this byway has historical sites that have shaped the industrial life of our nation.

Woodward Avenue includes both landmarks of the past and monuments to the future. You can find one of the largest public libraries in the nation as well as one of the five largest art museums.

From the Freedom Fireworks Display on the Detroit River to the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade to the phenomenal Woodward Dream Cruise, it's as if this street were meant to blend memories with the future.

Cultural Qualities of Woodward Avenue

Much of the culture in southeast Michigan stems from the development of the automobile. When visiting museums such as the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and the Detroit Historical Museum, the impact of the automobile is evident. Your first steps into the DIA will take you to huge two-story murals painted by Diego Rivera that depict life on the assembly line.

The Woodward corridor is one of six areas comprising the Automobile National Heritage Area (under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service).Woodward Avenue is home to other major cultural institutions as well, including the Cranbrook Educational Community, Orchestra Hall, and the Detroit Public Library, which is among the ten largest libraries in the nation.

The region's culture can also be defined by its faith. Traveling from Detroit to Pontiac, you pass by more than 50 churches, many of which are on national or state historic registers. Prominent among these is the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak.

Historical Qualities of Woodward Avenue

Detroit is known internationally as the Motor City because of its role in the development of the automobile. This is the birthplace of the assembly line (Ford's 1913 Model T Plant on Woodward), a major technological innovation that made the automobile affordable to most families. The assembly line had a major impact on American society and in the development of urban areas.

The first people who may come to mind when talking about the automobile industry are the Fords, Chryslers, and Durants. But you should also remember the thousands of nameless auto workers who established the industry and carry on to this day -- the United Automobile Workers (UAW).

Henry Ford's five-dollar-a-day wage attracted thousands to his factories, but the working conditions were brutal -- this was true of all auto plants. In the late 1930s, the UAW was born and, with fair wages and better working conditions, auto workers and their families now enjoy a decent quality of life. Some of the former homes of early auto barons are located in historic neighborhoods, such as the Boston Edison Historic District.

Recreational Qualities of Woodward Avenue

The city of Detroit and neighboring communities have worked hard and invested a lot of energy to develop safe, fun activities that the whole family can enjoy.

Some of the highlights found along Woodward Avenue include watching animals at the world-class Detroit Zoo, attending the Woodward Dream Cruise (where thousands from around the world gather to view classic cars from around the country), touring historic homes and mansions, making maple syrup at the festival in Cranbrook, standing on the sidewalk during the famous America's Thanksgiving Day Parade, or watching the largest fireworks display in the nation explode over the shimmering Detroit River.

View Enlarged Image Use this map of Woodward Avenue to explore the highlights of downtown Detroit and southeast Michigan. View Enlarged Image Use this map of Woodward Avenue to explore the highlights of downtown Detroit and southeast Michigan.
View Enlarged Image Use this map of Woodward Avenue to explore the highlights of downtown Detroit and southeast Michigan.

Find more useful information related to Michigan's Woodward Avenue:

  • Detroit, Royal Oak: Find out what there is to do in these cities along Woodward Avenue.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Michigan? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

Highlights of Woodward Avenue

Hundreds of sail and power boats line the Detroit River each year during the International Freedom Festival in July.
Hundreds of sail and power boats line the Detroit River each year during the International Freedom Festival in July.

A unique scenic quality of Woodward Avenue and the region is the geographic location of Detroit at the Canadian border. Driving southeast on Woodward from Pontiac, you conclude your journey at Hart Plaza, located on the Detroit River in Detroit's central business district. Approaching the plaza, the Windsor skyline unfolds in front of you. Noticeable at a closer distance are Belle Isle to the east and the Ambassador Bridge to the west. The Detroit/Windsor border is the only geographic location along the American-Canadian border (of the contiguous states) where the United States is north of Canada.

If you visit during the International Freedom Festival in July, you will notice hundreds of sail and power boats. This fun-filled family event has a million people celebrating our nation's heritage, watching hundreds of exploding shells reflecting off the glass of the high-rise office buildings and the river.

Woodward Avenue begins in Pontiac and ends in Detroit, where you can take the following downtown Detroit historical tour.

Detroit River: The tour begins just south of Woodward Avenue at the Detroit River, a designated American Heritage River. It is the most frequently traveled major boundary between Canada and the United States. It is also a major national and international waterway for the movement of freight and other commodities from the United States to foreign markets.

In 1701, French explorer Antoine De la Mothe Cadillac founded Detroit at the foot of the present-day Woodward Avenue at the Detroit River. In 2001, Detroit celebrated its 300th birthday.

Campus Martius: Located at the intersection of Michigan, Monroe, Cadillac Square, and Fort Street on Woodward Avenue, Campus Martius was part of the historic 1807 plan of Detroit by Judge Woodward. Today, it has been rebuilt as a public park and home to new office developments. This site includes the Michigan Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument of 1872.

Lower Woodward Historic District: The Lower Woodward Historic District is on Woodward north of State Street and south of Clifford. This district contains many former retail and office buildings constructed from 1886 to 1936. Significant loft development activity is underway in these buildings.

Woodward East Historic District: Woodward East Historic District (Brush Park) is located east of Woodward, bounded by Watson and Alfred Streets within the Brush Park neighborhood. Known for its high Victorian style residences constructed for Detroit's elite in the late 1800s, it is the location of a major urban townhome development.

Peterboro-Charlotte Historic District: The Peterboro-Charlotte Historic District is located on Peterboro at Woodward Avenue. The architecture represents a study in late 19th-century middle-class single-family dwellings and early 20th-century apartment buildings.

Charles Wright Museum of African-American History: Located in Detroit's Cultural Center on Warren, the Charles Wright Museum of African-American History offers one of the United States' largest collections of African-American history and culture.

Detroit Historical Museum: The final stop, the Detroit Historical Museum, is located on Woodward in Detroit's Cultural Center. The museum specializes in telling the history of the Detroit area from its founding in 1701 to the present, including permanent exhibits, temporary exhibitions, programs, and events. It is especially noted for its Streets of Old Detroit exhibit.

The history of the automobile is found at every turn along Woodward Avenue, not to mention dozens of other interesting spots, such as one of the largest public libraries in America. Don't miss out on this scenic drive.

Find more useful information related to Michigan's Woodward Avenue:

  • Detroit, Royal Oak: Find out what there is to do in these cities along Woodward Avenue.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Michigan? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.