By Kim Skeltis
Step inside Table & Tap with its graffiti mural and communal table of reclaimed barn wood, and you could be in Chicago. A rack of hoodies with the phrase Hard as Flint reveals the restaurant’s locale – an apropos saying for a city that’s had more than its share of hard knocks.
Hard as Flint is the mantra of a reborn city. Its tragedies have shaped a community of creators and doers who work hard to make Flint a better place, shifting from producing cars to beer, bread and boots. They know where the city has been, salvaging the best of its history to move forward. And from that grit and perseverance emerged a softer side of Flint. A college town. A foodie mecca. A beer city. An historic gem. And it makes Flint worth visiting right now.
If you’ve got 48 hours free, you can cover many of the city’s highlights and hidden gems. We’ve suggested a weekend itinerary below – hit everything or slow down the pace and pick some standouts.
FRIDAY EVENING – Downtown Immersion
Accessible from I-69 and I-75, Flint is an easy drive from most Midwest cities. Check into your hotel around 5 p.m. to enjoy a full evening. For proximity, Holiday Inn Express downtown can’t be beat. Or book one of six literary-themed rooms at elegant Knob Hill B&B, also in the city.
Start in the heart of downtown with a cocktail or glass of wine at Cork on Saginaw (Happy Hour runs until 6 p.m.), featuring 150 wines from around the world. Or hit Café Rhema for a pick-me-up at this Great Gatsby-inspired café. Order a cold coffee brew or share a French press. Kids will love fruity bubble tea or Italian soda.
After a cocktail or coffee, either stay at Cork for an eclectic European dish, or visit Table & Tap for dinner. This hotspot specializes in locally sourced food and barbecued meats, along with 30 rotating beers on tap, top-shelf bourbon and cocktails. If you’re feeling social, sidle up to other diners at the communal table.
Tonight, try one of Flint’s cultural offerings. University of Michigan-Flint features theater and dance performances Friday and Saturday evenings (October to April). Or check out the Flint Cultural Center with eight institutes on the wooded campus, including The Whiting, a 2,000-seat professional performing arts venue with live performances ranging from local Flint Youth Theatre to national touring productions like Blue Man Group. Other options include the Flint Institute of Arts Theater showing independent and classic films (starts in September), Longway Planetarium (Michigan’s largest) with First Friday events and special programs, and the 100-year-old Flint Symphony Orchestra hosting chamber music and Music in the Parks (summer), and classical concerts (October to May).
Got a late-night food craving? Cast your vote for Flint’s best burger between two watering holes: Soggy Bottom and the Torch Bar & Grill, ranked by Thrillist as one of the “33 Best Dive Bars in America” and its Torch Burger as one of the “33 Best Burgers in America”
SATURDAY – Flint Food and Culture
Shop and nibble through your morning at the Flint Farmers’ Market. In existence since 1905, this storied market moved into the Flint Journal’s former 32,000 square-foot printing facility in 2014 after a 70-year hiatus from downtown. The bright, airy space holds 50 year-round vendors (another 20 outside in summer), commercial and demonstration kitchens, and event space. Wander the stalls of fresh produce, pop-up restaurants and handmade gift items, sampling a cinnamon roll at CINNAMOM or pho soup at MaMang. Stock up on weekend snacks like imported cheeses at Hills Home Cured Cheese or wine at d’Vine Wines. Steady Eddy’s Café is an alternative if you prefer a sit-down brunch.
Fueled on market finds, drive to Applewood Estate, a 34-acre, three-story estate built by automotive pioneer Charles Stewart Mott in 1916. While the grounds have been open for years, the home is open to the public for the first time this centennial year, offering free guided house tours daily (reservations recommended). You can also join a free guided garden walk (daily at 1 p.m.) or explore the grounds and exhibits on your own – kids can even check out an activity backpack. For lunch, stop at Applewood Café, a student-run, upscale casual restaurant inside nearby Mott Community College (open during school session).
You’re a stone’s throw from the 85-year-old Flint Institute of Arts, the second largest art museum in Michigan. Need another reason to stop? Free Saturdays! Spin through the highlights using a free, self-guided audio tour that brings the collection to life, followed by the gift shop.
Hit happy hour at Tenacity Brewing, Flint’s first brewery whose name became a prophecy during the Flint Water Crisis. Opening in 2015 in a 1912 fire station, Tenacity features 10 beers, two hard ciders plus a root beer on draft, so there’s something for everyone. While Tenacity doesn’t have a kitchen, food truck fave Vehicle City Tacos parks outside regularly.
Enjoy dinner downtown at 501 Bar & Grill, a fresh, modernist restaurant known for small plates and martinis. From chicken and waffles to bone marrow, you’ll find an eclectic selection of sharable, bite-size entrees. Healthier appetites may prefer a flatbread pizza, burger or full entrée.
Take in a local sporting event tonight like a Flint Firebirds ice hockey game at the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center east of downtown. Games are Fridays and Saturdays (season starts in September). For another type of skating, watch the Flint City Derby Girls at Rollhaven Skating Center in Grand Blanc.
SUNDAY – Suburbs/Genesee County
A visit to Flint isn’t complete without visiting its surrounding environs of Genesee County, boasting Michigan’s largest county park system, dozens of fruit orchards, 17-mile asphalt Flint River Trail and 142-mile Flint River. The hardest part will be narrowing your options.
Option #1: Small-Town Shopping and Dining
Enjoy a leisurely morning, then drive 25 minutes to quaint Fenton with its circa-1830s downtown. Indulge in a pastry at CRUST, cranking out 2,000 cookies and 1,000 artisan-style bread loaves daily that are sold locally and across the country, including to DEAN & DELUCA and Williams-Sonoma. Linger over a pain au chocolat and latte in the café or grab a dozen chocolate chip and sea salt cookies to go. Inquire about pie, scone/biscuit and bread-making classes.
Next, shop Fenton’s unique downtown stores like La Petite Maison and The Iron Grate for home décor, Yesterday’s Treasures for antiques, Fenton’s Open Book for literary treasures, and Eclections for clothing and accessories. Walk to the Fenton Fire Hall, a 1938 fire station resurrected in 2013 by the owners of famed Clarkston Union and Vinsetta Garage in metro Detroit. Photographs of volunteer firefighters adorn the walls with old fire station ledgers, memos and other correspondence in homage to its roots. Share a legendary mac and cheese dish or slow-smoked pulled pork for a snack. Be sure to scan the 48 beers on tap. Then drive to nearby Heavenly Scent Herb Farm, a 1910-era barn and gardens with gift items, flowers and plants for sale.
Your Flint weekend is winding down, but not before you indulge in one final culinary experience. Visit The Laundry Room, a private event space next door to The Laundry, in Fenton by 5 p.m. when Chef Jody prepares a four-course Sunday Supper once a month for the first 24 people who arrive. Menu items are unveiled tableside and served family style. If you miss Sunday Supper, don’t fret – The Laundry’s standing menu of European-inspired dishes gives plenty of options.
Option #2: Historic Village
Kids and history buffs alike will love Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad (May through September). Turning 40 this year, the park showcases 34 Genesee County buildings replicating an 1800s village. Also check out Halloween Ghosts and Goodies in October and Christmas at Crossroads Holiday Magic in December.
Take a 40-minute ride on the circa-1857 Huckleberry Railroad steam locomotive. Legend says that it ran so slow that a person could jump off, pick huckleberries, and jump back on. Another park jewel is the Genesee Belle Paddlewheel Riverboat replicating riverboats that traveled the Mississippi a century ago. Catch a 45-minute cruise around Mott Lake (May through September).
Close your weekend with a local tradition – a Flint Original Coney Island at the 24-hour Starlite Diner that the owners have been cranking out since 1966. According to locals, the dry, loose meat makes it a Flint-style Coney. Add a side of Coney Cheese Fries, and you’re primed for the drive home.
NOTE: All Flint businesses mentioned here use a combination of certified water filters, bottled water and hydration stations to provide visitors with clean, safe water.