With summer vacation two months over and winter break close to three months away, families may be getting antsy for a getaway. With the school year in full swing, leaving town for vacation isn’t always practical. We found the perfect solution—a family-friendly weekend escape to Dearborn, Michigan—less than four hours away. Dearborn is overflowing with American history, and I brought my eleven and fourteen-year-old sons along to make sure our itinerary was kid-tested and approved.
The most iconic and historic hotel in the area is the Dearborn Inn, built in 1931 by Henry Ford. The stately hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and abounds with interesting stories.
The old-world elegance can be felt throughout the lobby and 23 landscaped outdoor areas. Each distinctive guest room has modern amenities and unique period décor that harkens back to its early history. If you’re looking for a truly unique experience, guests can reserve one of the five colonial homes on the property, each modeled after the home of an historic American figure.
The Ten Eyck Tavern is an on-site, family-friendly choice that will please parents with its wide-ranging menu and creative cocktails while still satisfying the kids with its comfortable seating and kid-friendly food choices. For a more formal dining experience, Edison’s offers a grand breakfast buffet and dinners to tempt the taste buds.
Henry Ford was a true visionary whose legacy goes well beyond the automotive empire he created. Greenfield Village was born from his wish to preserve history and create a unique hands-on educational experience at his Edison Institute where students would “learn by doing.” It was never meant to be a tourist attraction, but rather a place to create future innovators.
While the school is no longer in operation, Ford’s mission of “inspiring people to learn from these traditions to help shape a better future” lives on through the unique interactions and experiences families enjoy at Greenfield Village.
Greenfield Village is comprised of seven districts, ranging from an historic Main Street to homes of historical figures. As visitors explore, they are transported back to a time when vintage Model Ts and horse-drawn omnibuses buzz through the streets.
Our favorite district was Edison’s Menlo Park complex, where some of his biggest inventions were created. Visitors can view his actual lab and experience a live audio recording on an 1877 phonograph.
The “Working Farms” district brings 19th-century farming to life. Workers still run the farm using equipment and methods dating back more than a hundred years.
My sons’ favorite building at Greenfield Village was the Davison-Gerson Gallery of Glass. This collection of over 10,000 pieces of glass showcase this unique form of art in vivid display.
One of the most surprisingly interesting stops was the weaving shop, where we learned how the Jacquard loom was the first use of binary code and served as a precursor to modern computing science.
If your little ones are feeling weary, make sure to visit the home of Noel Webster. Not only will you learn just how much he contributed to our current education system, but there is also an informative eight-minute movie recorded by sixth graders. Sitting down to watch it will give your tired feet a rest.
The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation takes you on a tour of many of America’s greatest inventions. Broken into ten different sections, families can explore the history of flight, trains, automobiles and more.
Our favorite area was “Driving America,” a chronological display of how automobiles have evolved since the early 1900s. Each vehicle is presented with great detail, including showing how long a family would have had to work to afford it. If your little ones aren’t much for reading historical facts, computer screens with interactive games are dispersed throughout this section. Our favorite game guided us to make improvements to the Ford Model A car to create the Model B, then Model N and then, eventually, the Model T.
The museum also has an impressive array of important historical artifacts, including the bus where Rosa Parks took her stand, presidential vehicles and even Abraham Lincoln’s rocking chair.
The “Your Place in Time” section was another favorite, displaying everyday technology from the twentieth century. I was able to show my kids some of the toys and games I cherished as a child, and we created our own MTV music video with a green screen.
Our last stop was the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. The factory stretches over a mile and a half long and three-quarters of a mile wide. The factory tour has five sections which includes two movies, an overlook of their living roof and a self-guided tour of the actual assembly plant. Visitors get to watch from an elevated walkway as workers assemble the vehicles.
Our trip to Dearborn had something to please everyone in the family. My kids loved the hands-on experiences and seeing the vehicles, while I loved the history. This trip is perfect for families with kids in sixth grade and older, as it will bring the history lessons they’re learning in school to life. To tackle this trip in a weekend, here is our suggested, two-day itinerary.
Start the drive to Dearborn around 8 a.m. and head straight to Greenfield Village, where you’ll have about five hours to explore before they close. Wear your walking shoes and pick a nice fall day—the 80-acre property requires a lot of outdoor walking. As a unique add-on, get the unlimited ride pass so you can ride through the streets in a vintage Model T, hop on a horse-drawn omnibus, take a steam locomotive and ride the carousel. For a family-friendly dining spot, we recommend Taste of History. Their cafeteria-style service allows guests to choose from historic American dishes in portions that can be easily shared between family members.
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
After a good breakfast, start your second day at the Ford Museum. We recommend a minimum of three hours to tour the building. This museum is entirely indoors.
Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Buses leave every twenty minutes to take visitors to tour the factory where Ford has been manufacturing automobiles for over a century. Food is not available at this location, so eat lunch before you board the bus. We recommend sixty to ninety minutes to tour the facility. Day two should wrap up in time to make the drive back home before bedtime.
The Henry Ford
20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI
The Dearborn Inn
20301 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI