The Japanese Gardens at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids are a draw for tourists around the state.

The Japanese Gardens at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids are a draw for tourists around the state.

Photo provided by Erin Zacek, of the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Exploring local spots like a tourist can make a vacation anytime

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published June 12, 2018

 Backseat Detroit tours host small groups of visitors and residents to explore the city.

Backseat Detroit tours host small groups of visitors and residents to explore the city.

Photo taken from Backseat Detroit’s Facebook page

METRO DETROIT — There’s so much adventure to be found exploring a city that isn’t your own.

But touring a familiar place can reveal little gems we never knew were there — and all around Michigan, there are plenty of places to rediscover.

For instance, Detroit itself. 

You’ve donned your Tigers gear for years, and you know where you’re headed based on the mile road you’ve passed. But how much do you really know about our famous metropolis?

Joe Krause would venture a guess of “not enough.” 

The founder and one-man docent of Backseat Detroit gives Motor City visitors and veterans alike the chance to explore areas of the city based on their particular interests, all from the comfort of their own vehicle.

“I’m a backseat driver. I hop in people’s cars and navigate while they drive,” Krause explained. “I’ll usually meet people at a café, get to know them as well as I can in about 10 minutes, and I customize each tour based on that conversation.”

The Corktown resident and artist once worked for the film industry as a location scout, showing movie makers from Los Angeles and New York around town to persuade them to shoot their flicks here and take advantage of the film tax incentives of the time.

Now he’s guiding folks — and that definitely includes natives — to spots in Detroit that would be most appealing to them. About 40 percent of Backseat Detroit tourists are from the metro area.

“We could do a walking tour of downtown with what I call all the greatest hits, like Campus Martius, the lobby of the Guardian building, all the development around Dan Gilbert land,” he said. “But if you want to get into the neighborhoods, maybe I’ll take them to Indian Village or the Packard Plant, the Heidelberg Project or even more (specialized places), like Sherwood Forest. I’m pretty nerdy about this stuff, and the people that come to me usually are really into that. It’s not someone with a script on the front of a bus. It’s customized to you, and I’m engaging with you.”

But Michigan is so much more than just Detroit. Just a couple of hours west is Grand Rapids, another bustling city that many in the southeast region have never experienced. Luckily, there are plenty of adventures to enjoy in a weekend, or even just the day.

A day is really all you need to enjoy the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, according to John VanderHaagen, public relations manager for the Grand Rapids attraction. 

“The gardens come alive in the summertime,” VanderHaagen said in an email. “Sounds of kids splashing in the Great Lakes Garden, located in the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, and music from the Frederik Meijer Gardens amphitheater fill the air.”

VanderHaagen noted that the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden is one of the largest gardens in the country, and unlike grandma’s rosebushes, this garden invites kiddos to play and explore. The Great Lakes Garden boasts interactive replicas of the Great Lakes where kids can launch a boat or build a bridge, while learning about the culture of waterways.

And there are always special events to plan a trip around, he added.

“Our annual Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts at Meijer Gardens continues to bring the finest national and international musicians to west Michigan, thrilling music lovers across all genres and all generations,” he said. 

More information about the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, 1000 E. Beltline Ave. NE in Grand Rapids, can be found at or by calling (888) 957-1580.

To find out more about Joe Krause and Backseat Detroit tours, visit