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Grand Rapids: A City for All

With a population of over 200,000, the bustling city of Grand Rapids is the second largest in the state of Michigan. It’s home to many things: two art museums, a state of the art zoo, and more craft breweries than any other city in the state.

Close proximity to Lake Michigan as well as nearby attractions such as the Frederick Meijer Sculpture Gardens and the neighboring town of Holland put Grand Rapids on a global map. As a result, it remains one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.

Read on below to learn about the top must-see-and-do sights and attractions to plan your own adventure to Grand Rapids, Michigan!

Downtown Grand Rapids

Getting to Grand Rapids

Twenty-Five miles east of Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids is less than a five hour drive from major Midwest cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee.

Nearby airports include the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR), which is 14 miles from the city, and the Muskegon County Airport (MKG) which is 38 miles from the city.  

Most major airlines offer easy routes to both airports including American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and United. 

Research flight options from your closest airport to Grand Rapids using Skyscanner, Southwest Vacations, to find the best routes and prices.

If you need travel insurance for your trip, check out these plans from Safety Wing.

Where to Stay in Grand Rapids

There are plenty of great lodging options if you’re looking to stay in downtown Grand Rapids, but one property stands above the rest.

On the city’s bustling Monroe Avenue, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown towers above the banks of the Grand River.

Embassy Suites Grand Rapids Downtown

Featuring charming urban style decor and spacious suite-style rooms, the property is outfitted with a number of impressive and welcoming amenities.


Accommodations 

Rooms range from single King Studio Suites to the King Presidential Suite. For exercise enthusiasts, Two Room Fitness Suites with Pull-Up Bays are available. 

For smaller groups or families, Two Room Two Queen Suites are available that each include a full kitchenette and pull out sofa for additional sleeping arrangements. 

These rooms also include a sizable balcony with stunning views of the Grand River.

Amenities 

From free bikes and a fitness center to a convenient lobby store and a complimentary nightly cocktail reception, it makes for the ultimate home away from home.

The Embassy Suite’s made-to-order breakfast is one of the best in the hospitality industry. Homemade pastries, fresh fruit, assorted coffees, and an omelet station offer something for everyone.

If exploring the local food scene is on your Grand Rapids itinerary, the property is a five minute walk from most downtown restaurants and bars.

Complimentary reception at Embassy Suites Hotel Grand Rapids

Book Your Stay 

To view current nightly rates and room availability at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown, use Booking.com or Expedia for more details.

 

What to See & Do 

Explore the Frederick Meijer Sculpture Gardens 

At 1000 East Beltline in Northeast Grand Rapids sits one of the world’s most significant sculpture and botanic garden experiences.

The Frederick Meijer Sculpture Gardens has been a space of outdoor refuge and learning for more than 13 million visitors since opening in 1995.

This 158-acre indoor and outdoor campus houses five indoor themed gardens, a Japanese Garden, nature trails, a boardwalk, a permanent sculpture collection, and multiple meeting rooms.

Indoor Garden at Frederick Meijer Sculpture Gardens

The indoor campus also houses a library, a café with handmade sandwiches, soups, and desserts, and a gift shop featuring works from local artists.

Must-see exhibits:

Lena Meijer Children’s Garden. One of the most interactive gardens in the country, children can learn about fossils, sculpture art, and geography of the Great Lakes. The exhibit also includes tree houses, a log cabin, a sensory garden, and a butterfly labyrinth.

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden. The beautiful 8 acre traditional Japanese Garden features waterfalls, walking trails, elevation changes in the landscape, a rock garden, and a functioning tea house. Visitors can even take part in special Japanese tea ceremonies on select days.

Japanese Gardens at Meijer Sculpture Gardens in Grand Rapids

University of Michigan Health-West: Christmas & Holiday Traditions. Every November through early January, indoor and outdoor displays are adorned with more than 300,000 Christmas lights. Children can enjoy visits from Santa and an active model train display.

Plan Your Visit 

The Meijer Gardens are open 362 days of the year. Tickets cost $18USD for adults, and $13.50USD for seniors (65 and over) and students (with student ID). Children ages 3 to 13 years old are $8.50USD, while children under 2 years old are free.

To learn more about the exhibits at the Frederick Meijer Sculpture Gardens as well as hours of operation, membership pricing, and special events, click here.

Walk on the Wild Side at John Ball Zoo 

Since 1891, the 103-acre John Ball Zoo has found its home — and its many animal habitats — on Grand Rapid’s west side.

With more than 220 species and 2,400 individual animals, the park welcomes 600,000 visitors annually, playing a significant role in Kent County’s economic development. 

John Ball Zoo public art display

Since opening in 2014, John Ball Zoo has provided educational programs on wildlife conservation to disadvantaged children and adults throughout the region. 

The zoo is one of the most popular attractions in Grand Rapids for many reasons, one being the unique collection of wildlife.

Must-see exhibits

– Van Andel Living Shores Aquarium. Explore the coast of Patagonia, mingle with Magellanic penguins, and watch eels and exotic fish in a 400,000 kelp forest tank and tide pool.

– Africa. View chimpanzees, bongo antelope, warthogs, lions, and hornbills at one of the largest habitat displays in the nation. Take a camel ride, and admire the meerkats in their SITES Gold certified outdoor habitat.Penguin Exhibit at John Ball Zoo

– The Funicular. Head to the lower depot to take a ride on the funicular to the top. Enjoy a breathtaking view of downtown Grand Rapids while you work your way through the habitats comfortably. Tickets cost $4 for non members, $3.20 for members.

***While not an exhibit, ordering a strawberry or pineapple Dole Whip Wine sundae is also a must. Must be 21+ to enjoy responsibly).***

Dole Whip Wine Sundae at John Ball Zoo

Plan Your Visit 

Admission rates vary depending on the dates of visit and age. Discounts are available for veterans and active military as well as students and seniors. Children under two years old are free. 

To learn more about ticket prices, current exhibits, hours of operation, and upcoming special events at John Ball Zoo, click here.

Apple Pick & Wine Sip at Robinette’s Apple Haus 

Known as a West Michigan staple since 1911, Robinette’s Apple Haus + Winery offers the freshest baked goods and produce, locally sourced wine, and fresh fruit.

The family-owned and operated orchard attracts visitors from near and far seasonal activities. From U-Pick apples and hayrides, to corn mazes, nature trails, and petting zoos, there’s something for all ages at Robinette’s.

Robinette’s Tasting Room

For wine connoisseurs, Robinette’s offers wine tastings of more than 20 hand made wine blends and hard ciders. 

Using Michigan fruit for most of their blends, new and unique flavors appear on the wine tasting menu frequently. 

Robinette's Apple Haus and Winery Grand Rapids

Other flavors are staples such as the best-selling Chocolate cream wine, the Strawberries + Cream, and mulled wine in the colder months. Don’t pass up a bottle of the Chocolate or Cherry Chocolate cream wines — both are perfect to add to coffee or to have as a dessert wine!

Reservations for wine tastings are not required, but are recommended for larger groups.

Plan Your Visit 

To learn more about special seasonal activities, current food and beverage menu items, and hours of operation at Robinette’s Orchard, click here.

Apple turnovers and cider slushy at Robinettes Apple Haus

Admire U.S. History at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

For history buffs, a visit to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a must. 

The museum boasts 44,000 square feet of memorabilia, art, and official documents from the life and presidency of America’s 38th President. 

Throughout two stories of pictures and video documentation, visitors learn of Ford’s early life from his time in the U.S Naval Reserve in World War II and as a star football player at the University of Michigan.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Ford’s impressive political career remains on display throughout the museum. 

A replica of his Oval Office features real furniture and historic documents and photos.

Another exhibit displays artifacts from the 1976 election as well as public and Head of State gifts. 

And, perhaps the most impressive exhibit is a stunning dress and gown collection from First Lady, Betty Ford.

Plan Your Visit

Temporary and seasonal exhibits and programs are also ever-changing at the Ford Presidential Museum. These include a popular train display at Christmas, holiday story times for children, and exhibits that educate visitors on important moments in American history.

the replica of the Oval Office at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

The museum is also the resting place of President Ford and his wife Betty, so respects can be paid to both for a life of service during your visit.

To learn more about current exhibits, hours of operation, and membership to the Presidential museum, click here.

Spend the Afternoon at a Nearby State Park

Michigan has no shortage of beautiful parks and landscapes, and Grand Rapids is no exception. 

In fact, the greater Grand Rapids area is home to dozens of parks and state parks — all of which are accessible by car in less than two hours.

Holland State Park near Grand Rapids Michigan

A couple of the more popular parks include Holland State Park in the neighboring town of Holland Michigan, and Muskegon State Park in the town of North Muskegon.

Holland State Park is home to “Big Red”, Michigan’s most photographed light house. For the best view of it, walk along the boardwalk to the north pier, and take in the views of Holland Channel and Lake Michigan from Ottawa beach.

Big Red Lighthouse near Grand Rapids, Michigan

For more beach time and different scenery, drive five minutes North to Tunnel Park to find 22-acres full of trails, playgrounds, picnic grounds, and a pristine beach. 

To see a full list of state parks within driving distance of Grand Rapids, visit www.experiencegr.com.

Cheers Over a Craft Beer 

It’s not a trip to Grand Rapids without a proper visit to one of the city’s more than 80 nearby breweries.

With a population of just over 200,000, Grand Rapids has the most craft breweries of any other Michigan city, hence its nickname “Beer City USA”.

One of many of Grand Rapids craft breweries

Some local favorite brew spots include Brewery Vivant, Arvon Brewing Co., and The Mitten Brewing Company. 

What to Order 

Each brewery has menu items they are most known for, but you can’t go wrong with whatever you choose. Read below for a mini brewery guide:

  • Brewery Vivant: Order a Farmhouse Ale (their flagship beer) or a brew from their Adventure Series. For food, don’t pass up the famous duck nachos.
  • Arvon Brewing: Avron is most known for its fruited sours and New England Style IPA’s. Order the Tropical Ice Cream Parlor with Coconut Lime soft serve, or the Orbital with free dried strawberries, chocolate, and vanilla.
  • The Mitten Brewing Company: The brews are the stars at Mitten, but the food deserves its own spotlight as well. Order a Pizza Flight which comes with a sample of six different pizzas from the menu. The Chicken And Waffles and the Pesto Chicken are favorites.

the pizza sampler at The Mitten Brewing Company

For a full list of craft breweries in the Grand Rapids area, view this list via Experience Grand Rapids here.

Enjoy a Day Trip to Holland, Michigan 

Known as a place “for all seasons”, the quaint town of Holland, Michigan sits 30 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.

Most popular for its annual tulip festival, Holland is full of numerous other activities for all age groups and interests. It’s a great way to spend a day — or even a weekend — outside of the city.

Windmill Island Gardens

For a day trip, the best way to enjoy Holland in any season is to start with a visit to Windmill Island Gardens. First, grab a few Blueberry Blizzard donuts from the adorable Dutch bakery, Deboer Bakkerij.

Home to a 251-year-old Dutch windmill called De Zwann, it’s the oldest working windmill in America. Visitors can climb inside the windmill to the top for amazing views of the gardens and surrounding town.

Replicas of historical buildings, costumed guides, and an original 1928 Amsterdam street organ round out the experience.


Meander the gift shops full of traditional Dutch foods and handmade goods and take a piece of Holland home.

Lunch at Boatworks

After exploring the gardens, grab a lunch of hot crab dip and a cup of seafood chowder at Boatworks. Enjoy the beautiful views of Lake Michigan while you dine.

Hot crab dip at Boatworks Restaurant near Grand Rapids

Lastly, stop at Holland State Park for a photo opportunity with the iconic “Big Red” Lighthouse on the way back to Grand Rapids.

Order a Plate (or two) at Butcher’s Union

Downtown Grand Rapids is chocked full of amazing restaurants, breweries, and bars. In the middle of it all, is the upscale gastropub called Butcher’s Union.

Serving a meat and whiskey-heavy menu, diners can find much more to savor, including craft cocktails, fresh seafood, freshly baked breads, salads, and made-from-scratch desserts.

Salmon from Faroe Islands from Butcher's Union in Grand Rapids

Food and beverage items on the menu change seasonally, but there are a few favorited items that remain staples: the “Salmon from the Faroe Islands” with capers, baby shrimp, and marble potatoes, and the “Peppercorn Slab Bacon” with Michigan maple syrup.

Currently, Butcher’s Union does not take reservations, but seats are offered on a first-time-first-serve basis.

Learn more about current menu items and hours of operation at Butcher’s Union here.

cocktails at Butcher's Union in Grand Rapids

Sample World Cuisine at ROAM by San Chez Bistro 

Grand Rapids is surprisingly home to a bustling International food scene, especially downtown. From Ethiopian food to Korean inspired dishes, endless options can be found on nearly every street. 

However, in the kitchen at ROAM by San Chez, you’re likely to find a little bit of everything.

The interior of ROAM by San Chez in Grand Rapids
Featuring a blend of European, Mediterranean, and Latin American cuisines, ROAM creates a truly unique dining experience.

What to Order

ROAM serves breakfast, brunch, tapas, and specially crafted cocktails. Menu items rotate, nothing will disappoint (try the hash balls and the Kimchi Bokkeumbap to start). For dessert, try the Boozy Ice Cream and the Mango Sticky Rice.

San Chez accepts reservations for half of the restaurant space Tuesday through Friday, but walk-ins are encouraged. They do not accept reservations on Saturdays and Sundays.
Learn more about San Chez’s current menu items and hours of operation here.

Know Before You Go

Grands Rapids is a wonderful city to visit any time of the year. However, here are some important tips and answered FAQ’s to help you plan your future adventure to Beer City USA:

  • Pack clothes that can be layered. Depending on the season, the weather in Grand Rapids can be unpredictable. Pack items to explore for warm, cool, rain (or snow), or shine. Visit my Amazon Storefront to shop my favorite travel clothing items and accessories.
  • A rental car is recommended. While Ubers and public buses (known as Rapid) are available, driving is the fastest and easiest way to explore the city and surrounding towns.
  • There are plenty of parking lots and parking garages throughout the city that are affordable and easy to use. The city even has an online interactive parking map that you can find here.
  • Visit more than one brewery. Beer is a huge part of the culture in Grand Rapids, and taking advantage of that is a must.

Travel Resources

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Interested in exploring more of the United States? Check out some of my other U.S. based destination guides here and here.

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One thought on “10+ Fun Things to Do in Grand Rapids, MI

  1. Terri says:

    My favorite activity would be visiting the outdoor sculpture garden. It looks amazing. Then I would want one of those Dutch donuts!

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