Grand Rapids, the second-largest city in Michigan, offers scenic views of the Grand River, unique museums, coffee shops, a choice of attractions, and excellent restaurants to explore on a weekend getaway or day trip.
Stroll through the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, tour the restored Meyer May House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and see the exhibits at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Top things to do in Grand Rapids, MI with kids include the zoo, the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Children's Museum.
1. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
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Very few people outside of art history circles know that some of the most famous sculptures in the world can be seen in a Grand Rapids’ garden. Opened in 1995, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a major recreational, educational, and cultural destination in the Midwest and one of the best things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Its 158-acre main campus consists of Michigan’s largest three-story conservatory with a waterfall, rock garden, and a variety of tropical and rare plants. The park also has five themed indoor gardens, four-season outdoor gardens, picturesque forest trails, and a wetlands boardwalk.
The sculpture gallery holds an internationally acclaimed collection of about 300 works by some of the world’s best-known sculptors, including Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Henry Moore, and Alexander Calder. The Park also organizes several popular temporary exhibitions.
The works of art are displayed all over the garden, among nature’s own artwork. If you are looking for things to do in Grand Rapids, MI for art lovers, you will not want to miss this beautiful attraction. Details & Photos
1000 East Beltline Avenue NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 888-957-1580
2. Grand Rapids Public Museum
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The Grand Rapids Public Museum started its life in 1854 as the Lyceum of Natural History. Its goal is to capture the spirit of West Michigan through immersive and authentic experiences that simultaneously provide entertainment and education.
The Museum has three floors of permanent exhibits that focus on science, history, and culture. It also showcases several special exhibits throughout the year.
The museum contains more than 250,000 artifacts in categories such as automobiles, zoology, furniture, fossils, and so much more.
Only a small number of the Museum’s artifacts are displayed at any given time. The Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium is an intrinsic part of the Museum. The Museum also contains the Cook Carousel Pavilion, a café, the Meijer Theater, and a gift shop. More info
272 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 616-929-1700
3. Grand Rapids Art Museum
© Grand Rapids Art Museum
The Grand Rapids Art Museum building is a piece of modern art in and of itself. The magnificent contemporary home of the Grand Rapids Art Museum is a 125,000 square feet building featuring 20,000 square feet of exhibition and gallery space. It is the only museum certified LEED Gold for it environmental design. Museum collections range from Renaissance to Modern Art, with special collections focusing on 19th and 20th-century American and European art.
The museum collections contain 5,000 pieces of art, including more than 3,500 prints, photographs, and drawings. The museum organizes weekly music concerts, provides a venue for a yoga studio, and once a week invites adults to explore their artistic side.
101 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 616-831-1000
4. Blandford Nature Center
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There are tigers sneaking through the grass in downtown Grand Rapids. No reason for alarm – they are the most popular residents of the Blandford Nature Center. The Center is an independent non-profit organization that leases 143 acres from the City of Grand Rapids. If you are wondering what to do in Grand Rapids with active kids, this is a great place to explore.
They use the land and wildlife to provide high quality community programs and environmental education. Visitors can hike the trails and explore the nature through different seasons, sign up kids for activities such as Spring Break, Winter Break, and Summer Camp, explore the Heritage Buildings to travel back in time, visit Wildlife Education Center, or walk the Wildlife Trail to see the Blandford’s wildlife.
The Center has hundreds of interactive programs that invite children and grownups to get dirty and rediscover their connection with nature.
1715 Hillburn Ave NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 616-735-6240
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5. Meyer May House
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The Meyer May House is considered one of the most faithfully restored of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie-style houses in the country. Wright's house designs are easily recognizable by the low-pitched rooflines, deep overhangs, a wall of windows, and the building’s seamless connection with the outdoors.
Frank Lloyd Wright built the house for the clothing manufacturer Meyer May in 1909. The style of architecture was revolutionary and shocking for the affluent neighborhood of Grand Rapids, which was replete with stately old Victorian-style houses. Steelcase Company purchased and meticulously restored the house in 1985.
The Meyer May House and other prairie-style homes inspired an entire school of architecture called Prairie School. The House that still contains Wright’s original windows and furniture. It is open to the public.
450 Madison Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 616-246-4821
6. John Ball Zoo
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John Ball Zoo is an urban zoo and aquarium located in a large park two miles from downtown Grand Rapids. It offers comfortable and realistic habitats for over 1,100 animals from all over the world. Some of the most popular habitats are Mokomboso Valley Chimpanzee Exhibit, Treasures of the Tropics, Budgie Aviary, Red's Hobby Farm, and so many others.
If you are wondering what to do in Grand Rapids with kids, this is a great place to visit. The zoo also offers many fun activities for kids and adults such as zip lining over the entire zoo, going on camel rides, taking a tram that goes to the second highest hilltop in Grand Rapids, going on swan paddleboats, and many others. The zoo depends on more than 200 volunteers to help with the animals, in the garden, or with visitors.
1300 Fulton W, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 616-336-4300
7. Grand Rapids Symphony
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It is hard to imagine a music event in Grand Rapids that does not involve the Grand Rapids Symphony in some way. This group of renowned musicians is associated with almost all musical performances in the city: Bach Festival, Symphony Chorus, Youth Symphony & Classical Orchestra, and Symphony Youth Choruses. It is also the orchestra for the Grand Rapids Ballet Company and Opera Grand Rapids.
Established in 1930, the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra offers ten concert series for all ages and presents over 400 performances yearly. It also takes part in sixteen educational programs. The Orchestra performs in the large number of Grand Rapids venues, from churches to parks.
300 Ottawa NW, Suite 100, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 616-454-9451 x 4
8. Gerald R. Ford Museum
© Gerald R. Ford Museum
After their time in the White House, the lives and achievements of U.S. Presidents are celebrated in the system of Presidential libraries of the National Archives and Records Administration. The Gerald R. Ford Museum opened in 1981. The core of the Museum is its permanent exhibit, which offers the highlights of President and Mrs. Ford’s lives. The permanent exhibit features an interactive video and holographic presentation that allows visitors to experience the illusion they are "participating" in history and travelling with President Ford to popular destinations throughout the world.
There is also a holographic tour of the White House as it was during Ford’s time and a light and sound show that describes a day in the Oval Office. The Watergate gallery with a multi-screen six-minute history is particularly interesting. The museum organizes frequent temporary exhibits, and it also hosts special events.
303 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 616-254-0400
9. Grand Rapids Children's Museum
© Grand Rapids Children's Museum
As you pass through Sheldon Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids, you cannot miss the sounds of kids laughing from a beautifully renovated building that was built in 1916. Through the front wall made of glass, everyone passing by can see the fun the kids are having inside.
The Children's Museum was designed for children between two and twelve as a hands-on interactive museum that offers a range of experiences. The museum promotes learning through play and encourages exploration. There are eighteen permanent exhibits, including a farm, a puppet stage, a treehouse and others.
11 Sheldon Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 616-235-4726
10. Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve
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The Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve is an outdoor research and teaching venue for Calvin College students and faculty. Here, they actively work on preserving plants and animals indigenous to the area, along with their habitats. The Preserve not only offers learning grounds for students, but also for Grand Rapids residents, who can enjoy the green spaces while seeing the ways in which human activity affects the natural world around them.
They can hike through the Preserve and watch the change of seasons, watch birds, take photos, draw the flowers, write a poem, or have a nap in the grass. Bunker Interpretive Center has seasonal displays, and there are many programs for kids and families to learn about the native plants and animals. The Preserve also holds annual plant sale.
1750 East Beltline Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Phone: 616-526-7600
11. Heritage Hill Historic District
© Heritage Hill Association
Adjacent to downtown, the medical institutions and universities, and the hip Uptown district in Grand Rapids, Heritage Hill is the city's oldest residential district with over 60 different architectural styles and 1,300 houses dating from 1844 to the 1920s. The best way to explore this part of town is to take a self-guided walking tour through the neighborhood, which features homes of nearly every style of American architecture. From the Greek Revival to Prairie, the Heritage Hill Historic District features the homes of lumber barons, teachers, judges, and legislators all of whom played a pivotal role in shaping the city's future. Today, its population of 4,000 households is very diverse, harkening back to the original residents that called this place home.
126 College Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503, Phone: 616-459-8950
12. Brewery Vivant
© Brewery Vivant
Brewery Vivant invites you to indulge in beer culture European style. Small farmhouse breweries in Wallonia, the French-speaking Belgian countryside, serve as the inspiration for their beer. This LEED-certified brewery is located in the historic East Hill neighborhood in an artistically renovated locale that was a former funeral parlor.
Both the functional brewery and the pub where they show off their award-winning beers are on the same site. In the pub, they have recreated the atmosphere of an old Belgian or French monastery, but instead of monks you see cheerful servers running around with full steins of beer and platters of fabulous food. They match the tasty dishes with the distinct flavors of their various beers, and you can expect much more than standard pub fare.
For a starter, try their Duck Confit Nachos with duck confit, Brie cream, caramelized onions, tomato concasse, and duck craklings sprinkled with citrus. All of the restaurant’s ingredients are fresh and seasonal, and they work with a number of local farms and artisans.
925 Cherry St, Grand Rapids, MI, Phone: 616-719-1604
13. Graydon's Crossing
© Graydon's Crossing
The terms “global pub” and “gastropub” have different meaning in different places, but Graydon’s Crossing covers all the prerequisites: a warm and cozy pub atmosphere, 46 beers on tap from local Michigan to Old World Belgium style beers and many imports, and great pub food.
Here, you can find good old pub classics such as Shepherd’s Pie or Fish and Chips, but you can also expect some creative additions like the Bangladesh Burrito. Their chef likes to play with ethnic flavors, giving the dishes a modern take. Try one of the restaurant’s monthly specials. The ingredients are locally sourced from a number of suppliers and farmers in the area.
1223 Plainfield NE, Grand Rapids, MI, Phone: 616-726-8260
14. The Chop House
© The Chop House
The Chop House in downtown Grand Rapids recreates the romantic spirit of the 1940’s with plush, rich décor, exquisite artwork hanging on the walls, marble accents, and ornate gas lamps. Sinatra plays in the background while soft lighting and the smell of grilled meat prepare the diners for a scrumptious dining experience before they even sit at their tables.
The house specialty is fine grain-fed Midwestern USDA Prime beef. They also have wines perfectly complement the succulent steaks and fillets – 280 bottles, well and knowledgeably chosen for any special occasion. The food is exceptionally well prepared and finely seasoned, with nothing to distract from the high quality of the meat. It is a pleasant, elegant establishment perfect for any celebratory occasion.
190 Monroe Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, MI, Phone: 616-451-6131
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15. Fulton Street Farmers Market
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In Grand Rapids, Saturdays are the days when everyone goes to the Fulton Street Farmers Market. Established in 1922, the Fulton Street Farmers Market is the oldest and largest in Grand Rapids. Depending on the weather, more than 200 farmers and food growers from the area come to offer their products and meet their customers along with other farmers.
It is a roofed outdoor market with a small indoor hall for shops. The market sells all kinds of seasonal fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, honey, condiments, maple syrup, baked goods, and lots of great breads and pastries. Many food trucks bring their goodies on busy market days, so you can also get a nice lunch and even some local brews.
1145 East Fulton, Grand Rapids, MI, Phone: 616-454-4118
16. The Pump House
© The Pump House
The Pump House has an excellent job at evoking nostalgia: they have recreated an old-fashioned soda shop with porch swings and long wooden benches, and they offer over a hundred yummy toppings for their tasty creations. Pump House has also introduced some of soda pop’s grandchildren: sorbet, artisanal yogurt, custard, and gelato. There are dozens of flavors, and many of their items are made fresh on the premises using local ingredients.
Everything is bursting with flavors and juices, indulgent, and sinful. And you can’t forget about the toppings. The number of combinations is only limited by your imagination, but you can bet that toppings such as Reeses Peanut Butter Cups did not exist in the soda shops of old times.
2090 Celebration Dr NE #120, Grand Rapids, MI, Phone: 616-647-5481
17. Ju Sushi & Lounge
© Ju Sushi & Lounge
Ju Sushi & Lounge is spacious, modern, and posh, with a trendy lounge atmosphere that invites people to linger over the sushi chef’s creations and the bartender’s imaginative martinis. Their sushi is anything but traditional, but you will be amazed by the creativity of their specialty rolls, which are simply delightful.
Their Fire Mountain Roll is literally set on fire after it has been stuffed with spicy salmon, crab salad, tempura shrimp, avocado, and albacore tuna. They serve a number of other Japanese dishes besides sushi, but sushi is what makes Ju special. They also have a great sake selection, which they use to make unexpected and interesting cocktails.
1144 E. Paris Ave. SE, Ste. 9, Grand Rapids, MI, Phone: 616-575-5858
18. Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts
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The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts exposes the Grand Rapids and West Michigan communities to the most innovative art forms and latest creative ideas in film, visual arts, dance, performance arts, literature, and music. It also provides artists with exhibition space, studios, sales support, and opportunities for additional education.
UICA galleries feature art from local, national, and international artists. It also hosts a range of concerts, receptions, talks, theater shows, and independent and documentary films in the UICA film theater. Every year, UICA organizes the extremely popular Holiday Artists Market.
17 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, Phone: 616-454-7000
19. Bagger Dave's
© Bagger Dave's
Bagger Dave’s is a popular burger and beer tavern chain with a number of locations all over Michigan and Indiana. Their Grand Rapid’s downtown location is a spacious 190-seat establishment pleasantly decorated in earth tones and whose walls are covered with oversized historic photos of Grand Rapids. With two dining rooms and a large bar area featuring flat screen TVs scattered throughout the room, the place is almost always packed at night.
Their famous burgers are locally sourced and made of USDA grain-fed beef with no preservatives or fillers. Try the Train Wreck burger with cheddar cheese, sautéed mushrooms, a sunny side up egg, caramelized onions, and lettuce served on a grilled and seasoned brioche bun and served with fresh-cut fries. They also have a great selection of craft beers on tap.
2817 Kraft Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512, Phone: 616-977-4349
20. Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe
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Along the banks of the breathtaking Thornapple River, over the soft rolling hills, through tree-lined fairways, and close to the enchanting, wild and untouched wetlands, lies the expansive 18-hole Thornapple Point golf course. With bentgrass fairways and meticulously groomed greens and tees, it is one of the most popular and best golf courses in Grand Rapids.
Thornapple Pointe has sweeping fairways and multiple tees that will challenge your ability and still provide enjoyable play. The club offers a state-of-the-art GPS system and live leaderboards for outing play and tournaments. The Club is not only popular among golfers, but it is also a very desirable venue for weddings and other special events.
7211 48th St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI, Phone: 616-554-4747
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Every year for nineteen days, the downtown area of Grand Rapids becomes a veritable art show. This occurs during the time of the ArtPrize, a radically new, different, open, and independent international art competition.
During the competition downtown Grand Rapids serves as an open platform for anyone who wants to voice an opinion, take part in the conversation about art and its importance, or exhibit his or her art. Art from all over the world can be seen on every corner of downtown’s three blocks, which is designated as ArtPrize district, open to the public, and free to see.
Every year, about 200 venues open their doors to the world’s biggest art competition: museums, universities, parks, shops, offices, restaurants, cafes, churches, and even private residences. There are two $200,000 grand prizes and eight awards for different categories worth $100,000. The public decides half of the winners while art experts decide the other half. In 2015, visit from September 23 – October 11.
41 Sheldon Blvd SE, Grand Rapids, MI
22. Great Lakes Pub Cruiser
© Great Lakes Pub Cruiser
Would you feel less guilty about eating and drinking your way through Grand Rapids if you did it on a bike? That experience is what the Great Lakes Pub Cruiser offers. However, you don’t use just any bike. They have a fun 15-person party bike on which all patrons pedal together from one eating or drinking establishment to the next.
This unique and adventurous tour starts and ends at the Cottage Bar on LaGrave. There are several different tours; they last from two to three hours and visit three to four bars, stopping for about twenty minutes at each stop. Not all routes are the same difficulty level, so if you do not feel prepared for pedaling up hill, choose carefully.
23. Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery
© Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery
Robinette’s history goes back over 100 years. Established in 1911, the West Michigan staple began as a peach farm and slowly grew to the true family destination it is today. There is something for everyone to enjoy on the farm from their orchards, cider mill, winery, bakery, restaurant, and family activities. In 2011, Robinette's officially became a centennial farm. To this day, they continue to grow apples, peaches, cherries, nectarines, and apricots. Now in its sixth generation, the family-owned farm continues to carry on the legacy started years ago by serving the freshest baked goods and produce, as well as many other tasty treats.
3142 4 Mile Road NE Grand Rapids, Michigan 49525, Phone: 616-361-5567
24. Gerald R. Ford Airport Viewing Park
The Gerald R. Ford Airport Viewing Park, situated on Kraft Avenue north of 52nd Street, is the ideal place to watch aircraft take off and land in Grand Rapids. During the summer months, join dozens of "bird-watchers" as they flock to this newly renovated space daily to watch the planes come and go. The airport viewing park provides a pavilion with permanent restroom facilities, filtered drinking fountains, and an abundance of picnic tables and seating available for the whole family to enjoy. The airport viewing park offers awesome entertainment for aviation enthusiasts and families alike, making it a great place to spend some time between flights.
5500 44th Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512
25. La Grande Vitesse at Calder Plaza
© Calder's La Grande Vitesse - Restoration
A French phrase that translates to “the great swiftness” or “the grand rapids, La Grande Vitesse is the centerpiece of the Calder Plaza. Alexander Calder, widely considered one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century, was commissioned to create the La Grande Vitesse as part of the city's urban renewal initiative as the first public artwork to be funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. As a symbol of the city's artistic spirit, La Grande Vitesse sparked interest in other art activities. Calder Plaza regularly hosts cultural events such as the city’s Hispanic Festival and Pride Festival, as well as summertime food truck food courts.
300 Monroe Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503, Phone: 616-456-3000
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