An Under $30 Sunday In Grand Rapids

An Under $30 Sunday In Grand Rapids

Most people tend to spend more money on food and entertainment on the weekends, but going out to dinner and drinks with friends can become quite costly. When Sunday comes around, you might have spent more than you had budgeted for on Friday and Saturday night. How can you have an entertaining Sunday while exercising responsible spending, you ask? Well, I fancy myself as a sort of Grand Rapids travel guide, and I always enjoy telling friends about new restaurants and fun things to do, so I decided to challenge myself to construct an itinerary for a Sunday in Grand Rapids while only spending $25. An exercise in fiscal responsibility. Please feel free to use this as a guide if you too are feeling the tight constraints of your budget.

I spend too much money. And it’s a problem. The way most of the media portrays it, admitting you have a problem is a healthy first step towards overcoming an addiction. Watching how you choose to spend your money has become increasingly important in recent years. Issues such as paying back huge student loan debts, struggling to find gainful employment, and huge increases in gas prices are enough to cause sleepless nights and anxiety-ridden panic attacks.

After much rumination, I decided upon the following ground rules:

1) I may only leave my house with $25 in cash (no credit cards), my driver’s license, a water bottle (I encourage everyone to properly hydrate!), a camera/smart phone, and a knapsack (or bindle, if you prefer) to transport the aforementioned items. I also chose to bring a book.
2) I have to eat at least 3 times, and it can’t be at a fast food restaurant. Eating off of the Dollar Menu is a no-brainer for those who are economically conscious, but it’s more fun to support local businesses.
3) Just for fun, I decided to make things even more challenging by agreeing that activities, restaurants, and anything else must be within a one mile radius (give or take a few feet) of the center of Grand Rapids, the intersection of Fulton and Division.

Below is my guide to a Sunday in Grand Rapids for $25.

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Local Mocha

96 Monroe Center Street NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 459-0082
www.localmocha.biz
Open: M 7am-7pm, Tues-Thurs 7am-9pm, F 7am-10pm, Sat 8am-10pm, Sun 9am-6pm

A $25 Sunday in Grand Rapids - The Awesome Mitten
Local Mocha

As soon as I stepped out of the house, my stomach let out a lengthy growl. As is the case for most days, I needed a filling breakfast, so I decided to head downtown. Nestled between much larger and flashier storefronts on Monroe Center sits Local Mocha, a coffee shop that specializes in serving organic and fair trade coffees at decent prices. Hidden behind a name that insinuates a small coffee shop is a surprise: some very decent and filling food options. I selected the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin from the small breakfast menu. The other options were ham, egg, and cheese, or veggie, egg, and cheese. You can have any of the sandwiches on either the aforementioned English muffin or in a whole wheat wrap.

While eating my sandwich, I decided to head towards Rosa Parks Circle and people watch.

Total spent at Local Mocha: $4.50
Total spent for the day: $4.50

A $25 Sunday in Grand Rapids - The Awesome Mitten
Photo by Ben Clore.

The Blue Footbridge

I decided to walk, so I made my way over to the Blue Footbridge via the entrance off of Campau Avenue behind the Courtyard Marriott. I took in the scenic views of the Grand River and the interesting color and architectural details of the Blue Footbridge, which was once the Grand Rapids Railroad Bridge. I enjoyed the calming sound of the rushing water and watched as fishermen cast their lines in the hopes of catching some dinner.

After a while, I continued west on the bridge to Front Street and took it north towards Ah-Nab-Awen Park.

Ah-Nab-Awen Park

303 Pearl St.

Grand Rapids, MI 49504

A $25 Sunday in Grand Rapids - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of ArtPrize.org

Ah-Nab-Awen is a 6.5 acre park that was once a site of a Native American Village. Meaning “Resting Place,” Ah-Nab-Awen is a great place to sit, relax, enjoy nature, maybe even read a book. At this point, I wished I had brought some friends along with me on my journey. I had an overwhelming urge to throw a Frisbee or ball and run around in the crisp afternoon air. As it was, I plopped down onto the grass and decided to read.

After a few minutes, I looked to the south, just across the river, and took in a great view of some of the tallest buildings in Grand Rapids. I decided to snap off a great landscape photo with my smart phone.

From Ah-Nab-Awen, I found another pedestrian bridge directly across from the Gerald Ford Museum and headed east across the river.

Pedestrian Bridge/Old Civic Auditorium

After crossing the bridge, I noticed a building with a beautiful neo-classical facade. I later found out that it was the Old Civic Auditorium. Built in 1933 on the east bank of the Grand River at Lyon Street and Campau Avenue, the Old Civic Auditorium facade and lobby was incorporated into the construction of the DeVos Performance Hall and Ballroom. Unfortunately, this piece of Grand Rapids history is hidden from street view, stuck between the Amway Hotel and the DeVos Performance Hall.

After admiring the beautiful architecture, I took a quick picture and kept walking east on Lyon Street to Ottawa Avenue.

A $25 Sunday in Grand Rapids - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of RiverGrandRapids.com

Calder Plaza

The orange Calder Structure (La Grande Vitesse) is the centerpiece of Calder Plaza. You can’t miss it. While the orange Calder structure is quite interesting–and tempting to climb–I kept walking to the northwest corner of the plaza, past city hall, and almost to the corner of Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue. There, I discovered the large tire swing, or the more formal name, the Motu Viget. I had swung on the Motu Viget on many occasions, but I still couldn’t pass up a chance to take another ride. It’s too much fun. Plus it’s free. As I swung, I thought about how it would have been much more fun (and less tiring) if I had a friend to push me. Sculpted by Mark di Suvero in 1973, the Motu Viget has been a Grand Rapids interactive art piece since 1977, way before Art Prize became a popular attraction.

After a few solitary tire swings, I headed east on Michigan Street towards the Birch Lodge.

Birch Lodge

732 Michigan Street NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
www.facebook.com/Birchlodge
Open: M-Sun 11am-2am
A $25 Sunday in Grand Rapids - The Awesome Mitten

Lunch! There are a plethora of dive bars on Michigan Street that serve cheap food and beverages with the added bonus of having enough televisions to watch some of the sports matches on a Sunday afternoon. I decided on the Birch Lodge. On Sundays, the Lodge has a $2.99 bloody Mary Bar and Mimosas, but I was mainly interested in the cheap Bud Light ($2) and the free taco bar (with the purchase of a beverage). It may very well be the best value in Grand Rapids. I hopped on a stool at the beautiful wooden bar and took in football game while surrounded by fishing and hunting paraphernalia–it is a “lodge” after all. I ordered up a Bud Light, chatted and laughed with the good-natured regulars, and helped myself to the all-you-can-eat taco bar. After I finished, I headed south on College Avenue, where I was able to stop and admire the beautiful Heritage Hill houses. My favorite part about Grand Rapids housing is that there is such a variety of styles. It’s not unusual to see Victorian houses next to ranch styles next to bungalows.

I took a right at Logan Street and continued until I hit Madison Avenue.

Total spent at Birch Lodge: $3.50 (tip included)
Total spent for the day: $8.00

Meyer May House

450 Madison Avenue SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
www.meyermayhouse.steelcase.com

A $25 Sunday in Grand Rapids - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Steelcase

If you are a fan of architecture (or Grand Rapids History), then you should be as excited as I was when I first heard about the Meyer May House. Completed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909, this house was commissioned by local clothing magnate Meyer May. Steelcase bought the house and property in the 1980s and restored it to its original state. Many people point to this house as the most accurate Frank Lloyd Wright restoration in the country, and the first Frank Lloyd Wright house commissioned in Michigan. The house next to the Meyer May House driveway acts as a reception area and screening room where you can view the historical documentary which details the house’s history, it’s plunge into near disrepair, and the restoration job completed by Steelcase. While there, you can also find your knowledgeable docent (tour guide). You can take a tour on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am – 2pm, and on Sundays from 1-5pm. The last tour begins 1 hour prior to closing. And, oh yeah, tours are completely free! I made sure to take many pictures and attempted to capture the light as it filtered through the ornate stained glass windows, revealing the warm wood tones in the open floor plan throughout this beautiful prairie style home.

Total spent at the Meyer May House: $0.00 (Amazingly)
Total spent for the day: $8.00

ROWSTER New American Coffee

632 Wealthy Street Southeast
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
www.rowstercoffee.com
Open: M-F 7am-8pm, Sat 8am-8pm, Sun 9am-5pm

A $25 Sunday in Grand Rapids - The Awesome MittenAfter completing the Meyer May House tour, I decided to grab a cup of coffee at ROWSTER New American Coffee. ROWSTER takes green coffee beans and hand roasts small batches for distribution and for use in-house. And they make a damn good cup of coffee. When I entered, the delightful aroma of freshly ground coffee beans greeted me as soon as I opened the door. I decided on an Americano, the beverage by which I measure any decent coffee shop. I took a seat and thumbed through my book as I sipped on my wonderfully bitter Americano. I thought, “this is turning out to be quite a wonderful Sunday afternoon.”

Total spent at ROWSTER New American Coffee: $4.00
Total spent for the day: $12.00

Founder’s Brewing Company

235 Grandville Avenue SW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
www.foundersbrewing.com
Open: M-Sat 11am-2am, Sun 3pm-2am

Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra
www.grjo.com

A $25 Sunday in Grand Rapids - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Founders

After a nice warm cup of coffee, I decided to head over to Founder’s Brewing Company because it was the first Sunday of the month. On the first and third Sunday of every month, the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra graces the Founder’s Brewing Company stage. The Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra plays old big band standards, and it’s great to see people of all ages enjoy timeless classics such as “Moonlight Serenade,” “Take the A Train,” and “Body and Soul.” The Orchestra takes the stage at 5:30pm and plays until 7:30pm. The show is free, but I decided on sampling one of Founder’s great pints. Founders brews and distributes over a dozen beers, and is recognized as one of the best brewers in the entire world. As the company has stated, they brew for a select few–“a small cadre of renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits of what is commonly accepted as taste. In short, we make beer for people like us.” It may have been my senses playing tricks on me, but my Breakfast Stout was extra smooth while I relaxed and let the sound of trumpets, clarinets, and saxophones envelop me.

Total spent at Founder’s Brewing Company: $7 (tip included)
Total spent for the day: $19.00

O’Toole’s Public House

448 Bridge Street Northwest
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
www.otoolesgr.com
Open: M-F 11am-2am, Sat-Sun Noon-2am

A $25 Sunday in Grand Rapids - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of GR Pulse

After leaving Founder’s, I realized that walking and beer drinking made me a bit hungry, so I decided to make a dinner stop to complete my Sunday in Grand Rapids. I pulled out what was left of my money, and found that I only had $6. Luckily, Grand Rapids has a lot of bars that have food specials on Sundays. I decided to go to the northwest side of town, right over the Grand River, to O’Toole’s. As you can probably decipher from the name, O’Toole’s is an Irish styled bar, and promised to serve great food. The best part about Sundays at O’Toole’s is that their burgers are only $4.25! And that comes with fries! I decided on the BBQ bacon cheeseburger, medium rare of course.

Total spent at O’Toole’s Public House: $6 (tip included)
Total spent for the day: $25.00

Being fiscally responsible can be quite challenging sometimes. During my Sunday in Grand Rapids, I found that if I cut out a few snacks or beers, I could cut the cost down to around $15. It’s possible to eat and have fun without spending a lot of money, and I challenge you to come up with a day guide to your own city where you spend less than $25. It’s worth a try, and it will help you to become more familiar and comfortable in your city, while also helping you to survive and prosper in this tough economy. Challenge accepted?

~Renato Delos Reyes, Contributing Writer