4 Reasons Grand Rapids Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway

4 Reasons Grand Rapids Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway

Grand Rapids is having a “moment”.  A visitor who returns after some time away will notice an abundance of new shops, restaurants, and, of course, breweries.  The town’s got a bit of youthful swagger to it.  Perhaps it has a chip on its shoulder after enduring years being known as “Bland Rapids”.  That nickname no longer sticks, though–you’ll find plenty to do, see, eat, and drink.  Here are four reasons your next weekend should be spent in Grand Rapids.

The $22 million Japanese Garden was unveiled in 2012. It features four waterfalls, two ponds, bridges, a gazebo, a Zen-style garden, and a bonsai garden. Photo by Cory Morse.
The $22 million Japanese Garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens was unveiled in 2012. It features four waterfalls, two ponds, bridges, a gazebo, a Zen-style garden, and a bonsai garden. Photo by Cory Morse.

Lots of Arts & Culture

When you think of art in Grand Rapids, the populist art competition ArtPrize probably comes to mind.  Opinions remain split on whether the competition is a groundbreaking democratization of art or a vanity project by the scion of one of the city’s most important benefactors that rewards mediocre art, but you can skip out on the controversy and still enjoy a lot of great art and culture.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) is the city’s big art museum, with a permanent collection that includes over 5,000 works from artists like Alexander Calder and Marie Cassatt.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is great for art lovers who also like being outside.  Take advantage of the nice weather and experience beautiful plants and interesting sculptures.  The Gardens also features a summer concert series with big name national acts.

If contemporary art is more your style, check out the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), which hosts local, regional, and national exhibits from contemporary artists–anything from visual art to performance art or even dance.  Film buffs be sure to check out the movie listings for independent and foreign films you won’t find in most theaters.

Fans of the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright will want to check out the Meyer May House in Heritage Hill, which offers free tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

Want to get some culture but don’t like museums?  Catch a play at Dog Story Theater.  Want to hear some live music?  Check out who’s playing at places like The Intersection, The Pyramid Scheme, Van Andel Arena, Founders Brewing, or DAAC.

4 Reasons Grand Rapids Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway - The Awesome Mitten
View from the jdek at the JW Marriott.

Plenty of Excuses to Get Outdoors

Visiting Grand Rapids gives everyone a great excuse to get outside and enjoy some fresh air.  Much of Grand Rapids is easily traversed on foot, so be sure to book a hotel downtown, that way you can forgo driving in order to take full advantage of the size and scale of the city.  The JW Marriott puts you right in the heart of the city, making it easy to walk everywhere.  Enjoy the jdek, an outdoor bar/lounge that overlooks the Grand River and offers a nice view of the city’s iconic Blue Bridge while you’re there.

Be sure to visit one of Grand Rapids’ great parks, like Wilcox Park near Eastown or Millenium Park, which claims to be one of the nation’s largest urban parks.  Another popular destination is the Fish Ladder, located in the Grand River just north of downtown.

Of course, Grand Rapids is just a short drive away from Lake Michigan (or, in local parlance, “The Lake”), the ultimate outdoor destination.  Beach bums will want to head for popular destinations like Grand Haven’s State Park or City Beach, Holland State Park, or Muskegon’s Pere Marquette Park, while hikers and nature lovers will want to check out Rosy Mound Natural Area.  Insider tip:  if you’re in town for a weekend, make Sunday your beach day–a number of shops and restaurants in GR are closed.

4 Reasons Grand Rapids Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway - The Awesome Mitten
Cherry Deli. Photo by James Richard Fry.

Great Places to Stuff Your Face

There’s a ton of great food in Grand Rapids.  Just a few recommendations include a visit to the Downtown Market, where you’ll find a number of restaurants to choose from (like cheese and charcuterie at Aperitivo or the Grand Rapids outpost of famous Detroit meat emporium Slows Bar-B-Q). You could grab some farm-to-table fare at Terra GR or satisfy your taco craving at Donkey Taqueria.  Big spender? While pricey, many rave about the food at Grove. Marie Catrib’s is an East Hill stand by.  For vegans or those looking to try something different, Ethiopian fare at Little Africa is a good place to grab a meal.  If you want to save some cash and still get a lot to eat, giant sandwiches are quite popular in Grand Rapids and some favorites include the ones from Cherry Deli, Boardwalk Subs, and Two Beards Deli.  And of course, there’s Yesterdog.

4 Reasons Grand Rapids Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway - The Awesome Mitten
Photos by Alex Beaton.

So Many Places to Drink

Grand Rapids is Beer City, USA.  Throw a rock in this town and you’re bound to hit a brewery.  Founders is the big name, but other favorites include Mitten Brewing, Brewery Vivant, Harmony Brewing (and its Westside offshoot Harmony Hall), and Elk Brewing.  Prefer the hard stuff?  Craft distillers Gray Skies Distillery and Long Road Distillers have you covered.  Perhaps you’re more of a cider person; swing by Vandermills.
If you’re in need of a caffeine fix, there are several local coffee shops to try.  If you’re in Eastown, Sparrows is the go-to. Rowsters has you covered in East Hills, and Madcap is the place to go downtown.  Over on the Westside, The Bitter End is a popular destination.

Much More

Of course, there’s so much to do in GR, we couldn’t possibly outline all the great stuff.  Have any suggestions?  Feel free to leave them in the comments!

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Jake Cagle is a contributing writer for The Awesome Mitten. Born in Adrian, Michigan, he has been a longtime resident of Grand Rapids. He graduated from Grand Valley State University. Jake's work has also been featured on The Rapidian, MittenBrew.com, Visit Detroit Blog, and Pure Michigan's blog, as well as his personal website, jacobcagle.com.