Finny the Whale - Grand Rapids Public Museum
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5 Must-See Exhibits at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

With Michigan’s unpredictable spring weather, a museum visit is the perfect #MIAwesomeList activity for any forecast. 

The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) is a fantastic spot to explore science and history, including exhibits specific to West Michigan. With an engaging combination of old favorites as well as a rotation of traveling exhibits, you’ll find something new to explore anytime you visit GRPM.

Grand Rapids Public Museum Exterior
Exterior view of the Grand Rapids Public Museum

3 Tips for Visiting the Grand Rapids Public Museum

For a fun and educational experience for all ages, our family always loves a trip to the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years for visiting GRPM:

1. Look for the “Please Touch” interactive displays.

For anyone who enjoys tactile learning (kids and adults alike!), being able to touch the displays is a huge plus. 

2. Start on the third floor and work your way down.

The Lacks Changing Gallery, which features the main traveling exhibit, is located on the third floor, so this is a great place to start your museum adventure. 

3. Plan on an early or late lunch in the cafe.

The Museum Cafe has a lovely view of the Grand River and the downtown area to enjoy while you eat lunch. For a less crowded dining experience, aim to eat before or after the usual 12-1 pm lunchtime.  

Pterosaurs - Grand Rapids Public Museum
Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs (Traveling Exhibit)

5 Must-See Exhibits at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

The GRPM is a great mid-sized museum. Not so huge that it’s overwhelming, but plenty of sights to see and experience for several hours’ worth of museum adventures.

Not sure where to go first? Here are my top 5 recommended exhibits to check out on your next visit to GRPM:

  1. Collecting A to Z
  2. Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs (Traveling Exhibit)
  3. West Michigan Habitats
  4. Planetarium & Space Displays
  5. Streets of Old Grand Rapids

1. Collecting A to Z (All 3 Floors)

Throughout the museum, you’ll see yellow signs with cube letters marking the Collecting A to Z displays. Each one shares fascinating information on a variety of topics, but these 3 displays are especially interesting.

F is for Fossils - Grand Rapids Public Museum

F Is for Fossils (1st Floor)

When you first enter the museum through the Galleria, you’ll notice the huge whale fossils above you. That’s Finny, a 100-year-old finback whale, welcoming you to the museum!

Use either of the two large touchscreens to find out more of Finny’s story including his journey from Florida to Michigan and all about fin whales’ habitats, diets, and body structures.

Please Touch Displays - Grand Rapids Public Museum

Did you know Michigan once had its own ocean? Part of the fossil exhibit explains Michigan’s natural history including the formation of Petoskey stones from ancient coral fossils.

Plus, there’s an interactive display where you can touch and feel actual fossils. 

N is for Numismatics - Grand Rapids Public Museum

N Is for Numismatics (2nd Floor)

On the second floor, you’ll find the N is for Numismatics display. Numismatics is the study of money and GRPM has an interesting collection of all sorts of currency.

For a fun I Spy game, use the magnifying glasses to look for things like llamas, horses, and a three-headed cow on the historic currency. 

Michigan Map - Grand Rapids Public Museum

X Is for X Marks the Spot (3rd Floor)

On the third floor, the enormous 3D topography map of Michigan is part of the X is for X Marks the Spot display. It really is fascinating to consider our state from this perspective.

After surveying the state, test your geography skills with the display questions right in front of the map.

Pterosaur Crests - Grand Rapids Public Museum

2. Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs (3rd Floor Traveling Exhibit)

Now for the main attraction! The rotating special exhibits are always a highlight at GRPM. The current Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs is particularly spectacular.

As you walk in, grab a handy pterosaur guide on your way in for a fun scavenger hunt of different pterosaurs scattered throughout the exhibit.

With life-size pterosaur replicas soaring above you, educational videos, and several hands-on displays, the Pterosaurs exhibit was a huge hit for our whole family.

Fly Like A Pterosaur - Grand Rapids Public Museum

Our favorite part? The Fly Like a Pterosaur interactive experience where motion sensors allow you to navigate through forests and oceans as a flying pterosaur on huge screens.

Some other fun hand-on displays include microscopes to analyze fossils and magnetic puzzles to mix and match pterosaur body parts. 

West Michigan Habitats - Grand Rapids Public Museum

3. West Michigan Habitats (3rd Floor)

As a nature lover and West Michigan enthusiast, the West Michigan Habitats exhibit is my all-time personal favorite.  

Here, you can wander through and learn about common West Michigan landscapes like lakes, dunes, marshlands, and forests.

With a focus on nature conservation, these displays highlight the interconnectedness of our local environment. They encourage taking care of our valuable natural resources to protect the health of all living creatures in the food chain. 

For some hands-on experiences, feel and identify different types of bark, explore the various layers of a tree or listen to and identify bird calls. 

Treehouse - Grand Rapids Public Museum

If you have kids with you who crave a bit of playtime, check out the cozy corner with a treehouse and puppet theater. This area is always a hit with my kids!

Planetarium - Grand Rapids Public Museum

4. Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium & Space Displays (2nd Floor)

For a unique experience to learn about the night sky, get tickets to the Roger B.Chaffee Planetarium. With a variety of planetarium shows available, the museum front desk staff is very helpful in recommending the right show for your group.

If you have kids, the 40-minute Starlight Safari presentation is a great choice with its focus on animal constellations. A live presenter hosts this engaging show, so there are lots of opportunities to ask questions. Very fun and educational!

Whether or not you purchase tickets for a planetarium show, it’s worth checking out the displays outside the planetarium. Here you can learn about the solar system including an interactive display to feel various moon craters. 

Streets of Old Grand Rapids - Grand Rapids Public Museum

5. Streets of Old Grand Rapids (1st Floor)

For a dose of local history, stroll through the Streets of Old Grand Rapids. This ¾ size replica of Grand Rapids allows a peek into what life was like in the 1890s.

Try riding an old-fashioned bicycle, step inside a general store with authentic 1890s goods, or visit the train station ticket window.

If you’re lucky, you may get to see volunteers dressed in period costumes in action, like the local printer working his printing press.

Consider a Grand Rapids Public Museum Membership

If you think you might visit GRPM more than once, consider a yearly membership. All the benefits of a museum membership really add up quickly! 

Perks of a GRPM membership:

  • Free parking validation in the museum ramp
  • 10% discount in the gift shop and cafe
  • Discount for planetarium tickets
  • Discounts for special events
  • Reciprocal program for free admission into other local museums

Pro Tip: For Kent County residents, museum entry is always free for ages 17 and under. Plus, GRPM will validate your museum ramp parking for free. 

Galleria - Grand Rapids Public Museum

Whether it’s your first visit or your 50th visit, you’ll have a wonderful time checking off a Grand Rapids Public Museum adventure from your Michigan Spring Bucket List!

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