If you’re looking for things to do in Grand Rapids, check out the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
No matter your age, it’s hard not to get awestruck when you’re in a museum. Surrounded by history, exhibits, artifacts, and fossils, a museum can be the perfect gateway to the past and a bridge to the future, offering a look at what life will be like 50 or 100 years from now.
Michigan museums offer the perfect combination of fun and education. And if you’re looking for a Grand Rapids museum like that, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is the place to be. For more than 150 years, the museum has entertained and delighted visitors as it has grown and expanded.
With a wide range of exhibits and hands-on experiences, no visitor to the Grand Rapids Public Museum will leave disappointed.
Grand Rapids Public Museum History
The Grand Rapids Public Museum has been an educational resource in Grand Rapids for a long time. It was founded in 1854 as the Grand Rapids Lyceum of Natural History and displayed Cabinets of Curiosities among its first exhibits. In 1868, it merged with the Grand Rapids Scientific Club, broadening its focus.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the museum needed a home of its own and eventually moved into the Howlett house at the corner of Jefferson and Washington Streets. It stayed there for almost a century. In the 1960s, the museum added a planetarium.
The current facility opened to the public in 1994 in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. It houses three floors of exhibits, including a cafe, a gift shop, a planetarium, and a pavilion.
Things to Do at the Grand Rapids Public Museum
Of course, the biggest reason to visit any museum is to see exhibits, and this Grand Rapids Museum has some of the biggest and best. Here’s a look at the permanent and temporary exhibits you could see.
For as long as dinosaurs roamed the Earth, flying animals known as pterosaurs patrolled the skies. These winged reptiles could be as small as a sparrow or as big as a two-seater plane. Believe it or not, they were the only backboned animals to evolve powered flight besides birds and bats.
The pterosaurs exhibit highlights research by paleontologists from around the world and features fossil casts, interactive exhibits, and videos.
This exhibit tells the story of the Anishinabek in their own voices through documents, photos, heirlooms, and more. The Anishinabek include the descendants of the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi Tribes, many of whom still live in West Michigan.
Visitors young and old can take a trip through West Michigan’s natural environments while exploring the plants and animals that live there.
With a combination of dioramas, hands-on activities, images, and more, you can learn about the fish that live in Lake Michigan and the microscopic life forms that live in marshes, sand dunes, and more.
This particular organ spent two decades entertaining Grand Rapids visitors to the Roaring 20s Pizza Parlor and was later moved to the museum. Every Thursday, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., you can hear melodies played on the organ by museum volunteers.
The doors to the theater are also open to those who want to stop by and listen.
Believe it or not, nearly four dozen ethnic groups live in West Michigan. At this exhibit, you can see more than 600 images and artifacts tracing the history of French fur traders in the Mitten State to refugees, who, in recent years, have come to Michigan seeking better lives.
All of the objects on display tell the stories of everyday people who came to Michigan and shared their cultures and traditions.
Museum-goers have a long-held fascination with Egypt and Egyptian society and the Grand Rapids Public Museum has its own slice of ancient Egyptian culture. You can see a showcase of the museum’s ancient Egyptian historic artifacts, which includes the mummy Nakhte-Bastet-Iru and research into her life.
Additionally, the museum’s collection includes reconstructions of her face and ancient artifacts — jewelry, statuettes, and funerary masks — with descriptions of the roles they played in Egyptian society.
This exhibit is dedicated to the lake sturgeon, one of the largest and oldest fish in the Great Lakes. Learn about the sturgeon’s connection to Native Americans, its fishing history in the region, and current research being done on the species.
Using live sturgeon and artifacts, the sturgeon’s cultural impact is explored locally and throughout the Great Lakes.
One of the best things about museums is that they take you on a trip back in time, and this exhibit does just that. You’re transported to 1890s Grand Rapids with a 3/4-scale re-creation that includes 11 shops based on real buildings.
The storefronts and interiors are usually stocked with goods from the past, and guides offer a peek into what life was like back then. Whether you’re checking out the antique gun shop, the grocery store, or the opera house, it’s hard not to marvel at the exquisite detail of this exhibit.
Other Grand Rapids Public Museum Attractions
As if the amazing permanent and temporary exhibits weren’t enough, the Grand Rapids Public Museum has a few other attractions that you may enjoy. Below is a description of each!
When it comes to museums, the cosmos and all of its wonders have always fascinated visitors. The Grand Rapids Public Museum offers a chance to relax, recline, and enjoy the wonders of space at the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium.
The planetarium is named for Roger Chaffee, a Grand-Rapids-born astronaut who died in 1967 during the Apollo 1 spacecraft fire. You can marvel at constellations, faraway planets, and much more during state-of-the-art presentations.
The technology used at the planetarium provides an incredible experience with immersive sound that makes each show feel very realistic. Also, the planetarium recently installed a loop hearing system, allowing those who are hard of hearing to better hear the presentations.
Read this personal experience of visiting the Grand Rapids Public Museum planetarium:
The planetarium guide, Kenny, has just informed me that “the best seats are toward the back,” and so I make my way down the asymmetrical aisle (designed for easy access to planetarium seating) and choose a reclining chair that lines the back wall.
The glowing ceiling above me is lined at the bottom in rainbow LED lights and covered with what looks like drifting clouds. It looks as though it could go on for miles! This immersion is the result of the planetarium’s recent $1.2-million renovation. It now features the latest Digistar projection technology and an enveloping surround sound system, which work together to give you the illusion of traveling through space.
The lights begin to dim and Kenny informs us that the show will open with a short tribute to Roger B. Chaffee. Then, the feature presentation begins, and I look around to notice the glowing faces of the people around me.
Everyone is staring up in wonder, and I imagine that we look like the people in the grandstands gazing up at one of the Apollo launches so many years ago. Tonight we are watching, “Violent Universe,” one of four programs showing this month at the planetarium, which is narrated by Patrick Stewart (awesome, no?) and takes you on a journey through the chaotic cosmos.
I’m surrounded by people of all ages — young couples out for a date night, children accompanied by their parents, groups of friends just hanging out. The planetarium makes for a night of entertaining education that’s easy on the wallet, and I’m glad I’m not the only one taking advantage of this local treasure!Mariah Agee
There’s plenty to see in person at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, but it continues to deliver digital content that interested folks can check out from the comfort of their own homes.
Once a login is created, you can explore more than 250,000 specimens and artifacts anytime you want, anywhere you want, for free. You can curate your own visit and see some of the museum’s most marvelous exhibits as many times as you want.
As part of its growing digital catalog, the museum offers numerous educational resources for kids of all ages. These resources highlight artifacts and specimens to make real-world connections at local, global, and national levels.
Virtual discovery kits are available in PDF form on topics such as music, fossils, Egypt, and zoology, as well as virtual scavenger hunts, astronomy activities, and exhibit tours.
There’s plenty of fun to be found at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, but a scavenger hunt can make the experience even more memorable. The museum has a number of themed exhibits that you can keep an eye out for as you make your way around the museum. Some are historical, some are bizarre, and some are even rare.
1928 Spillman Carousel
Located in the Cook Carousel Pavilion, the Spillman Carousel has been overlooking the Grand River for 25 years. It’s an iconic landmark in downtown Grand Rapids and a favorite among families.
As of April 2022, the carousel is still under restoration, and no date has been announced for its reopening. Check the museum website for the most up-to-date information.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Grand Rapids Public Museum
Where is the Grand Rapids Public Museum located?
The Grand Rapids Public Museum is located at 272 Pearl St NW, which is in the heart of downtown and close to Van Andel Arena, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.
How much is the Grand Rapids Public Museum?
General admission tickets to this Grand Rapids museum are offered for adults, seniors, students with a student ID, and children aged 3-17. Special rates are also available for residents of Kent County, and additional tickets can be purchased for shows at the planetarium.
When is the Grand Rapids Public Museum open?
The Grand Rapids Public Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. However, the museum is closed for major holidays.
Where do you park at the Grand Rapids Public Museum?
Covered parking for the Grand Rapids Public Museum is available on a parking ramp off of Front St in downtown Grand Rapids, just south of the museum’s main entrance. Keep in mind that there’s a fee to park here, but additional parking is available throughout the city.
Are dining options available at the Grand Rapids Public Museum?
The museum cafe offers a scenic view of Grand Rapids and a family-friendly selection of tasty snacks — baked goods, beverages, and prepackaged lunch items.
Visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum Today!
No matter if you’re a space fanatic, you love animals and plant life, or you can’t get enough of local history, there’s something for everyone at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. With three floors to explore, you won’t leave without learning something new or having a good time.
There’s plenty to see, do, and enjoy in Grand Rapids. If you’re ready to explore the city, put the Grand Rapids Public Museum on your list of places to visit!