Awesome Mitten’s Guide to the BEST Things to Do in Grand Rapids Michigan
From historic districts filled with charming bed and breakfasts to cosmopolitan downtown areas featuring dozens of museums, this city has so much to offer every type of traveler. You’ll never run out of things to do in Grand Rapids Michigan.
On the shores of the Grand River, the glittering city of Grand Rapids Michigan defines what life is like in West Michigan.
This city — which has become a cultural hub and an epicenter for social activity — has come into its own over the past several decades but has long played an important role in this region of the state.
Get Out & Explore | Best Outdoor Things to Do in Grand Rapids
Regardless of the season, you’ll find many ways to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty of West Michigan. These are some of the best outdoor attractions in Grand Rapids.
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is one of the most innovative museums in Grand Rapids because it’s one of the only places where natural beauty and fine art are perfectly combined to create an immersive and engaging experience.
This attraction is considered a local gem, yet it attracts visitors from across Michigan and around the country. Art aficionados will delight in the permanent Sculpture Garden, which is a 30-acre garden with one of the finest outdoor collections of art in the world. In addition, three temporary exhibits are rotated annually, ensuring that there’s always something new to discover.
Beyond the Sculpture Garden, visitors can wander and explore various conservatories and gardens, allowing them to experience natural beauty in all of its forms.
The Grand River
The Grand River is the mighty river that Grand Rapids Michigan was built on, and many people don’t realize that it’s actually the largest river in Michigan. Flowing through Lansing, Jackson, and the heart of Grand Rapids, this breathtaking river doesn’t stop until it meets Lake Michigan.
In downtown Grand Rapids, there are many peaceful and private areas where you can sit back, relax, and listen to the sounds of the flowing river. Of course, there are also fishing access points along the river and opportunities to kayak or canoe.
John Ball Zoo
The John Ball Zoo is a favorite seasonal attraction among the young and the young at heart in Grand Rapids. It opens for the year in late March and remains open until winter arrives.
The zoo is home to a variety of habitats, such as the Wild Way Trail with ring-tailed lemurs and the North America habitat with grizzly bears and mountain lions. In addition, visitors can enjoy interactive activities and experiences, such as riding the Funicular or the Zip Line.
Blandford Nature Center
The Blandford Nature Center is another outdoor attraction in Grand Rapids Michigan where visitors can immerse themselves in the beautiful — and downright dirty — aspects of nature.
This attraction encourages hands-on experiences, and visitors can enjoy the elements as they view a variety of animals in their natural habitats, such as owls, vultures, squirrels, and porcupines.
In addition to being a place where people can see and learn more about animals, the Blandford Nature Center is home to a working farm that offers community-supported agricultural partnerships to those who are interested in farm-fresh produce throughout the growing season.
Comstock Riverside Park
You don’t have to leave the Grand Rapids city limits to find a peaceful respite. The Comstock Riverside Park, or just Riverside Park, is a 100-acre urban park that offers riverfront views and quiet picnic areas.
There’s no entrance fee for this park, and it’s open throughout the entire year, making it one of the best places to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life in Grand Rapids and enjoy the best of what West Michigan has to offer.
Stay In & Tour | Best Indoor Attractions in Grand Rapids
While a rainy day is a perfect excuse to go to a local museum or catch an event at the Van Andel Arena, you don’t need to rely on the weather to make an itinerary complete with amazing attractions.
Grand Rapids is home to dozens of museums and plenty of other indoor attractions that let you experience the city in style — whether it’s a beautiful summer day or a blustery winter afternoon.
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
Since 1997, more than 3 million children — and their parents — have walked into the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum only to discover that it’s a wonderland of things to do and play with.
This children’s museum focuses exclusively on hands-on learning and play-based activities, making it a favorite destination among local families and visitors from afar. With nearly a dozen exhibits, children of all ages and abilities can find a favorite spot in this museum.
The best part is that the exhibits are constantly rotating, so there’s always something new to try!
Cathedral of Saint Andrew
The Cathedral of Saint Andrew is a Catholic parish located in the heart of Grand Rapids. While it may be a community of Catholic worshippers, anyone is welcome to visit this magnificent cathedral and admire its architecture.
The cathedral is open daily, but visitors are encouraged to call in advance to be sure that it’s a good time to stop in, view the architecture, and learn more about the parish.
You can see many other architectural wonders in Grand Rapids Michigan too.
Van Andel Arena
For nearly 20 years, Van Andel Arena has been considered the premier entertainment venue in West Michigan. If you want to catch a show or a game in Grand Rapids, you can look up the schedule at Van Andel Arena.
Located in the heart of downtown, this state-of-the-art arena is situated near some of the best restaurants in the city, making it easy for you to enjoy a night out on the town. Throughout the year, dozens of concerts are hosted at the arena, and it’s also home to the Grand Rapids Griffins AHL team.
Grand Rapids Public Museum
The Grand Rapids Public Museum is one of the largest museums not only in Grand Rapids but also in the entire state. It boasts more than 250,000 artifacts and specimens, which means that you can spend hours exploring the museum but only get a taste of what it has to offer.
With nearly a dozen exhibits, this museum has interesting displays for young children, growing teenagers, and intrigued adults. You’ll not only learn about the Grand Rapids Michigan community and the people who have long called this region home, but you’ll also discover the wider world during that time.
In addition to the exhibits, the public museum is home to a planetarium, which gives you a chance to glimpse outside of the museum’s walls and into the stars.
Grand Rapids Art Museum
The Grand Rapids Art Museum features a comprehensive collection of art that spans various genres and mediums, allowing people of all ages, tastes, preferences, and backgrounds to find something that will inspire and excite them.
The galleries are open to all ages, and the museum puts on drop-in studio programs for children that give them hands-on experiences with art. This world-class museum has become one of the most beloved attractions in Grand Rapids, and it strives to connect as many people as possible with the beauty of art.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
The only presidential museum in Michigan is located in Grand Rapids, and it’s dedicated to former President Gerald R. Ford. This museum features not only interactive exhibits that teach visitors about the life, time, and administration of Gerald R. Ford but also rotating exhibits that tell the story of American history.
Enjoy the City’s Flavor | Top Grand Rapids Michigan Restaurants
Grand Rapids is home to a burgeoning food scene, which means that there are always new local restaurants to try out. While it’s exciting to try the latest additions to the city’s downtown area, many tried-and-true restaurants have been nourishing the city’s residents for decades.
Families in Grand Rapids Michigan appreciate that there are many casual and comfortable restaurants where they can dine after a fun day in the city.
The Old Goat, for instance, is a favorite among both parents and kids. Its eclectic menu delights the taste buds of parents who are searching for something more than your run-of-the-mill family items, while its kid’s menu is appealing for the younger visitors in tow.
The energy at this restaurant is palpable, which is perfect for families with lively children, and everyone enjoys the live music performances that are almost always scheduled.
Other notable casual restaurants in Grand Rapids include Forty Acres Soul Kitchen and San Chez Tapas.
Upscale & Fine-Dining Restaurants
Adults who are looking for a more exclusive and upscale dining experience are in luck because there are many fine-dining restaurants in Grand Rapids’ bustling downtown area. These restaurants are perfect for those searching for a place that will be quiet and private or for those who are celebrating milestones.
One of the best fine dining restaurants in Grand Rapids is The Chop House Grand Rapids. This American steakhouse is known for its sophisticated atmosphere and flavorful menu. Many diners opt for chilled oysters, specialty prime steak entrees, and decadent desserts.
In addition to this steakhouse, those in search of a luxury dining experience will be pleased to spend an evening at Noto’s Old World Italian Dining or Margaux.
Grand Rapids Michigan Breweries
While there are a plethora of locally-owned Grand Rapids restaurants to enjoy, you would be remiss if you didn’t enjoy a brewery tour in Beer City U.S.A.
Grand Rapids is considered the place where the Michigan craft beer scene was born. Now, it’s known nationwide as one of the best places to grab a pint of beer.
Some of the best breweries in Grand Rapids include:
When you step into Brewery Vivant, you may feel like you’re on sacred ground.
Part of the reason is that the brewery is housed in a former chapel. The other part is that it’s considered one of the best breweries in the city.
Specializing in Belgian and French ales, it brings a touch of Europe to the heart of the Midwest.
City Built Brewing Company
City Built Brewing Company is often considered the best place to grab a pint by locals who live in Grand Rapids Michigan. This neighborhood brewery is known for not only its eclectic beers but also its Puerto Rican-inspired menu.
Arvon Brewing Co.
Arvon Brewing Company is a relative newcomer to Grand Rapids, having relocated to the city in 2020. It’s known for its fruit-based beers, particularly its sours, so it attracts a specific, yet devoted, crowd of craft beer lovers.
Harmony Brewing Company
Founded by three siblings who grew up in Grand Rapids Michigan, this brewery is considered a local staple. It has two locations in the city, each offering refreshing brews and flavorful food.
Coffee & Sweet Shops
At some point between meals, you might want to visit some of the best coffee shops and ice cream shops in Grand Rapids. Some local coffee shops include Madcap Coffee Company, Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge, and Stovetop Coffee Roasters.
For a frozen treat, head to Pinkie’s Ice Cream and Desserts, which has superman ice cream, or Love’s Ice Cream and Chocolate, which is one of the best ice cream places in West Michigan. There are even several bakeries in Grand Rapids worth visiting.
Stay a While | Top Grand Rapids Lodging Options
Some visitors come to Grand Rapids in search of a quick weekend getaway, while others plan a full-length, weeklong vacation in the city. No matter how long you plan to stay in Beer City U.S.A., you’ll find that there are plenty of lodging options available.
Hotels are one of the most popular places to stay in Grand Rapids Michigan, largely because most of the best spots are located in the heart of downtown. Business travelers, in particular, appreciate the convenience of staying in one of the city’s hotels.
While there are many corporate chain hotels downtown, visitors who are searching for an authentic local experience will appreciate the charm of the Amway Grand Plaza or the Morton Hotel.
Bed and Breakfasts
In addition to the towering hotels in the downtown area, travelers in Grand Rapids will find several boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts scattered throughout the city.
The Heritage Hill District is a historic area that’s home to many of the top bed and breakfasts in Grand Rapids, including The Lafayette House and The Parsonage Inn.
Guests love the fact that they can stay in the historic homes that were once owned by some of the top furniture producers and manufacturers in Grand Rapids. It’s like experiencing a taste of history for themselves.
Vacation Rentals & Campgrounds
Travelers in Grand Rapids can also choose between vacation homes and nearby campgrounds. With an abundance of vacation rentals in the city’s downtown area and neighborhoods, visitors can book a place that allows them to truly live like a local in Grand Rapids Michigan.
The Greater Grand Rapids campgrounds located just outside of the city’s borders allow travelers to surround themselves with natural beauty while being conveniently situated just a few miles away from the best that the city has to offer.
Attractions Near Grand Rapids Michigan You Don’t Want to Miss
Grand Rapids is a city with endless possibilities. With so much to see and do, your itinerary is likely to be packed. You may not have time to go exploring outside of the city limits.
If you do find yourself with a bit of free time and a desire to see more of West Michigan, though, here are some nearby attractions to check out.
Splash & Swim in Lake Michigan
The shores of Lake Michigan are about an hour away from downtown Grand Rapids, and the drive is absolutely worth it. During the summer months, you can head straight to any number of public beaches around Lake Michigan and enjoy its crystal blue waters.
Visit Saugatuck Dunes State Park
While the Sleeping Bear Dunes are some of the most famous sand dunes in West Michigan, the Saugatuck Dunes are much easier to reach when you’re visiting Grand Rapids.
If you have a limited amount of time in Saugatuck, consider taking one of the dune tours for an adventurous ride atop the dunes. It’s one of the best adventures that the west side of the state has to offer.
In addition to enjoying the dunes in Saugatuck, you can cruise the channel and sample some of the local restaurants in town.
Explore Historic Lowell
Just 25 minutes from Grand Rapids Michigan, Lowell is a charming town that’s often overlooked by Michigan travelers. Its scenic and colorful downtown area is perfect for a day of shopping and dining, and don’t forget to pack your camera.
Lowell is home to two of the only covered bridges in the state of Michigan that allow cars to drive across them. You’ll want to take advantage of the chance to capture these breathtaking bridges. Home to one of these covered bridges, Fallasburg Park itself has a plethora of things to do.
Experience Rockford Michigan
To get the flavor of West Michigan, consider taking another day trip to Rockford, which is just 20 minutes away from Grand Rapids. This small town is considered an up-and-coming destination in the state and is home to a historic downtown area that includes breweries, restaurants, boutiques, and more.
One of the most appealing parts of Rockford is the Outdoor Refreshment Area, which is a designated zone along the Rogue River where visitors can purchase snacks and beverages from participating restaurants and enjoy the outdoors while soaking up the best views in town.
Exploring Grand Rapids’ Roots | The History of the City
Like most cities in the Midwest, the land that comprises Grand Rapids Michigan today has been occupied by people for thousands of years.
Native American Tribes
The community’s roots stretch back to its Native American heritage when the Three Fires tribes settled along the banks of the Grand River in the 18th century. The Ojibwa, Potawatomi, and Ottawa Tribes all had known villages in the region.
European settlers arrived around the turn of the 19th century when the fur trading industry was thriving. However, the settlement at that time was very rustic.
It wasn’t until the 1820s that a trading post, blacksmith shop, and cabin were built, officially making Grand Rapids a community. In 1850, Grand Rapids was established as a city.
Industries Through the Ages
Throughout the decades, various industries have taken hold of Grand Rapids, earning it many nicknames along the way. Initially, Grand Rapids was a mining town, known for its plentiful gypsum mines.
Then, in the 20th century, it became known as Furniture City because the booming lumber industry attracted furniture manufacturers to the community. At one point, there were more than 40 furniture manufacturers in the city alone.
Today, Grand Rapids is more commonly known as Beer City U.S.A. because of the craft beer scene that continues to grow.
Grand Rapids in the Modern Era
Modern-day Grand Rapids Michigan is a sight to behold. The sparkling Grand River cuts through the heart of the downtown area, and the city’s skyline is defined by many sky-rise towers.
Here are some fun facts about Grand Rapids Michigan today:
- More than 2 million passengers fly through Gerald R. Ford International Airport each year, which is the second-largest airport in Michigan.
- Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in Michigan with a population of more than 203,000 people within its borders and more than 1.3 million people in its metropolitan area.
- President Gerald R. Ford was born in Grand Rapids and is the only U.S. President to have been born in Michigan.
- Grand Rapids Michigan is considered one of the most bike-friendly cities in not only the state but also the country.
- Grand Rapids is also known as one of the best fishing cities in the country, making it a favorite stop for those who like to enjoy city life and the great outdoors.
What’s the Weather Like? What to Expect in Grand Rapids Michigan
Located just east of Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids experiences the seasonal changes that much of the Midwest enjoys, just with an extra punch.
- West Michigan springs can be slow to arrive, as the cool winds off the lake keep the temperatures down. But once it’s here, residents enjoy an abundance of color and life.
- West Michigan summers are blissful for Grand Rapids, with temperatures ranging from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Many residents and visitors alike find themselves enjoying the nearby beaches.
- The fall season in Grand Rapids is one of the most comfortable and glorious with cool temperatures that are perfect for leaf-peeping.
- Grand Rapids in the winter experiences cold, windy days and often endures lake effect snowfalls.
9 Fascinating Facts & FAQs About Grand Rapids Michigan
Q: Is Grand Rapids Michigan worth visiting?
A: Absolutely! Grand Rapids has many art museums and galleries, breweries, an arena, great local parks, and much more.
Q: What is Grand Rapids best known for?
A: Once upon a time, Grand Rapids was known as America’s Furniture Capital because five of the world’s leading furniture companies are based there.
It’s also known as the home of former president Gerald Ford.
Q: How do I spend a day in Grand Rapids MI?
A: Start your day with coffee from one of many great Grand Rapids coffee shops and prepare yourself for a day of exploration.
Visit Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park to see nature and fine art together in an immersive experience. Visit the John Ball Zoo to see a variety of animals. Visit one of Grand Rapids’ many public museums. Cap the day off with a visit to a local restaurant or brewery.
Q: What is there to do in Grand Rapids at night?
A: There’s plenty to do after dark in Grand Rapids. GR’s downtown entertainment district is packed with live-music venues, comedy clubs, brewpubs, sports bars, theaters, and more.
Q: Is Grand Rapids a walkable city?
A: That depends on where you live. Some Grand Rapids neighborhoods like East Hills, Midtown, and Heartside-Downtown are very walkable. Other spots in the city may be best reached with public transportation or by driving.
Q: How do you get around in Grand Rapids MI?
A: One of the easiest ways is to use the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) bus system. It has two continuous routes that run and hit every stop about once every eight minutes. There are no tickets or passes required, so you can just hop on wherever you need to.
Q: Does Grand Rapids have a beach?
A: There’s not a beach in Grand Rapids proper, but there are nearly two dozen Lake Michigan beaches that are within an hour’s drive of downtown Grand Rapids.
Q: How far is the airport from downtown Grand Rapids?
A: GRR Airport is about 13 miles away from downtown. In good traffic conditions, it’s about a 20-minute drive.
Q: Is Grand Rapids bigger than Detroit?
A: Detroit is actually 3 times the size of Grand Rapids.
Home to just more than 203,000 people, Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in Michigan. Boasting a vibrant economy, breathtaking views, and a refreshing arts and culture scene, this city has attracted not only an influx of new residents but also travelers who want to experience its authentic flavor.
Explore More Things to Do in West Michigan
If you hope to experience the best of what West Michigan has to offer, you simply have to spend a few days — or more — in the heart of Grand Rapids. This city has set itself apart from the rest of the state, earning a reputation for being young, hip, and vibrant while offering the opportunity to live in a thriving community.
From the moment when spring arrives in the city until the last leaf falls as winter begins to set in, Grand Rapids Michigan is filled with opportunity. You won’t regret taking the time to discover the soul of this city by exploring the best attractions and enjoying the local restaurants and lodging options along the way.