Best Things To Do in Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids is tailor-made for families. From the animals at the John Ball Zoo to the interactive exhibits at the Grand Rapids Children's Museum, the city excels at offering a bevy of diversions for visiting families. Even some of the more adult-centric attractions, such as the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, manage to appeal to little ones with kid-friendly amenities and activities. But if you're visiting without young travelers in tow, you'll find a variety of historical and cultural attractions worth your time, including the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, the Meyer May House and the city's impressive collection of breweries.
Updated September 29, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Grand RapidsMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
To learn about the life of the 38th president of the United States, consider a visit to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. Though he was born in Omaha, Nebraska, Ford spent much of his life in Grand Rapids. The museum showcases more than 19,000 artifacts related to the president, including items from the 1976 presidential campaign, American bicentennial gifts, and gowns and dresses worn by the president's wife, Betty Ford. Throughout the museum, visitors will learn about Ford's childhood in Grand Rapids, his time at the University of Michigan and Yale Law School, his unique ascendency to vice president and eventually his time as the 38th president of the United States. Visitors also have the chance to see a replica of Ford's White House Oval Office and the original Watergate burglar tools, among other highlights.
Past visitors were pleasantly surprised by the museum's volume of artifacts and said it's a must-do while in Grand Rapids. Reviewers also said the museum is a great stop for both kids and adults.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Grand RapidsParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
For an art-filled afternoon spent outdoors, head to the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Among its 158 acres is Michigan's largest tropical conservatory, five indoor theme gardens, outdoor gardens, nature trails and sculpture gardens, among other features. Highlights for past visitors include the five-story, 15,000-square foot conservatory, the 8-acre Japanese garden and the sculpture garden, which showcases the likes of Auguste Rodin, Barbara Hepworth and Richard Serra, among other artists.
Recent travelers described the park as a "must-see" and advised future visitors to wear comfortable walking shoes. Others praised the interactive children's garden, which includes treehouses, a log cabin, a maze and a sense garden, among other features. If you can, reviewers recommended timing your visit for the park's annual butterfly exhibition. During the temporary tropical butterfly exhibition, which is held in March and April, more than 7,000 butterflies take flight in the conservatory.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Grand RapidsMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
A great place to stop for a local history lesson, the Grand Rapids Public Museum specializes in science, history and culture. Along with a theater, a cafe, a gift shop, a carousel and a planetarium, the museum boasts three floors of exhibits. Among the exhibits is a scaled recreation of 1890s-era Grand Rapids, hands-on activities that teach kids about fish in Lake Michigan and a 5,000-square-foot exhibit that displays Native American decorative arts, clothing, weapons and tools of the Anishinabek.
Past visitors were impressed with the museum, particularly its manageable size. Others praised the gift shop. To make the most of your visit, reviewers suggested avoiding the museum when school groups are there.
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Culture hounds will want to plan a visit to the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which showcases a permanent collection of more than 6,000 objects representing everything from the Renaissance to modern art, with a special focus on 19th- and 20th-century European and American art. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum hosts a variety of temporary exhibitions and a Michigan Artist Series that features artists and designers from the state.
Past visitors said a stop here is a pleasant way to spend a few hours in downtown Grand Rapids. Art aficionados appreciated the strength of the museum's modern and contemporary collections. Others wished there was a cafe on-site.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Grand RapidsWineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDWineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Calling all beer lovers! Did you know Grand Rapids is nicknamed Beer City, USA? To get a better understanding of the city's craft brewery scene, consider exploring the Beer City Ale Trail, which boasts more than 80 breweries.
Local and visitor favorites include: New Holland Brewing - The Knickerbocker, known for its Dragon's Milk barrel-aged stout; Grand Rapids Brewing Co., which dates back to 1893 and features a World Beer Championship gold medal winner – the Rosalynn Bliss Blonde; and Founders Brewing Co., best known for its All Day IPA and KBS, a barrel-aged chocolate coffee stout. According to past visitors, all three offer great atmospheres paired with tasty brews and delicious food.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Grand RapidsZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Home to more than 2,000 animals representing 200-plus species, the John Ball Zoo is a hit with visitors traveling with kids. Named in honor of one of the founding fathers of Grand Rapids, the zoo was created after Ball's death in 1884, when he left 40 acres of land for public use to the city. Among the zoo's inhabitants are tigers, chimpanzees, grizzly bears, and 50 different frogs, toads and salamanders. There is also an aquarium on-site that houses Magellanic penguins, among other critters. Since the zoo occupies 31 acres of a 103-acre park, visitors will want to wear comfortable footwear to traverse the large facility.
Past visitors said a stop at the zoo is an excellent activity for families, especially those with young kids. Since the zoo allows visitors to bring in outside food into the facility, many reviewers suggested packing a picnic to enjoy on the grounds.
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A hit with visiting families and locals alike, the Grand Rapids Children's Museum features a variety of interactive exhibits to engage growing minds. Exhibits rotate frequently, but may include a replica of a Lake Michigan beach that allows kids to play in the sand, a dinosaur exhibit that features lifelike recreations of dinosaurs, and a "kidstruction zone" that encourages little ones to build a PVC pipe maze, create a foam brick wall and use a wheelbarrow to move gravel.
Past visitors reported spending several hours exploring the interactive exhibits, and praised the reasonable entry prices and convenient downtown location.
- #8View all PhotosfreeMeyer May House#8 in Grand RapidsFree, Historic Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Historic Homes/MansionsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Architecture buffs will want to plan a visit to the Meyer May House, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home located in the city's Heritage Hill Historic District. Originally constructed in 1908, the house was built for Meyer and Sophie May; Meyer's family owned a local department store. Though the house eventually fell into disrepair, it was carefully restored and opened to the public in 1987. A Michigan historic site, the home is considered one of Wright's most elegant Prairie residences. Inside, visitors will find details that have come to define Wright's style, including art glass windows, skylights, built-in cabinetry and geometrically patterned screens.
Recent travelers praised the house's restoration, the knowledgeable docents and furnishings. Many said the house is a "hidden gem" in Grand Rapids.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Grand RapidsParks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Outdoors lovers will want to plan a visit to the Blandford Nature Center. What started as a family farm has transformed into a haven for outdoor recreation. Among its 264 acres of woods, streams and meadows, the nature center boasts 4 miles of trails, a wildlife education center, an organic farm, historic buildings, seasonal festivals and a working sugarbush.
Past visitors said the nature center is a great place to explore with the whole family. According to reviewers, children particularly enjoy the on-site farm, which, in addition to growing vegetables, is also home to chickens and goats.
- #10View all PhotosfreeMillennium Park#10 in Grand RapidsFree, Parks and GardensTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and GardensTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Did you know one of the largest urban parks is located in western Michigan? Spread across 1,400 acres, the park technically occupies land in four cities: Grand Rapids, Walker, Grandville and Wyoming. Along with 18 miles of trails, the park also boasts a 6-acre beach, a splash pad, boat rental facilities and picnic areas, among other features. Upon completion, the park is expected to be more than two times larger than New York City's Central Park.
According to past visitors, the park provides an abundance of family-friendly activities. Reviewers described the park as quiet, peaceful and clean. Others appreciated the opportunity to rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards.
- #11View all PhotosfreeFish Ladder Park#11 in Grand RapidsFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
When sightseeing through downtown Grand Rapids, consider a stop at Fish Ladder Park. A functional piece of architectural artwork designed by Joseph Kinnebrew, this concrete fish ladder was constructed to allow migrating fish to circumvent the powerful flow of the Grand River. During seasonal spring and late summer migration, visitors can observe fish jump up the "ladder" as the animals make their way down the low-grade waterfall. There are a variety of walkways and viewing platforms for onlookers to take advantage of.
Recent travelers said this is an interesting sight to see and that if you're patient you'll spot all different types of fish, including salmon and carp, jumping up the ladder during a seasonal migration in the spring and late summer.
- #12View all Photos#12 in Grand RapidsMuseums, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Through recorded oral histories, memorabilia, exhibits, pop-up displays and special events, the Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives serves to share the stories of the Black experience in Grand Rapids. Though it occupies a relatively small space for a museum (measuring 2,100 square feet), GRAAMA hopes to move to a more than 13,000-square-foot contemporary museum in downtown Grand Rapids. Until then, travelers can visit the intimate space to learn about the accomplishments of Black leaders in Grand Rapids. Beyond the museum, travelers can also trace the steps of Grand Rapids' civil rights history via the museum's 2-mile walking tour that's accompanied by a podcast.
Though past visitors lamented the museum's small size, many recommended it for the vast amount of knowledge shared here.
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