I went to Chicago and had a blast sharing my adventures with you.  I loved being a tourist in a town I consider our “big Sister City.”  And then it dawned on me that I have never given Grand Rapids, our hometown, the same star treatment.

I love Grand Rapids.  ArtPrize, LaughFest and about a million other reasons make me proud to live in this part of the mitten. But I’ll be honest: I don’t usually think, “Hey, let’s go downtown” when I have an open day on the calendar,   If downtown does come to mind, it’s usually because of a festival going on or a trip to the GR Children’s Museum is in the works.

But what if I told you there was a way to get downtown, see some cool sites, do it for free, and NOT worry about parking?

If you’re willing to walk a bit, I’ve got an adventure for you.

Start your adventure at Grand Rapids Fish Ladder Park. [560 Front Ave NW Grand Rapids, MI 49504]

Park your car here and walk the rest of the tour – and you’ll avoid paying for parking.

Grand Rapids Fish Ladder Park

The Fish Ladder park is old and not a place where you’re going to want to eat a picnic, but it is still fascinating.

The fish ladder necessary because of the barrier in the river.

Grand rapids Fish ladder grand River

We stood for minutes upon minutes watching the fish on the ladder.  We could have stayed forever, I think.  The hard part about the fish ladder with three kids is the railing.  It’s solid wood and pretty tall.  My five year old kept wanting to climb up on the ledge for a better view.  I kept visualizing her toppling over.  So I tried to hold her up while also holding up my two-year old.  Next time I might bring a stepstool from home for the five year old, that would make things easier.

Do you see the fish going down the ladder in this photo?

fish ladder grand rapids

From Fish Ladder Park, we walked south on the sidewalk (bring a stroller) along Scribner Ave NW.  We passed Michigan St and ended up at the rear of the Gerald R. Ford Museum where we were greeted by a Big Red Button.

Big Red Button Grand Rapids MI

My kids were all over this thing.

Popping in and out of button holes, playing tag, having all sorts of fun.  I’m not sure who’s in charge of the maintenance of the button; it does need repair.  I hope that the Big Red Button is taken care of and can stay in our community for generations to come.

We continued our walk on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

Walkway at Gerald R Ford Museum

It was a hot day, so sitting in the spray of the fountain was a welcome treat.

Fountain Outside of the Gerald R Ford Museum Grand Rapids

We stopped and admired the view from over the Grand River as we crossed the pedestrian bridge toward DeVos Place.


Grand Rapids River Walk

The kids even spotted the carousel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum from afar.

Do you know where it is?

Grand Rapids Public Museum

Our next stop was Calder Plaza.  To get there, we cut through parking garage to get to Calder Plaza, but you could also walk along Michigan and turn south on Monroe.

Since we came from the parking garage, the first thing we saw in Calder Plaza was the giant Tire Swing.

tire swing Di Suvero Grand rapids

This tire swing was installed when I was one.  I’m so glad that the people of Grand Rapids have maintained it… my kids and I had a delightful time swinging the afternoon away.

As you can imagine, it was difficult to get my little ones off of the swing.  But we managed to peel ourselves away and meandered over to look at (and climb on) La Grand Vitesse.

la grand vitesse at Calder Plaza Grand rapids, MI

la grand vitesse downtown Grand Rapids calder Plaza

From here, we turned around and retraced our steps back to Fish Ladder Park.  It is a walk, yes, but that was the trade-off for the free and easy parking.

All in all, a fine afternoon.

What will it take to get you to play tourist in your own town?  I hope I’ve inspired a visit by you and your family.  I’ve put together a map of our three destinations to help you get started. [line]

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