• la grand vitesse at Calder Plaza Grand rapids, MI

Where Kids can Find Downtown Fun

Whether you’re a life-time Grand Rapids resident or just in town for a weekend visit, there are lots of ways to enjoy an afternoon in River City with kids.

I like to consider myself a GR enthusiast and I love few things more than exploring this great city with my family. And let me tell you, there is much to explore!

Downtown Grand Rapids Holds Hours of Family Adventure

I’ve whittled down my list of many downtown GR favorites to my “top 8” favorite ways to spend an afternoon in Grand Rapids with kids. Enjoy!

downtown Grand Rapids with Kids

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8 Ways to Spend an Afternoon in Grand Rapids with Kids

1 – Lunch at Downtown Market

The Downtown Market is one of my absolute favorite places to eat out with my kids downtown. If we are going to eat in a restaurant at the Market, then we usually opt for Slow’s BBQ.

One evening my family of four shared a tray of their too-die-for pulled pork and one (huge) basket of their waffle fries. Our entire dinner cost around $16; you can’t even feed four people at Burger King for that little!

Indoor View of Downtown Market Grand Rapids

The nice thing about Downtown Market, though, is that you can grab food from various spots and take it “to go” and eat in their upstairs seating area.

This is perfect for those times your family may be craving different foods. From tacos, to Thai, to crepes, to seafood…Downtown Market has it all! This also works well for families with allergies or picky eaters.

Malamiah Juice Bar Downtown market Grand Rapids

Have I convinced you yet to start your Grand Rapids afternoon by grabbing lunch at Downtown Market?

RELATED: Eat Your Way Through Grand Rapids: A Family’s Guide to Kid-Friendly Eats


2 – Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

If you’re spending time downtown with your kids, then you have to get some play time in at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. My preschooler and infant are both in play heaven when we take them to GRCM.


Grand Rapids Children’s Museum rotates their exhibits on a monthly basis. Some of their favorites include:

  • Kidstruction Zone
  • To the Rescue
  • Aunt Daisy’s Farm
  • Little Grand Rapids
  • Bubbles!
  • Wee Discover


Check their website for rates, special event info, and hours of operation.

RELATED: A Parent’s Guide to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

3 – Treat Yourself to Madcap Coffee

If you are a coffee lover, then stopping to grab a pour over or latte at Madcap Coffee is a must when you are downtown.


Madcap buys, roasts and brews high end, specialty coffee, so this isn’t the place to grab a cheap cup o’ joe. But it is a fun place to stop downtown if you’re a “coffee snob” (or want to pretend you are one for the day).


If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll LOVE being treated to a flavored milk steamer. My little man loves getting a “kid coffee” on the rare occasion he’s treated to a steamer.

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4 – Stroll Through Ah-Nab-Awen Park

One of my favorite places to walk around downtown Grand Rapids is in Ah-Nab-Awen Park that runs along the Grand River. There is a nice paved sidewalk all along the bank that’s perfect for strollers. The park includes the grounds of Gerald R. Ford Museum, so you can also enjoy the architecturally-interesting water fountain in front of the Ford Museum.

And don’t forget about letting your kids climb the Big Red Button!

Walkway at Gerald R Ford Museum

5 – Take Photos on the Iconic Blue Bridge

The Blue Bridge is one of the most well-known structures in downtown Grand Rapids. This is a fun pedestrian bridge to walk when you are downtown. Plus, it’s a perfect place to take out your camera (or phone) and snap some great photos of your kids!

You can find parking pretty close to the Blue Bridge at the Ford Museum lot or in a metered parking space along one of the surrounding streets, like near the Grand Rapids Public Museum.


Fun fact, the Blue Bridge “is the oldest railroad bridge in the City built in 1868 and rebuilt in 1892. It was used as the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad Bridge for deliveries traveling between Muskegon and Mackinaw City” through the 1980s, according to grcity.us.

6 – Explore the Historic Main Public Library


Grand Rapids Public Library’s main building is worth checking out for the gorgeous architecture alone. The library was built in 1871 and remains a well-maintained landmark in our city.

GRPL Main Library

While parents will enjoy the architecture and browsing books, there is a massive children’s area your kids will enjoy in the library.

In addition to thousands of books, you can also find a play kitchen, dress-up clothing, LEGOs, blocks, trains, a puppet theatre and more.


Plus, there is an area for babies to explore with board books, puzzles, blocks and other age-appropriate items. An afternoon in downtown Grand Rapids is always made better with a trip to the main library!

main GRPL library branch


7 – Take a Ride on the Carousel

Every Grand Rapids kid must ride the beautiful, antique Spillman Carousel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. It’s basically a rite of passage for GR kids. It’s also a really fun thing to do for tourists when they’re visiting our town!

2016 Admission info is below:

  • Adults: $8
  • Students: $3 with school ID
  • Children: $3 (3-17)
  • Children 2 and under are Free

To ride the carousel, it only costs an extra $1 per kid (free for members).


8 – Watch Fish Climb the Fish Ladder

Going to Fish Ladder Park (located at 606 Front NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504) is another must-do activity when spending the day downtown.


There is free parking and bathrooms, so this is an easy place to visit. Kids and adults alike are fascinated by watching the fish try to climb their way up the fish ladder.


Lastly…before you plan your downtown adventure, you may want to read these four helpful driving and parking tips for downtown driving. If you feel a bit leery about navigating the city streets, finding parking, etc. these tips are especially for YOU!

  1. The streets of  GR end with a directional term (i.e. Beltline NE). While this makes addressing envelopes a bit more cumbersome, it’s actually helpful for navigating the road system. Two major roads separate the four quadrants, NE, NW, SE, SW. Fulton divides the road system by North/South and Division runs East/West through the city.
  2. Downloading Park Mobile App is a life-saver for parking downtown! You can quickly and easily pay for meters without having change on-hand.
  3. Speaking of meters, they are FREE Mon-Fri after 6pm, and weekends are free all day (except for Monroe Center on Saturdays). Check out the city’s interactive parking meter rate map to learn more.
  4. Once outside the center of downtown, you’ll notice there is odd/even parking. Read the signs thoroughly, as you are looking ahead at the next day’s rules. (e.g. No odd parking between 2- 6AM means you can’t park there the night of an even day)

What are your favorite ways to spend time with your kids downtown? We’d love to hear your favorite spots to play, explore and eat. And let us know if anything on this list prompts you to try something new. Cheers to GR family adventuring!

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About the Author:

Peg Theobald
Peg is an adventure-seeker, coffee lover, amateur baker, urban dweller, and self-proclaimed GR-enthusiast. She is passionate about nap time, podcasts, reading to her boys, spicy tacos, emojis and date night.

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