Moving to a New Town is a Big Deal
Moving to a brand new community is a major undertaking for anyone, and even more so if you have kids. There are so many factors to consider and you can get all the input you want from locals, but everyone has their own opinions on what’s good or not so good.
What you need to do when moving to a new city is to check the place out yourself.
Be a “local” for a few days and take in the flavors of the different neighborhoods.
Find out what the city offers that is really important to you (do you like local cuisine? do you like a vibrant city? do you like a quiet small town? do you want a lot of neighbors or few neighbors?) and where you and your kids will flourish.
The GRKIDS team is spread out across West Michigan, but while we could tell you all day why we each love the special places that we live, we think that your decision is best made by taking your own scouting trip to Grand Rapids. You know you better than anyone else!
Our Scouting Guide aims to give you real glimpses into all the places that make West Michigan great. It’s designed for you to customize at some points, based on your family’s vibe.
We don’t know which West Michigan neighborhood you’ll choose, but we are pretty confident that you will love it no matter what!
Take Five Days to Scout out West Michigan Neighborhoods
Visiting a new city can be overwhelming. How will you know what to see and what you can’t miss? We’ve created an itinerary for anyone thinking about moving to Grand Rapids, so you can get the full flavor of West Michigan.
While we have major destinations listed for you below, you will also love our Restaurant Map and List that can help you find lunch or dinner near you. You’ll also want to have our GR Mural Crawl map handy, so you can tell the kids where to look for the colorful walls and streets as you drive around.
Day 1 in Grand Rapids: DOWNTOWN DELIGHT
Downtown Grand Rapids is a beautiful, clean city with lots to offer.
We have several top notch museums, a state-of-the-art Medical Mile (be sure to admire the architectural beauty of the DeVos Children’s Hospital), tasty restaurants, several museums from art to children’s to Presidential, and two wonderful venues for sports, concerts and other fun events (Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place).
We’ve found some of the highlights for you to enjoy, but for even more ideas that families will love, check out 20 Fantastic Things to do With Kids in the City of Grand Rapids.
Not used to downtown travel? Our Parking Ramps and Meters post will help you figure out how and where to park.
BREAKFAST: Sundance Grill | Nothing beats Sundance Grill for breakfast downtown – traditional American specialties with Southwestern influences. May we recommend the breakfast tacos?
Tour Downtown by Foot | Grab your phone and walking shoes and do the GR Tag Tour to get a nice intro to our city and learn a little history along the way. If you make it to La Grande Vitesse, be sure to ride the giant tire swing while you’re there. (You can also find a giant red button at Ah Nab Awen Park.)
LUNCH: Downtown Market | The Downtown Market is more than food — it’s an experience. And after a long morning walking around town, you really need some Love’s Ice Cream to help keep you moving.
Your Choice | Check out one of our downtown pillars for fun. Stroll through a museum, catch a hockey match, or take in a show. Options include:
- John Ball Zoo
- Children’s Museum
- Grand Rapids Public Museum
- Grand Rapids Art Museum
- Gerald R. Ford Museum
- Griffins Game
- Civic Theatre
- Grand Rapids Symphony
- Studio Park movie theatre
DINNER: Pick a brewery | You could dine just about anywhere and you’d have a great meal, but if you’re truly doing Grand Rapids (aka: Beer City, USA!), you really must try one of our many breweries and get a craft beer with your meal. Most breweries offer plenty of choices for kids, too. You can get more food ideas here and allergy-friendly options here.
BEFORE BED: Tour Downtown by Car | It’s time to hop in the car and check out a few quintessential downtown spots.
Drive the streets of Heritage Hill, one of the largest urban historic districts in the country, and be inspired by homes that represent nearly every style of American architecture.
Before calling it a day, take in the city’s skyline at Belknap Overlook and fall in love with Grand Rapids!
Zeroing in on Your Fave Community
In addition to a vibrant downtown, Greater Grand Rapids offers many family-friendly communities that surround the city. You can get a feel for the different communities here. Each suburban region boasts unique attractions and neighborhoods that any future GR resident should become familiar with.
Maybe you already know which part of town you want to call home, in which case you can either spend the day exploring your future neighborhood or follow these suggestions to get the lay of the land.
If you’re still narrowing it down, spend the next two days of your scouting trip exploring Metro Grand Rapids’ four regions: Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, and Southwest.
Day 2: Explore Northeast & Southeast Grand Rapids
Today you’re going to see what NE GR and SE GR have to offer: an impressive museum, many parks, and mouth-watering restaurants.
BREAKFAST: Wolfgang’s | A 40-year staple in Grand Rapids, Wolfgang’s is a great way to start your day. It’s so popular, you may find there’s a small wait, but it’s worth it. The breakfast skillets alone will convince you to live here!
Head East | Now that you’ve had your fill, walk around Eastown, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and home to many eclectic shops and cafes.
Hop in the car and travel east to East Grand Rapids, a picturesque community that is the perfect place to spend your morning. Visit John Collins Park, stroll around the banks of Reeds Lake, or play in the children’s area of the East Grand Rapids library.
LUNCH: Anna’s House | For lunch, drive to the NE region and visit the original Anna’s House on Plainfield Ave. There are now eight locations in Michigan (four in West Michigan) because this place is too good to be contained.
Sculptures, Airplanes & More | Now it’s time to experience the magic of Frederik Meijer Gardens, a 158-acre botanical garden and sculpture park and one of the most visited museums in the world.
Afterward, grab a snack in Cascade and make our way to the Gerald R. Ford airport viewing area. Here you’ll find plenty of parking, picnic tables, and open space.
When your aeronautic fascination is fulfilled, swing through Kentwood and stop at Horrocks where you can sip wine while you browse. On your way to dinner, do a drive-by viewing of the Ottawa Hills and Alger Heights neighborhoods.
DINNER: Beltline Bar | The Beltline Bar is on the westernmost edge of SE Grand Rapids and boasts some of the best Mexican fare in town. It’s a great way to fill your belly after a long day!
BEFORE BED: Your Choice | Indulge in some retail therapy at either Woodland Mall or the Shops at Centerpointe (right across the street from each other!) or the boutique-like atmosphere at Breton Village.
Catch a movie at Celebration Cinema North. Head back to East Grand Rapids for ice cream at Jersey Junction.
Or, depending on the time of year (and how quickly you ate dinner), go north to Treetop Adventure Park where you can climb, swing, balance, and soar!
Day 3: See What’s to Love About Northwest & Southwest Grand Rapids
Satisfy your sweet tooth and do some retail therapy on the west side of Grand Rapids. Visit the animals at the zoo and take in a ball game. There is no shortage of fun in the western suburbs!
BREAKFAST: Marge’s Donut Den | OK, it’s not the healthiest breakfast option. But you can’t visit SW Grand Rapids without trying a donut from Marge’s. They also have a variety of other breakfast pastries, but eat one donut and you’ll want a dozen.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your morning, your next stop before lunch is Millennium Park, a 1,400-acre park with a splash pad, playgrounds, trails and a beach.
LUNCH: Mr. Burger | You had donuts for breakfast, so burgers are probably not the best choice, but Mr. Burger is a Grand Rapids staple. We suggest the olive burger and onion rings! If you’re feeling like you need something more nutritious, there are several other eateries near the zoo, your afternoon destination.
PM: John Ball Zoo | Whether or not you bring the kids on your scouting trip, the John Ball Zoo is a worthy stop.
After making some animal friends, hop in the car and navigate to Alpine Avenue, a busy retail corridor. From there, it’s a bit of a jog to The Ridge, an area of rolling slopes left behind by glaciers, and home to several farm markets. But all that fresh produce may be just what you need to balance out those donuts and burgers!
DINNER: Fricano’s | It’s been a day of gluttony, so why not top it off with some of the best pizza in West Michigan? Fricano’s is a family-owned restaurant famous for their thin crust pizza.
BEFORE BED: The West Michigan Whitecaps | If the season is right and the schedule works, we recommend taking in a baseball game at LMCU Ballpark. If that’s not an option, grab a brew at Perrin Brewing or stroll the White Pine Trail.
Day 4: Hit up the Grand Rapids Countryside, Far and Wide
Now it’s time to explore the countryside. If you’re already in love with our more urban areas, your job is done. But if you want a small town feel or a bit more isolation, you’ll want to figure out which of these communities fit you best.
There are many outlying communities surrounding Grand Rapids, and rather than try to see them all in one day, select those that interest you most from the list below and discover what they have to offer:
North of Grand Rapids
- Cedar Springs – Home of the Kent Theatre, and known as the Red Flannel Town.
- Rockford – Home of the Corner Bar, picturesque trails for walking and biking, a dam, the Art Van Sports Complex, and Kayla Rae Cellars.
East of Grand Rapids
- Lowell – Home of the James C. Veen Observatory and Flat River Grill and Kent County Youth Fair.
- Ada – Home of the Ada covered bridge, the Amway World Headquarters, Roselle Park, Quail Ridge Golf Course, and Sietsema Orchards and Cider Mill.
South of Grand Rapids
- Byron Center – Home of the Tanger Outlet Mall, Van Singel Fine Arts Center, and Whistlestop Park.
- Caledonia – Home of the Big O’ Smoke House and Lakeside Park.
West of Grand Rapids
Day 5: Epic West Michigan Lakeshore and More
The Lakeshore is a beautiful area full of sandy beaches and brilliant sunsets.
Many people call the lakeshore area home, but even if you will not be living here, you absolutely must get an idea of what will essentially be in your backyard if you live in West Michigan.
Again, there are many communities to choose from, so decide what interests you and know you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see the rest when you live nearby.
- Muskegon – Home of several state parks, hiking trails, the SS Milwaukee Clipper, the South Pier Lighthouse, and Michigan’s Adventure amusement park.
- Grand Haven – Home of a state park and city beach, the Grand Haven Lighthouse, great shopping and dining, and the family-friendly Coast Guard Festival.
- Holland – Home of the the Holland Lighthouse, Dutch Village, a state park, the Princess River Cruises, and the Tulip Time Festival.
- Saugatuck/Douglas – Home to an exciting art scene, a state park, and Oval Beach.
By now you have a good idea of what West Michigan has to offer but maybe you’re still undecided about whether to move here or where exactly to live when you do.
Be sure to follow along with all the Grand Rapids Kids updates as we share ideas of things to do in the area, places to visit, and details of upcoming events. We’ll help you understand what it means to “do” West Michigan neighborhoods as a family!
Regardless of when you come or which community you choose, we know you’ll love it here!