Hit the Town With Your Kids Without Breaking the Bank

As a parent, there are times when it seems like I can’t leave the house with my kids without spending money. While I love to be out and about with my kids, I can’t afford to do all the fun things, all the time.

Grand Rapids is full of truly free activities you can do as a family and we’ve put together a fun little afternoon to prove just that! A day out on the town without needing to spend a dime–are you ready for it?!

Before you pack up the kids, grab a backpack or tote and load it with: a few snacks, a couple water bottles, a blanket or towel, frisbee and/or soccer ball, and maybe a few favorite children’s books. Now you’re really ready for some free fun!

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Free Things to do in Downtown Grand Rapids With Kids

Stop One: The Fish Ladder

This is an oldie, but a goodie! The fish ladder is functional artwork that provides an opportunity to see fish jump up water steps. Spring and late summer are your best chance to see fish jumping, but it’s beautiful year round.

With free parking and bathrooms, this is a great spot for your “home base” for the day!

Head north on Front Street and cross the 6th Street Bridge (bonus stop for an awesome overlook at our pretty little city).

Stop Two: Sixth Street Park

I noticed this spot from a rooftop downtown and thought it was just the sweetest spot for a park. Set right on the river, this would be a great place to stop for a quick snack, play frisbee, or read a book with your kids!

Head south on Monroe Ave to Michigan Ave and then head east to Ottawa Ave and go south.

free things to do in Downtown Grand Rapids

Stop Three: Calder Plaza

Calder Plaza is as iconic as it gets for Grand Rapids. The beautiful orange sculpture La Grande Vitesse is there to greet you and you can meander around to find the giant tire swing for loads of giggles with your kiddos.

Head south on Ottawa Ave to Pearl and travel west. (Option: stop at Rosa Parks Circle  to see if there’s something fun happening – as there often is). 

Stop Four: Riveredge Trail

A scenic walking option instead of staying on busy city roads. This little trail will take you right along the river with some great views of the city all around you.

Head north on the trail until you get to the Gillett Bridge (just for pedestrians) and cross back over the river.

Stop Five: Ah-Nab-Awen Park

This is good place for a game of tag (before loading everyone back in the car–you’re almost done) and another iconic photo moment in the giant, red button. There are also bathrooms located here if anyone needs a potty break!

It’s about a half a mile walk along the trail by this side the river to get back to the Fish Ladder where you started.

downtown Grand Rapids for free

Bonus Ideas to Customize your Trip

  • Check and see when storytimes are at the Grand Rapids Public Library for a cozy pitstop in a historical building.
  • Admission to the Grand Rapids Art Museum is free on Tuesdays. I took my two kids last year (at 4 years old and 1 year old) and we had a surprisingly great time!
  • Checkout our list of Instagram worthy photo spots in West Michigan to add a few more stops during your trip (there are quite a few included already).
  • Keep playing all night long–admission to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is deeply discounted on Thursday evenings from 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM. Just $1.75 per person for another couple hours of fun family time.
  • Resident of Kent County? Kids get free admission to the Grand Rapids Public Museum and grown-ups are just $5. As always, carousel rides are just $1 too.
  • Reward yourself for being an awesome parent with a coffee for the way home (I would recommend a detour for Madcap–you won’t be disappointed).

If you embark on our fun, free afternoon, share a picture of your adventures with the the hashtag #grkidsfreeafternoon and maybe you’ll see your family featured on our social media!

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