55 Classic Grand Rapids Activities Every Kid Needs to Experience

Things Kids Must do in GR before Growing Up Feature Image Tire Swing Downtown

The Essential Bucket List for West Michigan Kids

Want to give your kids the classic Grand Rapids childhood? Try to hit as many things on this list as you can!

There’s something unique about West Michigan that you can’t reproduce anywhere else. No one else has ArtPrize or the Big Red Button. I don’t know of any other grocery stores that have Sandy the Penny Horse. I bet we have the only weather ball, and I KNOW that we have the only true Santa Claus.


These are the unique experiences that every Grand Rapids kids should be able to brag doing when they go off to college or move out of state. It’s what makes Grand Rapids seem so special to the world.

Because, it is special.


John Ball Zoo

Take a day trip to John Ball Zoo! Visit meerkats, tigers, chimpanzees, penguins, red pandas, otters, and more. Plus, don’t miss BRICKLIVE Animal Paradise – featuring over 40 life-sized animal sculptures created with over 1.8 million individually colored toy building bricks!

JBZ title sponsor summer 2020

1300 W. Fulton St, Grand Rapids, MI, 49504

(616) 336-4300


CLASSIC Grand Rapids  

54 Things You Need to do in Grand Rapids as a Kid

1) Experience the Butterflies at Meijer Gardens

Receive dozens of butterfly kisses in the spring when the Fred & Dorothy Fichter annual exhibit Butterflies Are Blooming comes to Frederik Meijer Gardens.

butterfly food e1555696873251

2) Meet John Ball & his Zoo of Friends

Strike a pose on one of the most photographed sculptures in the city when you visit John Ball Zoo. Then head on inside for a day with the lions, tiger, red pandas, meerkats and more. Be sure to ride the funicular and try their mason jar sundaes.

John Ball Statue Iconic Instagram feature image

3) Climb the Big Red Button at Ah-Nab-Awen

Enjoy a picnic with a view when you grab a blanket and head to Ah-Nab-Awen Park and spend some time climbing on Lorrie’s Button.

BIg Red Button boys Grand Rapids Brooks

4) Play in GRCM’s Giant Bubbles

Stroll through Little GR, let your imagination run wild, and even put yourself in a giant bubble at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.

Favorite West Michigan Instagram Spots Inside a Bubble at the Childrens Museum 1

5) Cheer on Street Scrubbers at Tulip Time

Encourage the Street Scrubbers as they prepare the parade path through downtown Holland during the Volksparade at Tulip Time.


Tulip Time Dutch Dance Parade Holland

6) Treat Your Tastebuds at Fulton Street Farmer’s Market

Bring some sunshine home when you buy a big bunch of sunflowers at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market. The colors and scents of  Michigan homegrown can’t be beat.

Fulton Street Farmers Market farmer fresh produce

7) Get Lost in the Stacks at GRPL’s Main Library

Explore the endless books at GRPL’s Main Branch  and don’t forget to admire the beautiful lobby.

Favorite WEst Michigan INstagram Spots GR Public Library Atrium 1

8) Catch a Flick at Movies on Monroe

  Watch a favorite family film at this funky outdoor setting when you go to Movies on Monroe.

Movies on Monroe Ward kids

9) Go Berry Picking at a UPick Farm

 Enjoy a blueberry cobbler or strawberry shortcake using berries that you picked yourself at a nearby farm.! Local farms offer strawberry, blueberry, peach, cherry and raspberry picking!

Strawberry picking Upick Malski

10) Feed the giraffes at Boulder Ridge

Ride a safari bus, feed a giraffe, and get close to exotic animals at Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park.

Boulder Ridge Animal Park 1

11) Ride the Carousel at GRPM

 Take a spin over the river when you ride the antique Spillman Carousel at Grand Rapids Public Museum.

GRPM Public Museum Carousel Hunt


12) Eat a Yesterdog

Grab a world famous lunch when you dine at Yesterdog (and don’t forget some quarters for the popcorn machine).

Football party hot dogs

13) Rock a Musical at the Civic Theatre

Catch a show (and maybe even sing along) at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre.

Buddy the Elf the Musical GRCT Civic 1

14) Swing on Motu Viget

Take an epic swing on the interactive art piece Motu Viget (aka the Giant Tire Swing).

Favorite WEst MIchigan INstagram Spots Motu Viget TIre Swing Option 2 1

15 ) Catch a Kid-Friendly Symphony

Introduce your little to a wide world of musical experience when you go to a Lolli-Pop concert presented by the Grand Rapids Symphony.

01 Symphony e1560389315261

16) Run the Bases at Fifth Third Ballpark 

Run the bases before or after a West Michigan Whitecaps game at the Fifth Third Ballpark.

whitecaps fifth third ballpark 1 1

18) Gape at Amway Grand Hotel’s Lobby

Don your fanciest apparel for a special outing when you stop by the opulent lobby of the Amway Grand Hotel or another Parent-Child special night!

Amway Grand Pantlind Lobby Chandelier Hunt

19) Go Camping. Up North.

Go camping up north (even if it’s only for one night, and it also doesn’t need to technically be too far north).

Camping boy and baby sleeping in hammock 1

20) Spend the day at the Huge Millennium Park

Swim in the lake, stay cool at the splash pad, and even rent a paddleboat for extra exploring at Millennium Park.

millennium park splash pad - siemens

21) Attend the Historic Festival of the Arts

Paint, glue, dance, and taste your way through one of Grand Rapids longest running events: Festival of the Arts!

Paint In Festival of the Arts Grand Rapids

22) Play the day Away at Kent County Youth Fair

Spend the entire day exploring the Kent County Youth Fair.

KCYF carnival games

23) Hit a Bike Trail

There’s nothing quite as #puremichigan as a summer bike ride that involves a stop by an ice cream shop.

things to do outside: bike trail near me

24) See Impressive Boats at the Coast Guard Festival

Ride around Grand Haven on the trolley (bonus if you do so during the Coastguard Festival!).

use only for Coastguard festival grand haven

25) Learn the Weather Ball Song

Learn the Channel 13 Weather Ball rhyme and always get a quick weather report when you drive near the 131-96 interchange. “Weather ball red: warmer ahead. Weather ball blue: cooler in view. Weather ball green: no change foreseen. Colors blinking bright: rain or snow in sight.”

Grand Rapids Weather Ball Red Feature Image

26) Drive Your Boat in the Great Lakes at FMG

Set sail, learn about the Great Lakes, and maybe get a wee bit wet, when you play at Children’s Garden within Frederik Meijer Gardens.

Meijer Gardens Great Lakes

27) Visit Our Presidential Museum – the Gerald R. Ford

Learn about our very own hometown President and take a gander at a replica Oval Office at the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

Gerald R Ford Museum outside

28) Marvel at a Lake Michigan Sunset

Watch the sunset over the Big Lake from one of many awesome beaches along the fresh coast.

lake michigan sunset

29) Ride the Mega Slide at Rosewood Park

Ride the 2-story slide at Rosewood Park while you wait for your turn at the annual Saturday Slip-N-Slide event at Charlie’s Dump each June. (Saturday slip-n-slide canceled for 2020, but the park is still open, along with the splash pad!)

Rosewood Park tall slide Hunt

30) Cross the Covered Bridge at Fallasburg Park

After you walk the bridge, hop on the stones to cross over the creek at Fallasburg Park and ride the triple tire swing at the playground.

Fallasburg Park bridge fall kids

31) Watch Fireworks from the Blue Bridge

The blue bridge is the only place to watch Fireworks on the Fourth of July.

When are Grand Rapids Fireworks Header

32) Meet a Hundred Animals at Deer Tracks Junction

Have a snack with a yak and mosey through the wild west town at Deer Tracks Junction.

petting zoos deer tracks junction camels Hunt

33) Experience Iconic Fall at an Apple Orchard

Visit a local orchard in the fall, and be ready for petting zoos, rides, bounce houses, hayrides and maybe some apple picking, cider, and of course donuts.

UPick Apples Feature Image Blok Orchard Hunt

34) Watch Griffins Hockey on Star Wars Night

Catch a Griffins game at Van Andel Arena on theme night. (Our favorite is Star Wars!).

griffins promo code star wars night

35) Master the Kroc Center’s Rock Wall

Climb the rock wall at the Kroc Center and see if you can find the secret code that is hidden there.

Kroc Center mini Rock Climbing Wall copy e1560561345719

36) Picnic with the Airplanes at GRR Airport Viewing Area

Feel planes fly right over your head at the GRR Airport Viewing Area.


37) Have Lunch at Downtown Market

Discover all the tasty treats and events at Downtown Market.

Downtown Market Loves Ice Cream Flight

38) Get Hands-On at Grand Rapids Art Museum

Bring home your own masterpiece from the GRAM when you visit on a Saturday for their Drop-in Studio.

The Great Lakes Cycle GRAM puzzle

39) Immerse Yourself in ArtPrize

Be a part of ArtPrize when you vote for favorite artwork on even years, and actually get to help artists create during community projects on odd years!

Oscillation Gillett Bridge ArtPrize10

40) Take Your Pic at the Calder

Explore downtown in a circuit with stops at the fish ladder, Riversedge trails, and a stop by Vandenberg Plaza to see Calder’s iconic La Grande Vitesse.

Izzy Calder Kid

41) Be Lulled by the Rockford Dam

Get misted by the Rockford Dam overlook and peruse the downtown shops afterward.

Rockford Dam Hunt White Pine Trail
Rockford Dam – along White Pine Trail

42) Ice Skate Downtown at Rosa Parks Circle

Ice skate under the stars (or during the day!) at Rosa Parks Circle.

Rosa Parks Circle girl ice skating with dad

43) Dress up for Zoo Goes Boo

Put on your best costume and visit the tigers, bears and penguins at John Ball Zoo Goes Boo

Zoo Goes Boo Rudd Halloween

44) Cut Your own Tree at a Christmas Tree Farm

Ring in the Christmas season by cutting your own Christmas tree from a local farm.

Boschs Tree Farm Compston Christmas

45) Take a Night Hike

Take a magical luminary hike at Wittenbach Nature Center.

Trail at Whittenbach

46) Dance, Wiggle and Wonder at Library Story Time

Attend a story time at your local KDL branch.

Story Time Feature Image

47) Go Tubing Down a Huge Hill

Zipping down the tubing slopes at Cannonsburg.

Traverse City Mt Holiday Tubing

48) Watch a Live Nativity

Experience a live Nativity at the Critter Barn every Christmas.

Nativity at Jenison Bible Church Rudd

49) Learn About Holiday Traditions Around the World

Play I Spy with the holiday trees display at Frederik Meijer Gardens at Christmastime.

FMG Christmas

50) Meet the REAL Santa Claus

Wave to the real Santa at the Grand Rapids Santa Parade. (And visit him in Lowell and at Frederik Meijer Gardens each Christmas season.)

Grand Rapids Santa Parade

51) Roll Through a Giant Christmas Light Show

Take in the spectacular Christmas Lite Show at Fifth Third Ballpark, West Michigan’s largest, animated, drive-thru light show.

Fifth Third Nite Lights Train ward

52) Run a Race!

Walk or run along the Grand during the Amway River Bank Run in May or the Helen DeVos Kids Marathon in October or participate in other exciting races!

Silver Lake Resort kid run 2 boys

53) Watch The Nutcracker, Live

Let the Grand Rapids Ballet Company (along with accompanying artwork from local illustrator, Chris Van Allsburg) become a holiday tradition as they present The Nutcracker.

Izzy Nutcracker

54) Saddle up With Sandy the Penny Horse

Take a ride on Sandy the Penny Horse after a trip to Meijer. (The grocery store, not the sculpture park.)


55) Fly High at the Air Zoo

Sit in the cockpit of a fighter jet and other aircraft at the Air Zoo.

AirZoo GIrl in the Cockpit of Plane 1

What did we miss? What are the other iconic things that kids should experience here before they grow up?

17 thoughts on “55 Classic Grand Rapids Activities Every Kid Needs to Experience”

  1. Pingback: The One Thing Kids Must do in Each Michigan County - Michigan Family Fun

  2. Blandford nature center was a staple in my childhood, it had the best maple treats and the care they gave to wild injured animals was brilliant, it was a very educational place and great to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city every now and then.

  3. Yes. I can’t believe the fish ladder wasnt mentioned. It was the first thing I thought of when I saw the post. I’d say splash pads. I think we have 10 or 11 around grand rapids. I once took my kids on a splash pad crawl. Lookout point at least once. Kent trails. Sledding at Johnson park.

  4. GREAT article! Not just for kids. I want to make sure that I don’t miss any of those myself! Please consider Grand Rapids Running Tours… family-friendly walking versions. Take a stroll through downtown and learn the history of GR, or about the public sculptures, or re-live President Ford’s youth, and oodles of other tour options.

    1. Yes, Loves has the BEST ice cream and it’s from grass-fed cows! Rocket Pie’s pizza (right by Loves) is pretty awesome too and has great ingredients. Just walking around the downtown market and trying all of the samples is a lot of fun. 🙂


  5. I am really happy to be #42 on the list because I really do love kids and love the parents who are willing to share their kids with me since mine are all grown up.

  6. You have the Grand River running right through your beautiful city and you didn’t once mention take your children fishing. It is a very popular fishing river. You did mention watch fish at the ladder, but fishing is a lifetime hobby.

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