40 Must-See Greater Grand Rapids Museums, Zoos, Gardens & Cultural Attractions, Plus How to Get in Free!

grand rapids childrens museum

Museums in Michigan Offer a World of Learning Right in Your Backyard

I grew up in rural Michigan and going to a museum or zoo wasn’t an option when there was a farm to run!

While I miss the country, growing up in Grand Rapids means my kids have dozens of high-quality museums, zoos, and other attractions to explore.

Over the years we’ve had memberships to John Ball Zoo, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, and Frederik Meijer Gardens. We have visited the Grand Rapids Art Museum, UICA and more.

There are exciting learning opportunities spread across West Michigan, and if you know how to access them, ways to get into these attractions and museums for free.


Want to go again and again? Check out the perks these local museum and zoo memberships offer.


Navigate the List

To make browsing easier, we broke the list into sections.

Museums
Zoos
Science
Gardens

GREATER GRAND RAPIDS MUSEUM LIST 

Air Zoo
6151 Portage Road, Portage, MI 49002
The Air Zoo is a highly charged, multi-sensory aviation and science museum that goes beyond anything you’ve ever seen. It’s like no place else on Earth! With over 50 historic and rare aircraft & spacecraft, amusement park-style rides, interactive exhibits, flight simulators, a 4D theater, and much, much, more, there’s truly something for everyone! Admission is FREE for children 4 and under.
269-382-6555
Website | Our Review

museums in michigan - AirZoo View from Balcony Looking West Feature image

Air Zoo, Kalamazoo Michigan


Averill Historical Museum of Ada
7144 Headley Street, Ada, MI 49301
The Ada Historical Society operates the Averill Historical Museum of Ada in an 1870s farmhouse and barn owned by Ada Township.  AHS displays collections in exhibits about the area’s original inhabitants, Rix Robinson and the fur trade, Ada’s military history, life in a farming community, the business of Ada, children’s toys, the railroad in Ada, and local schools. Admission is FREE, but donations are always welcomed.
616-676-9346


The Bailey Museum
903 S Bailey Ave, South Haven, MI 49090
The Bailey Museum is located on the Liberty Hyde Bailey homestead. Built in 1858, it’s one of the oldest homes in South Haven and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the historic home, the museum features both permanent and rotating historical exhibitions, a series of horticultural gardens, a nature trail, and South Haven’s historic Blacksmith’s Shop. ​The main exhibit features many artifacts original to the story of Liberty Hyde Bailey’s life and work and tells that story through a series of interpretive exhibit rooms. Admission is FREE, but donations are always welcomed.
269-637-3251


Coopersville Farm Museum
375 Main Street, Coopersville, MI 49404
The Coopersville Farm Museum was built in 2001 with the primary purpose to “honor farming and rural life.”  The continually changing exhibits include collections from residents all over West Michigan, tractors, feed sacks, tools, and art from many very talented people. Special events and classes throughout the year. FREE for age three and under.
616-997-8555


Curious Kids’ Museum
415 Lake Boulevard, St. Joseph, MI 49085
The Curious Kids’ Museum believes in providing unique, engaging experiences for children of all ages and abilities. Exhibits include a farmer’s market and vet clinic, simple machines, bubbles and more. Toodle Farm is a special gated area for children fours year old and under which is designed like a 1940s farm. It even has a cow to milk! Nursing nook and baby changing stations are here as well. FREE for children 12 months and under.
269-983-2543


The Dekker Huis/Zeeland Historical Museum
37 E Main Ave, Zeeland, MI 49464
The Dekker Huis was built in 1876 by Dirk Dekker, one of Zeeland’s prominent early residents and businessmen. The house was restored to its original style in 1979. Explore rooms filled with artifacts and replicas of Zeeland’s history, particularly clocks and clock making. Admission is FREE, but donations are gladly welcomed.
616-772-4079


Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
547 East Circle Drive, East Lansing, MI 48824
Opened in 2012, the 46,000-square-foot museum was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid. The museum has mostly temporary exhibitions, instead of a permanent collection. This means that every time you come, you can expect to see something very different. The displays are always changing, and are very unusual. Since modern art is so conceptual, you probably won’t know what you’re looking at unless you get an explanation from a guide. They provide docent tours if you want to pin down the concept behind the piece. FREE to visit.
517-884-4800
Website | Our Review

michigan museums: broad art museum

Broad Art Museum, East Lansing Michigan


Engine House No. 5 Museum
6610 Lake Michigan Dr, Allendale, MI 49401
Engine House No 5 Museum is displays the heritage and traditions of firefighting through the stories, pictures and artifacts. Visitors can see buckets, uniforms, and helmets dating as far back as the early 1800s. Other artifacts include engines, hose carts, and fire extinguishers. FREE for children age two and under.
616-895-8121


Forever Curious Children’s Museum
202 E Main St, Fennville, MI 49408
This Michigan museum aims to provide a welcoming, accessible play and learning environment for rural families and schools. Exhibits include a vet clinic and fire truck exhibit. Forever Curious Children’s Museum also put on several different kinds of programs including STEAM challenges, Toddler Time, and Family Yoga. Admission is FREE for children under age one and they also offer FREE days throughout the year.
269-561-8494


Gerald R. Ford Museum
303 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
This Grand Rapids museum will teach you and your kids everything you need to know about Gerald R. Ford, whose boyhood home was in Grand Rapids. Learn about Ford’s early life and unusual road to the Presidency. There is a replica of the Oval Office and other White House features. Don’t miss out on the Betty Ford exhibit. Admission is FREE for kids age five and under.
616-254-0400 |
Website | Our Review

grand rapids museum: gerald r ford museum

Gerald R. Ford Museum, Grand Rapids Michigan


Grand Rapids Art Museum
101 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

The Grand Rapids Art Museum is constantly changing. Its small size is perfect for little legs to explore. The first and third floors have permanent exhibits and the second is rotating. There are magnifying glasses available for guests to get a better look at – and truly engage with – the art around them. Drop-in studios are offered every Saturday. Admission is FREE for children age five and under.
616-831-1000
Website | Our Review


Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
11 Sheldon Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is full of amazing new discoveries for kids of all ages. Kids will love the permanent exhibits that include bubbles, Legos,  and Little Grand Rapids. Family favorite rotating exhibits include Kidstruction and To the Rescue. Reduced admission on Thursday nights. FREE for children age one and under.
616-235-4728
Website | Our Review

grand rapids museum - Boys at Free Museums near me like GR Children's Museum

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, Grand Rapids, MI


Grand Rapids Public Museum
272 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids MI 49504

Another one of the popular Grand Rapids museums is the public museum. Step back in time as you walk the streets of Old Grand Rapids and go for a spin on the carousel. Catch a show at the planetarium or learn about Michigan habitats. There is so much to explore at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
616-929-1700
Website | Our Review

grand rapids museum - grand rapids public museum

Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Michigan


Holland Museum
31 W 10th Street, Holland, MI 49423
Learn about the history of Holland and the Dutch at the Holland Museum. Must-see artifacts include: dog butter churner, medal of honor interactive display, and Indonesian guardian statues. The museum has more than 90,000 artifacts and archival materials that includes everything from art, books, coins, dolls, stamps and quilts. Admission is FREE for children age five and under.
616-392-9084


Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
314 S Park St, Kalamazoo, MI 49007
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts is packed with gorgeous artwork. Featured exhibits spotlight local artists – including elementary school children. The Kirk Newman Art School, a community-based non-degree art school, features classes on ceramic, jewelry, sculpture and more. FREE for children age 12 and under as well as active duty military.
269-349-7775


Kalamazoo Valley Museum
230 North Rose Street, Kalamazoo, MI 49007
The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is three levels of interactive, learning space. Exhibits change frequently and are loaded with play-based activities and learning tools for all ages. Be sure to catch a show at the planetarium. FREE for ALL ages.
269-373-7990
Website | Our Review


Kingman Museum
175 Limit St, Battle Creek, MI 49037
Kingman Museum has a natural history collection, three floors of exhibits, and Digistar Planetarium. They work to provide a hands-on experience at every age. Enjoy scavenger hunts for all ages. Don’t miss one of  20 planetarium shows. FREE for all ages on weekends.
269-965-5117


Lakeshore Museum Center 
430 W Clay Ave, Muskegon, MI 49440
The Lakeshore Museum Center has two full floors of exhibits to explore. Permanent exhibits explore over 400 million years of Michigan history.  Discover artifacts, photographs, historic dioramas, and videos that share the history and unique stories of the Muskegon area. The Historic Sites division of the Lakeshore Museum Center includes five historic structures: the Hackley House, Hume House, City Barn, Fire Barn Museum, and the Scolnik House of the Depression Era. The main museum is FREE for Muskegon County residents and both are FREE for children age 2 and under.
231-722-0278 


Lowell Area Historical Museum
325 W Main Street, Lowell, MI 49331
The Lowell Area Historical Museum has permanent, temporary and traveling exhibits on Lowell history topics. This includes exhibits dedicated to the history of Lowell. One of the changing exhibits features a different topic in Lowell history every two years. FREE for children age five and under, $10 family maximum.
616-897-7688


Michigan History Museum
702 W Kalamazoo St, Lansing, MI 48915
The Michigan History Museum offers five levels of permanent and changing exhibits that tell the story of Michigan’s past. It’s made for kids and adults to interact and participate as they learn about Michigan’s history. Some staple exhibits haven’t changed in over 30 years. However, they have a first-floor exhibit area that rotates throughout the year. There is a kid’s room filled with interactive experiences. FREE for children age five and under. FREE Sundays for all ages. 

517-373-3559
Website | Our Review

michigan museums - michigan history museum

Michigan History Museum, Lansing


Michigan Maritime Museum
260 Dyckman Avenue, South Haven, MI 49090
The Michigan Maritime Museum has something for every Great Lakes enthusiast. Learn about life as an early Michigan sailor. There are five different structures to explore including a workshop to learn about boat-building as well as maritime skills and a fleet of period and replica vessels. FREE for children age five and under.
269-637-8078


MSU Museum

409 W Circle Drive, East Lansing, MI 48824 | 517-355-2370 | Website

Muskegon Museum of Art

296 W Webster Avenue, Muskegon, MI 49440 | 231-720-2570 | Website

Tri-Cities Historical Museum

200 Washington Ave, Grand Haven, MI 49417 | 616-842-0700 | Website

UICA

2 Fulton West, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 | 616-454-7000 | Website

USS LST 393 Veterans Museum

560 Mart Street, Muskegon, MI 49440 | 231-730-1477 | Website

USS Silversides Submarine Museum

1346 Bluff St, Muskegon, MI 49441 | Website

LOWER PENINSULA MICHIGAN ZOOS 

grand rapids museum - john ball zoo

Binder Park Zoo
7400 Division Drive, Battle Creek, MI 49014
Binder Park Zoo is an exciting place to spend the day. Animals include Australian Wild Dingo, Chinese Red Panda, Grant’s Zebra, and Red Kangaroo. Don’t miss out on purchasing lettuce to feed the giraffes. Other experiences include Binda Conservation Carousel and Z.O. & O. Railroad. Visitors can choose to walk the entire zoo or take the tram to the African area in the back of the zoo. Admission is FREE for children 2 and under.
269-979-1351
Website | Our Review


Boulder Ridge
8313 Pratt Lake SE, Alto, MI 49302
Enjoy a different kind of zoo experience at Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park. This zoo is filled with hundreds of interesting animals that you don’t see at your typical zoo, including antelope, bison, yak, lovebird, and horned frog. Visitors can feed the budgies and buy lettuce or carrots to feed giraffes, camels or kangaroos. Hop on the safari bus to head out to the back of the site to see more unique animals that you otherwise can’t see. The zoo is paved and flat which makes it perfect for strollers and wheelchairs. Admission is FREE for children 2 and under.
616-868-6711
Website | Our Review

grand rapids museum michigan museum - boulder ridge wild animal park


John Ball Zoo
1300 W Fulton St, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
John Ball Zoo is more than just animals. In addition to some pretty cool ones like bears, otters, tigers, and meerkats, there is also a lot to do. Kids will love the huge playground outside the zoo and the climbing rope courses throughout the zoo. Adventurous visitors can soar on the zipline. Kids can ride a camel or head into the petting zoo and brush a goat. The zoo was recently renovated to be easier to walk with a stroller or wheelchair. Admission is FREE for children age 2 and under.
616-336-4300
Website | Our Review


Potter Park Zoo
1301 S Pennsylvania Ave, Lansing, MI 48912
Potter Park Zoo is the place to be for year-round fun. Exciting animals at the zoo include black rhino, gray wolf, tiger, lion, rattlesnake, and bald eagle. Spend time on the giant playground and picnic area outside the zoo. Kids can ride a camel or head into the petting farm inside the zoo. Visit in the fall for Zoo Goes Boo and in December for Wonderland of Lights. Admission is FREE for children under age 3. City of Lansing and Ingham County Residents are admitted on non-holiday Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon for FREE.
517-483-4222
Website | Our Review

michigan museum - potter park zoo lansing

WEST MI SCIENCE CENTERS 

Impression 5 Science Center
200 Museum Drive, Lansing, MI 48933
This children’s science center is filled with hands-on learning opportunities for young learners. Build with giant blocks, shop in the grocery store, make bubbles, and so much more. Children age 4 and under have a special air-conditioned toddler play area in an enclosed room. Play options here include a play structure and water table. Admission is FREE for children age 1 and under.
517-485-8116
Website | Our Review

michigan museums - impression five science center lansing

Impression 5 Science Center, Lansing, Michigan


MSU Department of Entomology Bug House
Natural Science Building, 288 Farm Lane Room 147, East Lansing, MI 48824
Located on the ground floor of the Natural Science Building, The Bug House features stunning specimen displays and a menagerie of live insects and arachnids — including beetles, tropical cockroaches, and tarantulas. Open for pre-arranged tours only.
517-355-4662


W.K. Kellogg Biological Station Bird Sanctuary
12685 East C Avenue, Augusta, MI 49012 
Explore 3 miles of trails and experience a variety of habitats surrounding Wintergreen Lake, the heart of the Sanctuary grounds, all year long. Visitors will see a variety of birds including waterfowl, gamebirds, and raptors. The Sanctuary is a great place for birding, nature photography or simply enjoying a walk outside. Pack a picnic lunch and spend the whole day. Admission is FREE for children age 2 and under.
269- 671-2510

GREATER GRAND RAPIDS GARDENS 

Blandford Nature Center
1715 Hillburn Ave NW | Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Explore nature year-round at Blandford Nature Center. Many of the animals live at Blandford permanently due to injuries. This includes hawks, owls, turtles, and Elsa the American Mink. Blandford offers many classes for elementary aged children and story time for younger kids.
616-735-6240
Website | Our Review 


Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

1000 East Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525 | 888-957-1580 | Website

FMG Butterflies1

MSU Horticulture Gardens

1066 Bogue Street, East Lansing, MI 48824 | 517-353-0359 | Website

Windmill Island Gardens

1 Lincoln Ave, Holland, MI 49423 | 616-355-1030 | Website

Holland Windmill Kamphuis

W.J. Beal Botanical Garden

412 Olds Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824 | Website

FREE MUSEUM VISITS 

Exploring Michigan Museums, Science Centers & Gardens Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

When you think about family time, what comes to mind? Some might say playing board games or attending sporting events together. Heck it might even just be dinner together – every family is different.

To us, museums and other permanent public exhibits are our go-to for family together time. And, when we travel around Michigan, we often find ourselves researching new places we can visit.

We have had some of our best family moments exploring museums, hiking through gardens, and watching science experiments.

I am always checking for the best deal. Below are the different ways my family and I explore all the wonderful opportunities in Michigan, without paying an arm and leg.

Grand Rapids Public Museum Planetarium

1) Use Reciprocal Memberships 

I absolutely love receiving memberships to local museums, gardens, and zoos as gifts.  It’s a gift your family can take advantage of year-round, rain or shine.

Being a family of five, this usually means we have to go to a museum at least three times a year to get our money’s worth, but that is easily accomplished within the first six months.

Usually, memberships also come with other reciprocal memberships and/or discounts to other places around town, which makes this mom more excited.

Most of the time when buying these memberships, we are only thinking of local places to go, but did you know that there are reciprocal memberships all across Michigan?

If your kids are older, or if you are adventurous enough to not let toddlers stop you from traveling, let this article be your guide to planning your next journey.

In Michigan, there are a few memberships that I would highly recommend buying, giving you access to multiple locations across the state where the reciprocal admissions are available:

grand rapids museums michigan museum free musuem - john ball zoo

2) Use Your Library Card to Access the Michigan Activity Pass

If you think that you have seen most of your city, and your kids are starting to get a little bored with the “usual” places, you might want to start exploring a little farther around the state. The Michigan Activity Pass is the perfect place to start.

The Michigan Activity Pass (MAP) is a seven-day pass you can check out using your library card for one of Michigan’s cultural attractions, state parks, or recreation areas.  This pass gives you so much more to offer than just museums. We are talking fish hatcheries, railroads, and lighthouses.

There are 470 MAP destinations right now, and that means there is truly something for everyone in your family. And, each year it gets better. Just this year, 38 new places were added to the MAP.

The MAP website is a great resource to use to find places to explore.  It is set up for you to type in your home city, local library, how far you want to travel, and then you can check any specific destinations you are looking for. Once you hit enter, a list and map will display your possible adventures.

Here are five simple tips to remember before you check out a pass:

  1. Patrons may check out one MAP pass per library card every 7 days.
  2. When you print out a MAP pass, you have 7 days from the date it was reserved to use it.
  3. Please note that if you choose to print your MAP pass on a library printer, you may be charged the regular fee that is assessed by the library for printing.
  4. Photocopies of MAP passes will not be accepted at MAP destinations. Only passes printed from the MAP website can be redeemed at MAP destinations.
  5. Prior to your visit, please call ahead or check the museum’s website in order to verify hours of operation, etc.

Kids at UM Museum of Natural History is part of free museums near me

U of M Natural History Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan

3) Find Your Local Free Museum Day

There are so many museum options in Michigan, and we encourage all of you to research if your local museum has any “free days.”  When researching, we found many museums have discounts for county residents or once-a-month sponsored free days. So research around your town, and let us know what you find! Below are some options we found:

Here is a list of museums:

Henry Ford Museum: Active U.S. military get free admission year-round to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation or Greenfield Village.

michigan museum - Henry Ford Museum Kamphuis car

Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan

Detroit Institute of Arts: Residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties receive free, unlimited general museum admission.

Grand Rapids Art Museum: Meijer Free Tuesdays and Meijer Free Thursday Nights are made possible by The Meijer Foundation. This gift supports free admission for the public from 10 am – 5 pm each Tuesday and free general admission Thursday Nights from 5 pm – 9 pm.

kid at Grand Rapids Art Museum at free museum day

Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Flint Institute of Arts: Huntington celebrates the Flint Institute of Arts by providing everyone access free of charge every Saturday. Also, thanks to the Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Millage, Genesee County residents receive free museum admission every day at the Flint Institute of Arts.

4) More Free Museums Admission Options

Additional programs that provide free museum days:

EBT Card Holders: Those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits) can gain free (up to 4 persons) or reduced admission to more than 300 museums throughout the United States simply by presenting their EBT card. Click this link to find out which museums in Michigan participate.

Bank of America Museums on Us Program: Museums on Us® offers one free admission to more than 220 cultural institutions nationwide during the first full weekend of every month. There are eight locations throughout Michigan.

Other Ways to Find Free Museum & Cultural Center Fun Around Michigan

We all know kids are expensive, but we love them so dearly, and we want to give them the best childhood ever, right?  I constantly feel the need to take them to events all over town. Or when we are camping for the weekend, we need to explore the nearby town.

There are a few resources I use to find where we can get in free or at a discounted price by using our existing memberships.

Grand Rapids Kids has put together The Big List of Zoo, Museum, and Nature Center Memberships Within One Hour of Grand Rapids.  The list is great and there are pro tips to read before you plan your trip. They also have a list of One Thing you Must Do in Each County, and most on that list are free.

Lansing Family Fun’s list of Free or Affordable Fun Ideas to do with Kids in the Greater Lansing Area has dozens of recommendations. The Capital Region is full of history and can be a great learning experience for all ages of children.  The best trips are usually when you can learn and play all at the same time.

michigan museums Lansing Big Tree Michigan History Center downtown kids outside

Michigan History Center, Lansing, Michigan

Kalamazoo Kids has also put together a great article about the Southwest Michigan Cultural Membership Exchange that describes all six organizations that participate.  Places include the Air Zoo and Kalamazoo Nature Center,  to name a few.

Let’s not forget about Motown. LittleGuide Detroit is Metro Detroit’s guide for family fun. Here you will find classes, events, and activities taking place on the southeast side of the state. Their list of the Top Free Things to do With Kids in Detroit will help you plan your next visit.

And, again always read those pro-tips to find out where those reciprocity agreements are.

Get out and Explore

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has the Recreation Passport available to buy, which will then get you into state parks and campgrounds, recreation areas, state boat launches, and state trail parking lots.  The pass is relatively cheap, and the pass is good for a whole year.

Most people think just about using the pass in the summertime, but the wintertime is also great for using the pass.  There are trails that are designated for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and let’s not forget about ice fishing.  Take advantage of where we live and plan your next outing literally outside.

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