10 Things You Should Know About Living in Grand Rapids MI Before You Move Here

Living in Grand Rapids MI - Calder Plaza

What is Living in Grand Rapids MI Like?

If you’re moving to Michigan, consider coming to Grand Rapids. It used to be our state’s best-kept secret.

Now it’s the hidden gem everyone knows about.

What puts Grand Rapids on the map?

We have convenient big city amenities with a homey small-town feel. There are loads of fun things to do in Grand Rapids just waiting to be explored.

Plus, navigating to and within downtown is quick and easy and we have a variety of Grand Rapids suburbs for every personality.

Our schools are plentiful and full of amazing teachers and programs. We also can brag about having top-ranked Grand Rapids doctors and medical resources. You will find lots of friendly folks here, too.

Kids at Coit Park
Coit Park / Daytona Niles

If the snow is holding you back, have no fear. It’s not as bad as it may seem.

With the right outdoor gear, Michigan will be a winter wonderland for you. We have skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, sledding, ice skating, you name it. I always say, embrace it and enjoy it!

I think the best thing about living here is that when winter melts away, we enjoy beautiful springs with parks and flowers galore!

Add in the hazy, lazy days of summer with the sunlight glimmering off the lake and the sounds of the waves hitting the shore – it’s heaven.

Hoffmaster State Park Lake Michigan Beach Hunt
Hoffmaster State Park

You’d think that epic summers make us rebel against fall, but we actually love fall in Michigan. It’s colorful, beautiful, and delicious.  We have apple orchards and pumpkin patches to assist in allll the delicious pie-making.

In Michigan, it’s really hard to pick a favorite season.

So, if you’re set on living in Grand Rapids MI, there are 10 things we think you should know before trying to buy a house here.

10 Things to Know about Living in Grand Rapids MI

01

Our U-Turn is Called a Michigan Left

Don’t let our “Michigan Left” intimidate you. This is a left turn designed to replace a U-turn or a boulevard turnaround. Study up on the diagram below and you’ll be ready to take on your first Michigan Left in no time.

Living in Grand Rapids MI means knowing how to make a michigan-left
02

Beaches Are Enjoyed Year Round

We love our beaches and lakeshore time in the summer! We are fortunate to live a mere 35-60 minutes away from miles of gorgeous, sandy beaches.

Our Michigan Beach Guide will help you navigate your family summer beach trips. You’ll have to put Saugatuck’s Oval Beach high on your list because it has won ALL the awards (Condé Nast Traveler‘s Top 25 Shorelines in the World; MTV’s Top 5 Beaches; National Geographic’s Top Two Freshwater Beaches in the US, etc.).

Plus, you can enjoy mouth-watering, delicious fried chicken at The Southerner after spending the day at Oval Beach.

You also should check out Muskegon’s Pere Marquette Beach, Michigan’s only beach to receive the Certified Blue Wave Clean Beach Award by the Clean Beaches Council.

You are moving to Grand Rapids so you probably already plan on enjoying summer fun at the beach.

But, did you know that you can also enjoy visits to the beach in the winter? Your family will enjoy seeing floating ice chunks and frozen waves; just be sure to bundle up and bring your camera for some spectacular shots!

PJ Hoffmaster State Park Beach Lake Michigan 3
PJ Hoffmaster State Park
03

The Weather is Unpredictable

If you are moving to Michigan from a warm-weather state, you may want to start mentally preparing yourself for Michigan winters. (Check out our tips for how to dress for Michigan weather.)

Some years, winter lasts for six months. We’ll have some snow days, and you’ll hear terms like “Lake Effect Snow” and “Snowmageddon.”

And then next winter we will get much less snow than normal, have a few 60 degree days in January, and then we’ll get a blizzard in April.

If nothing else, Michigan weather will teach you to wear layers and check your weather app frequently. (Also: if you move to the U.P. expect winter to span about 3/4 of the year.)

michigan weather be like (1)
04

We Have Many School Options

West Michigan has many school options: public, private, charter, virtual, homeschool and more. Every school utilizes differing methodologies and offers varying things to make their school stand out, some schools even offer a year-round, balanced calendar.

Many of our schools offer unique options like “Zoo School” at John Ball Zoo and Ada Christian School has a 37-acre outdoor education program. The homeschool community here has its own dedicated building and a thriving theater scene. Explore your options with the GRKIDS Preschool Guide and Schools Guide.

year-round school
05

Downtown Streets are Not on a Grid in Grand Rapids

The city of Grand Rapids was designed around the winding Grand River. This makes for a lovely centerpiece to our downtown, but doesn’t always lend itself to clear driving routes.

Some of the city follows a grid system, while other routes wind around the river. Check your route before you head out because many streets dead end and then pick up again later. Some streets run at angles and others meander and may even intersect major streets several times.

Downtown Grand Rapids Blue Bridge Hunt
06

We Are Serious About Beer and Coffee

Grand Rapids is known for its plentiful, top-notch breweries. Check out our family-friendly breweries if you’re heading out with kids in tow. Founders, Brewery Vivant, New Holland, Perrin, Mitten Brewing and Elk Brewing Co are just a few that we head to in droves.

We also have many high end coffee offerings – check out some of our local favorites. Many of these coffee houses not only source their beans wholesale, but they also roast their own coffee. Madcap even offers training to baristas wanting to learn their trade.

outside coffee company
Outside Coffee Co.
07

We Celebrate Artists: ArtPrize, World of Winter and Murals

Have you heard about ArtPrize, the “most-attended public art event on the planet?” This radically open public art event descends upon GR each fall. Now on a biennial schedule, ArtPrize will host the gigantic city-wide art competition and a more localized art event on alternating years.

Families love ArtPrize and we have all the details on heading downtown to ArtPrize with your family. Be sure to wear walking shoes and know that you won’t be able to see it all in one day.

Art installations return in the winter for World of Winter – ice sculptures, interactive pieces, performances and more.

And you won’t have to wait until fall to enjoy the art scene in GR. Take on the GR Mural Crawl and be amazed by the large scale art that our city has for you!

Crank Zappa Jellyfish World of Winter 2022
World of Winter in Grand Rapids
08

Our Farmers Grow the Best Produce and Meat

If you enjoy eating fresh, local fare, you’ll love all our many farmer’s market options in West Michigan. Living in Grand Rapids MI means you’re close to fertile farm country.

West Michiganders enjoy delicious, fresh produce like corn, apples, berries and much more.

You can even find local produce year-round at the indoor Downtown Market. This 130,000 square foot culinary marketplace is full of various vendors and delightful restaurants. Grand Rapids’ local farmer’s markets will help your family enjoy the tastiest and freshest produce around!

Terra-Square-Farmers-market-Hudsonville
Terra Square Farmer’s Market
09

Grand Rapids is Green and Clean

Have you heard how eco-friendly Grand Rapids is? Expedia named GR as one of America’s Greenest Cities,” which is unsurprising based on all the recognition we’ve received for sustainability achievements.

Grand Rapids is a leader for mid-sized US cities, with hundreds of LEED Certified buildings (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other notable efforts.

GR has also received awards for an innovative recycling program that has successfully reduced waste and increased recycling efforts across the city. Organicycle is a curbside composting program for city residents as well.

Allergy Friendly Places for Kids Grand Rapids Downtown Market
10

We Have a Serious Dutch Influence

Michigan natives know how to finish this cheeky phrase: “if you ain’t Dutch…” (“you ain’t much!”). This area was settled by many Dutch immigrants, and the heritage is still going strong.

If you are not familiar with Dutch culture, here are a few things you’ll want to know before moving to and living in Grand Rapids MI:

Tulip Time in Holland is an annual world-renowned celebration of Dutch heritage.
● We have a Dutch amusement park.
● It’s common for last names to start with Van or Vander or De or Ter.
● There are a lot of churches in Grand Rapids, many with Dutch influence.

WINDMILL ISLAND GARDENS during Tulip Time in Holland MI

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5 thoughts on “10 Things You Should Know About Living in Grand Rapids MI Before You Move Here”

  1. considering taking a position at Grand Valley State University– from NYC metro area and very liberal democrats from culturally diverse family. will we HATE living in Grand Rapids?

    1. Avatar photo

      You’ll find a wide variety of people in Grand Rapids. If you get involved in activities and causes that are important to you, you will likely find lifelong friends and love it here. Choosing where you will live is probably a big factor in this situation. Perhaps rent for a bit before buying anything so you can get an idea of what different areas in West Michigan are like.

  2. Hello! I’m looking into moving to Grand Rapids from Metro Detroit. I would love to be able to live somewhere where I can walk to get groceries, coffee, or a night out without having to worry about safely driving home. How realistic is it to be able to live downtown? Is it super costly?

  3. How friendly is Grand Rapids for retirees like me? I currently live in Colorado, but am thinking of moving back to Michigan where I lived for 15 years = Detroit area. I would need a single-family home with a nice fenced yard for my fur kids (3 dogs)

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