26 Exciting Things to Do in the City of Grand Rapids With Kids & What it’s Like to Live Here

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Things to Do in Grand Rapids With Kids

I may be a little biased because it’s where I live, but I love Grand Rapids city proper.

Our wonderful mini-metropolis has so much fun squeezed into the city that families can come back again and again and experience something new each time.

My kids think that everyone has a John Ball Zoo where they can visit exotic animals weekly and have no idea how unique it is to ride a carousel. (Did you have a neighborhood carousel growing up? Neither did I.)

And doesn’t everyone have a massive, impeccably designed children’s garden full of landscaping, water play and swinging bridges in the woods? Only Grand Rapids kids can hit up Frederik Meijer Gardens on the regular.

Beyond that, there are beautiful parks and playgrounds, sculptures, murals, and more dotting the city.

We’ve got several popular city pools in the summer and concerts in the park. It’s so walkable and each neighborhood has its own good eats, fun shops, and friendly people.

Tell us, what’s your favorite City of Grand Rapids activity? Did it make our list?

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  City of Grand Rapids Quick Facts

What it’s Like to Live in the City of Grand Rapids

There’s a lot that people love about living in the city of Grand Rapids so we’ll start with the biggies: food + brewing and coffee, art, music, and mega crowd-drawing events.

Life in Grand Rapids

Why people love to live here: The calm hum of each neighborhood lends to a chill space to call home. On any given day there’s always some event or activity happening around the city, often free. Find many of these on the event calendar.

This ‘small city with a big city vibe’ draws people to live in Grand Rapids.

Families love the walkability and easy access to these perks and fun things to do listed below.

Traffic is low, and it’s one of the cleanest cities around. Add in world-class medical facilities on “Medical Mile” and epic Great Lakes beach access less than an hour away, and why would you want to live anywhere else?

You should know: When people talk about Grand Rapids many picture the downtown area. But the actual city of Grand Rapids spans as far as Frederik Meijer Gardens to the East, just shy of Horrocks Farmers Market to the south, the tip of Millennium Park to the West, and just below the Whitecaps Stadium to the north.

There are many neighborhoods within the city, but many of them are not officially incorporated. While you’re technically still in Grand Rapids, if tell people you’re in Alger Heights or Creston, and people will instantly know where in GR you are.

City of Grand Rapids

Population:
199,000

School District:
Grand Rapids Public Schools

Known for:
» Foodies: Food trucks, breweries, coffee
» The Arts and Festivals
» Downtown walkability
» Several Museums

» Medical Mile

things to do in Grand Rapids with kids includes a trip to Grand Rapids Art Museum
Waterfall outside Grand Rapids Art Museum

 The Top 25 Things to Do in the City of Grand Rapids With Kids

Living in the city means you can experience it all without the drive. Many residents in the city love that they can pop over to many of the following activities after school for quick trips without the crowds. Parking is nearly always easy (and often free) and many venues are stroller friendly.

Adventuring in Grand Rapids with kids is probably one of the easiest city experiences in the country.

1 – Visit the Animals at John Ball Zoo

1300 Fulton W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Lions and tigers and bears- and more! Every kid loves a trip to the zoo!

Not only can you enjoy the many animal exhibits, but John Ball Zoo in the city of Grand Rapids also offers classes, camps, Twilight Tours, Overnight Adventures, Animal Adventures and special events, like IllumiZoo, throughout the year for even more hands-on learning.

It’s one of the best zoos around for hands-on experiences like camel rides, zip line, feeding budgies and even a petting zoo.

John Ball Zoo is a favorite place to visit in Grand Rapids with Kids
The adorable wallabies got a new exhibit in 2022

2 – Dive in at a City Pool

MLK Pool
900 Fuller Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506


Briggs Park Pool
350 Knapp St NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505

Richmond Park Pool
1101 Richmond St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

From mid-June to mid-August, city residents and guests can cool off at one of three mega pools in the city. Boasting huge slides and shallow and deep ends, pools are big fun in the city and great thing to do in Grand Rapids with kids.

What they love even more is the price: historically for residents it’s just $1/kid and $2 for ages 18+ to take a dip! (Non residents can come, too, for $4/person.)

Richmond Park Pool in the City of Grand-Rapids, MI
Richmond Park Pool in the City of Grand-Rapids, MI

3 – Play & Learn at Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

11 Sheldon Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

With so much to do, your kids will have fun for hours. Exhibits rotate on a monthly basis, but some favorites include Little GR, Amazing Dinosaurs, Just Fort Fun, Wee Discover, Just Playing Around and Bubbles.

Members: Every Tuesday is members-only from 9am – 2pm.

Museums for all special admission (EBT or WIC card holders, up to 12 people per card) – $1.75 per person.

Playing at the Spin Table at the Grand Rapids Children's Museum
Playing at the Spin Table at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

4 – Shop & Play the Iconic Brick Streets of Eastown

Wealthy St SE, between Diamond & Lake Dr SE

You know you’re in Eastown when the streets turn to brick. This eclectic neighborhood is a great spot to spend the afternoon in Grand Rapids with kids. We recommend you bring the stroller.

Start with coffee for the adults at either The Sparrows or Squibb Coffee Bar.

Next, head east on Wealthy and scope out fun eateries and shopping. (There’s a cute plant shop around the corner on Calkins Ave – The Plant Parlor.) Don’t miss historic Wealthy Theatre on the right and plan to catch a retro movie or live show sometime.

Take a left on Lake Drive and treat the kids to a candy wonderland at Sticky Fingers.

Sticky Fingers GR
1503 Lake Dr SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506


Or if you want to bypass that ultimate sugar rush, keep walking down Lake and lunch at either Terra Bagel (best bagles in GR!) or That Early Bird.

Eastown has a lot of great food, and cute shops. Rebel is picture perfect, quirky home goods. So is their sister store Commune. (Sticky Fingers is part of this family.)

Give the kids a chance to run, climb and play with a pitstop at
Wilcox Park
100 Youell Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Sticky Fingers candy store Eastown Hunt
Sticky Fingers in Eastown is candy heaven.

5 – Catch a Concert or Show at Van Andel Arena

130 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Van Andel Arena is a 10,834-seat multi-purpose venue offering numerous entertainment options throughout the year.

From concerts to Grand Rapids Griffins hockey games to Disney on Ice and monster truck shows, you are guaranteed to find something to make your kids smile!

Many national touring shows make annual stops to the city of Grand Rapids.

Feld Disney on Ice Elsa 2022
Disney on Ice regularly comes to Van Andel Arena

6 – Explore Grand Rapids Public Library Downtown

111 Library Street NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Come for story time, play and learn in the kids area, and then check out some books to continue the fun at home!

The Grand Rapids Public Library offers free story time, classes, activities and special events for all ages.

In total there are eight GRPL branches in the city, each offering something unique for anyone in Grand Rapids with kids – or without!

things to do in the city of grand rapids: grand rapids public library
Play area at the Grand Rapids Public Library Main Branch

7 – Visit the Famed Alexander Calder Sculpture

“The Calder” – La Grande Vitesse
351 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

A visit to downtown Grand Rapids is not complete without a stop at La Grande Vitesse, the massive red sculpture affectionately referred to as “The Calder” by locals.

As a part of the city since 1969, it serves as a distinctive landmark and symbol of the city of Grand Rapids.

Calder-Plaza-kids-playing-on-checkers-board-under-sculpture
Calder Plaza is home to La Grande Vitesse, an iconic sculpture in Grand Rapids, MI

8 – Wave to Finny at Grand Rapids Public Museum

Subtitle for This Block

Finny is a staple at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The fin whale’s skeleton soars over the first floor as you enter the exhibits, welcoming visitors.

But he’s not the only larger-than-life sight at GRPM. This amazing museum is also home to a massive antique steam engine that is also suspended in air near the second floor (and weighing over 30 tons!).

The planetarium can take you on space adventures, and their beloved carousel (currently undergoing repairs) is a must-do when visiting.

All this and we haven’t even touched on their world-class exhibits. This place is amazing, (and is free to kids who live in Kent County).

Finny Fin Whale GRPM second floor Hunt

9 – Find Endless Outdoor Rec at Millennium Park

1415 Maynard Ave SW, Walker, MI 49534 

Millennium Park includes over 1,400 acres of outdoor activity, including paved hiking/biking trails, playgrounds (including a ninja warrior course), boating, splash pad and beach.

While the beach and splash pad have a cost, most of the park is free, making it a very popular thing to do in Grand Rapids with kids.

Fly a kite, pack a picnic, or bring some bikes. Millennium Park is your own gigantic backyard, right here in the city.

millennium-park-splash-pad
millennium park paddle boats

10 – Walk the Blue Bridge and See all the Murals

GR Walking Loop + Mural Crawl 
Blue Bridge, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Have you really experienced Downtown GR if you haven’t walked the full Blue Bridge walking loop?!

Start anywhere on the river trail and it will loop you around the downtown area. We like to start near the blue bridge so we can experience it twice.

One of the best parts about this walk is the art you experience along the way.

If that whets your whistle for art in our city, start a bucket list with this comprehensive mural crawl.

Mural-downtown-Grand-Rapids
Mural in the Creston District, off of Plainfield Ave, listed on the Mural Crawl

11 – Take in River Views and Relax at Ah-Nab-Awen Park

220 Front Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Ah-Nab-Awen Park is the perfect place to take in the beauty of the city of Grand Rapids.

The park runs along the Grand River with a nice paved sidewalk along the bank that’s perfect for strollers. And the kids will love to stop and enjoy the fountain in front of the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

things to do in the city of grand rapids: ah-nab-awen park
Ah-Nab-Awen Park runs along the Grand River near the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum

12 – Climb the Big Red Button

220 Front Ave. NW, Grand Rapids 49504

As you stroll through Ah-Nab-Awen, be sure to stop at Lorrie’s Button (aka the Big Red Button). This is always a favorite thing to do in Grand Rapids with kids. You’ll find it at the north end of the park, towards Michigan Street.

things to do in the city of grand rapids: big red button

13 – Marvel at our Local Talent at Civic Theatre

30 Division Ave N, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

One of the largest community theaters in the nation, you’ll be awed at what our local talent brings to the stage. From costumes to props to of course – the performers! – shows at the Civic Theatre are tops. Find musicals and plays, including many family-friendly pieces, each season.

Matilda Civic Theatre Studio3Twenty
Matilda at GR Civic Theatre

14 – Grab a Bite at Downtown Market

435 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Stop in at the Downtown Market for some delicious food at their many eateries. Kids especially dig Love’s Ice cream and boba from Rak Thai. Once you’ve bought your treats, head upstairs to enjoy them, along with some fun overhead views of the bustling market or their incredible greenhouse.

Keep an eye on their calendar to find cooking classes and events throughout the year that are geared toward children, teens, families, and everyone in between.

Grand Rapids Downtown Market
Dine on the Rooftop Patio at the Downtown Market

15 – Ice Skate at Rosa Parks Circle

135 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Enjoy outdoor ice skating right in the city of Grand Rapids at Rosa Parks Circle.

Skate rental is free with admission, so grab the family and head to Open Skate.

Rosa Parks Circle Ice Rink
Ice Skating at Rosa Parks Circle

16 – Watch Fish Climb the Fish Ladder

Fish Ladder Park
560 Front Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

With free parking and bathrooms, Fish Ladder Park is a convenient place to drop by with the kids- and they will love watching the fish try to jump their way up the ladder or fisherman making a big catch. Fish are most active on the ladder in fall, but also make some debuts in the spring.

The ladder itself is something to marvel. Designed in 1974 by artist Joseph Kinnebrew, it is one of the many large-scale art pieces around downtown.

Grand Rapids Fish Ladder Park
Grand Rapids Fish Ladder Park

17 – Spend the Day at Frederik Meijer Gardens

1000 Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525

You’ll never get bored at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, located at the edge of the city of Grand Rapids limits.

Covering 158 acres, Meijer Gardens has Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory, five indoor theme gardens, outdoor gardens, nature trails and boardwalk, sculptures and more!

And you definitely won’t want to miss the interactive Children’s Garden which includes sculptures, a sand quarry, a Great Lakes water feature, tree houses, a log cabin, a butterfly labyrinth, a sensory garden, and even a child-sized beaver lodge.

Great Lakes Garden Frederik Meijer Gardens Grand Rapids

18 – Ride the Massive Tire Swing (Motu Viget)

Calder Plaza (NW Corner) – behind the Federal Building
110 Michigan St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

The giant tire swing is actually a piece of interactive art named Motu Viget. It was created by Mark di Suvero in1977.

This cool downtown sculpture is all hands on for kids… (and hey, even adults, too!)

To find the tire swing, walk past the Calder and go behind the Federal Building. You’ll be overlooking Monroe Ave.

tire swing Grand Rapids

19 – Ride the Lazy River at the Kroc Center

2500 Division Ave S, Grand Rapids, MI 49507

There’s tons of stuff to keep the kids busy at The Kroc Center!

The aquatics center features three 25-yard lap lanes, a 28-foot water slide, a lazy river, a 17-person hot tub and a “zero–depth” entry area with a play structure, as well as an outdoor splash pad during the summer months.

And if you’re not looking to swim, check out the fitness center, gym, climbing wall, game room or outdoor campus.

Note: Typically, the Kroc Center sells day passes for non-members. During covid times, however, the The Kroc Center is currently available for member use only. No day passes are being sold until further notice – check their website or call for the most up-to-date info.

indoor pools near Grand Rapids
Aquatic Center at the Kroc Center features a Lazy River

20 – Play in the Marshlands at Huff Park

2399 Ball Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505

This northeast gem recently received playground upgrades and a beautiful new boardwalk through woods and marsh areas teeming with wildlife.

The city deer are plentiful here, making it easy for kids to spot one on the hike.

Please note: the trail entrance, parking lot, playground, and picnic area are located off of Aberdeen, not Ball as the address suggests. Use “1435 Aberdeen NE” as the address in your map app. You should see a sign and a parking lot on the south side of the road.

Huff-Park-trail-playground
The new nature-inspired playground at Huff Park
Huff Park trail kids on boardwalk
Huff Park trails include a lengthy boardwalk running through the middle of the park

21 – Explore the Gerald R. Ford Museum

303 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI  49504 

This history museum captivates kids from the moment they see the cool fountain and astronaut sculpture outside. (The Gerald R. Ford Museum is on the grounds of Ah-Nab-Awen Park.)

Its fascinating exhibits bring the history of our 38th President, Gerald R. Ford, to life.

Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum

22 – Cheer on the Grand Rapids Griffins at a Theme Night Game

Van Andel Arena
130 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Adults and kids of all ages will have a blast cheering on our home hockey team- so bring the whole family!

Not only is this AHL team super fun to watch, but the Griffins are regularly hosting themed nights like Star Wars night and offer family 4-pack deals.

Grand Rapids Griffins

23 – Immerse Yourself at Grand Rapids Art Museum

101 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Art galleries, tours, programs… Grand Rapids Art Museum has so much to offer and they love being accessible to the next generation.

You can enjoy it for FREE from 12 – 6 pm each Tuesday and on Thursday nights from 5-9 PM. Try their drop-in studios on Saturdays where you can create art yourself.

Art-exhibit-in-the-GRAM

24 – Experience World-Renowned Art Prize

Downtown Grand Rapids

Did you know ArtPrize is the world’s largest art competition? And we get free front row seats!

Every fall we are home to this incredible cultural experience where nearly 200 Grand Rapids venues display art from artists around the world. With so much variety, there are always larger-than-life exhibits or other enchanting art pieces that kids love.

It’s one of the most unique things you can do in Grand Rapids with kids.

charging forward artprize 2021
ArtPrize 2021 entry titled “Charging Forward”

25 – See What’s Fresh at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market

1145 Fulton St E, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

This historic farmers market is always worth a stop.

You never know what you’ll find there–but you can count on it to be fresh and local.

It’s fun to let your kids pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try later. You can also find fresh flowers, handmade goods and plants for the garden.

Fulton-Street-Farmers-Market-Hunt

26 – Get a Cityscape View at Lookout Park

Lookout Park in the Belknap Neighborhood
801 Fairview Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505

Find a spot on a swing, this is one of the best sunset spots in Grand Rapids.

You can see the whole town from Lookout Park.

For extra adventure, arrive by climbing the stairs connecting to the park from Division Ave.

Lookout Park Grand Rapids
Lookout Park in Grand Rapids is great for sunsets
stairs on Division city of Grand Rapids
Stairs on Division in the City of Grand Rapids

More in Grand Rapids

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