Things to Do in Grand Rapids MI: Absolute Best Places to Go – With or Without Kids

Things to Do in Grand Rapids Michigan

If spending time in Grand Rapids, Michigan is on your list and you’re looking for things to do in Grand Rapids MI, this is the article for you.

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What Makes Grand Rapids So Great?

The Grand Rapids Backstory

Grand Rapids is Michigan’s second-largest city, after Detroit. Most mitten-dwellers shorten the city name to GR and know that it’s a great destination if you’re looking for bigger city amenities without the traffic and other challenges that come with visiting a place the size of Chicago.

As far city size goes, right now Grand Rapids has a population of just under 200,000 people. The greater metro area’s population is just over 1,000,000.

The city of Grand Rapids has roots in the furniture industry (and the lumber boom that allowed said furniture to be built.) It was a bustling population center back in the day.

historic monroe ave 1
1933: “A View Down Monroe Avenue (Monroe Center) Looking Northwest #3,” 
City of Grand Rapids Archives and Records Center

Since then, it’s seen ups and downs like most Midwestern cities.

Right now, Grand Rapids is on the upswing, with many publications calling it out as an up-and-coming city. Current numbers back this up, with GR charting record population growth and home prices/demand backing that up.

The downtown area saw many old buildings torn down in the 1950s and 60s in the name of modernization. The 70s were a time of decreased commercial traffic and general decline. That’s when city planners closed Monroe Center in an attempt to lure shoppers to the pedestrian mall but that experiment failed.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that a revitalization of the city’s core started, catalyzed by the building of VanAndel Arena. Since then, there’s been a steady increase in construction and reclamation of buildings that once sat empty.

Rosa Parks Circle, a multiuse park in the city center, serves as a concert venue and gathering place in the summertime and an ice rink in the winter. Rosa Parks Circle opened in 1995 as well, when the adjoining Monroe Mall was reopened to automobile traffic. Today, Monroe Center is a one-way street through the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. It’s lined with shops and restaurants and is a delightful place to spend an afternoon.

The Grand River is another part of the Grand Rapids equation.

The lumber companies used the river to float logs to mills. Flour mills and early factory machinery were powered by energy generated by the Grand River. GR even used water power to generate electricity for lighting in 1880. All of this power was possible because there were large (grand) rapids in the river.

The rapids in the river eventually were flattened by a series of dams constructed following the Civil War.

historic grand river
“Fulton Street Concrete Arch Bridge Looking NE,” City of Grand Rapids Archives and Records Center

Grand Rapids Today

There is a movement afoot today to Restore the Rapids (powered by Grand Rapids WhiteWater) to the river, returning an 18-foot drop to the river as it flows through the heart of the city.

This project is a perfect example of a city powered by its people. Significant change has come to this West Michigan town over the last few decades because citizens and government continually find ways to work together and move creative ideas forward.

While the city has its challenges, it’s turning into a vibrant place to live and visit one person, one block, one business at a time.

We invite you to visit our fair town and enjoy what Grand Rapidians have known and loved for years – one grand little city.

downtown grand rapids mi center city map

When you visit, you’ll likely discover the fast-growing and nationally recognized Medical Mile, the popular Wealthy street area, and Downtown Rosa Parks Circle.

downtown grand rapids mi rosa parks circle project one
Rosa Parks Circle During Project One, an Offshoot of the ArtPrize Festival

If you time your visit right, you’ll be here for the internationally recognized ArtPrize competition that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to our town for three weeks every other year.

downtown grand rapids mi
Looking toward Monroe Ave in Downtown Grand Rapids on a Sunny Spring Day, 2021

There’s a lot more to discover in this mid-sized Midwestern City, too.

Settle in and read on – we’re giving you a rundown of all of the things you should try to squeeze in when you visit.

Good Things to Know About Grand Rapids Michigan

Best Time to Visit Grand Rapids MI

It’s always a good time to visit the outdoorsy city of Grand Rapids, Michigan but each season has its own draw.

The vibrant food and beer scene is present year round, while a good number of outdoor attractions are available in spring, summer, and fall months.

The days are long during the summertime, with the sun setting after 9 pm for all of July. This gives visitors ample time to get out and enjoy everything the area offers, from patio dining to river tubing to exploring parks & more.

Spring and Fall are seasons of change in West Michigan, making it hard to predict what the weather will bring. They are great times to visit if you can be flexible with your activities, as you’ll beat the crowds and experience things at a more laid back pace. Indoor destinations are open as well, ready to host you if your outdoor plans get too wet or blustery.

If you visit in the winter (winter weather here typically is in full force December through February but can show up and linger for months on either side of time period), come prepared for snow.

Unique to this part of Michigan is something called lake effect snow.

Westerly winds blow over Lake Michigan, gathering moisture. Once over land, heavy bands of snow form. Where the snow falls is dependent on the direction and force of the wind at the time. Certain communities in West Michigan, Grand Rapids included, can see heavy amounts of snow in a short period. As a result, Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas are great for winter fun.

When you visit during winter, be sure to pack snow boots, hats, mittens, and a warm coat. You can stay outdoors for a very long time if you have the right gear. Leave the sneakers for indoor activities, and remember that snow is treated with salt to help it melt- so leather items can be damaged unless treated. I also like to carry disposable hand warmers for chilly situations, too.

Where is Grand Rapids, MI?

Grand Rapids, Michigan, is located on the west side of Michigan’s lower peninsula, about 2.5 hours west of Detroit.

grand rapids michigan map
Michigan Map Showing Grand Rapids MI

When locals refer to Grand Rapids, they could mean one of two things: the City of Grand Rapids or the Metro Grand Rapids area. The Metro area is quite large, spanning multiple counties. It would take you a couple of hours of highway driving to travel from one side of the metro area to the other.

For the sake of this article, many of the things to do in Grand Rapids MI included are in the city center. However, there are notable metro Grand Rapids destinations that visitors will want to explore, so they are included here.

Favorite Things to Do in Grand Rapids

What are the best things to do in Grand Rapids? That’s easy to answer in seven words:

Beer, Entertainment, Art & Culture, Recreation, Food, Brews & Coffee, and Shopping

Consider this guide your new travel buddy BFF.

You’re about to have the best family travel experience or romantic weekend getaway in Grand Rapids yet, via this curated list of must-try spots and local faves.

Bonus: Read to the end to find places great places for an overnight stay.

Walk the City

Grand River Edges Trail – Downtown Grand Rapids

This is a family favorite or date night pastime because walking is truly the best way to get to know a city. You’ll take in all the beauty at your own pace.

The Grand River Edges Trail system will take you through downtown Grand Rapids following the banks of the Grand River.

As the Grand River threads its way through town, the bulk of downtown attractions lie to the east of the river. The Edges Trail allows you to walk on the east and west banks of the river, though.

There are many ways to piece together a walk through Grand Rapids using this trail system – here are a few of our favorites.

Northside River Edges Trail Loop

Stops included on this northside loop:
-Fish Ladder Park
-Sixth Street Park
-Canal Park
-Skate Park & 555 Monroe
-Calder Plaza
-Ah-Nab-Awen Park

free-downtown-grand-rapids-discovery-walk

South River Edges Trail & City Center Loop

For this loop, we recommend you start at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

-Walk south along the river to the Blue Bridge (this is a Grand Rapids icon!)

-Cross the river using the Blue Bridge.

-Walk south on the River Edge trail to Fulton.

-Walking east on Fulton will take you past the Van Andel Arena and eventually to the Children’s Museum.

-Once at the Children’s Museum, head back to the city center by walking down Monroe Center St for a nice stretch of shops and restaurants. You’ll land at Rosa Parks Circle.

-After a stop at Rosa Parks Circle, walk over to Louis Campau Promenade for a photo op with the LOVE sculpture.

-Walk down the Campau Promenade toward the River, where you’ll find Louis St NW rejoins the River Edge Trail. Walk north on the trail, crossing Pearl St.

-Keep walking north to Lyon Square, and eventually the Gillett Bridge. Cross the river using the bridge, which will bring you to Ah-Nab-Awen Park, the Gerald R. Ford Museum, and within site distance of your parking spot.
Grand Rapids River Edge South Loop Walking Route 1

Grand Rapids River Trail loop blue bridge dad pushing his kid in a stroller
Blue Bridge portion of trail connecting the east and west sides of the river

No matter where you start on the trail, if you continue walking, you’ll loop your way around to where you started.

Riverwalk - Downtown Grand Rapids
Looking North: The Gillett Bridge, the Grand River Edges Trail, and DeVos Place in Downtown Grand Rapids

Explore Heritage Hill

We’re not just Beer City — we’re Furniture City! Grand Rapids has a rich heritage of exceptionally skilled artisans who handcrafted furniture that would be coveted around the world. Baker, Sligh, Steelcase, Herman Miller, Stickley and more.

You can also get a small taste of Furniture City at the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s permanent exhibit, Streets of Old Grand Rapids.

And our forefathers could build houses, too! The iconic neighborhoods of Heritage Hill are a delight to walk through, with tours of various houses offered every spring.

Heritage Hill Morris Grand Rapids Neighborhoods Suburbs Hunt
Heritage Hill in Grand Rapids, MI

Frank Lloyd Wright fans can check out his Meyer May House for free on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

You can also DIY your own trip through time by following the Heritage Hill self-guided walking tour.

Take in Museums & Local Attractions

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (with kids / without kids)
1000 East Beltline Avenue NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525


The Frederik Meijer Gardens is undergoing a major renovation and it is already breathtaking! If you’ve been before you’ll want to go again, and if you’ve never been, you’re in for a treat!

I’m certain that Michigan has nothing else like this magical escape located just outside of Downtown Grand Rapids.
You’ll want to plan to stay the whole day if possible. Here’s what you can look forward to:

• Huge interactive children’s area
• Three-section Treehouse
• Great Lakes Water play area (summer – bring a change of clothes)
• Japanese Gardens
• Michigan Farm Garden
• Sculpture walk
• Art Gallery
• Amphitheater for concerts

Additionally, you’ll be treated to seasonal displays throughout the year depending on the time of your visit. Expect:

WINTER: Holiday Traditions Around the World Tree Display
SPRING: Butterflies are Blooming
SUMMER: Summer Concert Series
AUTUMN: Fall mums and giant Pumpkins

Meijer Gardens is located on its own campus, just outside of downtown and right off of 1-96. There are a few local places to eat nearby that kids love. If you prefer to dine inside the gardens, eat at the Taste of the Gardens Cafe.

frederik meijer gardens children's garden (12)
Treehouse at Frederick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, MI

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

GR Children’s Museum
11 Sheldon Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

The GR Children’s Museum is two floors of nonstop fun! Permanent and rotating exhibits fill the space. Because of this, families love visiting over and over as each return seems like a new place to discover.

The bubble station, the treehouse, and the art room are all perennial favorites but everything else in the space is just begging to be explored as well.

The best part?!

In its entirety, this museum is packed full of play-based learning experiences making it both fun and educational.
All in all, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is for all ages because you should never outgrow the fun of learning.

Grand-Rapids-Children's-Museum-kids-playing-tree-house-downtown-Grand-Rapids-things-to-do
Playing with the motion table at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

Grand Rapids Public Museum

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

A carousel ride with river view will top most kids’ (and parents) list at the GR Public Museum.

It’s also home to the planetarium, a treasure trove of interactive local historical exhibits, an A to Z scavenger hunt, and world-class visiting exhibitions.

Currently, Wild Connections made from LEGO bricks are exhibited.

Bonus: The third floor rotates exhibits making this a place you can never tire of visiting.

GRPM-Grand-Rapids-Public-Museum-Family-walking-in-whale-fossil
Main Hall of the Grand Rapids Public Museum

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
303 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

This museum is a great stop for history buffs and students learning about government.

Favorite West Michigan INstagram Spots Spaceman and Fountain at Gerald R Ford Museum 1

John Ball Zoo

John Ball Zoo
1300 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504


Built on the ravines and bluffs to the west of John Ball Park, the zoo is quite hilly making it an explorable destination on top of being the spot to see animals.

This Grand Rapids mainstay is located on the West side of Grand Rapids, just a short drive from downtown.

Zoo animal highlights include Monkey Island, the Chimpanzee exhibit, Tigers of the Realm, Bears, an aquarium, a Zipline, Ropes Course, Funicular, and more.

John Ball Zoo is also known for its grand events peppered throughout their open season. You’ll love events like Superhero DayPrincess DayThe Zoo goes Boo, and new last year, IllumiZoo.

John Ball Zoo waterfall wide Vander
Zipline over the waterfall at John Ball Zoo
ILLUMIZOO john ball zoo
IllumiZoo at John Ball Zoo in 2020

Rosa Parks Circle is closed for the summer of 2021 for construction.

Rosa Parks Circle

Rosa Parks Circle
135 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503


Rosa Parks Circle is the heart and hub of downtown. If you’re looking for fun there’s almost always something wonderful happening here.

In the summer and warmer months, you’ll find evening concerts, salsa dancing, yoga in the park, festivals, food trucks and the fun list goes on.

In the winter, you’ll find ice skating and World of Winter comprised of interactive art structures and Valent-Ice where 80+ ice sculptures are spread all over the city and walkable.

If you happen to visit Rosa Parks Circle on a day when no event is happening, you’ll still enjoy taking in the hum and bustle of the city. We recommend grabbing a coffee at MadCap and making your way past the Grand Rapids Art Museum building for a lovely leisurely walk through the circle.

You’ll most likely hear someone playing music, find art pieces placed here and there, and take in the mural art on the buildings.

The magic in is the circle itself and the community of people that daily occupy it.

Relax at Rosa (Rosa Parks Circle)

Visit All of the Breweries – and Find Spirits, Too

Take Note: GR is Beer City, USA

The local craft beer scene has a life of its own – putting Grand Rapids on the map as Beer City USA.

While it’s doubtful you’ll build your family’s visit around brewery tours, it’s good to know that you can grab a great local brew at most restaurants around town.

But – a good recommendation is always your best bet, right?! (If you are visiting with kids, here’s a list of the best family-friendly breweries in town.)

Railtown Brewing
Grab a flight at popular Railtown Brewing in Caledonia
Railtown Brewing
3595 68th St SE, Caledonia, MI 49316
– Stop here for the venue’s two-story ambiance, yummy beer, and top-notch menu.
Mitten Brewing
527 Leonard St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
-This is the stop where you’ll find excellent pizza. Everyone we asked agreed. It’s amazing!
New Holland Brewing
417 Bridge St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
– Go here for gluten-free adult beverage options — in addition to their traditional delicious brews.
Founders Brewing Co.
235 Grandville Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
– Stop at Founders for its vibe, famous deck, atmosphere, events, and renowned beer options.
The Jolly Pumpkin
428 Bridge St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
– Sidle up to the bar and order one — or several — sour beers and all the great food. Delish!
jolly pumpkin brewery grand rapids mi
Jolly Pumpkin Brewery on Bridge Street is a local favorite
Brewery Vivant
925 Cherry St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
– We love their unique setting (a former funeral home), outdoor airy intimate seating, brew choices and walkable neighborhood.
Perrin Brewing Co.
5910 Comstock Park Dr NW, Comstock Park, MI 49321
– Head here for multiple craft beer options. All taste buds will be pleased and you’ll love the great vibe.
Arvon Brewing Co.
1006 Division Ave S, Grand Rapids, MI 49507
– Craving New England IPA’s? Want your grub to go? Arvon’s got the IPA’s and delivery/curbside pickup options.
Greyline Brewing Co.
1727 Alpine Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
– Did someone say patio? Head here for their outdoor seating and scrumptious beers.
Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery
452 Ada Dr SE, Ada, MI 49301
– Located outside of town in the cute village of Ada, Gravel Bottom has a nice seasonal menu and a wonderful location that you won’t want to leave.
Bonus: Farmhaus Cider
5025 Stanton St, Hudsonville, MI 49426
– Ok, it’s not beer but their blackberry cider is amazing – and we want to note – there are plenty more cider spots around town as well!

With over three dozen breweries around town, if you stay here long enough, you will end up visiting a brewery whether you intend to or not!

Find a Festival

ArtPrize

September and October mark ArtPrize, a biennial art competition that takes over the city.

Artists from around the world publicly display their works of art in the streets, business windows, hotel lobbies, and you name it!

Visitors, armed with smartphones, vote for art and large cash prizes are awarded the winners.

ArtPrize is different than a regular art gallery display because it brings art to the people and makes art accessible.

Thousands of displays dot the downtown landscape both inside and outdoors. Even more fun – artists often stand near their exhibits and are excited to talk with kids about their work.

If you’re visiting Grand Rapids for ArtPrize it’s recommended that you book your hotel rooms early.

Downtown-Grand-Rapids-Art-Prize-Kid-sitting-looking-at-the-skyline
ArtPrize in downtown Grand Rapids MI

Festival of the Arts

Festival of the Arts is always the first full weekend in June and is widely known as the unofficial kickoff of summer in Grand Rapids.

Festival is a FREE three-day community event that features several performance stages, a juried Regional Arts Exhibition, and a wide variety of food booths. It also includes creative activities for children and adults as well as the option to purchase art from West Michigan artists.

For all the latest information about Festival of the Arts, including performance schedules, activities, and food booths, visit festivalgr.org or check out the organization’s Facebook page.

downtown grand rapids mi festival of the art paint in
Festival of the Arts “Paint In”

World of Winter

Celebrate winter with a gallery of ice in Downtown Grand Rapids! Valent-ICE, one of many attractions during the annual World of Winter Festival, showcases over 80 ice sculptures all throughout.

Walking tours, fun competitions, art installations, and many fun events help brighten up Grand Rapids coldest months.

Rosa parks circle painting on the ice
Painting the Ice at World of Winter in Grand Rapids, MI
Glowing Seesaws at World of Winter in Downtown Grand Rapids
Glowing Seesaws at World of Winter in Grand Rapids 2021

Grab Tickets to a Game

For a small city we sure to have a lot of professional sports action to take in!

Residents love cheering for the home team – come join in the fun! West Michigan Whitecaps (baseball), Grand Rapids Griffins (hockey), Grand Rapids FC (soccer) and GR Drive (basketball).

Hockey

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


Grand Rapids Griffins games are fun!

Regular theme nights and entertaining antics between plays are crowd-pleasers.

The Griffins are affiliated with the Detroit Red Wings and play at the Van Andel Arena.

star wars night grand rapids griffins 1
Star Wars Night at the Grand Rapids Griffins

Baseball

LMCU Ballpark
4500 W River Dr NE, Comstock Park, MI 49321


Head to a West Michigan Whitecaps if you’re in the mood for good food and a great time outdoors at the ballpark.

The Whitecaps play at LMCU Ballpark, a lovely venue with lots of green space and amenities.

Theme nights, on-field games, and fun promotions are hallmarks of the Whitecaps experience.

LMCU is located just north of downtown Grand Rapids. The Whitecaps are affiliates of the Detroit Tigers.

Whitecaps baseball with Kids Feature Image
West Michigan Whitecaps Play at LMCU Ballpark in Comstock Park, MI

Basketball

DeltaPlex
2500 Turner Ave NW, Walker, MI 49544


The Grand Rapids Drive, affiliates of the Denver Nuggets, play home games at the DeltaPlex Arena.

Soccer

Houseman Field
162 Houseman Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503


The Grand Rapids FC is a homegrown soccer club that is now part of a national soccer league. They are known for passionate fans and rousing games played at Houseman Field.

Grab Tickets to a Play, Concert, or Broadway Show

Plays & Musicals – Cultured Things to do in Grand Rapids MI

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
30 Division Ave N, Grand Rapids, MI 49503


If Grand Rapids Civic Theatre has a live production happening while you’re in town, you must go.

The GRCT is one of the country’s oldest community theatres for a reason: top-notch local talent that delivers, again and again, no matter the genre.

The Little Mermaid Civic GRCT Ursula Ariel 1
The Little Mermaid, performed at the GR Civic Theatre in 2018

Broadway Grand Rapids

DeVos Performance Hall
303 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503


Broadway Grand Rapids brings six or more traveling productions to the stage in Grand Rapids each year and they do not disappoint.

Season ticket holders get first dibs on seats at shows – get tickets well in advance for the best selection.

HAMILTON-Broadway-Grand-Rapids-MI
Hamilton returns to Broadway Grand Rapids in 2022

DeVos Performance Hall

DeVos Performance Hall
303 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503


Several professional organizations call DeVos Performance Hall home throughout the year, including:

Opera Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids Symphony
Grand Rapids Ballet

Additionally, touring events will stop at DeVos Performance Hall as well.

Van Andel Arena

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


With seating for over 12,000, Van Andel Arena is the venue for big-name concerts and events in West Michigan, as well as home to the Grand Rapids Griffins, the area hockey team.

Dive Into the Art Scene

You’ll notice by almost the time you arrive in Grand Rapids that art is incorporated into everything we do.

It’s obvious in events like Festival of the Arts, ArtPrize, and World of Winter. It’s in the mural and street art, the architectural designs, and in the incorporated art pieces throughout the city.

But art in Grand Rapids is so much deeper than big events. Enjoying art is one of the favorite things to do in Grand Rapids.

There are local events and art culture happening all over the city that live and breathe art year-round. Landscaping, home design, food, you name it, it’s seeping out of the people here from the south to the east to the west and to the North.

We just love art, and if you do too, we know you’ll love any part of the city you visit.

You can immerse yourself in GR’s art scene with a visit to one of the art museums or an experience – choose from this list!

Grand Rapids Art Museum

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


The GRAM is located at the center of Downtown Grand Rapids in Rosa Parks Circle proving that art is at the actual heart of the city.

With three levels of art to browse, plus a hands-on family art room during Saturday hours designed to use your visit as creative inspiration the GRAM is a must-see.

Make note that this is a very quiet space…but don’t let that scare your family away!

The GRAM welcomes families and has special sections throughout the museum geared to or dedicated to hands-on family interaction.

GRAM-Kids-doing-an-art-puzzle-at-the-Grand-Rapids-Art-Museum
Hands-on art activities for all ages are available on Saturday afternoons at the GRAM
Art-exhibit-in-the-GRAM

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

UICA
17 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503


Reopening July 15, 2021.

Focused on art, movies, and exhibitions that represent our world today, in conjunction with Kendall College of Art and Design. They offer experiences geared toward many ages and interests.

Events, cinema, exhibits, interactive programs, and arts education can sum up what’s happening at the UICA but each of these has a broad and deep well of wonder to dive into. Kids love the unique gift shop so be prepared. Some of our most beloved things: the theatre showing indy films and the interactive exhibits during ArtPrize.

Muse GR

MUSE GR
727 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504


Muse is an interactive art gallery and event space located in Grand Rapids, MI. Interactive, collaborative, and diverse art flows here! Host an event or stop by to take it in this “creatively unboxed” space.

It is a collaborative space for creatives to execute projects, host events, facilitate workshops, and more. Check their website for current events.

Go on a Mural Crawl


Grand Rapids may be known for Beer but riding close on its coattails is the ever-blooming art scene.

Part of this includes the street art, making the Grand Rapids area a mural wonderland.

No matter where you visit in Grand Rapids you’ll likely stumble upon some sort of mural(s).

If you’re looking to take in these burst of color as an itinerary, this mural crawl guide is for you:
Mural Map + Scavenger Hunt

Metaphorest Mural downtown Grand Rapids
Mural: Metaphorest
Murals-madcap-kids-laughing-art-grand-rapids-things-to-do
Mural at Madcap Coffee on Fulton St

Food Finds: Where to Eat

Eat Fresh at the Markets

Our seasonal farmer’s markets are where you can shake the hands of the farmer who grew that peach or squash for you. And locals who want to get even closer to the action join a CSA.

All this veggie talk got you wishing for a steak? Grand Rapids is home to several high-quality organic butchers as well!

Below are two Grand Rapids market favorites:

Grand Rapids Downtown Market


Grand Rapids Downtown Market
435 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503


We love our fresh food around here. The Downtown Market is a magnet for people who love a local, fresh, or unusual taste adventure. Dare we say there isn’t anything like it in Michigan?!

You’ll find farm-to-table type food. There’s BBQ, Mexican, Seafood, juice bar, ice cream, and so much more variety. This isn’t just a place to eat, it’s an experience.

Throughout the year the market hosts many special events and cooking classes. They also participate in ArtPrize during the summer and World of Winter’s Valent-Ice during the winter.

Downtown-Grand-Rapids-Market
Downtown Market in Grand Rapids, MI

Fulton Street Farmer’s Market


Fulton Street Farmer’s Market
1145 Fulton St E, Grand Rapids, MI 49503


Fulton Street Market is both a staple in GR, running since 1922. It’s a local favorite and a must-stop for people passing through.

The market is open Wednesday, Friday & Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm May through October (Saturdays only during winter months.)

Find local produce, food trucks, artisan booths, and an overall great vibe.

Bonus: if you have time to walk around, take a stroll down Fulton Street to find many other hidden gems, coffee shops, and treats.

Fulton-Street-Farmers-Market-Hunt
Stock up on fresh produce at the Fulton Street Farmers Market

Best Restaurants & Drink Spots

There is literally no way we could list every single delicious spot around town, or this list would be a mile long.

But… we can point you in the right direction of mouth-watering locations both locals and visitors love to frequent.

Plus, each one of these choices is set in an area surrounded by other phenomenal choices. So, take your pick, walk around, and enjoy one of the wonders of Grand Rapids – the food!

Real Food Cafe
2419 Eastern Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49507
▸Go for: Brunch
Lucy’s Cafe
1747 Plainfield Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505
▸ Go for: Brunch
Wolfgang’s
1530 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
▸Go for: Brunch
The Mitten Brewing Company
527 Leonard St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
▸Go for: Pizza
The Søvengård
443 Bridge St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
▸ Go for: The Patio
Electric Cheetah
1015 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
▸Go for: Family Dining
Amore Trattoria Italiana
5080 Alpine Ave NW, Comstock Park, MI 49321
▸Go for: Great take out, Gluten-free options, Romantic Dinner, Great Desserts
Luna GR
64 Ionia Ave SW, Ste 100, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go for: Great tacos, great take out
Forty Acres Soul Kitchen
1059 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
▸Go for: Amazing Soul Food
The Commons
547 Cherry St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go for: Stepping into the 70s, Scrumptious Food
San Chez Bistro
38 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go for: Romantic Dinner, Great Desserts
Reserve Wine and Food
201 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go for: Great Wine Selection, Date Night
GRNoir
35 Division Ave S, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go for: Great Wine Selection, Date Night
Ando Sushi
415 Bridge St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
▸Go for: Really Legit Japanese Food
Donkey Taqueria
665 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go for: Best Cocktails, Date Night
Butcher’s Union
438 Bridge St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
▸Go for: Great patio, cocktails, date night or lunch
Eastern Kille Distillery
700 Ottawa Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go for: Signature Cocktails, Date Night

Must-Try Food Trucks

Pizza Parliament
▸Pizza Parliament Food Truck serves hand-tossed personal pizzas on a fresh homemade crust.
Menu item names follow a political theme – for example, you could order Obama’s Birth Certificate or a Straight Ticket pizza.
pizza parliament food truck
Underground Cookie Club
▸Epic, colorful ice cream sandwiches that wow ice cream lovers of all ages.
Perusing their menu of wild combinations is a treat in itself.
Patty Matters
▸Patty Matters Food Truck serves up the best burger in Grand Rapids according to many. That’s because their gourmet mobile food kitchen offers a variety of burger types with customized toppings.
Daddy Pete’s BBQ
▸Daddy Pete’s BBQ focuses on providing delicious, slow-smoked meats. 
Voodoo Foodoo Truck
▸Voodoo Foodoo is home to the Voorito and Breakfast Voorito. You choose the meat, cheese and other goodies. Don’t forget the outer “cheese curtain” that holds your burrito in its warm cheesy goodness!

Coffee & Treats

Ice cream, donuts, and coffee make the world go round, right?!

Here’s where you’ll find our best:

Jersey Junction
652 Croswell Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
▸Go for: Ice Cream & Candy Treats
Sandy’s Donuts
2040 Leonard St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
▸Go for: Large variety of fresh-made donuts. Cinnamon rolls & coffee are great, too.
Rise Authentic Baking Co.
1220 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
▸Go for: Gluten-free, vegan, and soy-free pastries, donuts, and treats
Outside Coffee Co
734 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go for: Cozy outdoor backyard location. Unique seating. They’ll make you feel welcome and their drinks/food are great.
Brody’s Be Cafe
7267 Thornapple River Dr SE, Ada, MI 49301
▸Go for: Coffee, tea, espresso and smoothies in an accepting atmosphere. Non-profit cafe, employing those with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
MudPenny
570 Grandville Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go For: Delicious. Great food & coffee, coloring pages for kids, allergy-friendly, keto-friendly.
The Sparrows Coffee & Tea & Newsstand
1035 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
▸Go For: Bulk Tea, great coffee
Eastown Cereal Cafe
1507 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
▸Go For: Bowls of Cereal, Waffle Creations & Milkshake Creations. Gluten-Free Options Available.
Sacred Springs Kombucha
1059 Wealthy St SE Suite B, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
▸Go For: Kombucha Flights, Treats
Madcap Coffee Company
1041 Fulton St E, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
98 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
▸Go For: Specialty Coffee
Nantucket Baking Co.
1308 Fuller AVE N // 615 Lyon St NE Grand Rapids MI
▸Go for: European Artisan Breads, New Age Breakfast Pastries, Cupcakes, Cakes and Tortes, Cheesecakes, Croissants Bars, and many more delicious treats

Best Places to Shop

Grand Rapids has a lot of unique neighborhoods and shopping districts. East Hills, Downtown, Eastown, Wealthy and East Fulton all brag small, local shops and/or incredible eateries.

And other nearby towns like East Grand Rapids, Ada and Rockford are also beloved for their walkability.

Best Shopping in Downtown Grand Rapids

Vault of Midnight

Comic Books

95 Monroe Center St NW Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Love the aesthetic. Graphic novels, comic books, notebooks, toys, coloring books.

Fido & Stitch

Dog Supplies

820 Monroe Ave NW, Ste 140 Grand Rapids, MI 49503

They provide customers with everything needed to give a dog a long, healthy and fun life. Essential and fun products for canines, as well as grooming and self-serve dog wash services, all in one spot.

Lost & Found

Antiques & Vintage

445 Century Ave SW Grand Rapids, MI 49503

One of three antique shops in the historic Sligh Furniture building. At 50,000 square feet, there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore.

Moosejaw Mountaineering

Outdoor Gear

410 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

High-end sports & outdoor gear outfitter with good selection of clothing, footwear & accessories.

Oh Hello Co. Paper & Gifts

Stationary & Unique Gifts

40 Monroe Center Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Your one stop shop for stationery, greeting cards, Grand Rapids-themed items & unique gifts for anyone. 

Bold Socks

Clothing

17 Division Ave S Grand Rapids, MI 49503

A store on a mission to wipe out boring socks.

Oh Hello Paper Co Community Workspace
Oh Hello has a Lovely Community Workspace

Best Shopping in Uptown: Eastown, East Hills, East Fulton & Wealthy Districts

Located just a mile east of downtown Grand Rapids, there’s a collection of four unique, walkable business districts in a local called Uptown.

Uptown features specialty, locally-owned businesses you can’t find anywhere else.

Commune GR

Boutique

1409 Robinson Road SE Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Pretty things for the home. Vintage rugs and pillows. Candles, bags, mugs. People love their jewelry. Be sure to get a photo with their amazing mural.

Rebel

Boutique & Gift Shop

1555 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids MI 49506

Homegrown, modern gift shop on the West Coast of Michigan. People enjoy their irreverent look at life.

Woosah Outfitters

Printshop & Retail Store

738 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids MI 49503

Visiting here is like walking into a cabin. Original art, prints, tees, at this naturally inspired printshop & retail store. Stick around for a beverage at the adjacent Outside Coffee Co.

commune gr 1
Commune GR is in Eastown on Robinson Road

Blue Bridge Games

Game Store

954 Fulton St E Grand Rapids, MI 49503

A great selection of analog entertainment – board games, role-playing games, sealed Magic items, jigsaw puzzles & more!

Hopscotch Children’s Store

Children’s Boutique

909 Cherry St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Shop for unique, modern, and classic gifts/toys/books for babies and kids. Line up includes locally made products, eco-friendly, & educational items.

Wax Poetic Candle Bar

Candle Shop

1423 Lake Dr SE, Grand Rapids MI 49506:

Make your own candle, buy a candle-making kit, or buy a custom blend candle.

Books and Mortar

Game Store

955 Cherry Street SE Grand Rapids, MI 49506

This indie bookstore curates a thoughtful, diverse book selection for adults and kids. They love to give recommendations, too.

Marvelous Me Books

Children’s Bookstore

1035 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Diverse and inclusive children’s bookstore set inside Sparrows Coffee. Also, see the free little library outside. And don’t miss the vintage phone booth! 

Local Epicurian

Food Shop

1440 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids MI 49506:

Boutique Italian market/grocer, meets fresh pasta makers, meets happy hour spot, meets prepared deli and desserts destination, meets caterer, meets culinary cooking class hub.

Where to Stay in Grand Rapids

Best Hotels with Pools in Grand Rapids

Downtown

JW Marriott Grand Rapids
235 Louis Campau Prom, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Upscale downtown lodging. The pool has a nice view. It’s 3.5 feet deep. There is a separate area for the whirlpool.
Embassy Suites – Grand Rapids Downtown
710 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
This new, all-suite hotel is located in the Monroe North District. Rooms feature sofa beds, mini-refrigerators and microwaves.
Your stay includes a free made-to-order breakfast, and complimentary Evening Reception.
The indoor pool is Michigan-shaped and the whirlpool spa is indoor/outdoor.
Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown
11 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
This Marriott hotel has a large pool. Even better than the pool? The location. It’s easy to walk to almost everything downtown from the Courtyard.

Suburbs

Drury Inn
5175 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512
They have an indoor/ outdoor pool (Swim under a rubber divider and be in a heated outdoor pool even in the winter.)
They also include a nice breakfast buffet and dinner buffet, 3 alcoholic beverages per adult during dinner, and soft drinks/popcorn from 4-9.
Hilton Garden Inn Grand Rapids East
2321 E Beltline Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546
This hotel is near Calvin University and the Woodland Mall.
It has a heated indoor pool shaped like the state of Michigan, indoor/outdoor hot tub, and on-site Garden Grille & Bar restaurant.
Free parking.
Holiday Inn Express South
6569 Clay Ave SW, MI 49548
The hotel pool features a wet and wild splash pad, zero-depth toddler play area with mini slides, and tipping buckets. There is also a hot tub and single-lane swim area with a swirling vortex pool.
vortex pool
The Pool Area at the Holiday Inn Express South
Radisson Hotel Grand Rapids Riverfront
270 Ann St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
This riverfront hotel is north of downtown Grand Rapids but still within the city limits.
The Radisson has the deepest hotel swimming pool in the Grand Rapids area.
They have a nice riverside patio for you to enjoy.

Best Airbnbs & Vacation Rentals

Sometimes a vacation rental is a better fit for a family or your ideal getawy.

Here are several Grand Rapids vacation rentals that caught our eye:

Luxurious 2 Doubles & King Bed Apt at The Brix ~ Hot Tub/Gym/Pool!

Sleeps: 6
Bedrooms: 2
Bath: 2
Pets: No

Good For: Couples or small family getaway
Perk: Fully stocked kitchen, heated outdoor pool (hot tub in the winter), free parking.
The heated outdoor pool is lovely. The decor is fresh and clean.

Grand Rapids – Close to Van Andel Arena

Luxury 2BR Penthouse in Downtown GR

Sleeps: 6
Bedrooms: 2
Bath: 2
Pets: Only with prior authorization

Good For:  Family getaway
Perk: Great location for restaurants, breweries, the Van Andel Arena, museums, and nearby parks. The view is amazing.

Grand Rapids – Close to Van Andel Arena

Heritage Hill Home Just Outside of Downtown GR

Sleeps: 9
Bedrooms: 4
Bath: 2
Pets: No

Good For:  Family getaway
Perk: Great location for restaurants, shopping, Reed’s Lake, and more. Fantastic neighborhood of preserved historic homes. Close to

Grand Rapids – Heritage Hill Area

Downtown Chic Apartment w/ Private Balcony
Grand Rapids Airbnb vacation rental
Sleeps: 6
Bedrooms: 2
Bath: 1
Pets: Yes, with permission/fee
Good For: Family getaway, romantic getaway, business trip
Perk: Private Balcony with gas fire pit
DETAILS

Grand Rapids Westside

Adventures Beyond the City

East Grand Rapids

REED’S LAKE / EAST GRAND RAPIDS

East Grand Rapids is a cute community with a lakeside park just minutes outside of downtown Grand Rapids.

Find local shops and restaurants here as well, including the ever-popular Jersey Junction ice cream parlor.

Shopping, Ice Cream, and a Walk Around the Lake

Millennium Park

Millennium Park
1415 Maynard Ave SW, Walker, MI 49534
– This is a man-made park with beach and splash pad, as well as paved nature trails. You can rent boats, kayaks, and other watercraft at very reasonable rates.
Millennium Park header
Millennium Park has a beach, splashpad, boathouse, playgrounds, and numerous trails for visitor use

Speaking of parks, you could create a whole itinerary purely on parks alone! Grand Rapids is engulfed in stunning parks all over the area. If you’re looking for grand or a mini secluded oasis, the GR parks guide is for you.

We know you’ll have so much fun discovering the natural beauty GR has to offer.

Millennium-Park-trail-feature-image

Visit Lake Michigan

Lovingly referred to as our unsalted Ocean, Michigan natives are infatuated with this giant lake. After your first visit, you’ll understand.

The Sandy beaches, crystal clear water, gorgeous dunes are hard to beat.

Tunnel Park Beach Holland Grand Rapids Beaches
Lake Michigan Sunset at Tunnel Park in Holland, MI

Locals swoon over Lake Michigan and visitors never want to leave the soft sand and breathtaking sunsets.

You’ll find many public beaches and cute towns just a short drive from downtown Grand Rapids along with boutique shopping and farm-to-table or beach town restaurants.

Lake Michigan Beach - Hoffmaster State Park
Lake Michigan Beach – PJ Hoffmaster State Park

Helpful Apps, Deals & Websites for People in Grand Rapids

Useful resources for locals and visitors alike:

  • GRKIDS.COM: Families can find out about festivals, concerts and events geared toward kids by visiting GRKIDS.COM. The website has a packed event calendar, a busy Facebook page, and multiple articles highlighting where to go and what to do with kids in Grand Rapids.
  • Beer O’Clock: Happy hours and daily specials at local bars.
  • GRWalks: Guided walking tours of Grand Rapids. Free App.
  • GR Tag Tour: Two fun, informative and interactive tours of downtown Grand Rapids that you can access on your smartphone with a QR code reader.
  • GR Running Tours: Guided walking and running tours through Grand Rapids. Fee & free offerings.
  • Grand Rapids Breweries: GR Brewery & Beer Tour Information
  • Grand Rapids Culture Pass: 3-Day Culture Pass to top Grand Rapids attractions, including the Grand Rapids Public Museum, John Ball Zoo, and the Gerald R. Ford Museum. $20 as of 4/20/21.

But really, the real Grand Rapids can be found in its people. We are quite the friendly bunch and if you happen to forget this article when you’re exploring our wonderful city, just ask the closest person to you for tips on getting the most out of this place. I’m betting they’ll be happy to give you all the ideas they have and probably offer to go along with you, too!

Have you visited Grand Rapids?

What did you do while you were here? Share any tips and tricks in the comments below. Or, if this will be your first trip- ask away- we’d love to help with your questions!

6 thoughts on “Things to Do in Grand Rapids MI: Absolute Best Places to Go – With or Without Kids”

  1. I’ve never really known what was in Grand Rapids, but it seems like a lovely place. I really love history and Presidential Museums and Libraries, so that will definitely be on my list! I would never have thought of visiting Grand Rapids but after reading this post, I would love to visit! Great info and tips on things to do there. 🙂

  2. “Thanks Melody for sharing this. I visited grand rapid once and really it is nice place to have fun, but would like to visit it again.
    Regarding snacks and popcorns, they are ok but I love popcorns by Thatchers gourmet popcorns the most. “

  3. Thanks Melody for sharing this. I visited grand rapid once and really it is nice place to have fun, but would like to visit it again.
    Regarding snacks and popcorns, they are ok but I love popcorns by Thatchers gourmet popcorns the most.

  4. I love your website Melody!! Thanks!! This summer my husband has a work conference at DeVoss and my 6 year old, 4 year old and myself are hoping to join him at his hotel and explore the city for the week. How can we best get around to the places you have mentioned: Frederick Meijer Gardens, John Ball Zoo, Millennium Park…. is there a bus or something that we could ride? Would it be safe/ easy for my kids to ride bikes while I walked/jogged beside them? Thanks again for your awesome website!!

    1. Hi Carissa, You will have a great week visiting GR! The places I mentioned are spread out over quite a distance and you will want a car or UBER. If you are staying downtown, you’ll be able to walk to the Children’s Museum or any of the other downtown museums, but John Ball Zoo, Millennium Park and Meijer Gardens are all some distance away and you’ll want a ride. We do have a bus system that could get you to the zoo, but I’m not sure if it runs to the other venues. If you want to ride bikes/walk with your kids, Millennium Park is a great place to do that. Best of luck and let me know if you have any other questions.

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