I may be a little biased because it’s where I live, but I love downtown Grand Rapids. 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.
How do I know there’s always something new? Because I’ve been taking my kids downtown for over eight years and there are five things on this list that I still haven’t done with them yet.
We live and die by our museum and zoo memberships. My kids think that everyone has a John Ball Zoo 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 acres-big children’s garden full of incredible 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?
Looking for creative fun? The Mud Room is a Grandtastic Award-winning art studio offering pottery painting, potter’s wheel classes, handprint keepsakes, birthday parties and more! All ages welcome, no experience needed. Conveniently located at Knapp’s Corner.
What it’s Like to Live in the Heart 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 and lovely space to call home. On any given day there’s always some event or activity happening all over 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.
You should know: When people talk about Grand Rapids many picture just 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.
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 throughout the year for even more hands-on learning.
02) Dive in at a City Pool
MLK Pool 900 Fuller Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Richmond Park Pool 1101 Richmond St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Briggs Park Pool 350 Knapp St NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505
City residents 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.
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.)
03) Play and Learn at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
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. Come on Thursday Family Night (every Thursday from 5 PM – 8 PM) for $3 admission!
04) Explore and Cool Off on the Wealthy St. Strip
Start near Outside Coffee 734 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
After you grab a coffee and treat at one of the most fun spots in GR, start your trek through the Wealthy st. area. You’ll find places like Cherry Street park including a splash pad (725 Cherry Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503), cute shops like Rebel, all types of delicious food (a fav you should try is Forty Acres Soul Kitchen at 1059 Wealthy St SE), and an all-around good vibe for the whole family.
Van Andel Arena is a 10,834-seat multi-purpose arena offering numerous entertainment options throughout the year. From concerts and hockey games to Disney on Ice and monster truck shows, you are guaranteed to find something to make your kids smile! Many shows make annual stops to the city of Grand Rapids.
06) Settle in for a Story at Grand Rapids Public Library – Main Branch
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 story time, classes, activities and special events for ALL ages.
07) Be Dazzled by a Performance at the Civic Theatre
A city of Grand Rapids icon, the Civic Theatre presents plays year round for all ages. See what’s playing and grab some tickets for the family. Many shows have daytime matinee performances for younger audience members.
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.
09) Spin on the Grand Rapids Public Museum Carousel
Your kids will love to take a magical ride on Grand Rapids Public Museum carousel. The city of Grand Rapids’ beloved carousel is made up of 44 hand-carved, elaborately jeweled wooden horses, two chariots and six menagerie animals.
10) Explore Huff Park
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 make it easy for kids to spot one on the hike.
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 wets your whistle for art in our city, start a bucket list with this comprehensive mural crawl!
12) Climb on the Big Red Button
As you stroll through Ah-Nab-Awen, be sure to stop at the Big Red Button- always a favorite for kids!
13) Splash Around at the Kroc Center
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.
Stop in at the Downtown Market for some delicious food at their many eateries. 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.
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.
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. Such a fun way to spend some time in the city of Grand Rapids!
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 sense garden and even a child-sized beaver lodge.
19) Hop on the Tire Swing
The lawn behind the Gerald R. Ford building and Calder Plaza
This cool downtown sculpture is all hands on for kids… (and hey, even adults, too!)
Millennium Park boasts over 1,400 acres of outdoor activity for families, including paved hiking/biking trails, playgrounds, boating, splash pad and beach. While the beach and splash pad have a cost, most of the park is free. Fly a kite, pack a picnic, or bring some bikes. Millennium Park is your own gigantic backyard, right here in the city of Grand Rapids.
Art galleries, tours, programs… Grand Rapids Art Museum has so much to offer. You can enjoy it for FREE all day on Tuesdays and on Thursday nights from 5-9 PM! Be sure to come back on Saturdays from 1-4 PM for Drop-In Studio, where your child can take place in hands-on art making activities. It’s free with admission.
24) Explore ArtPrize
Did you know ArtPrizeis the world’s largest art competition and takes place in the city of Grand Rapids? Nearly 200 Grand Rapids venues display art from artists around the world- and we get free front row seats! The event happens biennially (every other year) with the next one scheduled for the fall of 2020, but we’ll have fun art exhibitions in the off years, too.
25) See What’s Fresh at the Fulton Street Farmers Market
This iconic 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. Still need convincing? Check out our 5 favorite things about the Fulton Street Farmers Market.