Experience Grand Rapids in Just Three Days
Planning to visit Grand Rapids, Michigan with kids and want to make sure you see the best the area has to offer? Start here.
Grand Rapids is an ideal vacation destination for families.
With its big city benefits and close proximity to Lake Michigan, there is never a shortage of things to do. Add in light traffic and affordable food and lodgings, and you’ve got an exciting, low-stress vacation!
Let this three-day guide help you plan the perfect Grand Rapids getaway!
- DAY 1: Meijer Gardens, Animals, Baseball & a Show
- DAY TWO: Explore Lake Michigan
- DAY THREE: Museums & City Life
- Other Helpful Tips for Your Visit
- Fun is a Guarantee When You Visit Grand Rapids with Kids
- More to Explore
DAY 1: Meijer Gardens, Animals, Baseball & a Show
MORNING: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
People come from all over the world to visit this famous Grand Rapids landmark, comprised of 158 acres of wetlands, woodlands and meadows that are home to an incredible variety of plants, flowers and sculptures.
Home to the largest indoor tropical conservatory in Michigan, Meijer Gardens also has art exhibits featuring famous artists each season.
The outdoor children’s garden will keep your children entertained for hours. It includes a tree house, play boats that can travel five pools in the shape of the Great Lakes, a hands-on sensory garden, a fossil garden for digging, and various other activities.
While it’s fun to visit when the weather is nice, there’s never a shortage of things to see and do here, even if it’s just indoors! Meijer Gardens is beautiful in every season.
Meijer Gardens is located approximately five miles from the heart of Grand Rapids. Plan about two-four hours for this visit.
AFTERNOON: Visit Some Furry Friends
Grand Rapids offers many special animal encounters.
Choose one of the options below to visit for the afternoon. (Note: Boulder Ridge is only open seasonally from May 1 through mid-October.)
John Ball Zoo
If you want to stick closer to downtown you have to go to John Ball Zoo. But be warned–you could easily spend the entire day there!
Kids love not only the exotic animals, but also the myriad of play opportunities, from the zipline to the Funicular to the all the running, climbing and pretend play fun at the Tree Tops Outpost. Animals kids love include the tigers, lions, bears, red panda, penguins and more.
Deer Tracks Junction
A little north of town is a destination like no other. Deer Tracks Junction is like a giant petting zoo that married a playground with an ice cream shop. You can also book stagecoach tours and get up close to the deer and other animals they raise. Once again, plan to stay for a few hours, especially if you do the tour. Kids love this place.
Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park
Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park is a hidden gem and home to zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, nilgais, servals, and other animals whose names we can’t pronounce.
What started as a small hobby farm 20 years ago has grown into an 80-acre wildlife park with an emphasis on education and conservation. Boulder Ridge boasts that they are “not the average zoo” –and they are right!
Boulder Ridge is located in Alto which is about 26 miles east of Grand Rapids. Plan approximately three-four hours including drive time.
EVENING: Whitecaps Game or a Show at The Civic
Whether you are a sports fan or not, the sounds of baseball bats snapping out base hits, crowds cheering, and an organ playfully tapping out renditions of “take me out to the ballgame” is enough to bring out the kid in all of us.
Watching theWest Michigan Whitecaps (a Class A minor league baseball team) is a perfect conclusion to a home run of a day. Fifth Third Ball Park provides big league atmosphere, offering a variety of concessions stands, seating options, souvenirs, and an outdoor playland for the kids.
Approximately seven miles north of Grand Rapids, set aside the entire evening for this event.
Snag a Show at The Civic Theatre
The iconic Civic Theatre is a great place to see a play or musical with your family–especially if you have school-aged kids. There’s always something to see and it’s often family friendly.
I’m always impressed at the caliber of talent behind each of these shows! It’s primarily run by volunteers (even the actors aren’t paid) and you’d think they were all on their way to Broadway! Check their calendar to see what’s playing while you’re in town.
Civic Theater is located in the heart of Grand Rapids and you should plan an entire evening for this stop.
DAY TWO: Explore Lake Michigan
While the city is fun, it’s worth a short drive to hang out along the Lakeshore for the day! Lake Michigan feels like much more than “just a lake” and it takes seeing it to believe it.
If the weather is cooler or rainy–we’ve got options for you there, too.
Beaches and Shopping in Grand Haven
If you’re looking for a scenic location that will keep you busy all day, look no further than Grand Haven. Approximately 35 miles west of Grand Rapids, Grand Haven offers exceptional beaches, a shopping district, restaurants, and miles of boardwalks along the Grand River – all within walking distance.
Weather permitting, we’d suggest a day at North Beach Park in nearby Ferrysburg followed by tacos and nachos from Righteous Cuisine (with family-friendly outdoor seating and a laid-back vibe). End your day with a stroll down the boardwalk to catch a spectacular Lake Michigan sunset. If you still have room in your stomach, stop to Temptations by the Chinook Pier for the best ice cream cone you’ve ever had.
Take a Hike
The lakeshore area is loaded with awesome places to go for a hike. If it’s not quite beach weather, but you still want a taste of Lake Michigan, a family hike is perfect.
Indoor Fun at the Lakeshore
Even though the area is known for its picturesque beaches, there’s still plenty to do indoors if you visit during winter or happen upon a rainy day.
Some of our top picks for indoor things to do with kids by the lakeshore: Holland’s one-of-a-kind Playland, Square Play Cafe, the Holland Aquatic Center, and hitting the slopes at Mulligan’s Hollow (where all parents ski free with a child’s ticket purchase).
Still stuck on what to do by the lake? Check out our list of fabulous things to do in the lakeshore area!
DAY THREE: Museums & City Life
MORNING: Museums, Museums, Museums!
While there’s a temptation to see all the things, just pick one museum to visit with your family. Being a tourist is more fun when you’re not exhausted. We’ve included a couple of our top picks for kids below.
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
If you have children between two and ten years old, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum will be the highlight of their entire vacation. Imagine two stories of stuff they can move, bend, throw, blow, put on, take off, roll, bounce, shake, slide down…you get the picture.
What more can we say? It’s a kid favorite! Located in the heart of Grand Rapids, plan at least two hours for this visit.
Grand Rapids Public Museum
If your kids are older than ten, perhaps a trip to the Grand Rapids Public Museum would be more suited for the entire family.
Also located in the heart of Grand Rapids, the Public Museum has permanent exhibits featuring artifacts from the state’s original Native American tribes, Michigan wildlife habitats, entire streets recreated from Grand Rapids as it looked in the 1800s, and a restored 1928 Spillman Carousel that you can still ride today.
AFTERNOON & EVENING: Soak up Some City Life
Downtown Grand Rapids is fun year round. Rosa Parks Circle can be bustling with swing dancing or live music in the summer–and then magically transforms to an ice skating rink in the winter.
Here, children enjoy running around the semi-enclosed space while adults soak in the culture of Michigan’s second largest city.
A variety of stores, restaurants, and pubs surround the downtown area, making this a popular place to people-watch or participate in Grand Rapids’ vibrant nightlife.
It’s just a short walk over to Ah-Nab-Awen Park where you can snap an iconic photo of your kids and the giant red button.
Other Helpful Tips for Your Visit
- Feeding kids on vacation can be tricky. The Downtown Market is a fun place to explore and grab a bite to eat (lots of options for even the pickiest of eaters). There’s plenty of other kid-friendly dining options around too.
- Need to burn off some energy before traveling home? Here’s some area parks that we love.
- Check our calendar to see what’s going on for free while you’re in town!
- Rainy day got you down? See if your family can take on our West Michigan Donut Trail!
- If you visit during the winter there’s still plenty to see and do! Check out our Gigantic Winter Fun Guide for more winter weather ideas.
Fun is a Guarantee When You Visit Grand Rapids with Kids
With so much to do in our town, every visitor is guaranteed a great time. If you happen to have a sitter handy, the Beer Capital has lots of options for dining out with the grownups (this is no joke: we are overflowing with delightful restaurants for grown-ups).
So come visit us in Grand Rapids, and enjoy the big city delights with the small-town feel.
Do you have something to add to our itinerary? Please share it below!