Visitor’s Guide to Grand Rapids with Kids

Visitor's Guide to Grand Rapids with Kids

The Best of Grand Rapids With Kids

Grand Rapids, MI is a fantastic family travel destination. Four seasons of fun are waiting for you in the our little corner of the mitten. Come visit!

FIRST STOP: Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Why families love Meijer Gardens and Tips for Success:

  • Huge interactive children’s area
  • Hands-on features
  • Kids will play for hours
  • Visit the sand and tree house before you go to the Great Lakes Water play area (summer)
  • Bring a change of clothes
  • Bring a stroller
  • Plan to spend the whole day if possible
  • Admission is very reasonable for what you get ($14.50 per adult in 2016. Kids and seniors are less.)
Children's garden at Frederick Meijer Gardens
Treehouse at Frederick Meijer Gardens

While you’re at Meijer Gardens, your family will also want to make time to see the Japanese Garden, Michigan Farm Garden, and take a stroll through the sculpture loop. 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. Otherwise, head over to Twisted Rooster (3310 Eagle Park Drive) for a delightful spin on old favorites or try Spoonlickers (1971 East Beltline, NE, Ste 104) if you’re in the mood for FroYo. You’re also welcome to pack a lunch and eat in designated areas of the Gardens.

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ROSA PARKS CIRCLE is the heart and hub of downtown. In the winter, you’ll find ice skating and in the summer you’ll find evening concerts. The Grand River threads its way through town, with the bulk of downtown attractions to the east of the river.

Riverwalk - Downtown Grand Rapids
Riverwalk – Downtown Grand Rapids

Downtown also serves as the Grand Rapids museum campus with four great options to explore:

GR CHILDREN’S MUSEUM – Pure fun – and filled with rotating and permanent exhibits – the GR Children’s Museum boasts two floors of nonstop discovery. The bubble station is a perennial favorite and everything else in the place is just begging to be touched. Great for all ages because you never outgrow the children’s museum.

Grand Rapids Children's Museum
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

GRAND RAPIDS PUBLIC MUSEUM – A CAROUSEL ride with river view will top most kids’ lists at the GR Public Museum. Plus, this is where you’ll find the planetarium, a treasure trove of local historical exhibits, an A to Z scavenger hunt, and world class visiting exhibitions.

The GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM is a great stop for history buffs and students learning about government. The GR ART MUSEUM rounds out your trip with three levels of art to browse, plus a hands-on family art room with Saturday hours designed to use your visit as creative inspiration.

RELATED: Take Your Wild Thing to see Sendak at the GRAM

DOWNTOWN MARKET – The Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a fun place to eat with a “food court” atmosphere. Here you’ll find farm-to-table type food. There’s BBQ, Mexican, Seafood, juice bar, ice cream, and so much more offered here.


Families can find out about festivals, concerts and events geared toward kids by visiting GRKIDS.COM. Our 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.

Another go-to source for visitors is Experience Grand Rapids. Their website is always up to date with the latest conventions, museum exhibitions, and concerts going on around Grand Rapids.


September and October mark ArtPrize, an annual art competition that takes over the city.

Artists from around the world publicly display their works of art. 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.

ArtPrize Dragon
ArtPrize Dragon

GR is Beer City, USA

The local craft beer scene has a life of its own these days – and has put 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. Let me be the first to recommend a stop at local brewery Hopcat – just be sure to put in a triple order of their famous crack fries!

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LAKE MICHIGAN -Locals swoon over Lake Michigan. Lovingly referred to as our Unsalted Ocean, Michigan natives are infatuated with this giant lake. After your first visit, you’ll understand. Sandy beaches, crystal clear water, gorgeous dunes… it’s hard to beat.

You’ll find many public beaches and cute towns just a short drive from downtown Grand Rapids along with lots of shopping and restaurants.

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

MILLENNIUM PARK – 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.

JOHN BALL ZOO – This Grand Rapids mainstay is located on the West side of Grand Rapids, just a short drive from downtown. Built on the ravines and bluffs to the west of John Ball Park, the zoo is quite hilly. Zoo animal highlights include Monkey Island, the Chimpanzee exhibit, Tigers of the Realm, Bears, an aquarium, Sting Rays, a Zipline, Ropes Course, Funicular and more.

John Ball Zoo – High Ropes Course

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.


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.

CANNONSBURG SKI AREA – Cannonsburg is a great place for families. The ski hills aren’t challenging, making it a nice place for young kids to learn. Plus, it’s affordable. After you’re done skiing, head to Honey Creek Inn – and indulge in some major comfort food.

MUSKEGON WINTER SPORTS COMPLEX – Muskegon State Park is home to the Winter Sport’s Complex, where you can luge, ice skate, ski, snowshoe and more.

Muskegon Winter Sports Complex - Ice Skating Trail
Muskegon Winter Sports Complex – Ice Skating Trail

Especially fun is skating after dark on the quarter mile trail through the woods. Ice skate, ski, and snow shoe rentals are available.

DRESS FOR WINTER – 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.

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!

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2 thoughts on “Visitor’s Guide to Grand Rapids with Kids”

  1. 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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