Grand Rapids has many names—Furniture City, River City, and Beer City should all give you a taste of what awaits you. Michigan's second city is an underrated Midwest gem with agricultural diversity and a plethora of farm-to-table restaurants. Gerald Ford was raised here, so if the town can produce a president, it should over-deliver on a weekend getaway. Whether you're catching games at Van Andel Arena, pondering Alexander Calder's La Grande Vitesse sculpture, or sailing past the sights on a Great Lakes pub cruiser, you'll have a ball.
This 158-acre botanic garden draws close to 800 000 visitors a year with its marriage of art and nature. Gentle slopes make the space accessible. Themed indoor and outdoor gardens, wooded paths, a wetland boardwalk, and other features of the grounds are expertly crafted by horticulturists. Famous hands formed the sculptures—works by luminaries like Ai Wei Wei, Auguste Rodin, and Henry Moore dot the park, and Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings inspired Nina Akamu's "The American Horse." In 2022, the park's welcome center got a $115 million expansion.
Let your hair down at this huge urban park where you can take children to the Splash Pad and playground, or swim, rent paddle boats, and picnic on the 6-acre beach. Meander through 18 miles of winding trails and treat yourself to a post-hike ice cream or pizza at the concession stand. Fishing enthusiasts can try catching panfish, smallmouth bass, and northern pike. The park is dog and stroller-friendly.
Banish boredom and take the little ones in your life to downtown Grand Rapids. Children between two and ten years old will find plenty of educational stimulation at the Children's Museum. Exhibits include the Puppet Stage, Treehouse, Aunt Daisy's Farm, and exciting temporary attractions. Make a racket in the noise room and chant "bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble" in the bubble space. Between arts and crafts, Lego, and storytime, spending half a day here is easy. Little Grand Rapids is imaginative play at its best—you'll get a kick out of watching the kids act like grown-ups in pretend banks and spaces that adults usually dominate.
Grand Rapids Public Museum paints a vivid picture of West Michigan's past with engaging exhibits and three floors covering culture, science, and history. You'll have a whale of a time craning your neck at Fin's skeleton and envisioning its size in the deep blue sea. Hop on the vintage carousel, visit the planetarium, and explore GRPM's impressive collection of artifacts.
This wildlife preserve is a lovely spot for a stroll in a meadow or a brisk hike. Blandford Farm's barn animals and community gardens are worth checking out too. Learn about the ecosystem, how maple syrup is made, and what it takes to rescue animals and the injured birds of prey that frequent the park. Seasonal programming keeps things interesting for the young and old.
If you're looking for a trendy, walkable neighborhood, head to Eastown, AKA the Greenwich Village of Grand Rapids. You'll find good coffee, juice bars, eateries, galleries, and exciting shops. The hot dog store "Yesterdog" inspired "Dog Years" in the American Pie movie. Watch the locals fly kites at Wilcox Park.
The city's oldest residential district is lined with hundreds of late 19th-century and early 20th-century heritage homes. If you know your architecture, you'll be pleased to spot a dozen styles draping the facades. Frank Lloyd Wright designed some of the houses, and you can take a walking tour and get the lowdown on the properties.
Grand Rapids Art Museum melds the contemporary and classical. You'll find 6,000 works of art from the Renaissance period to modern prints and photos; some exhibitions are free on Tuesdays and Thursdays. GRAM is a mandatory stop during the city's renowned ArtPrize festival and competition, but keep an eye out for special events throughout the year.
Does your Spotify have an entire section devoted to classical music and the works of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven? You'll want to check out the Grand Rapids Symphony for standalone concerts and live accompaniments to the ballet, opera, chorus, and movies. This professional orchestra was founded in 1930 and is stacked with talented musicians.
The 38th president of the United States, Gerald Ford, and his wife, Betty, are buried in Grand Rapids at the site of this presidential museum. You can find out about Ford's early life, political career, and family. Holographic elements invite you into the White House as it was in the 1970s.
The Fish Ladder sculpture at Sixth Street Dam has a purpose beyond brutalist art—it allows you to watch migrating fish like carp, trout, and steelhead as they use the ladder to swim dramatically upstream. Joseph Kinnebrew's 1974 creation has drawn spectators ever since its installation. The downtown views from here are the cherry on top of the salmon.
Dozens of produce farmers congregate at this weekend market to sell colorful fruits and veggies. You can find fresh honey, high-quality condiments, charcuterie, organic beauty products, crafts, and more from the vendors. This is a great place to grab a bite and source unique gifts like handmade jewelry. Dogs aren't allowed, so leave your furry friends at your accommodation.
Remember the Historic Hill District? Well, there's a home that deserves a special mention. Meyer May House is one of the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie houses teased above, and you can tour it for free. Completed in 1909, it has been lovingly restored to its former glory, a disruptive aesthetic for the time when homes tended to look Victorian. The windows were tailored to the client's height—you'll learn this and more at the museum.
John Ball Zoo's been doing its animal-loving thing since 1890 and continues to find ways to enthrall. You can camp in the zoo overnight, zipline over the enclosures, and take selfies in swan paddleboats. Behind-the-scenes tours help visitors appreciate the work that goes into running a zoo of this scale. The lynxes, red pandas, chimps, and snow leopards are highlights, as is the funicular ride to the top.
These treasured native gardens are a part of Calvin College. Running is not allowed, but there's no need to overexert yourself in a slow, peaceful haven packed with seasonal scenery. The trails are family-friendly and wheelchair accessible, and you'll likely spot chipmunks, wildflowers, turtles, and birds. You can volunteer or enroll in classes to learn skills and more about the local flora and fauna.
Just like a black grandma, this museum's acronym GRAAMA tells the story of African American life in Michigan, including the Civil Rights era and the Black Lives Matter movement. The displays are full of heart and highlight the historical and cultural contributions of the Black community and local people of color. Memorabilia and oral histories weave a rich tapestry. GRAAMA is set to move to a 13,000+ square foot location downtown—an upgrade from its intimate 2,100 square foot setting.
The LEED-certified Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a mixed-use facility that hosts an outdoor farmers' market on Saturdays in the summer. Rooftop greenhouses and demo kitchens make this a creative space for cooking classes. Pick up bubble tea, gourmet goodies, olive oils, spices, and wares from the butchers and fishmongers to prep your own Airbnb meals.
Robinette's Apple Haus and Winery is a firm family favorite open all year. Pick fresh produce, go on hayrides and horse rides, and make your way through the corn maze with or without the clues. A petting zoo will elicit giggles from brave toddlers, and wine tastings tempt those of age. Caramel apples, crispy pumpkin spice donuts, and hot and cold beverages—what's not to love in fall and throughout the year?
Eames Demetrios's ambitious art project spans the globe and builds a world of parallel universes. Traversing thirty countries is no mean feat, and five of the 140 international sites, including "Handfuls of Small Stones" and "Forest's Rest," lie in Grand Rapids. It's a treasure hunt like no other, so go all in, and you may just have a blast from the future or the past.
Grand Rapids is a mere 30 miles from Lake Michigan, so make the most of a mini vacay to the city with an early start and a drive to charming Saugatuck, Holland, or Grand Haven. The latter has a lovely beach with a lighthouse, a musical fountain for a touch of whimsy, and Fricano's queue-worthy OG thin-crust pizza.