As the largest city in West Michigan and is only second in the state to Detroit, there are plenty of fun things to do in Grand Rapids. In the past, the city was best known for its history in the furniture manufacturing industry with 5 of the world’s furniture companies headquartered in the area, but it has become more varied over time.
Today, Grand Rapids is well known for its art scene, microbrews, and green spaces. In 2014, Grand Rapids was even named America’s Best Beer City by USA Today’s readers.
Grand Rapids is one of our favorite cities, full of great things to do and places to visit.
Best Times to Visit Grand Rapids
Located in Michigan, Grand Rapids definitely has its share of snowy, winter weather and humid, muggy summers. Between the months of December and February, snow or rain is common and average highs range between 39°F (4°C) and 30°F (-1°C). This is the low season and if you’re not afraid of colder weather you can definitely score great deals.
During the summer, Michigan can be pretty warm and muggy with occasional rains due to increased humidity. Average highs in the summer are in the 80’s (26°C) and it is typically the high season.
The weather during the spring and fall is milder though it can be chilly. Rain is also fairly common and humidity can be higher. Temperatures vary depending on the month, but typically range between 79°F (26°C) and 34°F (1°C).
For the best weather, late spring and early fall are the best times to visit for a shoulder season experience.
How to Get To Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids is easily accessible by plane or car. By plane, you can fly into Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR). There are direct flights from many areas of the United States including New York City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Washington D.C., Miami, and Orlando.
By car, Interstate 96 takes you across the entire Lower Peninsula of Michigan from Detroit in the east or Muskegon to the west, bypassing Grand Rapids in the middle. Interstate 196 runs south to north from Benton Harbor, through South Haven and Holland, then to Grand Rapids. Spend a couple days in Grand Rapids if you’re already road tripping through Michigan!
Top Things to Do in Grand Rapids
While not as famous or as large as Detroit, there are still plenty of great things to do in Grand Rapids. You can explore it’s art scene, sample local microbrews, learn about its history, and adventure through its public spaces.
Explore Downtown Grand Rapids
Downtown is a super cute area with lots of historical buildings, public areas, and amazing restaurants. Many of the local museums are also located within the downtown area, including the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Art Museum, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.
Be sure to also check out Rosa Parks Circle, named for the civil rights activist and long time Michigan resident, Rosa Parks. During the warmer months, events such as concerts and dances are held there and in the winter, there is even an outdoor ice skating rink! The park also has a statue of Rosa Parks.
Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM)
Located next to Rosa Parks Circle is the Grand Rapids Art Museum. This museum is home to a wide variety of art ranging from Renaissance works to modern art with 19th and 20th century European and American art as well. The museum also has special exhibits from time to time bringing more variety to their collection.
Some of their best works include those by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Alexander Calder. We loved that they also included artwork by local artists who were lesser known.
They typically also holds events to promote the local art scene. Every biennial, ArtPrize is put on by the museum in partnership with the city for a few weeks during the months of September and October. Throughout the art festival, the entire downtown area is decorated with art and the city even commissions public art, just for ArtPrize!
During the summer months, this Museum has an event called GRAM on the Green. Every Thursday night, the museum provides free live music, dancing, games, and more.
On Saturdays, the museum offers special activities and programs for families and their kids. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is a perfect place to visit, especially for visitors with families.
Grand Rapids Public Museum
Grand Rapids Public Museum is an amazing place to learn all there is to know about the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. The museum is a great way for visitors to learn more about the local history and culture and is one of the attractions that draws visitors from all over the region.
One of our favorite exhibits was the “Streets of Old Grand Rapids.” It takes you back in time to Grand Rapids in the 1890s with a recreation of the city streets during that time. There is an old-timey theater, train station, opera house, gun shop, and more. The Van Dort print shop also provides live demonstrations in operating a movable type printing press. You can even get a souvenir there!
Other pieces in the collection educate visitors on the furniture industry in Grand Rapids, and animals and birds of the Grand River and west Michigan. The museum even has an antique Spillman Carousel from 1928 that you can take a ride on.
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum offers one of the most fun things to do in Grand Rapids for it’s youngest visitors. One of the most popular areas is “Little Grand Rapids,” where they can try out being a grown-up in their own little city, complete with a bank; grocery store; auto mechanic; and a doctor’s office, where they can examine x-rays and explore health sciences.
Other play areas include a bubble room, classic games like Legos and Lincoln Logs, and a space where they can make as much noise as they want while experimenting with unique musical instruments.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
The Ford Presidential Museum is located right next to the Grand Rapids Public Museum along the Grand River. Former president Gerald R. Ford’s childhood home was in Grand Rapids, Michigan and the museum is also his final resting place of him and his wife, Betty Ford.
The museum includes exhibits on Ford’s life and his career as the president of the United States as well as the 1976 bicentennial celebration during the time he was in office and Betsy Ford’s role as first lady. Sometimes there are also special exhibits showing bits of history during the time of Ford’s tenure as president.
If you get a chance to visit Ann Arbor, Michigan, the other branch of the museum, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library is located there.
See the famous Blue Bridge
This iconic Blue Bridge is one of the longest truss bridges in Michigan and was once a railroad bridge that was converted into a pedestrian only walkway stretching over the Grand River. The Blue Bridge is located just outside of the Grand Rapids Public Museum and is a great way to walk along the waterfront or across the Grand River and over to downtown Grand Rapids.
The Blue Bridge is such a scenic spot that couples take their engagement and wedding photos here.
Blandford Nature Center
The Blandford Nature Center sits on a beautiful site that includes wooded areas, fields, streams, and ponds. The center focuses on promoting stewardship through education on the environment and natural systems.
They also have a wildlife rescue that cares for injured animals, some of which have become permanent residents after injuries left them unable to survive in the wild. These animals are known as “wildlife ambassadors” and participate in presentations to educate the public.
On-site is also the Blandford Farm, which features community gardens and provides a chance for children to learn about farming and sustainable agriculture
Meyer May House
The Meyer May House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1908 for a wealthy local businessman. The original structure was a modest-sized Prairie-style home. Over the years it was gradually altered and additions were attached. The home was restored to its original form after two years of research and is one of the few architectural attractions of Grand Rapids.
Today, the building is open to the public at no charge, complete with original and reproduction furniture.
Sail Down the Grand River in the Grand Lady Riverboat
The Grand Lady Riverboat is located approximately 12 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, in the town of Jenison, MI. Here, you can board the Grand Lady Riverboat and explore the Grand River by boat.
Sightseeing tours are typically offered in the warmer months, between May and October, and last 2 hours. Boarding begins at the time on the ticket and the boat leaves the dock half an hour later. Sometimes there are also live music cruises and they can even be rented out for private events. It is a great way to explore more of the Grand Rapids area!
John Ball Zoo
The John Ball Zoo is one of the best things to do Grand Rapids for families. One of its best features is the wide range of up-close experiences and animal interactions available to visitors, including the chance to feed spider monkeys, penguins, pelicans, and other animals.
Additional behind-the-scenes adventures include the chance to observe a chimpanzee training session while learning about their daily needs. You can also handle various small animals, including reptiles, birds, and mammals. Other activities include the opportunity to try your hand at zookeeping, take a ride on a camel, or brush a goat at Red’s Hobby Farm.
Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
The Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is known amongst locals at the “Meijer Gardens” and is a great place to visit in Grand Rapids. The gardens are located approximately 6 miles outside of the city so it is a bit of a drive, but it is well worth it! The 158 acre botanical garden and sculpture park is full of beautiful plants and amazing sculptural works.
Meijer Gardens is home to the Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, 8 acres worth of lush Japanese plants, Buddha sculptures, wooden bridges, and pagodas. There is also the Michigan Farm Garden that includes heirloom vegetable gardens, orchards, and animal sculptures, similar to what you would expect of a Michigan garden of the 1930s.
During specific times of year the garden also hosts a variety of exhibits and events. The “Butterflies Are Blooming” exhibit is open every year in the spring between the months of March and April. It is the largest temporary butterfly exhibit in the nation showing thousands of butterflies from Central and South America and Asia.
Every year during the holidays, between November and January, the “Christmas and Holiday Traditions” exhibit arrives at the garden and you’ll be able to see beautiful decorations, music, and food from different nations and cultures. There are also carriage rides and live entertainment during this event.
Keep in mind that the gardens offers little to no cover throughout much of its acreage so be sure to bring a water bottle, sunscreen, and a hat to stay hydrated and shielded when visiting in warmer weather.
Downtown Market is a food market and community space open year round. There are a large variety of vendors and cuisines from around the world, there is something for everyone, all within this one building.
Grab some sandwiches from Carvers Grand Rapids’ Finest Meats or Fish Lads for local seafood. There is also a storefront for Slows Bar-B-Q from Detroit as well as Pho 616 for Vietnamese noodles, Sushi Market for Japanese, and Tacos El Cunado for Mexican fare.
Love’s Ice Cream is a great choice for dessert with delicious flavors made from local fruits. And if coffee for dessert is your type of thing, be sure to check out Madcap Coffee, one of the best coffee spots in Grand Rapids. They make an amazingly strong cortado with beautiful latte art.
Aside from food, there are also a few stalls selling cooking products and plants. Downtown Market offers cooking classes, houses local events, and can even be rented out as a wedding venue.
Local Breweries & Bars
Within the past five years or so the local brew scene in Grand Rapids has grown exponentially. There are so great microbreweries in the area to explore and get your drink on!
One of the most popular is Founders Brewing Company. They are best known for their flagship offering, the Centennial IPA, however their All Day IPA and Nitro Oatmeal Stout is also great. If you get a chance to check out their brewery and restaurant, don’t forget to try out their beer cheese, it is amazingly delicious!
New Holland Brewing Company is another local delight. Technically, New Holland Brewing Company is located in nearby Holland, a city approximately 30 miles southwest of town, but they have a brewery called The Knickerbocker in the western side of the city. Dragon’s Milk is one of their best known beers and they have several limited releases of new beers throughout the year. For eats, be sure to try their pepperoni pinwheels, they’re basically pizza rolls but they’re so good.
Hopcat was once only local to Grand Rapids, however they’ve since expanded to many nearby cities including Detroit, Ann Arbor, Chicago (IL), Madison (WI), and even as far as St. Louis, MO and Louisville, KY.
Although the downtown Grand Rapids Hopcat location no longer brews their own beers, they are well known for their extensive number of local beers on tap and even larger beer menu. You can count on Hopcat to have something you’d like. While you’re at Hopcat, don’t forget to get their cosmik fries! They actually used to be named “crack fries” because they were so good they were like crack however they have changed the name in recent years due to the inappropriate connotations.
There are so many options to grab a good beer in the city of Grand Rapids, you’ll be having a great time eating and drinking!
Although this isn’t a super large city, there are a great number of things to do in Grand Rapids, as well as some great hotels and other accommodations. For us, it is one of the top rated travel locations in all of the Midwest.