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Grand Rapids Michigan Travel Guide

grand rapids michigan travel guide

Visit Grand Rapids, MI

There’s a perfect mix of arts and culture; breweries and restaurants; shopping and outdoor activities; and just plain fun happening in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The best news? In just a short (around two hours) drive from Chicago, Detroit or Traverse City, you can find yourself exploring this bustling, hip city in west Michigan, one of the state’s major cities.

Want more good news? Grand Rapids is less than an hour from beautiful Lake Michigan, one of the top travel destinations in Michigan, and the hilly landscape of the are provides ample opportunity for hiking, biking and enjoying nature.

About Grand Rapids MI

Grand Rapids has experienced explosive growth over the past decade, as both travelers and transplants recognize the amazing possibility offered by the city.

Once known primarily as the birthplace of former President Ford, Amway, and the furniture industry (logs from Michigan’s abundant forests were floated down the Grand River and into area sawmills), Grand Rapids has more recently garnered recognition for much more.

Here are a few of it’s most recent awards:

  • “Craft Beverage Capital of the U.S.” by USA Today
  • “#9 Best Place to Retire in the U.S.” by Conde Nast
  • One of the “15 best beer cities around the world” by CNN Travel
  • Trip Advisor’s one of the “16 Incredibly Romantic Getaways in the Midwest’

Explore Grand Rapids

With all of these awards, travel to Grand Rapids has increased in the past few years. It’s clear that “Beer City USA” in Kent County, Michigan has made a name for itself as one of Michigan’s must-visit destinations!

If you’re ready for a vacation full of cultural attractions, unique art, outdoor recreation, and a diverse beer scene, get ready to explore the Grand Rapids community.

Use our thorough travel guide to plan your Grand Rapids getaway. We’ll share trip ideas so you’ll know exactly how to go about exploring Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids, MI is Known For…

  • The famous Grand Rapids Art Museum, Art Prize public art exhibitions, and other organizations that celebrate the arts coming alive in Grand Rapids
  • It’s location atop Grand River, a major state waterway with a bed of limestone. The river offers a large variety of recreation, and the people of Grand Rapids can be found relaxing with a fishing rod or celebrating folk music at the Grand River Water Festival.
  • The Beer City Ale Trail As probably one of the best beer cities in America, Grand Rapids excels at its breweries. The Beer City Ale Trail is a craft beer tour through Grand Rapids, including famous craft breweries like Founders Brewing and Alebird Taphouse and Brewery
  • Having the seventh fastest growing economy in the United States and the first fastest in Michigan (according to data from 2018). This allows for a surplus of job opportunities in the city. To learn more about the Grand Rapids government and its city commission, click here.
  • The award-winning Gerald R. Ford International Airport. This airport offers over 100 flights every day with the motto “Getting there is better here.” Both Gerald and Betty Ford were raised in Grand Rapids
  • Historic sites such as the Meyer-May Home, a Frank Lloyd Wright-built home near the Heritage Hill Historic District

Grand Rapids Weather

The weather in Grand Rapids follows the Michigan pattern: up to the low 80s in the summer, slowly dropping through the fall to the 30s in the winter, and finally growing warmer around April. It typically rains 7-9 days each month.

What To Know About Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids is a College-Town
As Grand Rapids continues to grow, colleges and universities such as Michigan State University, Central Michigan University, Western Michigan and others have added a campus to downtown Grand Rapids, joining other stalwarts like Grand Valley State University, Cornerstone University, Calvin University Grace Christian University and Grand Rapids Community College.

Grand Rapids is Beer City
You can call it what you will: Beer City or Beer Town, but whatever you do, plan on stopping in at one of the many fantastic breweries in the city for some homemade craft beer.

The craft breweries around Grand Rapids have put the city on the map, so much so that the Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau created a popular YouTube channel for “Beer City Eats,” detailing the food and drink in breweries around town. We love the episodes on Brewery Vivant in East Grand Rapids and the one that started it all, Founders Brewing.

Downtown Grand Rapids
Downtown Grand Rapids is extremely walkable and you’ll find an eclectic mix of restaurants, breweries, hotels, museums and more. Visit the Grand Rapids Symphony, just steps from the medical mile, or walk through the downtown Grand Valley campus to the Van Andel arena.

Festivals and fairs are held in the downtown area throughout the year: two popular events include Art Prize in the fall and World of Winter in January and February. Experience Grand Rapids provides details on walking tours and more.

Things To Do in Grand Rapids

There are countless ways to occupy your time in the lively city of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Grab a 3-day culture pass to help guide you through the best places for your trip and save on many of the activities listed below.

Visit the Museums

The art museum is a perfect place to start your Grand Rapids educational journey, but don’t stop there. The rich history of Grand Rapids is on exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum , where you can take a stroll through to see exhibits like “West Michigan Habitats”, “Streets of Old Grand Rapids”, and “Under the Arctic.”

For a more historic tour, stop by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and learn about the impact that the 38th president had on the country, as well as his childhood home, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Other museums to visit downtown: Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives, Grand Rapids Children Museum, and Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Explore the Wildlife

The John Ball Zoo welcomes kids and families to watch exotic wildlife, take animal and STEM classes, and embark on behind-the-scenes tours. They offer summer camps, fall courses, and even a traveling zoo where children can interact safely with animals.

Check out the Downtown Market

The downtown area of Grand Rapids could hold your attention for days. Between Van Andel Arena, where events and concerts are held for an audience of over 12,000, and the endless food shops and breweries lining each block, there is something for everyone in the streets of Grand Rapids.

If you’re yearning for a culinary shopping spree, the Downtown Market will be a sort of heaven for you. Here’s some of our favorite spots to see when you visit the market:

Shopping in the Downtown Market:

  • Grab something delicious at the Field and Fire Bakery
  • Enjoy some fizzy bubbles at the High Tide Soda Shop
  • Order a scoop at Love’s Ice Cream and Chocolate
  • Savor a platter of cheese samples at Aperitivo

Explore East Hills

One of the unique delights about Grand Rapids are the different neighborhoods within the city; each with their own distinct feel and flavor.

Nearby the central downtown area is a neighborhood called East Hills. This is the perfect place to visit a unique coffee shop, take a walk through a small, quaint park, and indulge your taste with a French macaron store or a local dinner restaurant.

Where to Eat in Grand Rapids

We’ll be honest: Grand Rapids might consider changing its nickname from “Beer City” to “Food City.” There are truly so many great restaurants in the city that we are considering adding a complete guide. In the meantime, here’s a short list of our favorite spots to grab a bite:

Cottage Bar and Restaurant: With famous Michigan burgers and beer, and a history of 80 years, the Cottage Bar’s loyal customers who enjoy the quaint, personal vibe of this restaurant.

Stella’s Lounge: Here, burgers, wraps, and sammy’s served in a unique atmosphere within graffitied walls. Make sure to check out the ’80s-themed arcade while you’re there!

9th St. Steak: If you’ve never had a cheesesteak before, this is the place to go. They pride themselves in making most everything from scratch and having the highest taste in cheesesteak.

Angel’s Thai Café: If you’re looking for some authentic Thai, Angel’s has you covered. With a menu full of curry, noodles, and tasty spring rolls, this café reputation is well-earned.

Enjoy the Outdoor Recreation

Sometimes the best discoveries are made outside the walls of museums and stores. The outdoor recreation that Grand Rapids offers includes sledding and snowshoeing in the winter, parks and biking in the spring, swimming and boating in the summer, and hiking the trails in the fall.

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

These gardens are where art and nature intersect in a beautiful facility named after the Michigan native who started Meijer’s Grocery with his father.

These horticultural display gardens are a place for all seasons. With an enormous array of options for visitors, the gardens celebrate art, science, and the natural beauty of Grand Rapids.

In April, our favorite destination in the Frederik Meijer Gardens is the butterfly garden. Tropical butterflies fill a conservatory for visitors to enjoy.

The beautiful creatures often perch fearlessly on tourists’ hands, where their intricate wings and vibrant colors can be admired up close. Among each wonder-inducing room and exhibit, there is always something to discover about nature.

Where to Stay in Grand Rapids

With so many visitors to the area, be on the lookout for hotel packages to help offset the coast of you visit to Grand Rapids landmarks, eateries and breweries.

If you’re planning an overnight stay in Grand Rapids and don’t know where to stay, we’ve got you covered. Here are some of the best places to find airbnbs, bed and breakfasts, and hotels for a comfortable and safe travel experience.

  • Grand Rapids Airbnb
  • Grand Rapids Bed and Breakfasts
  • Grand Rapids Hotels
  • Grand Rapids Vacation Rentals

Near Grand Rapids

With a central location in west Michigan, there’s so many places worth exploring that are just a short trip from the city, including South Haven, Holland and Grand Haven.

One unique spot we like to visit is Cedar Springs, just a short drive north of Grand Rapids. Indian Trails bus lines provide service to and from Cedar Springs daily.

About the Author
Kyrsten Newlon is a content writing and editing intern for mymichiganbeach.com. Growing up in Kalamazoo, she wrote and read everything she could. Now, she is a student at Grace College with Journalism and Communications majors and an English minor. She has been published by Grace College, the Winona Lake Newsletter, Input Fort Wayne, and various online blogs. Kyrsten loves raising puppies to be service dogs, spending time in coffee shops, and adventuring through Michigan.