12 Attractions in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Last Updated on February 24, 2024 by Emily Johnson

12 Attractions in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Michigan’s second-largest city has transformed in recent decades from an industrial furniture and beer hub into a vibrant cultural destination. Visitors to Grand Rapids will find excellent museums, performing arts, cultural attractions, and outdoor activities.

AttractionDescription
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture ParkA blend of art and nature featuring sculptures and themed gardens.
Grand Rapids Public MuseumOffers exhibits on history, nature, and culture, including a planetarium.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential MuseumDedicated to the life and presidency of Gerald R. Ford, with interactive exhibits.
ArtPrizeAn open, independently organized international art competition held in Grand Rapids.
John Ball ZooA zoo offering a wide range of animals, interactive exhibits, and conservation programs.
Grand Rapids Art MuseumShowcases Renaissance to Modern American and European art.
Blandford Nature CenterA wildlife refuge offering educational programs and outdoor activities.
Grand Rapids Children’s MuseumInteractive, hands-on exhibits designed for children to learn through play.
Heritage HillA historic district featuring over 60 architectural styles from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Grand River KayakingKayaking experiences along the Grand River, offering a unique perspective of the city.
Van Andel ArenaA venue for major concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment options.
Robinette’s Apple Haus & WineryA family-owned orchard and winery offering apple picking, baked goods, and wine tasting.

The city’s revitalized downtown serves as the home base to many attractions. Nearby lakeshores, trails and natural areas provide easy access to West Michigan’s scenic landscapes. From learning about history to experiencing art and science, Grand Rapids offers engaging things to do for travelers of all interests. Here are 12 of the top attractions to check out in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

With philanthropic roots laid by famous furniture families like the Amways and DeVoses, Grand Rapids has benefited from significant investment in the arts, culture and community enrichment. This support facilitated the creation of the city’s numerous museums and cultural institutions.

World-class artworks and performances draw crowds from far beyond West Michigan. Recent downtown development has added shops, restaurants, green spaces and streetscapes tailor-made for exploring on foot.

Just outside the city, the Lake Michigan shoreline, rivers, trails and forests offer natural escapes. Grand Rapids provides an easy home base to experience the best of West Michigan’s cultural and outdoor offerings. From hands-on children’s museums to Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, the variety of attractions encapsulates Grand Rapids’ rise as an entertaining Midwestern destination.

1. Admire Art Inside and Out at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Name and Location: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is located in Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: Opened in 1995, Frederik Meijer Gardens features 158 acres of gardens, ponds and trails with a focus on sculpture exhibitions. It contains one of the most significant sculpture collections in the Midwest.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore indoor and outdoor sculpture displays, tropical conservatory, Zen garden spaces and seasonal horticultural exhibitions. Popular sculptures include The American Horse and Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse.

Visitor Information: The gardens are open daily. An admission fee is charged. Memberships, tram tours and programs are also available.

One of Grand Rapids’ crown jewels, the 158-acre Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park unites nature and artwork. Indoor galleries exhibit painting and sculpture spanning classic to contemporary. Outside, 100+ major works are integrated into the grounds.

Stroll peaceful trails to spot pieces by artists like Auguste Rodin, Louise Bourgeois, Anish Kapoor and Ai Weiwei. Inside the tropical Lena Meijer Conservatory, fishponds and exotic epiphytes create a rainforest canopy feel. Themed gardens like the Japanese Garden and Michigan’s Farm Garden connect you to nature’s beauty. With art collections and horticultural diversity, Meijer Gardens makes for an inspiring visit.

2. Learn at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

Name and Location: The Grand Rapids Public Museum is located in downtown Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: Founded in 1854, the GR Public Museum presents exhibits and events illuminating the human and natural history of the Grand River Valley and Michigan. Its collections comprise over 250,000 artifacts.

What to Expect: The museum features permanent exhibits on furniture production, Native American heritage, natural history and more. Visitors can also experience temporary/traveling exhibits, a 1928 carousel and an antique Spillman carousel.

Visitor Information: The museum is open daily with an admission fee to access exhibits. Public events and programs offered regularly.

Fun for all ages, the Grand Rapids Public Museum illuminates science, history, and culture through engaging exhibits and special events. Explore vintage Americana in the 1928 Streets of Old Grand Rapids recreating businesses of yesteryear.

Planetarium shows reveal astronomy wonders across an immersive domed screen. Guests can observe exotic insects up close at the popular Live Butterfly Experience. Traveling exhibitions like animation concept art for Sony Pictures add fresh perspectives. And the 1928 Spillman carousel provides whimsical rides for kids. With broad themes, the Grand Rapids Public Museum introduces visitors to the area’s heritage and sparks curiosity.

3. Tour the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Name and Location: The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is located in downtown Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: Opened in 1981, this museum highlights the life and presidency of Michigan native Gerald Ford who served as the 38th U.S. President. It contains the gravesites of President Ford and First Lady Betty Ford.

What to Expect: Visitors can view exhibits on Ford’s life and political career. Displays contain artifacts and documents from his presidency. Special programs and reenactments bring history to life.

Visitor Information: The Ford Museum is open daily aside from major holidays. Admission is charged with discounts for seniors, military etc.

At the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, interactive exhibits chronicle the life of Michigan native Gerald Ford, the only president born in Grand Rapids. See newspaper front pages covering President Ford’s pardon of Nixon and other pivotal events of his presidency.

View a replica of Ford’s Oval Office and the table where he took the oath of office. Artifacts include Ford’s Congressional desk and clothing displays reflecting 1970s style. The museum houses Ford and wife Betty’s final resting place. Thoughtful and engaging, the museum provides perspective on Ford’s personality and brief but significant presidency.

4. Shop Local at the Downtown Market Grand Rapids

Name and Location: The Downtown Market Grand Rapids is an urban food market located in downtown Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: Opened in 2013, the Downtown Market is both a bustling fresh food market and community gathering space hosting events year-round. Its mission focuses on local sustainability.

What to Expect: Visitors will find dozens of local vendor stalls selling produce, flowers, baked goods, coffee, prepared foods and more. Many options are seasonal. Themed events occur regularly.

Visitor Information: The Downtown Market is open Monday-Saturday with seasonal hours. Many items can be purchased to go from on-site vendors.

Bringing together dynamic dining and shopping, the Downtown Market Grand Rapids fuels appetite and craft curiosity. The lively market filled with over 20 vendors provides artisan edibles and gifts showcasing West Michigan’s creative community.

Sip michigan wine flights or sample fudge while perusing the offerings. Many vendors encourage conversations with the passionate makers. Popular stops include the salad eatery Electric Hero and Detroit-style pizza purveyors Square Pie Guys. The adjacent self-serve taproom pours craft beer from 20+ Michigan brewers. Centered around community connections, the Downtown Market encapsulates Grand Rapids’ local entrepreneurial spirit.

5. Experience ArtPrize in Grand Rapids

Name and Location: ArtPrize is an open, independently organized art competition held for 19 fall days throughout downtown Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: Launched in 2009, ArtPrize draws over 500,000 attendees viewing works by 1,500+ artists. It awards the world’s largest art prize decided by public vote and juried panels. Art is exhibited at nearly 180 venues citywide.

What to Expect: Visitors can freely view a wide range of art in open venues across downtown and vote for favorites. Works span every medium from murals to sculpture and performance art at museums, parks, restaurants and more.

Visitor Information: ArtPrize is free and open to the public for 19 fall days. Walking and bike maps show exhibit locations spread across three urban districts.

Each fall, ArtPrize takes over Grand Rapids for 19 days as artists from across the globe compete for over $500,000 in prizes. Anyone can enter the world’s largest art competition decided by public vote and juried panels.

Creative works vary from paintings to light projections to sculptures. ArtPrize exhibits pop up all over downtown in parks, museums, bars, vacant lots and businesses, making every turn full of surprise. As visitors browse and vote, artists have the chance to win both public and critical acclaim. ArtPrize offers an interactive introduction to Grand Rapids flourishing arts scene.

6. See the Sea Life at John Ball Zoo

Name and Location: John Ball Zoo is a city-owned zoo located in Grand Rapids, MI near the Grand River.

History and Significance: Open since the 19th century, John Ball Zoo cares for animals from all over the world. It focuses on wildlife education, conservation and community connections. Over 190 species can be seen at the zoo.

What to Expect: Zoo visitors experience animals in naturalized habitats across areas like Lion Country, Forest Realm, African Journey and Ocean World. Popular exhibits include the pelicans, snow monkeys, red pandas and puffins.

Visitor Information: John Ball Zoo is open daily all year aside from a few select holidays. An admission fee is charged. Zoo memberships are available.

Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for its extensive education and conservation efforts, John Ball Zoo entertains and educates families. Get acquainted with their residents like mighty African lions, mischievous monkeys and clever penguins.

Say hello to Samson the giraffe and giant Aldabra tortoises. Kids can pet farm animals, ride a carousel and play in the zippy TreeTops Adventure Ropes course. Daily keeper chats and shows provide interactive learning focused on the animals’ enrichment. Set in the forested John Ball Park, the zoo excites young and old through wildlife encounters.

7. Tour the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

Name and Location: The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) is an art center located in downtown Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: Founded in 1977, UICA is a non-collecting contemporary arts institution presenting leading edge art through 60+ annual visual arts exhibits, performing arts events and educational programs.

What to Expect: Visitors to UICA encounter diverse contemporary art shows, concerts, films, and classes encouraging community connections. Onsite shops sell work by Midwest artists and designers. Custom tours can be arranged.

Visitor Information: UICA is open Monday-Saturday with an admission fee for most events. Memberships providing viewing access are available.

With contemporary art exhibitions and events, UICA expands art access and understanding in Grand Rapids. Their galleries feature rising artists tackling relevant themes through mediums like sculpture, video and photography.

Recent favorites include an empowering installation inspired by a Black spiritual and an exhibit spotlighting local performing drag artists. UICA also houses a hands-on creativity lab, 130-seat theater, archives and artist studios. Just as compelling as the art is the 1931 building itself with its five-story lightwell and environmentally sustainable design.

8. See a Show at the Grand Rapids Symphony

Name and Location: The Grand Rapids Symphony performs across multiple venues in downtown Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: GR Symphony traces its history to 1930 as West Michigan’s leading professional orchestra. The ensemble presents classics works along with supporting regional arts education.

What to Expect: Patrons can attend Grand Rapids Symphony performances showcasing world-renowned soloists at venues like the 1,800 seat DeVos Performance Hall and smaller studios.

Visitor Information: The GR Symphony season runs September through May. Single tickets or subscription packages can be purchased online or by phone.

As Michigan’s first and longest running professional orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony has been perfecting their craft through performances in the city since 1930. Led by conductor Marcelo Lehninger, they fill DeVos Performance Hall with the soaring sounds of over 80 musicians.

Attend classic MasterWorks concerts or rock, pop and movie scores in the Movie and More series. Premieres and debuts by composers and soloists add premier events. Throughout the year special shows reach broader audiences, like the annual Gospel Christmas bringing area church choirs onstage. Hearing the Grand Rapids Symphony live delivers a transcendent musical experience.

9. Pedal the White Pine Trail

Name and Location: The White Pine Trail is a 92-mile multi-use recreation trail spanning much of Western Michigan with Headquarters located in Comstock Park, MI.

History and Significance: Converting an 1800s railroad corridor, the White Pine Trail opened in 1995 for activities like hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing and horseback riding through scenic West Michigan landscapes.

What to Expect: Visitors to the White Pine Trail can walk, run, bike, ski and ride horses across the flat, scenic pathway through forests, farmland and small towns between Grand Rapids and Cadillac, MI.

Visitor Information: The trail is open daily, sunrise to sunset for free public recreation use. Parking lots at trailheads provide easy access.

For an iconic Michigan trail adventure, bring your bike to travel the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail. Covering 92 paved miles from Comstock Park north to Cadillac, the rail-trail offers effortless riding past forests and farmland.

Test your legs by pedaling the whole distance over a few days, or take it at your own pace on daytrips. The small trailside towns offer restaurants and shops to explore like the arty community of Rockford. Historical train depots provides markers along the way. Showcasing West Michigan’s natural beauty, the White Pine Trail delights outdoor enthusiasts.

10. Tour the Meyer May House by Frank Lloyd Wright

Name and Location: The Meyer May House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is located in the Heritage Hill Historic District of Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: Built in 1908, the Meyer May House is an early example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style architecture. Painstaking restoration allows tours showcasing Wright’s design details paired with the original owners’ furnishings.

What to Expect: Guided house tours allow visitors to experience the architecture and design integration that makes the Meyer May House an iconic Prairie Style home. Wright’s architecture details can be closely examined room-by-room.

Visitor Information: The Meyer May House offers public guided tours select days April through December. Advance reservations are recommended. An admission fee applies.

See masterful design inside and out at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House. The Prairie style home built in 1908 exemplifies Wright’s principles through elements like open space, natural materials and linking indoors and outdoors.

Take a docent-led tour to admire the potato barn wood paneling, art glass windows and Wright-designed furniture. Exhibits showcase his philosophy and apprenticeship program. The May House demonstrates Wright’s ability to create functional homes suffused with beauty.

11. Catch a Show at 20 Monroe Live

Name and Location: 20 Monroe Live is a concert and entertainment venue located in downtown Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: Opened in 2017, 20 Monroe Live fills a restored, historic building to host live entertainment in Grand Rapids. It accommodates contemporary concerts along with comedy, Broadway shows and private events.

What to Expect: 20 Monroe Live features a tiered main theater hosting 1,560 attendees for reserved-seat shows. Two floors allow clear views of the stage plus full service dining before performances or during intermission.

Visitor Information: Show dates, times and ticket sales are listed on 20 Monroe Live’s website. The box office is open on event days or tickets can be purchased online.

As downtown Grand Rapids’ largest music venue, 20 Monroe Live hosts today’s top touring live acts in an intimate historic setting. Once the Widdicomb Furniture Company, the open floorplan provides optimal viewing for concerts by artists like John Legend and comedian Trevor Noah.

Multiple bars and lounge seating keep the good times flowing. VIP mezzanine seating and private suites add luxury options. Food truck rallies in the adjacent outdoor space mean delicious bites are close by before shows. With A-list concerts in a memorable venue, 20 Monroe Live brings major entertainment.

12. Kayak the Grand River

Name and Location: The Grand River flows through the heart of Grand Rapids, MI and surrounding West Michigan communities.

History and Significance: As Michigan’s longest river, the Grand River has helped shape settlement and industry in the region for centuries. Today it provides recreation ranging from boating to fly fishing, supporting local tourism.

What to Expect: The Grand River allows opportunities to kayak, canoe, paddleboard and tube through downtown Grand Rapids and surrounding countryside. Multi-day excursions with riverside camping spots are also popular on the waterway.

Visitor Information: Grand River paddling access points can be found across West Michigan. Liveries like Grand River Outfitters offer rentals, shuttles and river trip planning.

For family outdoor fun, kayak along the scenic Grand River winding through the city. Rent kayaks in downtown Grand Rapids to paddle under the Blue Bridge and by the riverfront museums. Head downstream to enjoy views of the city skyline. Upstream, toward Millennium Park, the river gets peaceful.

Many launching spots like Riverside and Canal Park allow you to customize your boating. Guided tours provide easy paddling trips focused on nature, history, sunsets, or exercise. However you choose to experience it, kayaking the Grand River provides inexpensive outdoor adventure in the heart of the city.

Conclusion

With diverse museums, a dynamic public art scene, music venues and cultural attractions, Grand Rapids impresses visitors with plenty of things to see and do. The city seamlessly blends Midwest traditions, like its furniture and brewing heritage, with cosmopolitan arts and dining.

Nearby natural areas allow for daytripshiking, biking or boating. Grand Rapids provides an excellent home base to experience West Michigan’s variety of cultural and outdoor offerings. From hands-on children’s museums to critically acclaimed artworks, Grand Rapids’ attractions encapsulate the city’s rise as a Midwest destination. With ever-expanding options, Grand Rapids gives travelers abundant choices for engaging sightseeing and entertainment.

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