12 Things to Do in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Last Updated on February 24, 2024 by Emily Johnson

12 Things to Do in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Nicknamed “Furniture City,” Grand Rapids, Michigan rose to prominence as a lumber and furniture manufacturing hub. But today the state’s second largest city better known for its impressive arts and culture scene, craft beer, and foodie fare. Set on the Grand River, it offers many outdoor pursuits too.

No.ActivityDescription
1Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture ParkBotanical gardens and sculpture park
2Grand RiverBiking or strolling along scenic paths
3John Ball ZooExploring exotic wildlife
4Gerald R. Ford Presidential MuseumInteractive exhibits on Ford’s life and presidency
5Heritage HillTouring a historic neighborhood
6ArtPrizeParticipating in or viewing a large art competition
7Brewery VivantTouring and tasting at a Belgian-inspired brewery
8East Hills and Cherry HillShopping in trendy districts
9Michigan’s Adventure Amusement ParkEnjoying thrill rides and water fun
10Lake Michigan BeachTaking a beach break near Grand Rapids
11DeVos Performance HallCatching a show or performance
12White Pine TrailBiking on a scenic trail

Visitors will find fun attractions for all ages and interests in Grand Rapids. Here are 12 of the top things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Once dominated by its furniture industry origins, Grand Rapids has transformed into a vibrant cosmopolitan destination. Significant investment has gone into enhancing downtown, bringing new hotels, performance venues, museums and eateries. The city’s beer heritage remains strong with over 40 breweries in the metro area. Grand Rapids’ location on the Grand River provides picturesque settings for outdoor activities.

The city’s rich philanthropic ties and appreciation for the arts shine through in excellent museums and one of the country’s top public art collections. Families can explore interactive institutions tailor-made for kids. Grand Rapids’ neighborhoods contain historic architecture, indie boutiques, unique dining and local businesses that give an authentic experience. With big city amenities and small town charm, Grand Rapids impresses at every turn.

1. Admire Art at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Name and Location: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is located at 1000 East Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525.

History and Significance: Opened in 1995, Meijer Gardens features 158 acres of gardens, trails and one of the nation’s most significant sculpture collections, providing world-class horticultural and artistic beauty to the Midwest.

What to Expect: Visitors explore indoor gardens, tropical conservatory, arid garden, carnivorous plants, bonsai exhibit, outdoor gardens, trails/boardwalks and over 300 sculptures across a stunning 158-acre landscape.

Visitor Information: Meijer Gardens offers timed entry ticketing posted online. Memberships, tram tours, dining and programs are also available on-site to enhance the experience.

One of Grand Rapid’s top attractions, the 158-acre Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park combines botanical diversity with stunning artwork. See one of the nation’s most significant sculpture collections with contemporary pieces integrated throughout the grounds.

The indoor tropical conservatory showcases exotic plants and flowers from tropical regions across five habitats. Don’t miss the carnivorous plant house highlighting meat-eating varieties like the Venus Flytrap. Special exhibitions bring added artworks, architecture and celebrations of artists like Yayoi Kusama. The tranquil Japanese Garden, rough natural areas, and peaceful indoor spaces provide artistic inspiration.

2. Bike or Stroll along the Grand River

Name and Location: The Grand River waterfront can be accessed at multiple parks and trails in Grand Rapids.

History and Significance: As the longest river in Michigan, the Grand River has shaped settlement patterns with its namesake city rising along lush wooded banks and island tributaries, providing recreation for generations.

What to Expect: Visitors can bike, jog or stroll riverside paths like the 5-mile Grand River Greenway or walk inside the river’s dramatic 433-ft broad dam cascade at Sixth Street Park to admire rapids up close.

Visitor Information: Grand River access within city parks is freely open to the public during posted hours. Some parks offer kayak liveries and nearby bike shares to fully experience the waterway by wheel or paddle.

The namesake Grand River flowing through the city offers scenic recreation paths perfect for cycling and strolls. Start downtown at Ah-Nab-Awen Park with views of the river bend that first attracted settlers and follow the trail north.

Ride through Grand Rapids’ revitalized riverfront passing public artworks and greenery. Enjoy riverside restaurants and breweries. Link up to the longer 22-mile Grand River Edges Trail to kayak, fish and explore river nature. Alternatively, bike or walk south of downtown on the paved Murphy Hanrehan trail for a more peaceful woodsy escape by the water. With options for all abilities, the trails alongside the Grand River see plenty of foot and bike traffic.

3. See Exotic Wildlife at John Ball Zoo

Name and Location: John Ball Zoo is located at 1300 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504 inside the sprawling John Ball Park.

History and Significance: Founded in 1905, John Ball Zoo pioneered habitat displays and continues inspiring wildlife advocacy as Michigan’s oldest zoo, hosting richly diverse animals across scenic, expansive park grounds.

What to Expect: Visitors explore immersive ecosystems with 1,000+ animals from penguins to red pandas while interactive programs, narrated tram tours and engaging exhibits enrich the experience further on grounds.

Visitor Information: John Ball Zoo opens daily at 9am with closing hours varying by season. Ticket pricing and annual membership options are posted on their website to plan visits.

Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the John Ball Zoo entertains and educates families through close animal encounters. Get to know the zoo’s orangutans, gibbons, gorillas and other primates at the Primate Action Plan facility.

Observe thriving African lions and penguins at their state-of-the-art habitats. Kids can pet goats, ride a carousel and play in an imaginative Forest Realm themed area. Special events like the annual Zoo Goes Boo! Halloween party provide seasonal fun. Daily keeper chats, feeds and training sessions offer interactive learning about the animals. Set on the wooded rolling hills of John Ball Park, the zoo makes it easy to connect with wildlife.

4. Tour the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Name and Location: The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is located at 303 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504.

History and Significance: Opened in 1981, this museum honors Gerald Ford, the only president from Michigan, showcasing his presidency and political career that spanned nearly 30 years as House Minority Leader and Vice President.

What to Expect: Visitors learn about Ford’s life guiding America through exhibits, artifacts, interactive galleries and special programs that relay major events he participated in with engaging perspective.

Visitor Information: The Ford Museum is open daily aside from major holidays. Admission fees apply with discounts for seniors, military etc. Tickets are available on their website.

Pay tribute to Michigan native Gerald Ford, the 38th U.S. president, at the museum honoring his legacy in downtown Grand Rapids. Interactive exhibits cover Ford’s life from his football years at the University of Michigan to serving in Congress to taking the oath after Richard Nixon’s resignation. Newspapers chronicle Ford’s presidency during a challenging period in history.

The restored 1886 Scripps Carriage House holds the table where Ford took the oath of office. Outside, see the graves of President Ford and First Lady Betty Ford at the museum’s memorial park. Thoughtful and engaging, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum provides perspective on Ford’s personality and presidential tenure.

5. See Exquisite Homes on a Historic Heritage Hill Neighborhood Tour

Name and Location: Heritage Hill Historic District located in downtown Grand Rapids, MI.

History and Significance: With over 1,300 structures spanning 40 city blocks, Heritage Hill comprises one of America’s finest 19th and early 20th century residential architecture districts narrating Grand Rapids’ prosperous settlement history.

What to Expect: Guided walking tours allow visitors inside landmark exteriors to admire stunning period designs from Gothic to Prairie while hearing stories behind diverse architectural styles and the families that shaped the community.

Visitor Information: Heritage Hill walking tours are available May-October through the GRCC Box Office. Private group tours can also be booked on the neighborhood association website.

With over 1,300 residences dating from 1843, the Heritage Hill Historic District ranks among America’s largest urban historic neighborhoods. Get an inside look at some of the area’s magnificent homes on a weekend guided walking tour.

Hear stories behind the elegant architecture and see the beautifully restored interiors of these late 19th century houses. Exteriors exhibit high Victorian Gothic, Italianate, Greek Revival and other lavish styles in a variety of materials. Local guides offer tours Fridays, Saturdays and some Sundays afternoons from spring through fall. The tours provide a closeup look into Grand Rapids’ wealthy heyday.

6. Experience ArtPrize in Grand Rapids

Name and Location: ArtPrize takes places across downtown Grand Rapids, centered around Grand River Greenway and Rosa Parks Circle.

History and Significance: Launched in 2009, ArtPrize became an acclaimed annual public art event open to any artist. Grand Rapids is overtaken by creative installations for 19 days as venues compete for the world’s largest art prize decided by public vote.

What to Expect: Art of all mediums and sizes imaginable consumes every downtown space from museums to bridges, creating a spectacle of culture and community celebrating creativity and connectivity through boundary-pushing art.

Visitor Information: ArtPrize spans 3 square miles of open access downtown museums/businesses hosting 1,500+ art entries every late September. Event maps and artist/venue guides are available online.

Each fall, Grand Rapids sees an exciting influx of art and visitors for ArtPrize, one of the world’s largest art competitions. Any artist can enter the 19-day contest decided by public vote. Artworks appear all over downtown in parks, museums, bridges, bars and other businesses.

Stroll the districts spotting creative paintings, sculptures, technological media, performances and more around every corner. Live music, food, and family-friendly creative activities add to the festivities. As the public views and votes, artists compete for over $500,000 in prize money. ArtPrize showcases Grand Rapids’ exceptional art scene.

7. Tour and Taste at Brewery Vivant

Name and Location: Brewery Vivant is located at 925 Cherry St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506.

History and Significance: Opened in late 2010, Brewery Vivant brought Belgian and French-inspired beers and European aesthetics to a historic Grand Rapids funeral home chapel, winning acclaim for sustainability and handcrafted brews.

What to Expect: Visitors taste deliciously bold beers on tap while surrounded by vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, locally-sourced menu items and rotating artisan vendors inhabiting this grand-yet-inviting space.

Visitor Information: Brewery Vivant offers free public tours daily at 3pm and 5pm with additional evening tours on specified nights. Family and pet-friendly.

For a quintessential Grand Rapids experience, make an afternoon stop at Belgian-inspired Brewery Vivant. Tucked inside a renovated funeral chapel, the award-winning brewpub crafts Belgian and French-style farmhouse ales.

Sip a tart Tropical Saison or fruity Papa Noel ale inside the chapel-turned-beer hall or in the tree-shaded back beer garden. Their menu of hearty European fare like mussels, frites, and cheese complements the brews. Expanded distillery operations mean Vivant spirits like whiskeys are now available too. Brewery tours run daily, providing an inside look at their classic copper brewing equipment and methods.

8. Browse the Shops of East Hills and Cherry Hill

Name and Location: East Hills and Cherry Hill shopping districts span roughly from Plymouth Ave SE to Franklin St SE.

History and Significance: These adjoining historic neighborhoods nurtured local small businesses over generations, containing quaint vibrant retail/dining scenes along pedestrian-friendly streetscapes with prime boutique window shopping.

What to Expect: Visitors discover cocktail bars, brewpubs, creative eateries,dessert cafes, apparel and gift boutiques within charming turn-of-the-century buildings brimming with Grand Rapids culture and character.

Visitor Information: East Hills and Cherry Hill shops/restaurants stay open daily until 9 or 10pm typically and offer street parking. Area maps help navigate 100+ creative businesses.

Get your retail fix along the walkable shopping districts of Grand Rapids’ charming East Hills and Cherry Hill neighborhoods southeast of downtown. Located on the city’s “Gold Coast,” the areas contain block after block of indie boutiques, antique shops, home stores and cafes.

Trendy clothing stores like Studio Anneloes and Pinku sell fashions you won’t find back home. Scout for vintage goods at shops like Vertigo Music. Designer consignment abounds at places like Division Avenue Boutique. Find classic toys, comics and pop culture items at Vintage Vault of GR. Stop for lunch at a cafe or bookshop along the way. With diverse shops in historic settings, East Hills and Cherry Hill offer unique local shopping.

9. Spend a Day at Michigan’s Adventure Amusement Park

Name and Location: Michigan’s Adventure Amusement Park, located at 4750 Whitehall Rd. in Muskegon, MI about an hour drive west of Grand Rapids.

History and Significance: Opened in 1956, Michigan’s Adventure is home to over 60 rides across 250 wooded acres, making it one of the longest operating amusement parks nationwide providing affordable thrills for families.

What to Expect: Guests enjoy rollercoasters, water park slides, a scenic train ride, mini golf, live entertainment and a petting farm creating summertime memories through safe family fun here for generations.

Visitor Information: Michigan’s Adventure opens late May through early September or October. Ticket pricing varies per date online. Season dining and cabana passes available.

Just north of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Adventure provides a full day of thrill rides, family activities and water fun. Adrenaline junkies will love coasters like Shivering Timbers with its ferocious speed. Little ones can ride a carousel, dinosaurs and other pint-sized rides in Planet Snoopy.

Splash down nine epic slides like inspired by a scheming coyote at Coyote Falls. Adventure courses challenge you to navigate obstacles up in the treetops or on the ground. Concerts, shows and seasonal events like Halloween Haunt bring more entertainment options. With surprises around every corner, Michigan’s Adventure promises an adventurous getaway for families.

10. Take a Lake Michigan Beach Break

Name and Location: Scenic Lake Michigan beaches near Grand Haven or Holland along western Michigan’s gold coast.

History and Significance: With fine sand dunes spanning over 3,000 stunning shoreline miles, freshwater Lake Michigan has drawn countless summertime beachgoers to western Michigan communities for decades to enjoy iconic aquatic recreation.

What to Expect: Visitors soak up vistas of Lake Michigan’s turquoise waters, relax on sugar sand beaches, traverse scenic dunes, search for Petoskey stones, swim, jet ski or boat while taking in the region’s coastal culture.

Visitor Information: Area beach town visitors centers offer maps for locating dozens of public beach access points with available amenities described online to plan west Michigan coastal getaways.

Grand Rapids sits just 30 miles inland from the sugar sand beaches of Lake Michigan, providing a refreshing day trip or weekend away. Make your beach base in the lakeside town of Grand Haven to swim, kayak or paddleboard with beachtown charm.

The expansive Grand Haven State Park features campgrounds, hiking trails and scenic dunes. Holland State Park further up the coast boasts an iconic “big red” lighthouse. Sandbars off the Saugatuck Dunes State Park beaches create shallow warm water for swimming. Relax lakeside at Muskegon State Park watching sailboats skim across the horizon. West Michigan’s golden shores beckon when you need some time at the beach.

11. Catch a Show at DeVos Performance Hall

Name and Location: DeVos Performance Hall is located at 303 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 downtown.

History and Significance: Opened in 2005, the modern DeVos Hall offers premier event space and acoustics, hosting renowned performances and speakers that grace Grand Rapids alongside local art groups with providing community entertainment access.

What to Expect: Guests experience musical artists, comedians, lecture series and Broadway productions within the state-of-the-art concert hall or intimate converted pavilion room upstairs showcasing top talent.

Visitor Information: Performance tickets can be purchased online as individual shows are announced. Guided event center tours also available by inquiry highlighting backstage spaces.

With elegant European-inspired architecture and superb acoustics, the DeVos Performance Hall provides a breathtaking venue for concerts, Broadway shows, dance and more.

Top performers from Yo-Yo Ma to Jerry Seinfeld have graced the stage. Broadway blockbusters like The Lion King and Wicked make tour stops at DeVos. See Moscow’s renowned Bolshoi Ballet pirouette across the stage or the GR Symphony presenting classics. A night out enjoying a show in the classic 2,404-seat hall makes for quintessential Grand Rapids arts and culture.

12. Pedal the White Pine Trail

Name and Location: The White Pine Trail stretches 92 miles across western Michigan between Grand Rapids and Cadillac.

History and Significance: Constructed along a 19th century railroad corridor purchased in the 1990s, the White Pine Trail opened in 1996 providing the state’s longest rails-to-trail path for cycling, running, hiking and cross-country skiing through scenic wilderness.

What to Expect: This non-motorized trail spans towns, forests, farmland, wetlands and the Big Rapids region. Users admire rural scenery, tunnel trees and historic sites while exercising comfortably separated from roadways.

Visitor Information: The White Pine Trail offers free public access with parking lots and restroom facilities located in trailhead communities posted online via state trail guides. Seasonal hours vary.

Stretching 92 miles from Comstock Park north through Cadillac, the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail provides an unforgettable bike adventure.

The paved rail-trail passes through the Manistee National Forest and peaceful rural towns, providing plenty of nature sights along the way. Bike as far as your legs can manage for the day – Grand Rapids sits around the trail’s southern midpoint.

See remnants of West Michigan’s railroad history like century-old depots. Stop at trailside diners and cafes in Rockford, Cedar Springs and other towns to refuel. The gently rolling landscape offers effortless riding for all abilities. For an iconic West Michigan cycling experience, bring your bike and ride the scenic White Pine Trail.

Conclusion

From museums celebrating its famous furniture and beer to world-class arts, dining and one-of-a-kind shopping, Grand Rapids impresses at every corner. The city seamlessly blends urban experiences with outdoor escapes along its namesake river and area trails and lakeshores. Kid-focused attractions like the zoo, museums and amusement park cater to young visitors. Grand Rapids provides a lively base to enjoy the best of West Michigan’s culture, natural beauty and local flair.

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