14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Grand Rapids, MI
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Grand Rapids, in western Lower Michigan, was the boyhood home of Gerald Ford, 38th President of the United States. Some of the main tourist attractions are the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, with a model of the President's Oval Office in the White House; the Meyer May House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.
The city also has a number of fun family attractions, including the Grand Rapids Children's Museum and the John Ball Zoo. Regardless of the time of year, there are plenty of things to do. Plan your next visit with our list of top attractions in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
See also: Where to Stay in Grand Rapids
1. Stroll through the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park offer indoor and outdoor space that can be enjoyed year-round. The outdoor gardens showcase flowers and peaceful green spaces through a variety of garden styles. Outdoor sculptures are set in the beautiful natural scenery, backed by trees and waterways, with winding paths.
The five story Lena Meijer Conservatory provides a tropical setting with exotic plants from around the world. Indoor sculpture galleries feature bronze sculptures by internationally renowned artists.
Address: 1000 East Beltline NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.meijergardens.org
2. Go Wild at the John Ball Zoo
John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids is home to animals large and small from all over the world. 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, bears, penguins, and pelicans. Additional behind-the-scenes adventures include the chance to observe a chimpanzee training session while learning about their daily needs, and a truly hands-on experience with the animal ambassadors, where you can learn how to 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. Among the zoo's many other residents are a wide variety of African animals, including lions and tigers, tropical animals like the lovable sloth, and even a pair of bald eagles.
Address: 1300 W Fulton Street, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.jbzoo.org
3. Tour Frank Lloyd Wright's Meyer May House
The Meyer May House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1908 for a wealthy clothier. The original structure was a modest-sized Prairie-style home that was gradually altered and added to over the years. The home was later purchased and painstakingly restored to its original form after two years of research.
Today, the building is open to the public at no charge, complete with original and reproduction furniture. Visitors can also admire the 108 windows and skylights, products of Wright's love for using leaded glass. There is also a film that chronicles the history and restoration of the property, including its grounds, which now sit as they did when the house was first built.
Address: 450 Madison Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: meyermayhouse.steelcase.com
4. Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
The permanent exhibits at the Gerald R. Ford Museum contain many insights into the life and times of this Grand Rapids native. Collections include items from the 38th president's childhood and college years, like his Eagle Scout memorabilia and college football uniform. Other exhibits include items and information related to Ford's political career, from his 1976 presidential campaign items to gifts given to him while in office.
There are also exhibits dedicated to First Lady Betty Ford, as well as their children. The museum also has temporary exhibits from the Presidential Library System, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Archives, and hosts various educational programs and community events.
Address: 303 Pearl Street, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov
5. Have a Ball at the Grand Rapids Children's Museum
The Grand Rapids Children's Museum offers the city's youngest visitors the chance to explore, learn, and play. 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. The museum hosts daily programs, which are included in admission, including creative activities like art and costume-making, storytelling, and other activities.
Address: 11 Sheldon Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.grcm.org
6. Watch the City Turn into a Gallery during ArtPrize
For over a decade, the city of Grand Rapids is transformed into a giant gallery with this annual competition. Artists from around the world converge in late September each year to present their creations in whatever media they choose.
A unique aspect of ArtPrize is that it's about more than just being a spectator – the public gets to help choose the winners of the prize money to help them continue their work. This is in line with the event's mission to help artists break free of the institutional constraints of the art world while exposing their work.
Official site: www.artprize.org
7. Grand Rapids Public Museum
The museum offers a variety of exhibits related to the people and history of Michigan. Visitors can take a walk down a Grand Rapids street that has been reconstructed with storefronts accurate to the times of the 1890s. A working 1928 Spillman carousel is available for rides, and visitors can walk through recreated sections of a working furniture factory from the early 20th century. Displays and artifacts from the Anishinabek people, the American Indians of West Michigan, are also on display.
Address: 272 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.grpm.org
8. Grand Rapids Art Museum
Housed in a LEED Gold Certified green building in the downtown area, the Grand Rapids Art Museum houses a diverse and growing collection. Home to more than 6,000 works, the permanent collections include 19th- and 20th-century prints, paintings, photographs, and sculpture. Galleries also contain examples of decorative arts and modern art and design.
Additional galleries include both permanent and borrowed collections that focus on various themes, and the museum has a new series of exhibits that highlight contemporary Michigan artists. The museum is also home to an extensive research library and special archives, which house the most delicate of photos, drawings, and prints. Dating from the 1400s to the present, these works are carefully guarded from light damage and can be viewed upon request.
Address: 101 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.artmuseumgr.org
9. Blandford Nature Center
Blandford Nature Center sits on a 143-acre property that includes wooded areas, fields, streams, and ponds. The nature center focuses on promoting stewardship through education on the environment and natural systems. The center operates as a wildlife rescue that cares for injured wildlife, 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.
The center offers many programs for both adults and children that allow up-close interactions with nature and wildlife. On-site is also the Blandford Farm, which features community gardens and provides a chance for children to learn about farming and sustainable agriculture in the children's garden. Kids can also meet the resident goats, sheep, and chickens, and even collect fresh eggs.
Address: 1715 Hillburn Ave NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.blandfordnaturecenter.org
10. Fish Ladder Sculpture
This five-step concrete environmental ladder was built by local artist, Joseph Kinnebrew, to assist salmon jumping over a six-foot dam to reach the spawning grounds while providing a piece of unique artwork for the public to enjoy. It is conveniently situated along a walking area by the Grand River for easy viewing. Tourists can watch the migrating trout, steelhead, and salmon make their way upstream, an activity that is fascinating for all ages.
Address: 560 Front Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.michigan.org/property/fish-ladder-park
11. Visit the Fulton Street Farmers Market
The Fulton Street Farmers Market has been a Grand Rapids Institution for 100 years, gradually becoming far more than just a place to buy fresh veggies. This outdoor market hosts well over a hundred vendors, including traditional farm products like dairy, honey, maple syrup, fresh-baked goodies, and produce, as well as a large variety of artisans who sell their creations. Artisans offer hand-made and specialty items like natural skin care products, jewelry, and crafts.
During its main season, early May through the end of October, the market is open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 8am to 2pm. During the rest of the year, it is open Saturdays only from 10am to 1pm.
Address: 1145 Fulton Street E, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.fultonstreetmarket.org
12. Heritage Hill Historic District
Grand Rapids' Heritage Hill was the city's first neighborhood, once home to many prominent and influential residents who built the city. In 1968, the Heritage Hill Association was formed to help preserve the neighborhood's history and prevent the destruction of these fine homes, and since then it has been a recognized Historic Neighborhood. The association provides a self-guided walking tour of the area that highlights 37 of its finest homes.
Included in the numerous styles are examples of Italianate, Georgian Revival, Gothic Revival, Federal, Queen Anne, Tudor, and Chateauesque architecture, as well as several buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Official site: www.heritagehillweb.org
13. Go Shopping at the Downtown Market Grand Rapids
A day of sightseeing in Grand Rapids is not complete without a visit to the Downtown Market. It is a foodie's paradise, with plenty of choices for a quick bite, full meal, tasty treat, or specialty ingredients for you to take home and create your own gourmet meals. Among the heartier options are Neapolitan-style pizzas, authentic Detroit BBQ, a Vietnamese restaurant, traditional Mexican "street food," and a fish market with a raw bar and catch-of-the-day menu.
Those who need a quick pick-me-up will enjoy a gourmet coffee shop or a few scoops of organic, homemade ice cream. The market is also the best place to visit for the freshest meats and produce, as well as not-so-common staples, like cold-pressed olive oils and artisanal spice mixes.
Address: 435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.downtownmarketgr.com
14. Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts
The UICA presents a wide variety of contemporary artwork by both local and international artists, including visual art and performance art. The museum hosts changing themed exhibits, which are designed to inspire and challenge visitors. The museum also sponsors events, classes, and programs for the public, and sponsors public art installations across the city. Docent-led tours of the gallery are available.
Address: 17 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.uica.org
Where to Stay in Grand Rapids for Sightseeing
To get a true feel for this university town and to be within easy reach of the major attractions, including the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the Children's Museum, it's best to find accommodation in the city center. Those in town for a trade show should consider staying near the DeVos Place Convention Center, which is connected to some of the larger downtown hotels via skyway. Below are some highly rated hotels in good locations:
- The towing JW Marriott Grand Rapids is the city's newest luxury hotel, featuring modern rooms with commanding city views, and it is conveniently connected via skyway to the DeVos Place Convention Center.
- The iconic Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton offers contemporary rooms and five restaurants in a beautifully restored 1920s-era hotel. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a short stroll away.
- Also in the heart of the action is the Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown, with an indoor pool, a seasonal sports deck, and skywalk access to the DeVos Place Convention Center and other downtown buildings.
- Slightly to the southwest of downtown is the Homewood Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids. Ideal for families or long-stay guests, the hotel features large rooms with kitchens and separate sitting areas.
- The new Hampton Inn & Suites Grand Rapids Downtown is a stylish option and well-situated, just a 10-minute walk from the downtown attractions.
- Close to Van Andel Stadium and downtown, the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown is a good choice for sports fans in town to see a game.
- Slightly east of downtown and 1.5 miles from the Frederik Meijer Gardens is the Country Inn & Suites By Radisson, Grand Rapids East. The hotel has large rooms, a free breakfast, and an indoor pool.
- Other good budget options are near the airport, a 15-minute drive from downtown, and include the Comfort Inn Airport, featuring large rooms and a free hot breakfast, and the Econo Lodge & Suites, offering clean and basic rooms at an attractive price.