ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Travel and Places»
  • Visiting North America

What Not to Miss in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Updated on September 6, 2014
The Calder is both a landmark and an artwork
The Calder is both a landmark and an artwork

A Little of the Best of Grand Rapids, Through the Eyes of a Local Tourist.

I have noticed that vacationers look at a city much differently than the locals do. Tourists take delight in all the landmarks, the restaurants, the museums, the parks and the night life. Most locals don't seem to do this. They zip around going from home to work to school and to the grocery store, not even delving into the wonderful things their home city has to offer.

But I'm a bit odd. I like to explore and enjoy right where I am, wherever that is. Right now, it's Grand Rapids, Michigan.So I'd like to share a bit about Grand Rapids from the viewpoint of a tourist local.

Millennium Park

Millennium Beach Splashpad, photo by Rich Anderson, used with permission
Millennium Beach Splashpad, photo by Rich Anderson, used with permission

Currently around 200 acres, Millennium Park is Grand Rapids largest public park. The Millennium Park is at the nexus of Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Walker and Grandville and will eventually include about 1500 acres of green space.

There is no charge to enter Millennium Park proper and it has wonderful trails and a modern playground. I enjoy visiting Millennium Park in warm weather, particularly Millennium Beach, which has a separate entrance and a $3 entry fee. My favorite part of Millennium Park has to be the Splashpad, a water playground at Millennium Beach. The water is cold but it’s a lot of fun to operate the assorted water gadgets and to have water wars with the water cannons, which is what two of the boys in the photo are doing.

I also really enjoy the kayak, canoe, rowboat, and paddle boat rentals which are all reasonably priced.

Millennium Park

1415 Maynard Avenue SW

Grand Rapids, MI 49534

http://www.millennium-park.org/

John Ball Zoo

Lions at the John Ball Zoo, photo by Rich T. Anderson
Lions at the John Ball Zoo, photo by Rich T. Anderson

Less than a mile from downtown Grand Rapids, John Ball Zoo is located in 140 acre John Ball Park and has about 2000 animals in its exhibits. Many of the old exhibits have been changed into larger, more comfortable animal habitats. For instance, the lions now have a large grassy enclosure during the warm months.

John Ball Zoo

1300 West Fulton Street

Grand Rapids, MI 49504-6100

John Ball Zoo Chimpanzee Exhibit

show route and directions
A markerJohn Ball Zoo -
1300 West Fulton Street ,Grand Rapids, MI
get directions

B markerMillennium Park -
1415 Maynard Avenue SW, Grand Rapids, MI
get directions

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

photo by Jeffness, Wikimedia Commons
photo by Jeffness, Wikimedia Commons

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is located on 125 acres in Northeast Grand Rapids. It contains the largest conservatory in the state of Michigan.

My favorite part of Fred Meijer Gardens is the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory which is home to many tropical plants including bamboo, coconut palms, a wide variety of orchids, and too many others to name. It has a lovely pathway through the conservatory which goes over man-made streams and under a man-made waterfall. But the most incredible thing is the butterfly exhibit which finds its home in the conservatory every spring. Thousands of butterflies are released into the entire giant conservatory where they may be seen fluttering around beautiful bronze sculptures and tropical plants.

Attached to the same building as the conservatory is an indoor Victorian garden, a desert plants greenhouse, a seasonal plants room, and a carnivorous plants exhibit room. The building also houses a changing sculpture exhibit, a gift shop, and a cafe.

Outside, there is a 35 acre sculpture park with sculptures by such world-renowned artists as Rodin, Henry Moore, Sansovino, Jacques Lipchitz, Nina Akamu and Magdalena Abakanowicz. The most well known of those sculptures is the giant "DaVinci Horse", a 24' bronze sculpture by Nina Akamu, added to the gardens in 1999. There are also wonderful trails alongside wetlands and through landscaping.

The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is one Grand Rapids attraction that should not be missed!

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

1000 East Beltline NE

Grand Rapids, MI 49525

http://www.meijergardens.org/

Please note that you are not allowed to take photos inside the gardens except for your personal use. Gorgeous as they may be, don't post your photos of the Gardens online except through social media (facebook, Twitter, etc.) or on completely non-monetized personal webpages. That means no HubPages or the like. That's why the photo I used here is not my own and was taken with special permissions by someone else.

Learn More about the Frederik Meijer Gardens Sculpture Park

Grand Rapids Public Museum

Spillman Carousel in Grand Rapids Public Museum, photo by Rich T. Anderson
Spillman Carousel in Grand Rapids Public Museum, photo by Rich T. Anderson

The Grand Rapids Public Museum is an impressive museum for a city the size of Grand Rapids. It includes the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, a walk-through replica of 1890s Grand Rapids city streets, a permanent diversity exhibit, an exhibit dedicated to the Native American tribes who were the original inhabitants of Grand Rapids, Michigan wildlife habitat displays, Furniture City, and the Spillman Carousel. The museum also features traveling exhibits which change throughout the year.

I love the Spillman Carousel which is in a pavilion that extends over the Grand River for an exciting view.

Grand Rapids Public Museum

272 Pearl Street Northwest

Grand Rapids, MI 49504

(616) 456-3977

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

Cake scupture at UICA, photo by Rich T. Anderson
Cake scupture at UICA, photo by Rich T. Anderson

The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts is Michigan's largest contemporary arts center. The UICA includes five galleries that host exhibits from local, regional, national, and international artists. The UICA also offers assorted classes including an arts job training program for young people.

The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts also hosts a lovely theater in which art-house films get a Grand Rapids venue.

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

41 Sheldon Boulevard SE

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

(616) 454-7000

Inside the UICA

The Ten Best Restaurants in Grand Rapids, Michigan - The Best Eats Around Town!

Working from my preferences and those of my local friends, I've created this list of the ten restaurants in Grand Rapids that we think are the best.

  • Marie Catrib's Moderately priced soups, sandwiches, and Mediterranean dishes. Their "Adult Grilled Cheese" sandwich is heavenly!

    1001 Lake Dr SE
    Grand Rapids, MI
    (616) 454-4020

    Moderately priced soups, sandwiches, and Mediterranean dishes. Their "Adult Grilled Cheese" sandwich is heavenly!

  • San Chez A Tapas Bistro

    38 Fulton Street West
    Grand Rapids, MI 49503-2644
    (616) 774-8272

    Dining is tapas style, and usually comes out to about $30 to $40 per person when we go with a group of four or more and split the bill evenly. Their Fritos de Arroz (bacon, shrimp, saffron rice fritters with basil aoli) are something I wake up at night craving. They are that good!

  • The Electric Cheetah 1015 Wealthy Street Southeast Grand Rapids, MI 49506 (616) 451-4779 Fresh, innovative, and moderately priced. Their sweet potato fries are delicious and their "breads and spreads" should not be missed.

  • Wolfgang's

    1530 Wealthy Street Southeast
    Grand Rapids, MI 49506-2719
    (616) 454-5776

    Inexpensive and amazing breakfast food. I haven't ordered anything there that wasn't wonderful.

  • Cherry Deli

    834 Cherry St SE
    Grand Rapids, MI 49506
    (616) 459-6182

    Moderately priced soups, sandwiches, and some deli fare. Fresh, locally grown produce used in season. They have a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options. Their sandwiches are named after Grand Rapids streets and landmarks. I love the Luton sandwich which is served on tomato bread with fresh mozzarella, basil, and ripe tomato slices.

  • Beltline Bar

    16 28th Street Southeast
    Grand Rapids, MI 49548
    (616) 245-0494

    Moderately priced Mexican food with generous portions. I adore the shredded beef Mexican style tacos and the seven layer dip. One friend says they make the best pina coladas in Grand Rapids.

  • Louis Benton Steakhouse

    77 Monroe Center Street Northwest
    Grand Rapids, MI 49503-2904
    (616) 454-7455

    Pricey but high quality food. The aged steaks are obscenely delicious and their creme brulee is superb.

  • Yesterdog

    1505 Wealthy Street Southeast
    Grand Rapids, MI 49506
    (616) 336-0746

    A hot dog restaurant! Cheap eats. I don't like hot dogs but absolutely every other Grand Rapids resident I know is wild about this place. It's considered a local treasure by some.

  • Mikado Sushi Restaurant

    3971 28th Street Southeast
    Grand Rapids, MI 49512-1805
    (616) 285-7666

    Great service and excellent, reasonably priced sushi. They also have great sashimi and soup.

  • Pita House Sami's Gyros

    1450 Wealthy St SE
    Grand Rapids, MI
    (616) 454-1171
    
    3730 28th St SE
    Grand Rapids, MI
    (616) 940-3029
    
    6333 Kalamazoo Ave SE
    Grand Rapids, MI
    (616) 698-8722
    
    134 Monroe Center
    Grand Rapids, MI
    (616) 233-4875

    Four locations in Grand Rapids for moderately priced Mediterranean cuisine. I adore their falafel and kibbe. They also have wonderful Greek fries which are thick-cut french fries drizzled with olive oil and topped with feta cheese and sumac seasoning.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, photo by Museum Staff
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, photo by Museum Staff

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is just what it sounds like, a museum dedicated to the lives and accomplishments of President and Mrs. Ford. The museum also hosts rotating exhibits from other Presidential museums, the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution.

Since Grand Rapids is President Ford's hometown, a visit to GR isn't complete without a visit to his museum.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

303 Pearl Street NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49504-5353

(616) 254-0400

Grand Rapids Street Guide

Rand McNally Grand Rapids Street Guide: Including Grand Haven, Holland, and Muskegon
Rand McNally Grand Rapids Street Guide: Including Grand Haven, Holland, and Muskegon

The Grand Rapids Street Guide will help you find your way around Grand Rapids, even if your GPS is on the fritz.

 

What are Your Favorite Grand Rapids Sights and Activities?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      I would love to visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum because I have a photo of President Ford posing with Dallas Thornton and other members of the Harlem Globetrotters at a White House reception in 1975.Another reason I would like to visit Grand Rapids is because of the notoriety of the Mayweather family of pugilist, epecially the flamboyant Flody "Pretty Boy" Mayweather. Very interesting and educational lens on one of Michigans grand cities!

    • JanetG LM profile image

      JanetG LM 5 years ago

      One of our favorite, FREE things to do when the kids were little was to go to the fish ladder in the fall and watch them struggle up and over. We love Meijer Gardens children's garden too. This is a great lens on GR. I am suggesting it on my Inside West Michigan lens. Thank you.

    • jasminesphotogr profile image

      jasminesphotogr 6 years ago

      This is a very nice lens. I'll have to check some of these places out next time I'm in Grand Rapids. Lensrolling to my Iargo Springs lens.

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 7 years ago

      I am originally from Michigan about 50 miles south of GR. Since I've been gone for many years, much of what you feature here is unfamiliar to me. Wow, it sure has grown since the early 90's. I would love to see Meijer Gardens. I do remember John Ball Zoo though. One of my memories of GR was staying at the Amway Grand, in the original, historical part of it. It was lovely. Is it still there? Sorry I'm rambling, but your lens brought back things forgotten, like Meijer Thrifty Acres! Thanks for the tour.