Our visit to Grand Rapids was hosted by the Grand Rapids Convention & Visitors Bureau. All opinions expressed in this piece are strictly our own and are based on our experiences.
Grand Rapids, Michigan, was named one of the best places for older travelers to visit in 2020 by Expedia Travel Blog. Now is the time for travelers in their 50s and 60s to experience all that Grand Rapids has to offer. When we visited this bustling city, the second largest in Michigan, we discovered a wealth of things to do — and, of course, to eat and drink.
While Grand Rapids is rightfully lauded for its Ale Trail and its reputation as “Beer City USA,” art and culture are also a big deal here, and the city boasts lots of historic, architectural, and natural resources.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Grand Rapids. Here are just a few of the delights waiting for you when you’re ready to explore it, too.
Where To Stay
For a top-notch stay in the heart of everything, we loved the Amway Grand Plaza. Its beautiful lobby, comfy rooms, indoor swimming pool, tennis courts, spa, and fitness room make it easy to enjoy leisure time there. It also happens to be a member of the Historic Hotels of America, having been constructed in 1913 and recognized as one of the finest historic hotels in the country.
Where To Eat
At every turn, Grand Rapids is full of wonderful places to eat. Here are a few of our favorites.
Try the fantastic Cottage Burger at the Cottage Bar. It’s served on a dark rye bun and topped with green olives, cheese, bacon, and a special hickory mayonnaise.
Martha’s Pizza, Nantucket Baking Company, and Martha’s Vineyard form a neighborhood corner of foodie delights. Martha’s pizzas boast unique ingredients. Try the Fairhaven, a veggie pie with fresh mushrooms, onions, red peppers, Kalamata olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. Sit outside or grab a slice on the go.
Schnitz Deli offers both traditional and unique sandwiches. From variations on the beloved Reuben to Italian hoagies and Philly cheesesteaks, Schnitz will satisfy your sandwich craving.
A fun place to eat, drink, and stroll is Cherry Street. You’ll find plenty of unique boutiques, shops, and restaurants and bars.
We enjoyed the variety of choices on the menu at The Green Well. You can nosh on small bites or order a full meal. Brazilian, Indian, Cuban, German, Mediterranean, and vegetarian meals are all on the menu.
If you feel like a little something sweet, hop across the street to Le Bon Macaron for the delicious little French treats with unique flavors like cassis and yuzu as well as classic flavors.
Beer City Ale Trail
It’s fair to say that Grand Rapids is a beer lover’s dream. The Beer City Ale Trail features more than 80 breweries, including Brewery Vivant, which is housed in an old chapel on Cherry Street and makes delicious Begian-style brews. Founders Brewing Co. is another popular spot that offers a lively scene as well as great beer.
Grand Rapids Food Trail
If you like the idea of following a trail, there’s also a food trail for “biteseeing” your way through the city. It features dozens of restaurants and wonderful dishes for every taste.
If you want to enjoy Grand Rapids like a local, be sure to check out some of the city’s wonderful food trucks. The trucks gather at numerous events. This is just one more way to dive into Grand Rapids’s food scene and have a great time.
Downtown Market Grand Rapids
To combine eating, shopping, sightseeing, and fun, head over to the Downtown Market Grand Rapids. You can experience restaurants, artisan food shops, cooking classes, rooftop greenhouses, and special events all in one place. Go hungry, and plan on a few hours to enjoy shopping, eating, and exploring what’s there. You might even find an event or class to attend.
What To Do
Visit Heritage Hill
Heritage Hill is one of the largest historic neighborhoods in the country. Architecture buffs will enjoy the many different styles of homes, including Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Greek Revival. There’s a Prairie-style house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Meyer May House, complete with original and reproduction furnishings. Tours of this and other homes and gardens are worth taking to explore this beautiful and historically significant district.
Admire The Art At The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Popular with visitors from around the world, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is one of the most important sculpture and botanic venues in the country.
More than 200 sculptures grace the permanent collection and occupy the 158-acre main campus. Works by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, Edgar Degas, and Auguste Rodin intermingle with works by modern and emerging sculptors. Special exhibits have featured works by Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Ai Weiwei, and Claes Oldenberg.
The Meijer Gardens also houses Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory as well as indoor and outdoor gardens, nature trails, and a boardwalk.
Explore The Grand Rapids Public Museum
Founded in 1854, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is one of the oldest history museums in the nation. Collections include items as varied as beer paraphernalia, carpet sweepers, advertising, and American Civil War weapons. In addition to historic, cultural, and scientific items, the museum has a 1928 Spillman Carousel with a Wurlitzer Band Organ.
The building also houses the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, which offers immersive shows with surround sound and advanced projection technology.
There’s plenty of variety to encourage exploration, supporting the museum’s recommendation to “be curious.”
Stop By Rosa Parks Circle
Set in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, this public plaza features a bronze statue by renowned artist Ed Dwight of a steadfast Rosa Parks standing in front of the iconic bus seat.
Rosa Parks Circle is a multipurpose park that gets a lot of use all year round. In the summer, there are concerts, festivals, and special events. Dancers will enjoy the events hosted by the Grand Rapids Original Swing Society. In the winter, the plaza is converted into an ice skating rink. Locals and visitors of all ages will enjoy a chance to glide across the ice.
Visit The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
Grand Rapids is home to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, the presidential museum and burial site of President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty Ford. President Ford was the first to separate the two major functions of presidential libraries. The library is located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan, his alma mater. The museum is in Grand Rapids, his former congressional district.
The museum holds 20,000 artifacts from the president’s life and career. There is also a full-scale replica of the Oval Office, furnished as it was during his presidency. Special exhibits explore the 1976 Bicentennial and Mrs. Ford’s role, activities, and interests during her husband’s presidential term. History buffs will enjoy numerous other exhibits, including a holographic tour of the White House. You can learn what a day in the Oval Office was like and get the lowdown on Watergate through presentations, galleries, and a display of the burglary tools used for the break-in. There’s also a section of the Berlin Wall in the museum’s lobby.
Appreciate The Art
Grand Rapids is home to a huge community of art lovers. There are several museums and galleries beloved by the community.
The Grand Rapids Art Museum has collections that range from Renaissance art to modern art and holds many notable works by Andy Warhol and Richard Diebenkorn.
The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts offers exhibitions, events, movies, and public art that encourage innovation, exploration, and dialogue around issues of community, freedom, artistic expression, and other topics of interest.
The Center Art Gallery is a large exhibition space featuring rotating exhibits, including major works on loan and art by locals, educators, and students.
The ultimate art experience in Grand Rapids is ArtPrize. This unique art competition and exhibition event takes place for more than two weeks every fall. It is free and open to the public, who can participate by viewing the entries, chatting with artists, and casting their votes. Anyone can submit their work, and there are prizes for jury-judged as well as popularly selected works.
The art is located around the city in all kinds of places, like galleries, restaurants, bars, museums, public parks, bridges, vacant storefronts, and office spaces. The goal of ArtPrize is to encourage just about everyone to explore the possibilities of art. This event attracts some 500,000 visitors, and we enjoyed exploring both the creative work and the many different venues at the same time.