Grand Rapids, in western Lower Michigan, was the birthplace of Gerald Ford, 38th President of the United States. Some of the top tourist attractions include the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, which features 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 some fun family attractions, including the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and the John Ball Zoo. No matter the time of year there are plenty of things to do.
1 Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park offer indoor and outdoor spaces that can be used all year round. The outdoor gardens showcase flowers and tranquil green spaces in different garden styles. Outdoor sculptures are located in the beautiful natural landscape, backed by trees and waterways, with winding paths. The five-story Lena Meijer Conservatory offers a tropical setting with exotic plants from all over the world. Interior art galleries feature bronze statues by internationally renowned artists.
Adres: 1000 East Beltline NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.meijergardens.org
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2 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 Prairie style house that was gradually modified and expanded over the years. The house was later purchased and painstakingly restored to its original form after two years of research. Today the building is open to the public free of charge, complete with original and reproduction materials. Visitors can also admire the 108 windows and skylights, products of Wright’s love of using stained glass. There is also a film that details the history and restoration of the property, including the grounds, which sit today as they did when the house was first built.
Address: 450 Madison Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: meyermayhouse.steelcase.com
3 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, such as his Eagle Scout memorabilia and college football uniform. Other exhibits include items and information related to Ford’s political career, from his articles from the 1976 presidential election to gifts given to him at his office. There are also exhibits dedicated to First Lady Betty Ford, as well as their children. The museum also features temporary exhibits from the Presidential Library System, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Archives and hosts various educational programs and community events.
Adres: 303 Pearl Street, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov
4 Kindermuseum Grand Rapids
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum offers the city’s youngest visitors a chance to explore, learn and play. One of the most popular areas is ‘Little Grand Rapids’ where they can try being an adult in their own little town, complete with a bank; supermarket; 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 an area where they can make as much noise as they want while experimenting with unique musical instruments. The museum organizes daily programs, which are included in the admission, including creative activities such as art and costume making, storytelling and other activities.
Adres: 11 Sheldon Avenue NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.grcm.org
5 Grand Rapids Public Museum
The museum offers a variety of exhibits related to the people and history of Michigan. Visitors can stroll a Grand Rapids street that has been reconstructed with storefronts appropriate to the era of the 1890s. A working 1928 Spillman carousel is available for tours, and visitors can tour recreated parts of a working early furniture factory of the 20th century walking. Displays and artifacts of the Anishinabek people, the American Indians of West Michigan, are also on display.
Adres: 272 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.grpm.org
6 Grand Rapids Art Museum
Located in a LEED Gold Certified green building downtown, the Grand Rapids Art Museum is home to a diverse and growing collection. The permanent collections include more than 6,000 works, 19th and 20th century prints, paintings, photographs and sculptures. Galleries also contain examples of decorative arts and modern art and design. Additional galleries include both permanent and borrowed collections that focus on different themes, and the museum has a new series of exhibits highlighting contemporary Michigan artists. The museum also offers an extensive research library and special archives, which house the most delicate photographs, drawings and prints.
Adres: 101 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.artmuseumgr.org
7 Blandford Nature Center
Blandford Nature Center is set in 143 hectares of wooded areas, fields, streams and ponds. The nature center focuses on promoting stewardship through education about the environment and natural systems. The center operates as a wildlife rescue that cares for injured animals, some of which have become permanent residents after injuries that prevented them from surviving in the wild. These animals are known as “nature ambassadors” and participate in presentations to educate the public. The center offers many programs for both adults and children that allow close interaction with nature and animal life. Also on-site is the Blandford Farm, with community gardens and an opportunity for children to learn about farming and sustainable agriculture.
Adres: 1715 Hillburn Ave NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.blandfordnaturecenter.org
8 John Ball Zoo
John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids is home to animals from all over the world. One of the best features is the wide range of 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 as they learn about their daily needs, and a truly hands-on experience with the animal ambassadors where you can learn to interact with a variety of small animals, including reptiles, birds and mammals. Other activities include the opportunity to try your hand at zookeeping, ride a camel or groom a goat at Red’s Hobby Farm.
Adres: 1300 W Fulton Street, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.jbzoo.org
9 Image of the fish ladder
This eco-friendly five-step ladder was built by local artist Joseph Kinnebrew to help salmon jump over a six-foot high dam to reach spawning grounds while providing a unique piece of artwork for the public to enjoy. It is conveniently located on a walking area along the Grand River for easy viewing. Tourists can watch migrating trout, steelhead and salmon move upstream, an activity fascinating for all ages.
Adres: 560 Front Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.michigan.org/property/fish-ladder-park
10 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 preserve the neighborhood’s history and prevent the destruction of these beautiful homes, and it has been a recognized historic district ever since. The association offers a self-guided walking tour of the area with 37 of the best homes. Included in the many styles are examples of Italianate, Georgian Revival, Gothic Revival, Federal, Queen Anne, Tudor and Chateau-style architecture, as well as several buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Official site: www.heritagehillweb.org
11 Downtown Market Grand Rapids
A day of sightseeing in Grand Rapids isn’t complete without a visit to the Downtown Market. It’s a foodie’s paradise, with plenty of choices for a quick bite, a full meal, tasty treat or specialty ingredients to take home and create your own gourmet meals. Heartwarming options include Neapolitan-style pizza, authentic Detroit BBQ, a Vietnamese restaurant, traditional Mexican street food, and a fish market with a raw bar and daily menu. Those in need of 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 find the freshest meats and produce, as well as uncommon staples,
Adres: 435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Official site: www.downtownmarketgr.com
Where to Stay in Grand Rapids for Sightseeing
To get a good feel for this college town and to be conveniently within easy reach of major attractions, such as the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the Children’s Museum, it is best to find accommodations in the city center. Those in town for a trade show may consider staying near the DeVos Place Convention Center, which is connected by skyway to some of the larger downtown hotels. Below are some highly rated hotels in good locations:
- Luxury Hotels: The propulsive JW Marriott Grand Rapids is the city’s newest luxury hotel, featuring modern rooms with commanding city views, and it’s easily accessible via Skyway to the DeVos Place Convention Center. The iconic Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton, offers modern rooms and five restaurants in a beautifully restored 1920s hotel. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a short walk away. Also in the heart of the action is the Courtyard Grand Rapids Downtown, with an indoor pool, seasonal sports deck, and skywalk access to the DeVos Place Convention Center and other downtown buildings.
- Mid-range hotels: Just southwest of downtown is the Homewood Suites by Hilton. Ideal for families or long-stay guests, the hotel offers large rooms with a kitchen and separate lounge area. The new Hampton Inn & Suites is a stylish option and well located, just a 10-minute walk from downtown attractions. Located close to Van Andel Stadium and the city center, the Holiday Inn is a good choice for sports fans in town to see a game.
- Budget Hotels: The Country Inn & Suites By Carlson is located just east of the center and 2.5 km from the Frederik Meijer Gardens. The hotel has large rooms, free breakfast and an indoor pool. Other good budget options are near the airport, a fifteen-minute drive from downtown, and include the Comfort Inn, with large rooms and free hot breakfast, and the Econo Lodge & Suites offering clean and simple rooms at an attractive price.