May 19, 2018

My Grand Rapids Bucket List

Grand Rapids, Mich., has been on my radar for some time because of it’s thriving craft beer scene (it’s not called Beer City USA for nothin’). But as a mom planning a family vacation to the city this summer, my dream itinerary for the Grand Rapids has changed (though I will be ordering local beer when I’m there). This is the first stop in an epic Michigan road trip – and you bet there is a Michigan Bucket List for it.

So I’ve been thinking of all the things we’d do in Grand Rapids if time and money were endless: We’d eat like kings, visit some world-class museums, and definitely have some outdoor adventures (zip lines, dune buggies, and canoeing are all possibilities). There’s a good reason why New York Times named Grand Rapids one of the 52 Places To Go To In 2016. Read on for more of my Grand Rapids bucket list:

bucket list of things to do in Grand Rapids

Eat all the food – If you’ve read any of my bucket lists, you know food plays a big part. And Grand Rapids has an amazing food scene. I wish I could eat at all the places that caught my eye: The Electric Cheetah (which I found on this great Grand Rapids foodie list); Licari’s Sicilian Pizza Kitchen (which apparently was recognized as the state’s best pizza at one point and they rubbed elbows with my man, Bobby Flay). And here’s a burger for all to try: The peanut butter and jelly burger at Grand Rapids Brewing Co. (at least one person says it’s one of the state’s best).

Go old-school with lunchYesterdog is a Grand Rapids institution since 1976 serving up tasty hot dogs in what sounds to me like a very eclectic, quirky setting. The classic Yesterdog is topped with chili, onion, mustard, pickles and ketchup.

Yesterdog is a classic restaurant in Grand Rapids, Mich. You might recognize it from “American Pie.” Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

See why it’s called Beer City – I love sampling local brews while on vacation, but going to a brewery can be dicey with kids. There are more than 40 local brewers in Grand Rapids (hence the name Beer City, USA), and luckily, I stumbled across this list of family-friendly breweries in Grand Rapids! Both Founders Brewing Co. and Harmony Brewing Co. sound like places spacious enough, and friendly enough (Harmony haves books and games), for us to visit while on vacation. Founders has been ranked among the best IN THE WORLD. By the way, there are a TON of brewery tours in Grand Rapids. Look over this list of tours at Experience Grand Rapids. Brewery tours aren’t something I’d do with my kids, but I’m putting it on your radar in case you’re traveling without kids.

Grand Rapids, Mich., is known as Beer City USA. One of the breweries in Grand Rapids, Founders Brewing Co., is known to be welcoming to families. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Eat Somewhere Special – I’d love to try the The Cellar Private Chef’s Table Experience at Noto’s Old World Italian Dining, with farm-to-table Italian food paired with Italian wines. Yum. I fully admit this will never happen if we’re vacationing with young kids. However, a mom can dream. Another restaurant that stands out simply because the building is unforgettable is Chez Olga. I’ve never seen anything like it. And since its Caribbean fare was recommended on Chowhound, I kinda really want to dine there.

Update: We made it to Chez Olga! See the enchanting exterior of the restaurant in this family-friendly Grand Rapids itinerary post.

Lena Meijer Children’s Garden (located in Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park) – No doubt my kids will never want to leave this space. I think the Great Lakes Garden alone will keep my kids entertained for an hour, but then there’s also the Rock Quarry and Treehouse Village and so many other things to see there. Obviously, beyond the children’s garden, there would be a ton more to see. 

The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is home to Lena Meijer Children’s Garden. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Happy Cat Yoga – Yoga with cats is a thing, and I’ve found it in Grand Rapids at the Happy Cat Cafe (the city’s first cat cafe). I don’t think I can get my husband on board with taking the whole family to it (and it probably isn’t even going on while we’re there), but a cat lover can dream.

Grand Rapids Public Museum – The 1928 Spillman Carousel is reason enough to bring my kids here, but the entire museum looks pretty interesting. There are three stories of exhibits to see there. 

The 1928 Spillman Carousel inside Grand Rapids Public Museum. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Update: We went to the Grand Rapids Public Museum and, yes, we rode the carousel. However, it was not even close to the coolest thing we saw there. Read my post about this amazing museum here.

John Ball Park Zoo – This looks like a fun zoo with experiences taking you beyond expectations. My whole family would love doing the zip line or ropes course, or have a ride on the funicular. There are animal encounters, too, that would be a hit, especially for my bird-loving youngest, like feeding budgies and the Realm of Flight Bird Show. 

You can walk in the tree canopy at John Ball Zoo. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Go on a safari ride at Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park – Located in nearby Alto, this hands-on wildlife park isn’t quite a zoo, but you can expect to see exotic animals and reptiles. The safari ride is included with admission and the only way to see larger herds of animals. 

See a show – I love checking theater listings before visiting a new city. The Grand Rapids Civic Theatre has a fantastic lineup, but unfortunately, no shows are on stage while we’re there. We will just miss catching “Shrek The Musical” there! 

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum – Given my day job, you bet I love visiting children’s museums wherever we go on vacation. My kids do, too! Here’s the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum website.

Standing inside a bubble at Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Stay somewhere historic WITH a pool – I love hotels with unique architecture and history, but they often don’t have the amenities that traveling with kids requires (AKA, a pool). But check out the gorgeous Amway Grand Plaza, which has a pool, folks. I also like its location and proximity to a lot of things on this list. My kids are going to love the place.

Related post: Staying at the Amway Grand Plaza With Kids.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum – I feel like since his birth place is in Omaha, maybe we ought to visit his museum, right? The fascinating Grand Rapids Fish Ladder is within walking distance from Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, so maybe I can kill two birds with one stone in that visit.

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is in Grand Rapids, Mich. Fun fact: Gerald Ford’s birthplace is in Omaha. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Catch THE festival – Alas, this will have to stay on my bucket list for another visit. You can’t read about Grand Rapids without reading about ArtPrize. This is a huge festival in Grand Rapids starting in September and running for a few weeks – and it’s FREE.

Beach! – Grand Rapids is near some gorgeous beaches, including Oval Beach in Saugatuck, which is ranked one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Condé Nast Traveler and one of the top two freshwater beaches in the USA by National Geographic Traveler. A little closer is Millennium Park, which has a beach and a splash pad…say no more.

Grand Rapids is near beautiful beaches, including this one along Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Get out in nature – Looks like there are a variety of places to hike with kids even within the city. The Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve has trails and a butterfly home that would be pretty to see. Another option is the Blandford Nature Center near the zoo. Look for more kid-friendly trails here.

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Need more ideas? There’s so much more to see in Grand Rapids! Start at Experience Grand Rapids.

Then read up on our two-day adventure in Grand Rapids turned out – there were ziplines, a ropes course, soaring eagles, and one incredible hotel!

If Grand Rapids isn’t your only stop in Michigan, check out this Pinterest board with Michigan Road Trip ideas for families:

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Comments

  1. Looks like a great trip! We’ll have to remember that as an option for our next getaway!

  2. I love traveling to Michigan but have yet to visit Grand Rapids. It’s on my list though! Looks like there is so much to do there.

    • Thanks, Alicia! Where are your favorite places in Michigan? I’m planning a road trip through the state this summer, so I’ll take any recommendations you have!

  3. I didn’t realise the beach at Saugatuck was ranked one of the best beaches in the world! I’m heading to Silver Lake this summer, I might have to swing by and take a look!

  4. Grand Rapids is fun! We were just here and did enjoy the Public Museum. Amway Grand Plaza is beautiful. (Don’t forget to check out the rest of the hotel or ask for a self-guided tour sheet. Beautiful details.) We definitely need to come back and check out the rest of the city.

    BUT, I highly recommend visiting their Public Market. It’s so much fun! Plus they have Love’s Ice Cream and Sweetie Pies. So yum!!

  5. I grew up in Grand Rapids and love that it has gotten so much cooler than I ever remembered (oh teenage years!) I can’t wait to take my kids back to some of these places when we visit next time.

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