Things to Do in Grand Rapids: The Ultimate Pure Michigan Guide

There could be a new saying in Grand Rapids. If you don't like the food/beer/activity options available at the moment, just wait a few minutes—well, maybe a week or two. The country's official “Beer City USA” continues to expand its microbrewery offerings, but it's also a contender in locally-sourced restaurants, craft beverages, art and even recreation. Read on for our complete trip guide and get ready to Experience Grand Rapids!

People walking along the river in downtown Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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As new neighborhoods join the must-visit map, the culture and history of this eclectic and vibrant city grow. The West Side, first connected to downtown via footbridge in 1841, and until recently home to a couple of neighborhood bars and residential homes, now serves up Scandinavian-themed cuisine in gardens planted amid long-vacant spaces next to trendy whiskey bars and tasty Bar-b-que. That's just the beginning as you map out a trip based on these unique city highlights—and much more!

1. Go Brewsading (and beyond)

You can't go to a place dubbed “Beer City USA” for just a beer. You take a “brewsade.” Hit up eight, and you score the prized “Beer City Brewsader” t-shirt,  and while there were more than 30 to choose from in a recent count, there's the requisite eight within walking distance of downtown hotels. Expand your craft beverage destination options with a class on coffee “cupping” or home roasting at Ferris Coffee. Or try a special combination; Long Road Distillers creates whiskey from the mash of a combination of the city's favorite brews. 

2. Visit a Market

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market features more than 20 indoor market vendors, but numbers alone don't capture the energy of the live music, cooking competitions, tastings or offerings you'll experience on any given day. Pick something fresh-caught at Fish Lads, and even have it fast fried, fish and chips style, or try the Neapolitan-inspired pizza at Rocket Pies knowing the cheese is from grass-pastured cows and that the vegetable toppings and charcuterie are locally sourced.

3. 'Trekreate'

Join in the swing dancing at Rosa Parks Circle, rooftop yoga at the 616 Lofts or kayaking on the Grand River. Or download a new app that lets you safely navigate bike routes in Grand Rapids, including a downtown tour that covers west to east. The tour starts and ends at John Ball Zoo, takes in favorites like the Ferris Coffee and Nut Company and New Holland Brewing's, The Knickerbocker. Highlighted stops also let you get your museum fix at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, shop the Fulton Street Market or Easttown Antiques and finish with lunch at Wealthy Street neighborhood favorite, Donkey Taqueria.

4. Find your Art-throb

You might say the whole city fits this fun moniker created by the Experience Grand Rapids staff. ArtPrize, held each fall, is the largest publicly attended art competition on the planet with its some 1,400 annual entries spread over 170 venues within three square miles. Over the years, much of the art—sculptures to murals—have remained behind, in galleries, zoos, restaurants and the sides of buildings. There are so many murals now, there's a self-guided tour of 26. Known in the 19th century as furniture city, the city's creative side has continued to evolve. One must-stop is the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, where 200 pieces are spread over 158 acres. Don't worry. There's a tram tour.

5. Do your part for the planet (and have fun doing so)

Your carbon footprint is oh so light (and view incredible) when you stay at the J.W. Marriott hotel. Also so friendly on the earth they've been gold-rated for sustainability are other stops favored for other reasons—like the art and airy design of the oft-honored Grand Rapids Art Museum. Brewery Vivant, a favorite stop for a creative microbrew, was awarded the first-ever LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design certification for a U.S. Production brewery); it's also housed creatively in a one-time chapel. Or take the Rapid, the local public transit system, which boasts the first green roof of any U.S. Transit system. And that doesn't even touch on food. Long before "farm to fork" became a national catchphrase, Grand Rapids restaurants were sourcing fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products from area farmers and serving them in a way anyone on the planet would rave about.