The Perfect Grand Rapids Travel Guide for a First Time Visitor

"I imagine Grand Rapids is lovely in any season, but I found it to be especially charming when I visited in the fall."

The changing leaves, walkable streets, and delicious restaurants make it the perfect destination for a quick weekend getaway. Grand Rapids has a ton of culture, art, breweries and fun things to do while you’re visiting. Want to know more? Check out this Grand Rapids travel guide, from "Lake Shore Lady" Lauren Nolan, full of fun things to do in Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids
Downtown Grand Rapids | Photo Courtesy of Gary Syrba Small

Where to Stay
Amway Grand Plaza
As first timers in Grand Rapids, it was especially fun to stay in the historic Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. Right off the bat, it is decorated absolutely beautifully, especially the lobby area when you first walk in. I personally loved that our room had a view of Grand River; It was so nice to wake up to each day, and a great way to get our bearings in a new city. And last but not least, the Amway Grand Plaza is located right in the heart of everything, so you can walk to a lot of attractions and activities easily.
View of the Amway Grand Plaza
View of the Amway Grand Plaza | Photo Courtesy of Lauren Nolan

What to Eat
Before I chat about our meals, I just have to say that the food scene in Grand Rapids is impressive. I asked for recommendations from locals and people who used to live there and that certainly paid off for us. I’m still dreaming about some of the things we ate!

Butcher’s Union
Our first night in town, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice Old Fashioned, which we heard the best place to do that is Butcher’s Union! The whole vibe of this place is inviting. It’s a little modern meets Mad Men, with its stellar cocktails, gorgeous bar and red leather booths. Not only were the drinks up to par, but the food was outstanding. I had the Butter Roasted Salmon and it literally melted in my mouth. Highly recommend.
Marie Catrib’s
This brightly colored spot had a creative brunch menu, artwork on the walls and a wait list the whole time we were there. After tasting the food, we totally understood the popularity. I got the Huevos Rancheros and Adam got the Baker’s Bowl. While I loved my dish, the Baker’s Bowl was the real star. How smart is it to put eggs in a pastry bowl?! Literally genius!
Marie Catrib's Breakfast
Breakfast at Marie Catrib's | Photo Courtesy of Lauren Nolan
If you love ice cream, you should definitely try Love’s. If you are vegan or lactose-intolerant, this is an absolute MUST. All you really need to know is that Love’s is located right inside Downtown Market and they have an amazing lineup of flavors. But beyond that, all of their ice creams are made from grass-fed organic milk and all of their gelatos are dairy free. I’m a huge fan of coconut milk, so the Amaretto Cherry Gelato was literally heaven for me. So creamy and flavorful, I wish I could have taken a pint home!
loves ice cream
Love Ice Cream's Amaretto Cherry Gelato | Photo Courtesy of Lauren Nolan
This was recommended over and over again with rave reviews, and now I understand why. The decor inside is fun and vibrant, and the patio is begging for groups of friends and rounds of margaritas! We particularly loved their Guava Margarita, Queso, Chicken Tacos Ceviche and Churros.
donkey taqueria
Donkey Taqueria | Photo Courtesy of Lauren Nolan
Madcap Coffee
This coffee shop is sleek and minimalist. Who needs bells and whistles when you have tons of natural light, exposed brick walls and amazing coffee? I happily got myself an iced latte and it did not disappoint.
madcap coffee
Iced Latte from MadCap Coffe | Photo Courtesy of Lauren Nolan
What to Do
Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery
Once we decided to go on this trip in the fall, I knew we had to go apple picking! Luckily, Robinette’s is super close to downtown Grand Rapids and is the perfect place to get that quintessential fall experience. After picking some Michigan apples yourself, you can also go inside for fresh apple cider, apple butter, apple pastries… they’ve got it all!
Apple picking at Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery | Photo Courtesy of Lauren Nolan
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
Whether you’re a history buff or not, this museum is a great place to explore when you’re in town. They have a replica of the Oval Office, inspiring quotes and tons of memorabilia from Ford’s presidency. Plus, it’s located right along Grand  River, so the walk to and from is lovely on a nice day.
gerald r ford museum
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum | Photo Courtesy of Lauren Nolan
Founders Brewing Co.
Everyone in Grand Rapids is incredibly proud of their breweries, especially Founders. This brewery has outdoor patio seating, as well as a lively interior, even in the middle of the day! If you love craft beer, don’t miss this one.
Founders Brewing Co. | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan
If you have the opportunity to visit Grand Rapids during ArtPrize, do it! ArtPrize is an International Art Competition that takes place every fall in Grand Rapids. Any artist from anywhere in the world can submit their work to be exhibited throughout downtown Grand Rapids. We’re talking inside museums, parks, storefronts, bridges and more. Once all of the artwork is displayed, the community and visitors to the city can not only view the submissions but vote for their favorite. It’s a really neat way to not only get people into the city but also get them excited about art!
ArtPrize 2017 | Photo Courtesy of Lauren Nolan
Downtown Market
Downtown Market is basically a cool food hall mixed with a farmer’s market. Inside, you’ll find grocery items like bread, wine, spices, fresh seafood and more, etc. You’ll also find mini restaurants, places to grab lunch, and that ice cream spot I just gushed about! If you visit in fall during ArtPrize, don’t miss the outdoor section - they have tons of crafts, succulents, and apparel from local artists and vendors. It’s a really unique place to walk around and do a little shopping!
downtown market
Food and fun at The Downtown Market | Photo Courtesy of Lauren Nolan

About the Author: Lauren Nolan, aka Lake Shore Lady, is a lifestyle blogger in Chicago. Lauren loves health & wellness, creating new recipes, and all things girly. In addition to trying new things in the Windy City, she loves to travel and explore other destinations. Say "Hi" over on or on social media!