Have a grand summer getaway in this Michigan city

Ah-Nab-Awen Park --
Ah-Nab-Awen Park -- Photo Credit: Ideology
Apr 22, 2024

Breathe in and chill out on a getaway to Grand Rapids this summer where friendly faces, celebrated craft beverages and an impressive arts scene await.  

Tucked inland on Michigan’s west side, the state's second-largest city pairs big-city conveniences with small-town charm. It’s also easy to get to, either by car (less than a three-hour drive from Detroit or Chicago) or by flying into the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, with nonstop flights from around the country (Atlanta, New York and Phoenix, to name a few).  

Ah-Nab-Awen Park -- Photo credit: Ideology

So if you don’t yet have any “grand” plans for your summer, read on for our tips to make the most of a getaway in Grand Rapids.

Take in an eye-catching arts and culture scene  

Grand Rapids is a haven for art creators and admirers. Ingrained in the culture of the city, you'll find art just about everywhere you look. The city's art scene shines brightest during ArtPrize (Sept. 13–28), a late-summer/early-fall annual event in its 15th year when thousands of works of art from artists around the world are displayed throughout town in galleries, storefronts, parks, breweries and more. Monetary prizes are awarded to artists through popular and juried voting. 

"Tin man" by Bill Secunda, ArtPrize 2021

For everyday arts viewing, the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) is located downtown and features changing exhibits throughout the year. The quaint space offers an ideal setting for a relaxing and introspective afternoon soaking in the artwork. Enjoy free admission on their Meijer Free Tuesdays (12–5 p.m.) and Thursday Nights (5–8 p.m.) Right across the street is Madcap Coffee, a Grand Rapids original and ideal stop for an afternoon pick-me-up.

Just a few minutes' walk from the GRAM is the Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives (GRAAMA). The intimate museum honors the lives and culture of local African Americans with displays of art, memorabilia and recorded oral histories. Across the river you'll find the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which covers a wide range of topics. Some of the museum's mainstays include exhibits on the region's lake sturgeon (including two live ones), the city's history as "Furniture City" and a re-creation of what Grand Rapids' streets looked like in 1890.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park -- Photo credit: Alina Albin

East of downtown sits the expansive Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. The campus sits on 158 acres and features over a dozen different horticulture displays, like a tropical conservatory, a carnivorous plant house and an arid garden with plants adapted to survive in some of the world's driest environments. Throughout the campus there are over 200 vivid and thought-provoking sculptures. The Sculpture Park encompasses 50 of the works of art in a concentrated area. From June through September, the Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts at Meijer Gardens is hosted at the Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater. Enjoy a pleasant Midwest summer evening while listening to live performances from a lineup of musicians from all genres and generations. This year's lineup includes artists like Bonnie Raitt, Boyz II Men and Jason Mraz. Seating is first-come, first-served on the terraced lawn, and low-back chairs and blankets are welcomed. 

If the airport name wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the 38th U.S. president was raised in Grand Rapids. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum houses about 19,000 artifacts, including displays of materials from the 1976 presidential election, America's Bicentennial and dresses worn by First Lady Betty Ford. President Ford and First Lady Betty Ford are buried on the museum's grounds. 

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum -- Photo credit: Samantha Denman

For some family fun and hands-on learning, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum has you covered. Children can create bubbles as big as they are, clean teeth with a giant toothbrush at the kids-sized dental office and observe bees building a honeycomb. For more educational fun for the family, head to the John Ball Zoo to see animals like African lions, pygmy hippos, red pandas and more. 

The downtown-area museums are all accessible via the free Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH). (Travelzoo Tip: If you plan on visiting many Grand Rapids attractions, consider purchasing the Culture Pass GR to save on admission.)

Sip and savor in Beer City, USA 

The city’s creative streak extends to a robust craft beverage scene. Grand Rapids took on the title of "Beer City, USA" after winning an online poll about a decade ago, and most recently it took first place as the Best Beer City in USA Today's Readers' Choice 2024. 

The area is home to over 40 breweries, including the nationally recognized Founders Brewing Co. Pop into their taproom to try some of their staples like the All Day IPA or sample one of their experimental, taproom-exclusive brews. Buy tickets for their 21-and-older guided brewery tour to learn more about the facility and the company and to enjoy some samples.

Founders Brewery -- Photo credit: Alina Albin

Brewery Vivant is uniquely set inside a former funeral chapel about a mile from downtown in the East Hills neighborhood. Under the glow of stained glass, snack on dishes like duck nachos and BBQ brisket hash from a rotating menu and try brews including a Michigan honey ale called Contemplation and Farmhand, a farmhouse ale. Specializing in English pub ales, Brass Ring Brewing will transport you across the pond with cuisine including shepherd's pie and bangers and mash. Track your brewery visits with the Beer City Brewsader app. Check into eight different breweries and you'll be eligible to receive a commemorative Brewsader T-shirt. 

Designated refreshment areas are set up in four areas of Grand Rapids. You can purchase beverages from participating businesses and carry them with you on the go within the area (perfect for a sunny, summer day). One participant is the Arktos Meadery. As the name suggests, this establishment hosts a menu of different meads (an alcoholic drink made with fermented honey) like the Queen Bee, an oak-aged sack mead and the Honey Red, a mead made with grapes.

There are plenty of nonalcoholic beverage options around town, including Sip Coffee and Cocktails' spirit-free concoctions. Debrief the day and start the evening with the blueberry paloma or strawberry hibiscus alongside their spicy feta dip. For more inspiration, check out the Flights of Flavor digital pass. When you order a suggested flight from participating businesses, you can earn points to either redeem for merchandise or donate to charity.

House of Wine -- Photo credit: Samantha Denman

Michiganders take full advantage of pleasant weather to dine alfresco, and Grand Rapids is no exception with countless outdoor dining options. Linear Restaurant offers fresh American cuisine and a patio with views of the river, and House of Wine pairs a variety of vino and charcuterie boards with open-air seating.

For a taste of just about anything, head to the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, where there are so many options you could spend a whole day eating your way through the market. Pickup a caffeinated beverage at Squibb Coffee Bar; delight in a gyro from Mediterranean-inspired Cafe de Miro for lunch; choose from a variety of rolls and sashimi at the Sushi Market; and end on a sweet note with a scoop from Love's Ice Cream & Chocolate.

Take a day trip to the freshwater coast  

Grand Rapids is an ideal launching point for a day trip to one of the many Lake Michigan beach towns—there are over 20 to choose from that are within an hour drive of downtown. P. J. Hoffmaster State Park is about 40 miles northwest of the city in Muskegon. The park is home to three miles of shoreline, 10 miles of trails and a popular dune climb with panoramic views at the top. Oval Beach in Saugatuck is set southwest of the city and beloved by locals and out-of-towners alike. Stretch out on the sprawling, soft sand and enjoy epic sunsets over the water.

P. J. Hoffmaster State Park -- Photo credit: Experience Grand Rapids

If you don't have time to make it out to the lakeshore, Millennium Park is just minutes west of town, situated along the Grand River on over 1,400 acres. Walk or bike over 18 miles of trails; rent a paddle boat, kayak, canoe or paddle-board to cruise the water in summer; or soak up the sun on the beach. Kids will love the park's splashpad, complete with sprayers, buckets and splashers—providing perhaps one of the most fun ways to cool off from the heat.

Millennium Park -- Photo credit: Nick Irwin

Keep the vacation vibes going with a round of golf. There's plenty to choose from within an hour's drive of town, but you don't even have to go that far. Less than three miles west of city center is Mines Golf Club. The course is located on part of the area's old gypsum mines (hence its name), complete with 18 holes and a practice facility. Find affordable prices, especially Mondays through Thursdays when daily rates start at $34 for 9 holes.

The Pilgrim's Run Golf Club course is built on 400 acres, offering a secluded experience with natural beauty that looks akin to Northern Michigan (with the convenience of being 30 miles north of Grand Rapids). It's known for its upscale facilities and has been recognized by Golf Digest as one of the best in the state.

Ready to go? Start planning your trip to Grand Rapids with these accommodation options.  

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