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A Family Day Out in Grand Rapids - a mini-Tailor-Made Adventure

Family day out in Grand Rapids

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Regardless of this, please be advised that all opinions expressed in this blog post are genuine and authentically my own. 

Author: Barry Pickard

Contents

A colourful street art mural on the side of a buildings wall spotted during a family day out in Grand Rapids

 

Grand Rapids, Michigan, is city that seamlessly blends history, culture, and family-friendly attractions. Nestled along the scenic Grand River, Grand Rapids has a rich past that dates back centuries. From its indigenous roots to European settlement, this vibrant city has evolved into a dynamic hub for art, industry, and outdoor adventures. Join me on the latest post in a series highlighting family days out in US cities.


Large swollen river flowing under a bridge, with large buildings on the riverbanks, seen during a family day out in Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Our family’s journey to Grand Rapids was part of an epic road trip that began in the windy city of Chicago and meandered through the Midwest to Cadiz, Ohio, the birthplace of Hollywood legend Clark Gable. This adventure was not just about the destinations but the stories and memories we created along the way. The travel party consisted of myself, my spirited five-year-old son, and my parents, both young at heart at 79 years old. From the skyscrapers of Chicago to the broad Grand River, and finally to the historical charm of Cadiz, each stop was a chapter in our family’s summer saga, filled with discovery, laughter, and the simple joy of being on the open road together, with the drive from Chicago to Grand Rapids (along the I90/I94/I196), taking just under three hours to complete.



Why Visit Grand Rapids?

 

Grand Rapids boasts a captivating history, with ancient tribes navigating the Grand River, French fur traders establishing posts, and Ottawa villages dotting the landscape. As Grand Rapids developed, it became known as the “Furniture City” due to the 40 furniture companies that operated in the city. Today, remnants of its legacy can be seen in the architecture and design that grace its streets. 



This city isn’t just about history—it’s also a cultural treasure trove. You'll definitely find an abundance of things to do in Grand Rapids Michigan. Museums, art galleries, and iconic landmarks await curious minds. Whether you’re an art enthusiast or a history buff, there’s something here for everyone.

 


Planning an independent trip to Grand Rapids and Michigan?

 

All information in this post is based on my own experience travelling around Grand Rapids, backed by extensive research to bring you everything you need to know to have your own amazing experience.

 

family day out in Grand Rapids

Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting Grand Rapids appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements designing a family day out in Grand Rapids, or indeed, a general tour of Michigan.



A Family Day Out in Grand Rapids


Grand Rapids Public Museum


Our family day out started in the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which is located on the banks of the Grand River in downtown and we found it to be a captivating destination for history enthusiasts and curious minds of all ages. Founded in 1845, the museum holds the distinction of being the oldest museum in Michigan. 


Large museum building with a lawn in front, with a space capsule and a large bell exhibited, all spotted during a family day out in Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids Public Museum

The museum’s permanent exhibits include the Chaffee Planetarium, which hosts captivating celestial shows; the 1928 Spillman Carousel, which allows you to experience a vintage carousel ride; Finny, the museum’s friendly sturgeon mascot, who will introduce you to the Grand River aquatic ecosystem; and a vintage arcade, where you can play classic games from the past – disconcertingly, some of these games were from my childhood, which suggests that I’m older than I look! 


A large and colourful vintage carousel with children riding wooden horses and parents looking on during a family day out in Grand Rapids
Spillman Carousel, Grand Rapids Public Museum


The museum also gives the opportunity to step back in time and explore a recreated streetscape from the late 19th century, as well as exploring the history of furniture manufacturing in the city and celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi) people. 


Skeleton of a large whale suspended from the ceiling, spotted during a family day out in Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids Public Museum
Skeleton of a mamoth, spotted during a family day out in Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids Public Museum


Tailor-Made Top Tip:


Keep an eye on the museum’s calendar for exciting exhibitions and events designed to inspire curiosity. While we were there, we got to discover The Power of Poison, which explored poison’s paradoxical roles in nature, human health and history, literature, and myth.

 

Large, illuminated sign for an exhibition enjoyed during a family day out in Grand Rapids
The Power of Poison, Grand Rapids Public Museum


Indian Burial Mounds at Ah-Nab-Awen Park


As you leave the museum, cross Pearl Street and explore the Indian Burial Mounds at Ah-Nab-Awen Park. The park pays tribute to the Native American tribes that once inhabited the area. The three symbolic mounds at Ah-Nab-Awen Park represent three major tribes that once inhabited the region - the Odawa (Ottawa), Ojibwa (Chippewa) and Potawatomi.

 

Two grass covered mounds with a cement path in between, with tall buildings in the background, spotted during a family day out in Grand Rapids
Ah-Nab-Awen Park

Along the west side of the Grand River, south of Bridge Street, stood forty-six mounds. These burial mounds were revered by the Native American communities, however, as the city developed, the land was sold, and the mounds were eventually levelled during the 1850s to make way for residential and commercial purposes. During this process, artifacts like flint arrowheads and other items were unearthed from nearly every burial mound. These artifacts were collected and sold to museums.

 


The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

 

Grand Rapids was the childhood home of U.S. President Gerald Ford, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a great place to teach the family about democratic citizenship, gain insights into presidential life, and appreciate the impact of leadership.


Plain concrete plaza area in front of a long, low museum buildings, spotted during a family day out in Grand Rapids
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

At the core of the museum is the permanent exhibit, which allows visitors to experience highlights from President and Mrs. Ford’s lives. The exhibit features a diverse range of artifacts, including campaign memorabilia, personal belongings, photographs, documents and gifts received.  You can also step into a meticulously recreated Oval Office, complete with period-appropriate furnishings and decor. 




Tailor-Made Top Tip:

 

President Ford and his wife, Betty, are buried on the grounds of the museum, so make sure not to miss this when you exit the museum.


Memorial wall, with trees behind, spotted during a family day out in Grand Rapids
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

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The Grand River


The Grand River, Michigan’s longest river, flows through Grand Rapids, and has played a vital role throughout history. It was initially used by indigenous communities as a means of transportation and a source of food. Later, during the logging and furniture boom, the river was a major driver of economic activity in the region. 


Large swollen river flowing under a bridge, with large buildings on the riverbanks, seen during a family day out in Grand Rapids
The Grand River

Efforts are underway to restore the natural rapids along the river. Part of the project involves removing aging low-head dams to reintroduce the rapids.

 


Over 200 acres of river edge parks, perfect for running, walking, or biking, have been developed. Unfortunately, during our visit, the river had flooded much of park!

 


Lunch at Cinco De Mayo


On the way to the art museum, we decided to stop and have lunch at one of the many restaurants in downtown Grand Rapids. The colourful and welcoming Cinco De Mayo was our choice of the day. This relaxed and family friendly Mexican restaurant turned out to be an excellent city centre pitstop.



Grand Rapids Art Museum


The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) is a cultural gem with a diverse collection spanning from Renaissance to Modern Art. The expansive lobby area of the museum welcomes you into a series of galleries brimming with exceptional artwork.


Large, concrete building with stairs leading up to glass doors, spotted during a family day out in Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids Art Museum

Although primarily catering to adults, the museum also ensures that its younger visitors are served. The GRAM Summer Art Camp, for example, provides children and teens ages 4 through 15 with the opportunity to experience creativity and innovation. Then there is also the Drop-in Studio, which runs each Saturday from 11 am - 3 pm where you can explore new artmaking techniques and projects. Drop-in studio is free with admission and all skill levels are welcome.



 

Tailor-Made Top Tip:


Check the museum website for current and upcoming exhibitions, some of which will have a family appeal. For example, the Brick by Brick: The Creative Art of LEGO® exhibition recently ran (Nov 4, 2023 — May 19, 2024), allowing kids to immerse themselves in the imaginative world of LEGO® creations.

 


Meyer May House


A short drive from the city centre, the Meyer May House is located in the Heritage Hill neighbourhood of Grand Rapids. This remarkable architectural gem is one of the less well known things to do in Grand Rapids Michigan. The was designed by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It stands as one of Wright’s most completely restored buildings and is considered a fine example of his Prairie School era. The house was commissioned by Meyer S. May, a prominent Grand Rapids clothier, in 1908 and completed in 1909.


Beautiful architecturally designed residential building viewed during a family day out in Grand Rapids
Meyer May House

Although a visit to the Meyer May House wouldn’t necessarily be of interest to younger members of the family, the Heritage Hill neighbourhood has many quirky, interesting looking houses that might catch their interest, with over 60 architectural styles being represented.

 


Tailor-Made Top Tip:


The Meyer May House is open to the public, allowing visitors to experience its architectural brilliance and historical significance. Tours are free, but you should book your reservation online. Tours are only conducted on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. 



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Other Family Attractions


If you stretch your visit out from one day to a weekend trip, there are a number of other things to do in Grand Rapids Michigan. The John Ball Zoo is always a family favourite, which is home to over 2,000 animals. Meanwhile, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is a hands-on learning space which stretches kids imagination and knowledge. Then there is the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which gives the family a great chance to chill out in beautiful surroundings.



Grand Rapids Hotels, Michigan


Grand Rapids has a good range of accommodations, and they tend to be value for money. If you are looking for centrally located hotels, the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown or the Hampton Inn & Suites Grand Rapids Downtown are good options. While the Country Inn & Suites by Radisson is handily located near the Frederik Meijer Gardens.


There is a concentration of hotels near Grand Rapids airport, with the likes of the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Grand Rapids Airport and the Drury Inn & Suites Grand Rapids. If, however, you are looking for a luxury option, you should consider the JW Marriott Grand Rapids.

Click on the underlined weblinks above to review these hotels and make your reservation.




Conclusion


Grand Rapids invites families to embark on a journey through time and imagination. Whether you’re marvelling at ancient artifacts, admiring contemporary art, or simply enjoying the riverside views, this city promises an unforgettable experience. So, pack your curiosity, gather your loved ones, and explore Grand Rapids—the perfect destination for independent travellers seeking history, culture, and lasting memories.


 

Related Blog Posts


If you would like more ideas for family days out in US cities, please view the Tailor-Made Itineraries posts below:

 

 

Comment below and let us know what your favourite Grand Rapids family attraction is.



Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting Grand Rapids appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements designing a family day out in Grand Rapids, or indeed, a general tour of Michigan.



Join me next time on my adventures when we continue our family adventures in Cleveland, Ohio. Tailor-Made Itineraries posts every two weeks, and you can subscribe to the latest blog and newsletter here. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.

 

Barry

 

 

Tailor-Made Itineraries creates one-of-a-kind bespoke self-guided travel itineraries for adventurous and curious travellers.


These self-guided tours deliver a personalised and exciting holiday experience that takes the effort out of trip planning.


Grand Rapids Map


family day out in Grand Rapids

family day out in Grand Rapids

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