Michigan's Gem: Grand Rapids - My Family Travels

The city's rich cultural landscape, different from so much of Michigan, makes it an edutainment playground for families.

Whether you’re a kid or kid at heart, Grand Rapids has a continuous array of events, a spectrum of cultural offerings, and many new ways of having fun. Set in an amazing natural environment along the western coast of Michigan, it was first inhabited it in the early 1700s by Ottawa Indians. On the heels of European trading posts, the city came to be in 1850. Throughout the years, family-friendly Grand Rapids has benefited two-fold from generations of immigrants who brought their talents and traditions, and the many generous philanthropists who have shared their good fortune, contributing to the city’s cultural endeavors.

Indulge Your Taste for Arts and Culture

The Public Museum of Grand Rapids (616/456-3977) is the place to mix family fun and history. An extremely eclectic entertainment/education center, the museum features six permanent exhibitions and each tells a story. Explore Furniture City, which details North America’s first center of furniture manufacturing; Streets of Old Grand Rapids, featuring reproductions of real Grand Rapids 19th century storefronts; Anishinabek, a cultural and historical exhibit of west Michigan’s Native American tribes; and Habitats, which highlights the geography and natural history of the region. Newcomers and Collecting A-Z are two of the newest exhibits at the museum, but just as good as the older one. Also, be sure to catch a gold ring on the exquisite antique carousel.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park (888/957-1580) features Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory, carnivorous plant house, arid and Victorian gardens. Outdoors, the Farm Gardens and the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden are surrounded by extraordinary modern sculpture. Among the works is the 24-foot bronze American Horse, created in homage to Leonardo da Vinci.

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (616/235-4726) where “play is ageless,” inspires young minds with hands on exhibits. Every Wednesday, there is a a creative activity, such as sticker making or storytime, for toddlers from 10-11am, and every Thursday from 5-8pm is Family Night, with activities for everyone. Permanent exhibits include Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles; Funstruction; Bees; Amigo Amphitheater; Mirror Magic; Play Day Café and the wonderful “thingamajigs” gift shop.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (616/254-0400) is where families can gain a deeper insight into history. On August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford, Grand Rapids’ most illustrious native son, was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States. Exhibits feature the President’s early family life, military career, congressional service and Presidential Administration. Keep in mind that this museum is best for older, patient children rather than toddlers.

Other “don’t-miss” family destinations are the Grand Rapids Art Museum (616/831-1001) with collections spanning from Renaissance to modern art, Heritage Hill, a 40-block National Register of Historic Places with over 60 different architectural styles (check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House at 450 Madison Avenue, one of the most complete restorations of a Wright House in existence), and be sure to view an Imax movie at the fun Celebration Cinema


Family-Friendly Lodging and Dining

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel (800-253-3590) an historic four-star property originally built in 1913 that still features the majestic gold-leafed ceiling of the era, in the lobby. The historic section offers rooms reflective of the grandeur of the early 1900s while the Tower rooms offer luxurious furnishing with beautiful views of the Grand River and the city. There’s an indoor swimming pool, fitness center and award-winning restaurant.

Grand Rapids’ dining scene offers everything from contemporary seafood houses, ethnic specialty restaurants and cafes. Some top choices: Kabob’s Caribbean Grill in the B.O.B. (Big Old Building) also features family-fun sing-alongs accompanied with steel drums. San Chez, tapas bistro serves a variety of dishes, from light hors d’oeuvres to hearty paella feasts, limited only by the chefs’ imagination. The adjoining Mezze Café tops the evening with Cabaret shows. Sierra Room, in the heart of Grand Rapids’ entertainment district, serves sumptuous continental cuisine and features award winning wines. Via Maria is an informal restaurant that serves up delicious contemporary Italian specialties.

Nearby Family Excursions

Holland is a Dutch heritage community with local attractions including the Cappon and Settlers house Museums; Centennial Park; Holland Museum and Pillar Church. This quaint town is a National Register-recognized downtown walking and shopping district.

Take the kids to explore quaint Windmill Island, site of the DeZwaan windmill and Dutch Village Theme Park. All ages will enjoy a walk to Big Red lighthouse on Lake Michigan at Macatawa. For more information on this unique area, visit the Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau or call them at 800/506-1299.

Details, Details

The Gerald R, Ford International Airport services many major airlines. Travelers can request more information from the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau at:  800/678-9859 or www.visitgrandrapids.org.

Photos by Mel Greenberg

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