Grand Rapids, Michigan has a lot to offer visitors but you have to look past the obvious choices. Here are three unique things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Michigan’s second-largest city, Grand Rapids is located in the Southwestern portion of the “Michigan Mitten.” Known today for its strong beer scene and its nickname, “Beer City, USA,” Grand Rapids was once known as Furniture City due to the large quantity of furniture made in the surrounding area. While furniture still is made in the Grand Rapids region, the city is known mostly for its beer.
Grand Rapids is a vibrant town. Full of culture, activities, things to do, and good eats. Like many midwestern towns, it can be bitterly cold in the winter and hot and humid in the summer. However, the town can be lovely in the Spring or Fall. Grand Rapids is worth adding to your list of the best small towns to visit – you won’t be disappointed.
Unique Things to do in Grand Rapids
Any visit to Grand Rapids is going to involve Beer. After all, they don’t call it Beer City, USA for nothing. Indeed, the beer scene is strong – really strong – in GR and yes, visitors should make a point of imbibing in some of the best beer in the country. Beyond that, there are other unique things to do in Grand Rapids and we’ve highlighted a few ideas. But we start first with beer!
Breweries: Beer City USA
Grand Rapids is home to more than 80 breweries spread across the greater GR area. The city embraces its pub culture by enlisting “Brewsaders,” enthusiasts charged with finding the perfect brew. They even make passports for the Brewsaders to get stamped at the many outlets around the city.
It’s not just hyperbole either, USA Today has named it “Best Beer City” and “Best Beer Scene” amongst stiff competition from nearby Milwaukee, Chicago (most breweries in the country) and Microbrewery hub, Portland, OR.
- Read More: The Top 5 Grand Rapids Breweries
It’s more than just getting a pint though. If you are looking for unique things to do in Grand Rapids then Breweries like Mitten Brewing Company have extremely interesting backstories. It serves gourmet pizzas and housemade brews in a baseball-themed environment, but the 126-year old former firehouse routinely finds footprints left by barefoot children – ghost children, naturally.
Brewery Vivant also features a unique experience and is located in an old chapel. Definitely a must-see.
Every brewery in Grand Rapids has a story, and even visitors should aim to see how many they can retell.
Grand Rapids has been exploring a unique concept known as Social Zones as a way to interact with their community and visitors in new ways. Grand Rapids Social Zones are a new and interesting edition that we haven’t seen before. Among the Downtown Market, restaurants and shops have an extended outdoor space where pets are welcome with a feel that resembles a street fair or pedestrian street.
But it’s not just in downtown Grand Rapids. Uptown, and Rockford are five and fifteen minute drives from central Grand Rapids with their own social zones.
Firepits and heaters make these comfortable even during the cold, Michigan winter. Similarly, the Fulton Street Farmers Market offers a covered outdoor shopping experience where local vendors sell everything from jarred honey to handicrafts. The market just north of East Hill has been running for nearly 100 years and is a staple of Grand Rapids.
Canoeing / Tubing on the Grand River
Grand Rapids is located right on the Grand River and is close to many local lakes. Water sports play a bit part in the outdoor activities scene in the region and folks hoping to mix up their visit with something unique might find a paddleboard, canoe or tubing the fun they were lookin for.
There are several places to book your water adventure including:
- GR Paddling – closed due to COVID
- U Rent ‘Em Canoe
- Lakeshore Kayak Rental
- Camp Stoney Haven
BONUS THINGS TO DO IN GR
Grand Rapids Art Museum
The Grand Rapids Art Museum holds some of the world’s most venerated pieces. A concrete post-modern structure, the building alone is worth your attention. But behind the glass doors, the “GRAM” has some of the world’s greatest works of art.
The Grand Rapids Symphony partnered with the GRAM to offer low income families on assistance access to see the fine arts which makes it easily accessible for those on a tight budget.
For out of town visitors, the museum is definitely worth your time. The Grand Rapids public museum, the GRAM, and Gerald R Ford presidential museum (he grew up in Grand Rapids, MI) all just blocks apart with the GRAM on the east side of the Grand River and the other two on the west.
To the west of the city, the John Ball Zoo is a family favorite. Still further west (about twenty minutes) is one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. As one of the largest in the United States (shared with Canada), there are a number of family-friendly activities from fishing to sailing. The Meyer May House is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home south of downtown, and if you are fortunate enough to visit in the fall, you can always go leaf-peeping.
Visiting small midwestern towns can be a unique experience in and of itself, but Grand Rapids is a step above most. It’s unique downtown culture, coupled with a superb beer scene make it a must-see place. Drop us a comment below and tell us all about your visit!
Check out these other great suggestions on things to do!
- Unique Things to do in Key West, FL
- Unique Things to do in St George, UT
- Unique Things to do in Midway, UT
- Unique Things to do in Youngstown, OH
- 15 Things to do in Salem Oregon
This time of year, I’d swap the river tubing for downtown outdoor ice skating at Rosa Parks Circle. Only $2 for a 55 minute session and that includes skate rental.
That’s a great price and a great suggestion! Thanks
Fredrick Meijer gardens is a great place to pop in for the day, surprised it did not make the cut.