I recently had the opportunity to visit Grand Rapids, Michigan (AKA Beer City USA) for a couple of days. I tagged along with my wife as she attended a conference there. Even though we’ve lived in Southeast Michigan for the past 22 years, and we’ve toured a lot of Michigan, I had never before visited Grand Rapids.
My verdict: If you’re nearby, it’s definitely worth a stop. If you have young kids, or you’re really into beer, then it’s worth going out of your way to visit (but for very different reasons obviously).
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which I like to call “FM Gardens,” is absolutely awesome. Whether you enjoy gardens or cool statues / artwork, don’t miss a visit. We actually went twice: once when we arrived in town, and again before leaving. The best part for families is undoubtedly the children’s garden within the park. Seriously, it’s like outdoor Disneyland for little ones (I’d guess that ages 2 to 10 are the sweet spot). If you have kids in that age range you should really consider planning a summer trip to west Michigan to make this one of your stops (but don’t miss heading north from here to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes as well!).
JW Marriott Grand Rapids
We stayed at the JW Marriott downtown. I highly recommend it. The rooms were fairly small, but river views were great, the staff was great, and the club lounge was decent.
Grand Rapids has a gazillion local breweries. If you check in at 8 of them you can get a free “Brewsader” t-shirt. I only made it to three and forgot to check in at the second two anyway. I started with the Grand Rapids Brewing Co, which is very close to the JW, then I made my way to Founders, and finally to Brewery Vivant after a bit of sightseeing. Contrary to what I expected from reviews, the Grand Rapids Brewing Co was by far my favorite.
Grand Rapids Brewing Co.
Founders Brewing Co
Founders was too big and touristy for my tastes…
Brewery Vivant has an amazing interior and would be an awesome place to hang out with friends. I wasn’t too drunk, but I was simply too full to enjoy the flight I ordered…
Frank Lloyd Wright Meyer May House
A few days a week, volunteers give free tours of this original Frank Lloyd Wright house. If you’re in-town on one of these days, definitely take the time to visit!
Grand Rapids Downtown Market
A couple of people recommended the Downtown Market. I did stop here on my way from Founders to the Frank Lloyd Wright house, but I was too full of beer to consider buying any food. The food options looked great though.
San Chez Bistro
Members of our Frequent Miler’s Insiders Group on Facebook recommended this tapas restaurant, which happens to be right near the Grand Rapids Brewing Co. It was excellent.
Gerald R. Ford Museum
I was surprised to see the Gerald R. Ford Museum right across the river from our hotel since I know that the Gerald R. Ford Library is in Ann Arbor, where I live. It turns out that Ford’s is the only presidential museum and library that has separate locations for each. He grew up in Grand Rapids, but attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.