If you’re from Michigan, chances are pretty high that you’ve heard of Grand Rapids. After spending two semesters studying in Grand Rapids, I quickly fell in love with the eccentric city.
I struggled with writing about Grand Rapids because it’s so diverse in multiple ways. Although I lived there for two semesters, I still make discoveries each time I visit.
Let us not forget the importance of tourism
I’ll admit, I’ve only been to two festivals in Grand Rapids and I know that there are a lot more than that. Out of the two, my favorite festival is Art Prize. As soon as you enter the city, there’s art everywhere. It always occurs in mid/end of September and the venues span throughout the entire city. If you plan on going, parking and hotel reservations need to be arranged months before hand. The only reason I found a free parking space was based on pure luck on a very early Saturday morning.
As a broke college student, I participated in the festivities just by walking through downtown Grand Rapids. There’s a lot of free, public art and street performers. Some of the museums will allow free entries and interactive art as well.
Another festival I absolutely love is the Hispanic Festival. I’m a Spanish major and love the cultural influences of the festival. It’s much smaller than Art Prize but it’s still a wonderful event filled with soccer, music, dancing and piña coladas, of course.
Grand Rapids locality
Coming from a not-so-diverse community, I loved visiting the local Hispanic markets and mall. I was able to practice my Spanish and get glimpses into what is valued and important. Visiting the 28th St. Mega Mall was a great experience. I looked at quinceañera dresses, drank a mangonada and ogled over all the art.
The 28th Street Flea Market is also a fantastic, cultural place. Lots of fruits, vegetables, plants and even clothing. I bought a hair-piece for a dollar and it’s still my favorite. I practiced more Spanish and spent more than an hour just walking around and looking at things.
You should also visit the Gaslight Village in Grand Rapids. I think I grew to like it so much because it reminded me of Traverse City. A small, downtown area next to a small lake is perfect for taking walks, reading and grabbing some coffee. There’s also a cute, seasonal candy and ice cream shop called Jersey Junction that I would highly recommend.
It’s not an accurate blog if I don’t talk about food
Now, don’t forget, Grand Rapids is huge and I definitely did not get a chance to eat everywhere. Here are some places I did enjoy greatly:
- Wolfgang’s Restaurant– The perfect place to eat breakfast
- The Downtown Market– A variety of healthy foods all in the same building
For the necessary coffee:
- The Lantern Coffee Bar– which is a waste-free coffee shop downtown.
Sights to see
I think my all time favorite place to visit in Grand Rapids is the Fredrick Meijer Gardens. These gardens are by far the best feature of Grand Rapids and they also serve as an Art Prize venue in September.
Their outdoor sculpture park is quite large and is filled with beautiful art, a koi pond, a children’s park, a miniature farm and even a quiet walk through the woods. They have also recently added a Japanese garden, which I heard was quite peaceful. If you’re looking for nature in Grand Rapids, go here.
Even if it rains, you should go to visit the indoor gardens. These are a few different rooms similar to green houses where you can see tropical plants and even enter a butterfly room. It’s important to check their website before you go because they update their exhibits regularly.
If you visit Grand Rapids during the winter, you should go ice skating downtown at Rosa Parks Circle. Although you do have to pay, this man-made ice skating rink allows you to ice skate in the middle of the beautiful downtown area. If you go throughout the holiday season, the decorations around town will have you feeling like you’re ice skating in a snow globe.
Finally, no matter what your plans are, you should take a moment to appreciate the Blue Bridge. It’s a pedestrian bridge downtown that allows you to cross the Grand River. I like to go when it’s dark to see the lights of the city reflect onto the river.
My hope is that when you travel to Grand Rapids in the future, you will find these places to be wonderful experiences. I also hope you discover more of the hidden gems in this city because I know that Grand Rapids is limitless.