A couple of weeks ago, we ventured over to Grand Rapids. Believe it or not, I have lived in Michigan my entire life and haven’t made my way over to Grand Rapids. I’m sure I’ve driven through it, but I have never taken the time to really explore the city. So, when we got the opportunity to work with Experience Grand Rapids, I was pretty excited!
I am going to walk you through what it would look like to spend 48 hours in Grand Rapids: everything from where to stay, what to eat, and which adventures your kids (and you) will love. I’ll also share a few things I wish I would have known before I ventured on over.
Make sure you scroll to the bottom to enter our Grand Rapids giveaway! It’s one you don’t want to miss out on.
Also, head over to our Instagram page for the highlight reel from this trip as well as two reels breaking down our two-day itinerary.
Where to Stay
Embassy Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown
We stayed at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown and it was absolute perfection. The location was incredible and the view was amazing. The hotel is perfect for families because they are all suites which means there is plenty of room to spread out. Many of them come with a balcony and a view of the Grand River. It’s pretty spectacular.
Now, lets talk about the complimentary made-to-order hot breakfast. It was so good! My kids couldn’t stop raving about it and I was majorly impressed. They also have an indoor and outdoor pool. The outdoor one is smaller and the kids can swim from the outside to the inside which they thought was pretty cool. I would definitely stay here again! I am a huge fan of Embassy Suites in general.
What to Eat
Let’s start with that fact that I am a huge foodie. But recently, I had to go gluten free, dairy free, and soy free, which means eating out is a little bit harder. Let me tell you, Grand Rapids did not disappoint when it comes to the food scene. I am going to list my favorite food allergy and food sensitivity hot spots–ones you’ll love even if you don’t have food allergies or sensitives.
Rise Authentic Baking Co.
This was our first stop and I can’t rave about it enough. As someone who struggles to find delicious baked goods, this place was everything and more. They an entirely gluten free, vegan (dairy and egg free), soy free, and dye free bakery. I haven’t had a donut in almost a year and I have to say, their chocolate covered sprinkled donut was so good!
They’ve also partnered with Squibb Coffee to pair their delicious goods with fresh coffee, tea, and espresso beverages. You can’t go wrong with anything you choose here! My kids loved the milkshakes with their house churned coconut milk ice cream. Check out their menu here.
Rise Authentic Bakery Co Favorites: Avocado Haven’s Way, Chocolate Sprinkle Donut, and Birthday Cake Milkshake (Maryn’s favorite)
Papa Chops Eatery
Can you say delicious local food that’s entirely gluten free?! Again, even if you aren’t gluten free, I guarantee you’ll love it. They have your favorite comfort foods like house-baked pizza, mouthwatering burgers, loaded fries, onion rings, wraps, and more. My kids couldn’t get enough of the burgers and onion rings.
Papa Chops Favorites: The Bull Rider and O-Rings
City Built Brewing Company
This restaurant was within walking distance of our hotel and it was another great recommendation. The food is inspired by their Puerto Rican culture and I’m positive you’ll love it. We ordered inside and then went outside to eat. You have a beautiful view of the river, and who doesn’t love the fresh air? There’s nothing like eating outside during a Michigan summer.
City Built Brewing Company Favorite: Chicken Tinga Tacos and Blueberry Lemonade Cider
Other recommendations that we didn’t get to try:
MadCap Coffee (if you love the Detroit location, you’ll love it just as much in Grand Rapids)
What to Do
Let me start off by saying that there is so much to do in Grand Rapids. I wouldn’t recommend staying for anything less than 48 hours. You could easily spend three to four days exploring and if you’re feeling really adventurous, add a trip to the beach and sand dunes to your itinerary.
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
Even as an adult I enjoyed hanging out here with my kids; everything from Little GR to the bubbles. I found myself going back in time with Penny the Meijer horse and pretending as though I was a cashier. They’ll be closed August 28-September 17 for maintenance, deep cleaning, and NEW exhibit installations, so make sure you plan a trip over there before they close. Oh, don’t forget to take some pics on Rainbow Road. It’s very instagrammable.
Pro tip: Take an extra pair of clothes because the bubbles are one of the best parts and your child is bound to have it all over them. There is an area to wash up but if your kids are anything like mine, that won’t be enough.
When it comes to parking, make sure you download the MOTU app before you go. Save yourself some time and get everything set up before you even get there.
John Ball Zoo
I don’t know about you, but I love checking out the zoo whenever we visit new cities. The John Ball Zoo was a wonderful addition to our zoo experiences. One of our favorite attractions was the Living Shores Aquarium and Penguinarium. Those penguins are the absolute cutest! We also loved the koalas that are currently visiting from the San Diego Zoo. So, if you’re a fan of koalas, make sure you get over there before they’re gone. Oh, and the Lions of Lake Manyara were incredible. I felt like we got an up close and personal experience with them through the glass window and viewing area over their habitat.
You can also enjoy kid-friendly rides and activities like a zip line that’s a four-story, 300 foot, “fly” over the zoo experience, camel rides, feedable parakeet aviary, Sky Trail Ropes Course, and a tram that takes you to the second highest ridge in Grand Rapids. To see the cost of these experiences, click here.
Pro tip: You can get 50% off if you have a Detroit Zoo membership. The card and the cardholder need to be present at the time of purchase. Click here to see the Reciprocity List of AZA Zoos and Aquariums.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
This was seriously an incredible experience. I wasn’t sure if my kids would love this but I am here to tell you that it was a major hit. We spent over an hour in the Great Lakes Water Garden and to be honest, we could have spent the entire day and my kids would have been happy. The whole children’s area is fantastic. You can climb and explore in Treehouse Village, dig and uncover dinosaur fossils in Rock Quarry, go back in time at the log cabin, or spend time in the Kids Sense Garden. There’s so much to do within Lena Meijer Children’s Garden.
Pro tip: Bring an extra change of clothes or better yet, a bathing suit. My kids were soaked from head to toe and complained until their clothes dried. I just didn’t know what to expect but now, I do! Also, bring lots of snacks and water bottles. You could pack a lunch and find the perfect spot to enjoy it. There are so many places to enjoy the beauty all over the garden and sculpture park.
Tram Tours: Grab your tickets when you get there. It lasts 45 minutes and is a much easier way to see more. We didn’t realize they only have one and it goes on the hour. As you can imagine, that means they don’t have a ton of seats and they sell out quickly. Learn from my mistake and plan ahead.
Field Trip Activity Cards: These are so cool and I can’t wait to do them next time. If you’re looking to enhance your exploration, these are perfect. Learn more about them here.
Location: 1000 East Beltline Ave NE Grand Rapids, MI 49525
Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park
Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park was more than I could have ever expected. Everything about this experience was wonderful. We spent three hours here and could have been here the entire day interacting with the animals. There are over 120 species of animals and many of those you get the opportunity to pet or feed. The park is so sprawled out that you never feel like it’s crowded or you’re unable to see an animal. We ventured back to the same animals multiple times, and each time had a different experience.
Pro tip: Bring cash to feed the animals. It was $5.00 for a cup of carrots and it was worth every penny. The joy my children got from feeding the giraffes was priceless. Also, pack a lunch and enjoy it there in their picnic area.
Location: 8313 Pratt Lake SE Alto, MI 49302
Grand Rapids is the perfect destination if you’re looking for somewhere within Michigan to explore. Depending on where you live in the Detroit area, it could take you anywhere from two to three hours to get there. I’m really excited to venture back to Grand Rapids and explore the areas we didn’t get a chance to check out.
Sample Two-Day Itinerary
- Head to breakfast at Rise Authentic Bakery
- Make your way to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum for the morning
- Grab lunch from Anna’s House
- Head to the John Ball Zoo for an afternoon with the animals
- Check into your hotel
- Plan for dinner at City Built Brewing Company
- Start with breakfast at Rise Authentic Bakery (and stop at MadCap for coffee, too!)
- Head to the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
- Grab some lunch goodies to enjoy from Downtown Market
- Plan for an afternoon at the Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park
- End with a tasty dinner at Papa Chops!
We’ve teamed up with Experience Grand Rapids to bring you a giveaway you just won’t be able to resist. Here’s what you have the chance to win:
- Overnight stay at the Embassy Suites w/ parking
- Family 4 pack of tickets (2 adult, 2 children) to Frederik Meijer Gardens
- Family 4 pack of tickets (2 adult, 2 children) to John Ball Zoo
- Family 4 pack of tickets (2 adult, 2 children) to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
- Family 4 pack of tickets (2 adult, 2 children) to the Grand Rapids Public Museum
- $100 visa gift card for spending money
We’ve made entering this giveaway super simple.