48 Hours in Grand Rapids

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downtown Grand Rapids skyline

We’ve put together an itinerary for a weekend getaway in Grand Rapids — or a staycation if you want to experience your city like a tourist.

It’s a brief overview of things to do, where to stay and what to eat in Grand Rapids, which has been one of The New York Times’ “52 Places to Go” (and so on) and boasts thriving food and beer scenes, a rich arts community and plenty of outdoor activities for every season.

Stay

You could stay at the larger hotels like the JW Marriott or Amway Grand Plaza (it’s a Curio by Hilton property now) — they boast superior Grand River views at great heights.

Or you could try the boutique CityFlatsHotel (with 48 rooms), which is set in the center of the city’s main shopping district and is close to all the main downtown hotspots. Their surprisingly spacious rooms and crazy comfortable beds make up for the lack of more standard amenities like a parking valet or swimming pool (but it does have a fitness room!). While not all the rooms have windows that overlook the street (some have “light wells,” which let in natural light without a view), you won’t even notice, as the beds are amazingly comfortable (we can personally attest to this). On the main level, the kitchen and bar open up to one of the city’s main roads, Monroe Center.

Day 1

Breakfast at The Little Bird

For a wholesome breakfast, you won’t have to go far. The Little Bird serves up a tasty, savory breakfast, from smoked salmon breakfast sandwiches to biscuits and mushroom gravy and latkes with apple butter and crème fraîche.

Tap into your artistic side at Grand Rapids Art Museum

The next block down the street is the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which, for more than a century, has presented a wide array of exhibits. In addition to their permanent collection (which was just refreshed in 2017), they also offer up different traveling and temporary exhibits. This year, check out “A Legacy of Love: Selections from The Mabel Perkins Collection,” which displays various prints from the late Perkins, featuring works by Albrecht Dürer, Pablo Picasso and Jasper Johns, among others, or “Maya Lin: Art and Environment,” an exhibition focusing on large-scale sculptures made of silver, carved marble, steel and other building materials, demonstrating Lin’s fascination with water.

Lunch and shopping at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Grand Rapids Downtown Market interior
Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Check out Grand Rapids’ indoor market, a short drive (or bus ride) from the downtown core (or walk, if the weather is nice). Explore the many vendors inside that offer a wide range of wares, from spices to meats and fish, coffee and baked goods. You’ll also find food stalls serving up everything from sushi to fried chicken and grilled sandwiches, with seating sprinkled throughout the main level and upstairs. The Social Kitchen & Bar and Detroit-famed Slows Bar B Q offer more of a sit-down restaurant experience if that’s more your style. Photo via fb.com

Take a step back in time at the Meyer May House

Check out this beautifully restored Frank Lloyd Wright prairie house, which also highlights the original furnishings along with “faithfully executed” reproductions. It was designed in 1909, and it is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The best part? Entrance is free! So it’s a budget-friendly attraction for everyone.

Grab a pre-dinner beer at Grand Rapids Brewing Co.

Grand Rapids lauds its Beer City, U.S.A. title on everything from billboards to T-shirts. It’s not without justification. Grand Rapids boasts more than 40 breweries in the area. Grand Rapids Brewing Co. serves up nearly 20 beers on tap, from light lagers to an organic pale ale. If you’re sticking around longer than 48 hours, pick up a Brewsader passport at any one of the participating breweries and collect stamps for prizes.

Dinner at Bistro Bella Vita

Grand Rapids has a serious food scene, so it’s hard to choose from the vast list of high-quality restaurants. But a place you can’t go wrong with is Bistro Bella Vita. It skews on the more fine-dining side of the spectrum, but it’s approachable. You can still wear jeans and a T-shirt and not feel out of place. Expect typical bistro fare, a mix of Italian (homemade pastas and pizzas) and French (like poulet de Provence and seafood saffron risotto) menu items. We love their beef bourguignon and the roasted Brussels sprouts, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

Enjoy an evening out

Evening activities in Grand Rapids really depend on the season. In the colder months, head to Rosa Parks Circle to skate beneath the stars (skate rental is $3 for adults, $1 for kids) or cheer on the Grand Rapids Griffins AHL hockey team at Van Andel Arena. In the warmer months, catch a flyball at a West Michigan Whitecaps minor league baseball game or an outdoor concert at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

Day 2

Breakfast at Matchbox Diner & Drinks

Part Jewish deli, part upscale American diner, Matchbox is a must-visit spot for breakfast or brunch. The portions are large, and the hospitality is warm. Expect dishes like bagels and lox, eggs benny and baked creme brulee French toast.

Explore Eastown

Eastown Antiques Eastown Grand Rapids
Eastown Antiques

Eastown is a bohemian, hipstery neighborhood, filled with local bookstores, craft shops, artsy antique stores and boho-chic boutiques. A few ideas: check out Rebel Reclaimed for gifts and unique home goods; Redux Books for rare, antique, out-of-print used books; Michigan Fibre Studio for a great assortment of yarns, knitting and crochet items; and Wax Poetic Candle Bar (make your own or choose from their inventory of 100+ candles). Photo via experiencegr.com

Lunch at Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop

At local favorite Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop, the rotating menu of daily soups (check out their Instagram for the daily selections) feature the expected (like French onion soup and clam chowder) and the unexpected (like pumpkin chorizo and Irish ale). Pair with a gourmet grilled cheese for a full meal. Seating is sparse, so be prepared to wait for a spot, or take your soup and sandwich on the go.

Spend the afternoon at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Meijer Gardens is a great place to spend an afternoon, regardless of the season. In the spring, dance among the butterflies in the conservatory during “Butterflies are Blooming,” wander the peaceful trails of the Japanese garden or warm up in the arid garden and greenhouses.

Expand your culinary palate at Grove

If you’re looking for a seasonally based menu and interestingly prepared dishes, head to Grove. Try their milk-braised rabbit with tagliatelle, cheddar crumb and mushroom, their crab churro with beet slaw and fermented honey — and for dessert, indulge in their Baked Japan, made with matcha cake, black sesame ice cream, cranberry sauce and topped off with meringue.

See an evening show

For your last evening in town, check out one of the many performing arts calendars. From Broadway Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Symphony (both on stage at the DeVos Performance Hall) to local theatre (Circle Theatre, Opera Grand Rapids, Actors’ Theatre and the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre) to Michigan’s only professional ballet company (Grand Rapids Ballet), there’s something for everyone.

For more information on things to do, restaurants and attractions to plan your getaway or staycation, check out Experience Grand Rapids.

Main photo via experiencegr.com

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