Exploring Grand Rapids, Michigan
Five Family-Friendly Favorites in the Grand Rapids area.
To spend summers in different locations around the world is a dream of my wife’s. As the pandemic pushed our return to the office date into 2022, we packed our Toyota Camry and headed west, cashing in on that dream. Stopping in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Ann Arbor, we checked our family of three into a hotel for five weeks in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The goal was to spend quality time with family, escape Washington, D.C.’s humid summers and explore a new city.
Spending most days at summer camp and hanging with her cousins, I picked up my four-year-old daughter early every Friday to explore Grand Rapids. Here are our top favorite family finds:
The largest urban park in Grand Rapids, it’s so big that it runs into three other towns. 1,400 acres, there’s plenty to do with children from hiking the trails to finding butterflies. On summer Mondays, the park hosts free live jazz complete with food trucks. Within the park is a riverside beach and splash park that costs only a few dollars.
A Grand Rapids classic, Yesterdog is a cash-only restaurant that sells several kinds of hot dogs. Order one or two “Yesterdogs” with chili and find a booth. As you eat your hot dogs, you’ll notice jukeboxes and an old school popcorn machine that dispenses buttery popcorn in exchange for a quarter. Next door is a cereal bar also popular with kids.
Following the Instagram account Murals of Grand Rapids, you’ll find public art throughout the city. Like a treasure hunt, murals are hidden behind buildings and down alleys in almost every Grand Rapids neighborhood. Turn it into a hunt for kids by trying to find the animal-themed murals.
A thirty-minute drive from Grand Rapids is paradise. For $12 per person, you’ll enter an adventure park with exotic animals (giraffes, camels, bears), farm animals (goats, pigs), a Western town and giant playground with underground tunnels. Pay extra for feed to give the farm animals. We spent hours at Deer Track Junction!
Named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America in 2011, Sleeping Bear Dunes is the one place locals tell you to visit. A three-hour drive from Grand Rapids, the dunes stretch for miles along Lake Michigan offering breathtaking views. While the Dune Climb takes hours, there’s a much shorter hike to the water from the Sleeping Bear Point Trailhead. Park in the free lot and bring your bathing suit.
You can read up more about Sleeping Bear Dunes on our blog!
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Explore our Dreaming of Travel series in a music lover’s paradise like Memphis, or find your happy place on Bear Lake: An Adventurer’s Oasis. If you’d prefer, Make Nature Your Focus in Harper’s Ferry, Dream about a Tubing Adventure in Salida, Colorado, or further fuel your wanderlust in the Dry Tortugas or at Mojave National Preserve.
If you love exploring near and far as much as we do, download the happyly app today! The happyly app is the country’s only mobile-first family activity planning app delivering five-star family adventures and expertly curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.