Exploring Grand Rapids, Michigan

Published on September 14, 2021 - Updated on February 24, 2022

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:

Millennium Park

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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.


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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.


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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.

Deer Track Junction

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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!

Sleeping Bear Dunes

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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!

What’s your favorite road trip destination? Share your highlights on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!

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.

Thoughtfully captured by:
Austin Graff
After growing up in Tatarstan, Russia and attending boarding school in Germany, Austin is now a proud Washington, D.C. resident for 14+ years. After traveling to 75+ countries, he spends his time exploring the D.C. area every single day and posts about it on his Instagram. He's a contributing writer for The Washington Post and the D.C. local guide for By The Way, a new travel destination by The Washington Post. He also is one of the moderators of IGDC, the city's first Instagram community and one of D.C.'s top Google Guides and Yelp Elite. He lives in Southeast D.C. with his wife, daughter and housemate.
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Five Grand Rapids area favorites.