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The saying goes, "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade." In the second-half of the 19th century, life gave the residents of the Grand River region lumber, and they made furniture—lots of it. So much, that in 1876 Grand Rapids become recognized as a world leader in the production of fine tables and chairs. Today, Grand Rapids remains a leading manufacturer of office furniture and the city continues to set itself apart through its enduring appreciation of the arts. Contemporary sculptures abound and acclaimed art museums and festivals are the talk of the town. In addition, Grand Rapids beckons with a flourishing array of eateries and more than 60 breweries, earning it the nickname Beer City. Whether you're a devoted supporter of the arts or a foodie who wants to see the sights, Grand Rapids is an ideal Midwestern destination for travelers of all ages and persuasions.
A 1-hour journey lands you in the heart of Grand Rapids, Michigan's second-largest city. Signature buildings like the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and a series of high-rise condominiums dot the Downtown city skyline, while neighborhoods like the Heritage Hill Historic District and Eastside imbue the city with classic Middle-America charm.
Visitors flock to Downtown for a taste of the big city and a look at its impressive outdoor sculptures, including Alexander Calder's "La Grand Vitesse." Additional attractions include the Riverwalk Trails and the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, a gastronomic extravaganza with gourmet shops, full-service restaurants, and more.
Heritage Hill Historic District
Recognized as one of the United States' largest urban historic districts, Heritage Hill is sprinkled with nearly every style of American architecture. Travelers head here to walk off a waist-widening meal and to admire the Meyer May House, a restored Frank Lloyd Wright home.
Independent coffee shops, used bookstores, microbreweries, and a healing arts institute dominate the scene in Grand Rapids' bohemian enclave. What began as a commuter suburb of Downtown Grand Rapids is now a bustling neighborhood in its own right.
From avant-garde films to show-stopping theater, there are endless things to see in Grand Rapids. Begin by heading to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, where you can wander an airy gallery space before sitting down to an independent film inside a 195-seat theater. Or, journey to Monroe Live to catch a late-night concert near the waterfront. Further east, the Wealthy Theatre hosts a lecture series, live performances, and classic films, while the Circle Theatre is Grand Rapids' destination for community plays. Those who are traveling in autumn can participate in the events around ArtPrize, the world's largest art competition hosted by nearly 200 venues in Downtown Grand Rapids.
From state-of-the-art museums to a sculpture that doubles as a fish ladder, there are a plethora of places to go and things to do in Grand Rapids. Museum enthusiasts should begin their adventures at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, where a blend of classic and iconoclastic masterworks are displayed inside the world's first LEED-Gold-certified art museum. Across the river, the Gerald R. Ford Museum and the Grand Rapids Public Museum lend an illuminating look at the people and events that have shaped the city's history, while the Grand Rapids Children's Museum offers an interactive discovery space in the heart of Downtown Grand Rapids. For some fresh air, head to the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, where an orchid room, butterfly maze, and garden sculptures provide hours of entertainment. Or, stroll the Riverwalk to Fish Ladder Park, named for a functional piece of artwork that helps migrating fish avoid the gushing man-made rapids along this section of the Grand River. Finally, those visiting in winter can take a twirl around the outdoor ice-skating rink at Rosa Parks Circle.
Sightseeing on a budget in Grand Rapids? Spend time, not money, on terrific experiences.
La Grande Vitesse - This is a non-negotiable stop for culture vultures eager to add an artistic touch to their break.
Grand Valley State University - Pew Campus - Stop by this modern local landmark and be inspired by its design.
Meyer May House - If you plan to explore the area's history through its landmarks, add this one to your must-see list.
Heritage Hill Historic District - Rub shoulders with the locals and discover the true character and soul of this special place.
Downtown Market - Well known among those who live here, this place is worth a look.
Huff Park - Nurture your green thumb and explore the diverse range of plants on show.
Put these things toward the top of your sightseeing list to get the most out of your visit:
You could store your cash in the hotel safe for the day, because these great attractions will cost you nothing at all: