If Grand Rapids, Michigan doesn’t come to mind when you’re thinking of places to spend your family vacation, it should! We spent a few days there this summer and were quite surprised by the number of family-friendly things to do in Grand Rapids. It can be challenging to find places with enough activities to please the whole family (we were traveling with four of our kids, including our three teenagers), but Grand Rapids did not disappoint!
Exploring Grand Rapids, Michigan
Thanks to Experience Grand Rapids, we were invited to see for ourselves what “Beer City” America has to offer families. (Spoiler alert: it’s a lot!) Here’s a first-hand look at what we were able to do on our three-day itinerary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Hopefully, this will give you some ideas of activities you can add to your itinerary, too.
A Room With A View
We began our vacation by settling into the Amway Grand Hotel in Downtown Grand Rapids. We were delighted to walk into our rooms and see the view – it was amazing! The floor-to-ceiling windows made it feel like we were right above the water. The Amway beautifully blends historic charm with modern elements, and we spent some time exploring this beautiful building. While staying in a luxury hotel certainly added a lot to our comfort level, its location was ideal for proximity to the activities on our itinerary.
Exploring Grand Rapids Public Museum
I hate to admit this, but we almost skipped putting this one our our itinerary. Our last trip had been pretty museum heavy, and we thought we’d take a break from them, but that would have been a huge mistake. The Grand Rapids Public Museum is one of the best city museums we’ve been to, and ten out of ten is worth the visit! There are three floors to explore, and you should expect to spend at least a couple of hours here.
Take a Spin on the 1928 Spillman Carousel
The entire museum is well organized and so interesting, but what a surprise to find an almost 100-year-old working carousel there. And yes, we rode it! The carousel was made in New York in 1928 and has a Wurlitzer band organ that plays iconic carousel music as it goes around. Decide which of the hand-carved, beautifully designed animals is your ride and hop on!
Making Friends at the John Ball Zoo
Speaking of animals, the John Ball Zoo has a few of their own, Actually more than 2,000 animals. We spent a few hours here seeing the many of them, large and small. We visited the aquarium and penguinarium (yes, that’s a real word!), Although we didn’t ride the zip line, it looked like fun, and, depending on the season, you can even ride a camel. We were there on a beautiful summer day and really enjoyed our time, particularly when we got to the petting zoo area. That was the highlight for Bella, our nine-year-old, since not all zoos have one.
Visiting the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum
Back at the hotel, the kids and I took a break for a bit, which was the perfect time for Rodney to visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. (It’s an easy walk from the Amway Grand Hotel.) He was quite impressed with it and said it was definitely worth going to. In fact, U.S. News & World Report rates it as the number one attraction in Grand Rapids! His review had me second-guessing not going with him, but I’m glad he got to go.
Take a Spin on a Retro Donut Boat
Talk about unique! This was such a fun activity and another one we all enjoyed. We hopped on a Donut Boat in Saugatuck and spent a couple of relaxing hours meandering our way up and down the Kalamazoo River. The scenery is beautiful and the houses and boats along the shore were fun to see. We even spent a few minutes playing on one of the sandy beaches we passed by.
It’s a Great Way to Spend Time on the Water
Since you’ll be out on the water for a couple of hours, be sure to take some sunscreen, but more importantly, take snacks! What fun is a ride in a Donut Boat if you don’t have snacks?? These boats are battery-operated and don’t go fast, so it really is a fun, relaxing experience out on the water.
Explore Saugatuck, Michigan
Afterward, we spent some time exploring Saugatuck, Michigan and its charming shops. We’d already spotted a fun place we wanted to stop later for ice cream, or this would have been the perfect place for it. We played a few yard games in the park and watched the hand-pulled chain ferry go back and forth across the Kalamazoo River. Saugatuck is a fun little town to explore!
Climb Mount Baldhead
Rodney and Elijah decided to get some steps in – 302 steps, to be exact. They climbed Mount Baldhead, which stands between the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan and descended down a grassy, sandy slope to the beach. They can now proudly sport their new t-shirts that say, “I climbed Mt. Baldhead.”
Relax on the Shores of Lake Michigan
Meanwhile, Jack, Sophia, Bella and I drove around to the beach to scout out the perfect spot to play for a bit and met Rodney and Elijah after their climb. Living on the West Coast, we’ve been to the ocean many times, but we’ve never seen a lake so large it looked like the ocean itself. Lake Michigan’s vast expanse, with its sprawling, sandy shores and clear blue waters, amazed us all.
Come On In, the Water’s Warm!
Of course, we had to get in and play for a bit. The water was perfect, and it was quite a popular place to be that day. There were lots of families playing together, kids with remote controlled boats, teens with intertubes having fun together. We loved the relaxed atmosphere on the beach and could have made an entire vacation out of just playing here every day!
Don’t Skip the Root Beer Barrell…
Remember I mentioned we had already scouted out the perfect place for a treat? We passed this giant Root Beer Barrel on our way into town and knew we wanted to come back that afternoon. Good choice!
They Serve the Best Ice Cream!
Although we originally thought we’d stop for Root Beer, one look at their menu and we decided otherwise. We skipped lunch and went straight for the ice cream goodies! After all our playing in the sun so far that day, this definitely hit the spot.
Grand Rapids Foodie Scene
One of the benefits of staying downtown is being able to get out and walk to nearby restaurants. Grand Rapids is one of the cleanest cities we’ve stayed in, and it’s obvious they’ve made this a priority. One night, we walked to Stella/s Lounge and had amazing cheeseburgers, while the next night, we had out-of-this-world tacos at Condado Tacos. You won’t go hungry there, I promise!
Don’t Miss the Chance to Watch the Sunset Over Lake Michigan
I’m a sunset lover and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch the sun setting over Lake Michigan. After dinner one evening, we headed back out and found the perfect spot to walk along the beach and watch the magic happen. It was a beautiful evening and the sunset was everything we were hoping for!
Explore the Frederik Meijer Sculpture and Gardens
The next day, we made time for a visit to the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park since it was another highly recommended place to check out. It was pretty warm that day, so we didn’t spend as much time outdoors as we otherwise would have, but we were still captivated by what we saw. It was easy to see why it ranks as one of the top museums in the world! Plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the grounds when you visit.
Pick a Time For Pickleball
I’m including this here, even though we weren’t able to make time for it. The Amway Grand Hotel has an awesome rooftop pickleball court that we wish we could have put on our itinerary. We already had a jam-packed schedule, but could see the courts from the elevators every time we went to and from our room. It’s such a cool place to play and our whole family agreed it would have been fun! (You can rent equipment from the hotel if you don’t bring your own.)
Take in a Minor League Game at the Ball Park
If you haven’t been to a minor league baseball game, you’re in for a real treat. The atmosphere is so much fun! We enjoyed ballpark hot dogs, sang along with the crowd, rooted for the home team, and were treated to a fantastic fireworks show afterward.
It was a fantastic way to wrap up our time in Grand Rapids!
We Spent Three Days on Mackinac Island and This is What it Was Like
Stepping onto Mackinac Island feels like entering a storybook setting. It has a Norman Rockwell meets Disneyland’s Main Street type of feel, which had us immediately enchanted, soaking in the nostalgic charm and timeless beauty around every corner.
Recently, my family and I were invited to come and experience what Mission Point Resort has to offer on Mackinac Island. Not having been before, we weren’t sure what to expect of an island where cars weren’t allowed, but we were (very!) pleasantly surprised by the charm and quaintness the island offers.
Here’s what it was like to spend a few days in this laid-back Michigan town.
No Passport, No Problem: You Don’t Need One to Vacation in These Countries
If you’re an American citizen traveling out of the country, you have to have a passport to be allowed into somewhere else, right? While that’s mostly true, there are some exceptions. Some are independent countries, while others are U.S. territories that largely operate independently.
Note: Before you visit any of these places, make sure you look into what the entry requirements are. For example, you may need an enhanced ID or proof of certain vaccinations.
12 Cool Facts About the U.S. Highway System
The open road has stories to tell. The Interstate Highway System, the iconic blue signs, and the crucial Highway Trust Fund come into focus in this article, showcasing the interconnected web that binds the nation. Join us on this road trip through time, where Ladybird Johnson’s vision for highway beauty meets the milestones and stories etched into the asphalt of the U.S. highway system.
Lagoons at Ko Olina: Best Beach on Oahu For Families
Visiting the lagoons at Ko Olina was one of our favorite things about our vacation in Oahu. If you’re considering whether or not to spend time there, I’m here to give you the rundown on why I think you absolutely should!
Although we absolutely loved the lagoons at Ko Olina, there’s a specific reason why. Read on and I’ll explain why while answering all your questions.
Then you can decide if visiting the most popular lagoons in Oahu is what you want to do, too.
Best Cities to Vacation in That Don’t Require Renting a Car
When planning a vacation, there’s enough to worry about without stressing over renting a car, where to park it, and whether you can afford the extra insurance. What if you simply choose a location designed for people without cars and skip the rental car altogether? You could plan on walking, rent an e-Bike, or Uber when the occasion calls for it. It will still be cheaper than renting a car. Here are some of the absolute best cities for vacationing without getting behind the wheel.
Karee Blunt is a nationally syndicated travel journalist, focused on discovering destinations and experiences that captivate and inspire others through her writing. She is also the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel site focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.