Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second largest city is a must-visit for culinary connoisseurs, garden lovers – and, of course, beer buffs.
BY JAISHREE DREPAULBRUDER
Where to dine in Grand Rapids
This Grand Rapids favorite offers a dining experience that’s relaxed and down-to-earth, yet rather extraordinary. Think a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired great lodge with tiered steps, looming walls of glass and unparalleled views of Versluis Lake. In addition to traditional American fare, they also serve up live musical events and entertainment.
A mouthwatering lineup of one-of-a-kind Mexican street food and a remarkably long tequila menu await at Donkey Taqueria. Nosh on a traditional taco or explore something more eclectic — we recommend the Taco De Bruselas, loaded with fried brussel sprouts, jalapeno mayo, salsa verde, maca corn, queso cotija and bacon. It’s even better paired with a Prickly Pear Margarita!
The historic site that houses B.O.B. — which, aptly, stands for Big Old Building — has been around since 1903. These days it serves up a little something for everyone across 70,000 square feet, four levels, and several restaurants inside, including a steakhouse, smokehouse pizzeria. Finely crafted beer and a wide variety of live music and entertainment make it a prime spot for a fun night out.
Long considered a hidden gem, this neighborhood hangout is finally getting the accolades it deserves, including an award for best local restaurant in 2020. The menu is centered on Scandanavian fare made with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.The results are thoughtful and complex dishes that linger on the mind long past the last bite. Pro tip: Don’t skip the Swedish meatballs!
There can be the occasional wait for seating due to the popularity of this cozy, vintage-deco cafe, but it’s worth it for the lovely home-cooked breakfasts and lunch fare. Order the Eggs Benedict, which the restaurant claims has drawn raves for being the best around the globe. Could it be because their cooks make their own hollandaise sauce from scratch and shave their ham very thinly themselves?
To say that the Electric Cheetah’s menu is creative would be tame. For instance, the bistro has gone wild with their take on French fries, which are hand cut and can be dipped in various sauces: butter-milk-garlic-herb, charred poblano, harissa, garlic lemon, and true. But what’s truly put them on the map are their craft drinks and Electric Cheetah Root beer.
In the heart of downtown, artisan ice cream, vegan gelato, sorbet, baked goods and chocolate confectioneries are all made from scratch at Love’s. Their care for only serving food made from organic ingredients (including grass-fed dairy and produce from small Michigan farms) is exceptional — just taste the quality.
Things to do in Grand Rapids
The smell of fresh baked goods will leave you weak in the knees as you step out of your car. Grab a treat and enjoy it on a hayride through the gorgeous grounds, which are open year-round for fruit-picking, visiting the petting zoo and wine tastings.
This world-class horticultural display gardens and sculpture park is a sprawling 158 acres of wonder for everyone from little kids (there’s a 2,500-square-foot play area inspired by the Secret Garden) on up: It all depends on what you’d like to discover. Stroll in leisure or take everything in on a narrated tram tour.
Fish Ladder Park is a functional piece of architectural artwork designed to allow visitors the opportunity to watch fish jump up a “ladder.” Quite often, you’ll see a small crowd waiting to spot salmon trying to head up the river. Located very close to downtown, this little park is also ideal for quick strolls and people-watching.
560 Front Ave. NW
It’s a pleasure getting lost in this one-of-a-kind, 100-plus acre wonderland. The Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens was established in 1985 and every year at least 6,000 people visit its trails. You can attend any number of lively educational programs and events or just let your whims lead your way. Make sure to check out the 21 themed garden beds featuring plants native to West Michigan.
Where to shop in Grand Rapids
The folks at Rebel carefully curate the inventory in their homegrown modern gift shop: If it doesn’t inspire, challenge, bring cheer and change conversations you won’t find it. Whether it’s an “Ifs Ands Or Butts” notebook, a “You Guac My World” greeting card, a “Hollywood Hunks” game or a Ruth Bader Ginsburg Cross Stitch Kit, you’ll find a gift that will leave an impression.
Describing itself as fiercely independent and consciously curated, this inviting little neighborhood bookstore sells a smattering of meaningful fiction and non-fiction alongside some small giftables like beautiful notebooks and pens, and quirkier literary-themed novelties such as “Open a Book, Open Your Mind” socks. Helpful and knowledgeable staff who can deftly guide customers to suitable selections make this shop extra-special.
Clean, classy and comfortable clothing lines the walls and racks at this locally owned “fair fashion” ladies boutique, which only sells goods that have been created by talented artisans who make their products ethically. You can feel good knowing a minimum of 15% of Adored Boutique’s profits are passed on to organizations striving to make the world a better place.
This sharp-looking shop sells quality men’s clothing for nearly all occasions. Featuring items from approximately 50 designers, gents can indulge their inner clothes horse with everything from stylish suits and comfy button-down shirts to spiffy ties.
Reynolds and Sons holds bragging rights as one of the oldest family-owned businesses in Grand Rapids. Since 1927, they’ve been selling team sports apparel, shoes, and urban wear. Sneaker hounds will fall in love here; the shop is well-known for stocking limited-release shoes that aren’t available in bigger chain stores.
You won’t know which way to look when you step into this lavishly laid-out shop. Filled with unique antiques and specializing in home decor, the beauty of the store’s arrangements is jaw-dropping. Find inspiration for uplifting your living space as you caress soft rugs, size up vintage library tables or imagine your walk-in closet outfitted with an exquisite new chandelier.
Everything you need for your “green” skin routine can be found at this modern apothecary. Since 2012, they’ve been at the forefront of crafting clean, environmentally friendly beauty products for the Grand Rapids community. Face washes, creams, and hair products can be found alongside some surprisingly arresting natural perfumes featuring exotic scents like plum blossoms and cacao, and jasmine and neroli.
Grand Rapids Based Breweries
Cheers for Beer! Grand Rapids is known as one of the best beer towns in the U.S. Here are a few places to drink up:
Founders is possibly Grand Rapids’ best known brewery — but its reputation goes far beyond city limits. Taste for yourself why it’s been ranked among the top breweries in the world. Indulge in some of Michigan’s best speciality beers in the laid back taproom or take a brewery tour and learn about the beer-making process. Bonus: Delicious deli sandwiches and live music are served up three times a week!
A visit to Brewery Vivant is a visit to the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) microbrewery in the world. Housed in a charming former chapel, this family-run business serves up lovely, traditional European beers brewed to perfection.
Lifelong Grand Rapids residents and best friends Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler wanted to create a cool brewery where sports enthusiasts could feel at home. They’ve hit a home run with their popular baseball-themed microbrewery-pizzeria that’s set in a historic engine house.
A wide variety of thirst-quenching beers and mouth watering meals make City Built Brewing Company a good place to kick back. The company wants to “show love for the craft by making the strange become the familiar, and the familiar fresh and bold.” This is reflected in mind-bending brews, such as their Ambrosia: six different fruits, vanilla and marshmallow, Everything You Remember As a Kid, But This Time, It Has Alcohol In It. Pro Tip: Mondays and Tuesdays are bar service only.
Some truly stellar traditional pub ales, porters and stouts are served in this local neighborhood hotspot, where the brews are just as lively and vibrant as the patrons. In authentic English styling, they have real ale “on cask” — for the uninitiated that means it’s really, really good.