We left South Bend just before noon heading north to Grand Rapids, Michigan. We had hoped to stay closer to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, but unfortunately, we were unable to find lodging within an hour of the park boundaries.
Grand Rapids seemed a good compromise as it has plenty of services (hotels, food) and would enable us to do a long day trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes on Saturday.
While our route cradled the boundaries of Lake Michigan, we unfortunately didn’t get many scenic views of the lake on the way to Grand Rapids (construction, route, timing, etc…) If you do have time to venture off highway 196, Saugatuck has been listed as one of the most charming towns in the Great Lakes. I am sorry we had to miss it.
We arrived in Grand Rapids just after 2 p.m.
“Check in isn’t until 3 p.m.” I noted.
“Why don’t we explore downtown first and figure out the rest of our day from there?” My mom suggested.
Grand Rapids is Michigan’s second largest city with a population of over one million in the metro area. Located on the picturesque banks of the Grand River and only twenty-five miles from Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids has been a crossroads of culture and commerce for centuries. The city is steeped in history from his ancestral roots by the Native American Hopewell Indians to its founding as a village in the 1830s to becoming ‘America’s Furniture Capital’ in the 1880s. At the height of the city’s lumber boom, Grand Rapids was home to 44 furniture companies.
Downtown Grand Rapids shows the ghosts of its industrial past, a confluence of forgotten industry and up and coming resurgence. It is a concentrated downtown that at points is stunning and other spots look abandoned to time. I enjoyed exploring downtown but did feel a tinge of disappointment because as with old cities there is a gap when industry leaves and you are at the next era. I have a feeling that Grand Rapids will continue to have a resurgence.
What is stunning about downtown Grand Rapids is its location right on the Grand River. This broad river has powered the town provides great waterfront views. The Grand River is the longest river in Michigan (running over 252 miles).
“I read online that Grand Rapids was named for the rapids that used to fall near this city. Before dams and industrialization, Grand Rapids were a mile-long, 300-yard wide and 10-to-15 food tall rapids. There is actually a push to restore the rapids.”
Coming out of COVID (post vaccine) some museums had limited hours, so we unfortunately missed the Grand Rapids Art Museum. To be honest we were happy to take it easy after all the driving, so we’d be ready for the day trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes.
“Let’s grab a bite to eat and head back to the hotel.” I suggested.
We ate lunch at the Olive Garden (of all places – but food was good and we rarely eat there) by the Holiday Inn. We stopped briefly at the store to get a few supplies. I enjoyed reading about Grand Rapids in a few local history books in the local books section.
Grand Rapids most famous son is President Gerald Ford. He had a very interesting early life with adversity and triumph. I recommend reading his biography. Ford was a Park Ranger at Yellowstone -my favorite place in the world – which I thought was cool.
To learn more about President Ford, I recommend visiting The Gerald R Ford Presidential Library and Museum
We enjoyed the rest of the evening at the hotel, reading books and doing crossword puzzles. A perfect ending to a fun jam packed day.
If you are planning a visit to Grand Rapids, I recommend the following must-see sites:
- John Ball Zoo
- Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture
- The Gerald Ford Presidential Museum
- Grand Rapids Art Museum