The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is a great addition to any weekend in Grand Rapids with kids. When I first heard of the Meijer Gardens, it did not scream-what a great place to go with kids- but it ended up being just that. They have an entire garden dedicated to kids, and several other unique and interactive kid-centric exhibits. We visited the Meijer Gardens with a three, six, and eight year old, and all three thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Where is Grand Rapids, Michigan?
Grand Rapids, Michigan is located 3 hours east of Chicago (around Lake Michigan) and just over 2 hours northwest of Detroit. It’s about 30 miles east of Lake Michigan, on the western side of the state.
Hours & Admission
The Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is open seven days a week. On Monday and Wednesday-Saturday it’s open from 9am-5pm, on Tuesdays from 9am-9pm, and Sundays from 11am-5pm.
Admission for adults aged 14-64 is $14.50. Children under 3 are free, children 3-4 are $4, and children 5-13 are $7. Also, parking is free, which is always a plus!
There are five membership levels and an option to ‘add-a-guest’ to any membership. Levels include student, individual, dual, family, and grandparent, ranging from $30-$90. They offer discounts for military and also various membership add-ons.
Membership gets you free admission for a year, early entry one-weekend per month, reciprocal privileges at other gardens and arboretums (click here to find participating gardens), discounts on classes and workshops, and a discount at the gift shop.
Facilities for Nursing Moms
The Meijer Gardens does not have a dedicated space for nursing moms, but the Café is big and airy and provides a bit of privacy. I reached out to the Meijer Gardens about space for nursing moms, and they responded with, “Nursing mothers are welcome to nurse anywhere that they are comfortable on our campus, and we can make a private room available upon request. Mothers simply need to ask a staff member or volunteer.”
The James & Shirley Balk Café
The Café is light and airy and provides a nice hub for grabbing a bite to eat. They have a good selection of kid’s food, including PB& Js, hot dogs, pizza, pretzel dogs, and soft pretzels. All meals come with juice and either graham crackers or applesauce. For adults, they have a good selection of soups, sandwiches, salads, mac & cheese, and pre-made snacks.
Exhibits Geared Towards Children:
There are a TON of exhibits, sculptures, gardens, and attractions geared towards children throughout the Meijer Gardens’ 158 acres. From the ‘Inside/Outside: An Interactive Sculpture Experience for Families,’ to the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, there is something for every age group.
Lena Meijer Children’s Garden
Enter the Children’s Garden through the three-foot-tall mouse hole entrance and get ready to have all five senses stimulated. Kids can explore and learn through climbing, water play, touching, smelling, digging, and thinking. The Children’s Garden is not only entertaining but also educational.
Great Lakes Garden: Water Table
The Great Lakes Garden is a HUGE water table crafted in the shape of the Great Lakes. Kids can play freely in the water and with little boats provided by Meijer Gardens. One of the best things about the water table is that it has three distinct heights, so even the littlest kids can play. There’s also information panels located around the exhibit for those who want a bit of Great Lakes history.
The Treehouse Village is a series of four interconnected tree houses through which kids can climb and play. There is a rope bridge, a bird’s nest, and you truly feel as though you are in the trees.
The Kid-Sense Garden is a garden highlighting the five senses. Check out the giant pink tongue, the all-seeing periscope eye, the textured fingerprints, smell the giant nose, or listen to the ear. The garden is also replete with sensory-stimulating flowers and foliage.
The butterfly maze is a low-hedge maze, the object of which is to find a bell. It’s a neat little maze that’s not too difficult for little ones.
The friendly dragons are not an activity but more like kid-friendly sculptures. Kids can use their imaginations to imagine what these dragons are like in ‘real life.’ The Friendly Dragons were designed by Marshall Fredericks to be smiling and relaxed so as not to frighten children.
The rock quarry is a sand and gravel area in which kids can dig for buried fossils. Kids can use their hands, shovels or diggers provided by the Meijer Gardens, to dig for fossils.
Storytelling Area (puppet area)
The Storytelling Garden is a little hut in front of an audience area formed by stone benches. In the hut, you’ll find an array of puppets with which kids can put on a show for their audience.
Fieldtrip Activity Cards
To enhance your exploration of the Children’s Garden Meijer Gardens provides ‘field trip activity cards’ to make the visit more engaging. The ‘cards’ give some background information, trivia, and guides you through the Kid-Sense Garden, Great Lakes Garden, the Rock Quarry, the Storytelling Garden, the Wooded Wetlands, the Butterfly Maze, the Log Cabin, the Treehouse Village, the Labyrinth, and the Sculpture Walk. The ‘cards’ are nice because they have three different ‘challenge’ levels depending on the age of the group.
Inside/Outside: An Interactive Family Sculpture Experience
Inside/Outside: An Interactive Sculpture Experience for Families is an indoor exhibit that through photographs brings the outdoors inside. There are eight different stations with which kids can interact. The exhibit boasts sculptures that children can actually touch. Lifesize photos of nature are displayed throughout the room for inspection and also to use as photographic backdrops. Lastly, there are activity cards to help you interact with the exhibit.
There are many other colorful, sensory-stimulating sculptures and gardens through Meijer Gardens, that although are not specifically geared towards children, children can enjoy. Some other notable exhibits are the Table Drums, the Barn, the Vegetable Patch, and the labyrinth. Lastly, there are tons of animal sculptures scattered throughout that the children in our party liked.
To check out the current family-friendly exhibits go to the ‘Explore’ page and tick the ‘Kid-Friendly’ box. You can also search by indoor/outdoor, depending on the time of year and weather. They do have an ‘activities for families with young children’ page; however, I did not find it helpful.
Additional Programming & Events
In addition to exhibits, the Meijer Gardens have a plethora of classes, camps, and programming for kids.
Kids’ Tram: During the summer the Kids’ Tram runs Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, four times, daily. The Tram also runs during the fall, on specified days.
Camp: During summer and spring breaks, Meijer Gardens offers explorative one and two-day camps.
Classes: A few times a month the Meijer Gardens holds classes for children; previous classes have included making a mini-Japanese garden, making diggers, woodworking, shape play, all about owls, a lesson on hibernation, and other art and educational topics.
For current classes, camps, and programming check the Meijer Gardens Calendar.
Overall, visiting the Meijer Gardens with kids was a great experience. There were lots of fun and unique things for children to do, but also more sophisticated, adult exhibits. I’d recommend the Meijer Gardens for any weekend Grand Rapids with kids’ itinerary. Also, if you are looking to round out a weekend in Grand Rapids with kids, check out the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and also the New Holland Brewery for lunch or dinner!