Two Days in Grand Rapids with Kids, A Weekend Getaway from Chicago or Detroit

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I recently returned from a one night-two day trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan. I went with a friend of mine, her six and eight-year-old children, and my three-year-old son, and I can say that everyone had a great time. I’ve wanted to go to Grand Rapids for a while now to check out their craft beer scene, so when my friend told me that they had a great children’s museum I was sold! I was pleasantly surprised by Grand Rapids, as a town, and there are a lot of activities for kids. Next time you are looking for a quick trip from Chicago or Detroit, consider Grand Rapids.

The Basics

Where is Grand Rapids, Michigan?

Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan and is a decent sized city at around 1 million people. It’s located approximately 3 hours northeast of Chicago (around Lake Michigan), and it’s about 30 miles inland from Lake Michigan.  When planning a visit from Chicagoland keep in mind that Michigan is in Eastern Standard Time so you’ll lose an hour the day you arrive.  From Detroit, it’s about 2 hours and 15 minutes northwest.

Where to Stay?

We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites, in Grand Rapids East and booked the hotel through hotels.com.  When I was looking for hotels, I found two general clusters of hotels.  One was right smack downtown Grand Rapids, and the other was on the east side of Grand Rapids, where I-196 meets I-96.  We opted to stay on the east side, to save money, and it worked out well.  The hotel was less than ten minutes from downtown Grand Rapids and less than five from the Frederik Meijer Gardens (which we did on day two). 

Grand Rapids with Kids: Day One

We arrived in town around noon and headed straight to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.  Parking was more difficult than I anticipated.  We ended up parking on the street (which is what I’d recommend if you can find a spot); here is a link to the Grand Rapids parking map.

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

Upon arrival, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was seriously impressed by this place.  They have something for every age group, interest, and child.  It’s a big museum, but not too big, and given its size, I was surprised by the number of activities/stations that they were able to fit into the building. Overall it was a phenomenal experience for the kids, and I was extremely impressed with how many exhibits they had developed into their space.  The Children’s Museum is a must do for any Grand Rapids with kids itinerary!  

Grand Rapids Children's Museum sign

Hours, Admission, and Nursing Nook

The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is closed on Mondays.  Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturdays they are open from 9:30am-5pm; Thursdays they are open from 9:30am-8pm, and on Sundays they are open from 12pm-5pm.  

Children under 1-year-old are free; people ages 1-64 are $9. Seniors are $8.  Thursday nights from 5pm-8pm is $1.75 per person.   The Museum is part of the ACM Reciprocal Network of children’s museum which means that if you are a member of a children’s museum in the ACM network, then you’ll get 50% off at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.  Check here to see if your children’s museum is part of the ACM network.

Lastly, they have a nursing nook for nursing mothers located on the first floor near bathrooms.  The nursing area has a comfy chair with a curtain that you can draw for privacy.

Exhibits

Wee Discovery- for Children under 5

We visited the museum with a 3, 6, and 8-year-old, and all three children found something to do at each exhibit we visited.

Having said that, once I brought my son to the Wee Discovery exhibit, he did not want to leave the exhibit.  The Wee Discovery exhibit is located on the first floor in the back behind the Kidstruction Zone.  This exhibit boasts a pint-sized kitchen, plastic balls, soft foam blocks, ramps, sensory activities, and a Tummy Time Play area. It’s a dream space for babies and toddlers, and a safe place to play out of the way of bigger kids.

Other Exhibits

Some other highlights for the kids in my party were the Bubbles, Diagnosis: Fun!, and the climbing wall.  The Bubble exhibit is unique as it has a bubble tower which you step into, and then through a pulley system, pull up the big metal rings to form a giant bubble around you. The bubble exhibit also has several bubble tables which our kids thoroughly enjoyed.

Toddler and Kindergartner at the bubble table at the Grand Rapids Children's Museum-Grand Rapids with Kids post

The Diagnosis: Fun! exhibit is all about doctors, hospitals, and hospital equipment. I’ve been to plenty of children’s museums that have a ‘doctor’ area, which typically has some doctor equipment and a dress up area.  Diagnosis: Fun! has an MRI tube, an x-ray machine, exam tables, hospital doors (that swing open and closed), anatomy charts, and a hospital bed (to name some of the equipment).   

Children playing at the MRI machine at the Diagnosis:Fun! exhibit at the Grand Rapids Children's Museum

A few other notable displays and exhibits are the Kidstruction Zone, Little Grand Rapids (which is a little town), musical instruments, a Lego table, live bees, a magnetic table, a wooden blocks table, a light table, and many more.

The day we visited the Grand Rapids Children’s museum, we closed the place down.  We were there from 1pm-5pm and barely scratched the surface of things to do.  You could spend an entire day here; you can come and go just be sure to get a stamp before you go so that you can re-enter.  If you do spend the whole day here, I’d recommend packing a picnic lunch and eating at the park across the street.  

Founders Brewery with Kids-For Dinner

My husband and I are big into our craft beer, and luckily for me, I have a bunch of girlfriends who are into craft beer too.  After the Children’s museum, we had dinner at Founders Brewery.  I am not the biggest Founder’s fan, but their beer is ok.   The Founders taproom is big, and their outdoor eating/seating is laden with family-style picnic tables.  We sat outdoors, and the five of us took up an entire picnic table, but be prepared to share ½ a table with other people.  

Two essential things to know about the Founders taproom is that they do not have a kids menu and you have be out of there with kids, by 9 pm.   In the absence of a kids menu, I ordered my kid an adult grilled cheese, and my friend ordered her kids a pepperoni pizza; neither went over well.  The waitress was great, though, they re-made my son’s grilled cheese, and he ate some of the second grilled cheese. 

The reason you have to be out of there by 9 pm is that they start carding around 7/8pm and you have to be 21 years old after 9 pm, which means no more family time.  In our defense, it was 8 pm Chicago time, so we weren’t out *that* late with the kiddos.   

Grand Rapids with Kids: Day Two

On day two we spent the morning exploring Frederik Meijer Gardens and we had lunch at New Holland Brewery’s Knickerbocker.

Frederik Meijer Gardens

We visited the Meijer Gardens on a Sunday and arrived at 11 am.  The Gardens were only 5 minutes from our hotel, so it worked out perfectly for breakfast with three kids and the check-out time.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Gardens, but it had good reviews and our waitress from Founders had recommended it.   They have a parking lot, and parking was free and plentiful.  

Overall it was a great experience.  There were a bunch of things for children to do but sophisticated and adult exhibits as well.  I’d recommend the Meijer Gardens for any weekend Grand Rapids with kids’ itinerary.

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 from11am-5pm.

Members of the museum are free, and adults 14-64 are $14.50.  Children under 3 are free, children 3-4 are $4, and children 5-13 are $7.  Click here to find out more about membership options.

Exhibits

There are a TON of exhibits, sculptures, gardens, and attractions contained in the Meijer Gardens’ 158 acres.  We spent two hours (11am-1pm) at the Gardens, and we only visited a fraction of the things to do.  As we only had 2 hours, we focused on the highlights for children.  We visited the ‘Inside/Outside: An Interactive Sculpture Experience for Families,’ the Butterfly Maze, the Treehouse Village, the Great Lakes Garden, and the Kid-Sense Garden.  They have a ‘field trip activity card’ to make the visit more engaging for children. 

Inside/Outside Exhibit: An Interactive Family Sculpture Experience

The Treehouse Village, Great Lakes Garden, and the Kid-Sense Garden were my son’s favorite exhibits.  The Treehouse Village is a series of interconnected tree houses.  The highlight of the Great Lakes Garden is a HUGE water table. And the Kid-Sense Garden is a garden highlighting the five senses.

The Treehouse village
The Great Lakes Garden
Kid-Sense Garden

To explore the various exhibits go to the Meijer Gardens ‘explore’ page and click the ‘kid-friendly’ box and then scroll through the exhibits. You can also filter by indoor vs. outdoor.

New Holland Brewery with Kids

We left the Meijer Gardens around 1 pm and headed to New Holland Brewery for lunch. New Holland has two brewpubs, one in Holland Michigan called the Pub on 8th, and one in Grand Rapids called the Knickerbocker.  In May, I was in Holland for Tulip Time, and we ate at the Pub on 8th, and I loved it every bit as much as I LOVED the Knickerbocker.

When you walk into the Knickerbocker, the first thing you’ll see is an enormous steel dragon reminiscent of Game of Thrones. The Knickerbocker is spacious, airy, and overall, an exciting space.  We sat indoors; however, the ceilings are so high that you feel like you are dining al fresco.  We sat at a picnic bench, our kids played on their Amazon Kindles, and we ate and had a beer.  They have a typical kids menu, and all three of our picky kids found something to eat.  I’m vegetarian (wanna be vegan), and they had plenty of options for me.  I had the vegan supreme pizza, and it was DELICIOUS.  Also, if you are lucky enough to go when Yay Sports! (my new favorite beer) is on the menu GET IT. 

I would most definitely recommend eating at the Pub on 8th or at the Knickerbocker with your kids. After lunch, we headed back to Chicago (timed perfectly for nap!).

Other Things to do in Grand Rapids with Kids

Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to do the next two things, but the waitress at Founders (who had three kids) recommended the Millennium Park Beach and Splashpad or the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

If we had time, we would have gone to the Beach and Splashpad (it was also borderline too cold).  As the name suggests, they have a six-acre sand beach and a large splash pad.  You can also rent boats and explore the lake.  It is a spring/summer attraction, and they are open the weekend before Memorial Day-Labor Day weekend.  Millennium Park is located about 15 minutes southwest of Grand Rapids city.

Grand Rapids Public Museum is located in downtown Grand Rapids.  It’s sort of a mix between a natural history museum and a science museum.  It would be a great place to go during the colder months or on a rainy day.

Resources:

Here are some resources to help you plan your next trip to Grand Rapids:

Attractions:

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum-Website

Frederick Meijer Garden & Sculpture Park-Website

Millennium Park Beach and Splashpad-Website

Grand Rapids Public Museum-Website

Places to Eat:

Founders Brewery-Website

New Holland Brewery, The Knickerbocker-Website

Accommodations:

Country Inn & Suites-Grand Rapids East-Website

Books:

Moon Michigan (Travel Guide)

Take Away

Next time you have a day or two, and you’d like to get out of town with the family, consider Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It’s small enough that it’s a manageable experience but large enough to have a variety of attractions and restaurants.  Have you been to Grand Rapids with kids?  If so, what did you do and is there anything that you’d swap out of my 27 hour itinerary?

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Pinterest image with two small children playing with bubbles at the Grand Rapids Children Musueum; second image on pin is of the tree house at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids

One thought on “Two Days in Grand Rapids with Kids, A Weekend Getaway from Chicago or Detroit

  1. This was a fun post to read as someone who recently lived in Grand Rapids. You hit the two best attractions for kids and two of the biggest breweries in town! If you return with kids in the summer, John Ball Zoo is another kid-friendly attraction to consider.

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