Five Fun Attractions for the Family in Grand Rapids, MI
Grand Rapids, Michigan's second-largest city, is considered by locals to be the best-kept secret in the Midwest. Visit with your family and discover a city packed with attractions for all ages, all interests and all seasons. Splendid parks and gardens entice you to spend time outdoors on those bright spring or brisk fall days, while a whole host of top-notch museums await when you'd prefer to spend some hours indoors soaking up fascinating exhibits.
John Ball Zoological Garden
A trip to the zoo is always a treat for children and animal-loving parents, so Grand Rapids' John Ball Zoo (1300 Fulton St. W, Grand Rapids, MI) is perfect for a family day out. Highlights include the tiger exhibit, the playful primates in the Treasure of the Tropics zone, and the Africa section, which boasts one of the largest chimpanzee exhibits in the country as well as lions and warthogs. You can also ride a camel, feed farm animals in the petting corral and soar down a 600-foot zip line. The zoo is in a hilly, wooded area but is small enough for most visitors to be able to explore thoroughly. A funicular ride is available to make traversing the park easier.
The John Ball Zoo is open from March 11 to December 3. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children ages 2 to 12 during the high season (April 29 to October 2); and $7 for adults and $6 for children during the low seasons.
Grand Rapids Public Museum
The Grand Rapids Public Museum (272 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI) is the oldest and second-largest museum in Michigan, and with over 250,000 artifacts in its collection, it offers something of interest to everyone. Exhibits appealing to younger visitors include the huge whale skeleton near the entrance, live sturgeon native to the Great Lakes, the working 1928 Spillman carousel, and Streets of Old Grand Rapids, a three-quarter-scale depiction of the city circa 1890. The museum is also home to the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium where your family can experience the majesty and mystery of outer space.
Admission is $8 for adults and $3 for children ages 3 to 17. Additional fees are charged for special exhibits, planetarium shows and carousel rides. The museum is open year-round.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
One of the top tourist attractions in Grand Rapids, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park (1000 E. Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI) boasts more than 200 sculptures, set in both indoor and outdoor settings, including works by masters such as Rodin and Degas. The gardens showcase plants from the Midwest and all over the world, from a steamy, tropical plant-filled conservatory to a classic English garden. Take the kids to the Lena Meijer Children's Garden, which is designed for them to play, explore and have fun while learning about gardening. It features a treehouse village, log cabin and rock quarry, plus a storytelling garden where little ones can watch puppet and theater shows in summer.
The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Admission is $14.50 for adults and teens ages 14 plus, $11 for children 5 to 13, and $4 for children 3 to 4. Highlights of the gardens vary from season to season, so ask a docent upon arrival to find out which plants are in bloom.
Grand Rapids Children's Museum
This one's just for the kids, but parents also have a great time accompanying their children as they experience the interactive exhibits at the Grand Rapids Children's Museum (11 Sheldon Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, MI). The exhibits change on a regular basis, but returning favorites include a live honeybee hive; the Kidstruction Zone, where children don hard hats and tool belts to move bricks and build with PVC pipes; Diagnosis: Fun, where they can pretend to be a doctor, nurse or EMT; and a bubbles exhibit, where little ones can stand inside a giant bubble. All the exhibits are indoors, making the museum an ideal destination on a day when it's too hot or cold to play outside.
The Grand Rapids Children's Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays, all year-round. Admission is $8.50 for ages 1 to 64. On Thursday, Family Nights (from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) tickets cost only $1.75.
Blandford Nature Center
Get out into the great outdoors without leaving the city at Blandford Nature Center (1715 Hillburn Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, MI). First head to the visitor center to pick up a themed trail day pack; then go to the trails to hike during warmer seasons or snow-shoeing in winter (rentals are available). Other features include a farm where you can visit chickens, goats and pigs; a children's garden and nature-themed playgrounds; a marsh observation area ideal for spotting songbirds and other wildlife; and the Wildlife Education Center, home to a rescued bobcat, turtles, owls and other birds of prey.
Blandford Nature Center is open year-round, Mondays through Saturdays, but it may be closed on major holidays. Admission is $3 per person.
A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.