the grandest of rapids

I’ve been in Northwest Iowa for the past month or so, doing college-y stuff and trying not to miss my hometown too much. I’ve never been one to get homesick (if you asked me to, I would probably pack up and move anywhere), but there’s something to be said for that feeling one gets when surrounded by familiarity. And next weekend, I’m going home! Not only am I looking forward to seeing my family and friends, but I can’t wait to drench myself with the city I call my hometown.

And that lovely city is the one and only Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I don’t technically live within the city limits, but in an adjacent suburb. But since I’m still part of the “metropolitan area,” was born there, and worked there over the summer, I consider myself a Grand Rapidian. (Is that even a thing?)

So, because I’m super excited about going home and I have a little extra time on this wonderfully beautiful Saturday afternoon, I’m going to share some of my favorite things about living in this terrific city. You could consider this a real-life girl’s guide to West Michigan and its many wonders.

First of all, there’s a lot of stuff to do within the city itself.

Grand Rapids has grown a lot since my childhood. When I was younger, it wasn’t considered a very safe or exciting place to be. The only reasons for children to go there were the museums and concerts, or maybe to go ice skating around Christmastime. But since then, a lot of cool opportunities have sprouted up for people of all ages.

Here are some of my reasons for loving good ole GR, in no particular order.

  • ArtPrize. Surely this was an obvious one. Personally, ArtPrize (a city-wide art competition that takes place in the fall) is one of my favorite times of the year. The city comes alive and art is plentiful. How many other places have a few weeks where the whole city is covered in art? Not only do bigger, already art-filled venues (like the Grand Rapids Art Museum) open up their doors to unknown talents, but everywhere from bars to pet shops feature art from artists around the world. And it’s free to attend and vote, allowing people of all backgrounds to come together for the sake of art. Not to mention there’s an abundance of food, culture, and one-of-a-kind events all over the city. Check out the buzz here.
  • Culture. My parents are lovers of travel. They’ve been taking me on trips since I was 19 days old. One of their biggest goals is to make sure I’ve been exposed to many ways of life before setting me free into the world. I haven’t seen it all but I’ve seen more than half the country and a whole lot of culture. And sometimes, I can find that culture in my own city. Not only do we encourage culture with art (like with ArtPrize!), but there are lots of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds represented in the different parts of the city. There’s an annual Hispanic festival (and it’s incredibly fun for people of all races), Native American pow-wows and events, an Asian market, and a yearly Festival of the Arts that features food and entertainment from an abundance of cultures.
  • Food! Even if you were to go to a different restaurant in the Grand Rapids area every day, it would probably be a few years until you had tried them all. There are several major chain restaurants as well as several local places. There’s everything from cheap hole-in-the-wall grub to food trucks to upscale steakhouses. I am constantly discovering new places to eat (some of my current favorites are Bobarino’s, The Dog Pit, and The Winchester). There’s also a lot of fresh food available at our Downtown Market, a hustling and bustling place of urban agriculture and exciting food choices (Love’s Ice Cream and Penelope’s Creperie are incredible). Coffee shops could also be included in this category: besides the chain coffee shops, Grand Rapids also has several locally owned coffeehouses. I’m personally a fan of one called Madcap, but I also like Rowster… and the list goes on. We’re also rumored to be getting Michigan’s first cat cafe (a place where you can drink coffee and pet cats) soon.
  • Sports. I’ve never been a super athletic person, but I still couldn’t imagine my life without sports. Grand Rapids is not only just a couple hours from Detroit, but also boasts a few teams of its own. The West Michigan Whitecaps are a great class A minor league baseball team, and their awesome ballpark is a great place for summertime family fun. The park is also home to an iconic giant hamburger. We also have a Calder-cup winning hockey team called the Grand Rapids Griffins, which plays at the downtown Van Andel Arena, and a basketball team called the Drive.
  • Beer… Well, beer isn’t too important to me considering I’m underage, but I do know it’s a huge part of the city. We have several breweries, some of them critically acclaimed. And we were named Beer City, USA, so that’s kind of a big deal. Founder’s, HopCat, and Grand Rapids Brewing Co. come to mind as some of the biggest, but there’s tons more. And with an exciting nightlife that includes unique bars with dueling pianos or ping pong games, there’s something for every young adult.
  • Shopping! Ah yes, something close to my heart. Along with the shops downtown, the suburbs of Grand Rapids have a lot to offer when it comes to shopping. My personal favorite is Rivertown Crossings mall, a dual-level mall in Grandville. Several small strip malls and a ton of restaurants surround the mall, and most women could probably blow quite a bit of money there. Woodland Mall is also a really nice shopping center. And with stores like Forever 21, Vera Bradley, H&M, and LUSH recently moving in as tenants, it’s gaining popularity. This past summer, Tanger Outlets opened up an outlet mall in the suburb Byron Center. There are tons of deals at some top stores, making it a destination for West Michiganders.
  • Proximity: Buckle your seatbelts nonexistent readers, this is a long one. I figured I would make this the last point in my list because it includes more than just GR. Here’s the deal: when you live in Grand Rapids, you are easily able to do a lot of stuff that’s not actually in Grand Rapids. You’re two hours from Detroit, aka the city of Motown, automobiles, and sports. You can get to Chicago in under three hours (maybe two if you drive with the speed of a Chicagoan), where there’s museums, art, shopping, giant bean sculptures, and pizza awaiting you. Oh, the pizza. You can even take the train there if you’d like, and avoid the parking fiasco that is downtown Chicago. Plus the West side of Michigan has a lot to offer within a couple hours of Grand Rapids. There are a TON of beach towns. South Haven, Holland, and Grand Haven are a few popular ones that are under an hour away. South Haven is home to one of my favorite restaurants (called Clementine’s) and a great ice cream shop (Sherman’s). Holland is one of the Dutch epicenters of the United States. There, visitors can not only enjoy beautiful beaches but also travel to the Netherlands without a passport by spending a day at Nelis’ Dutch Village, or one of the tulip gardens (Tulip Time, held every spring, is a big deal) or wooden shoe factories. (I also want to mention the DeGraaf Nature Preserve because I’m somewhat partial to that name.) Downtown Holland has lots of shops and restaurants, and it’s a great city to stroll through on a summer evening. Grand Haven is also a beautiful beach town, with a few great shops and places to eat. Pronto Pups is probably the most popular, for good reason. And the beach and pier offer gorgeous sunsets. Grand Rapids is also within “day-trip or overnight distance” of other popular Michigan cities, including Lansing (the capital city), many of the gorgeous beach towns up north, Mackinac City and Island, and Frankenmuth (a personal favorite because of Bronner’s, the largest Christmas store in the world).

Though it’s nowhere near the size of New York City or Los Angeles, Grand Rapids has a lot to offer. It’s a beautiful city centered around a river and the people who call this place their home (like me!).

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