You thought I was going to write about Detroit? For Michigan? Come on, that’s too obvious. The city I’m highlighting is none other than my home city of Grand Rapids. It’s the second biggest city in Michigan behind Detroit and is rapidly (pun-intended) growing into an exciting place to be. Back in the day, downtown Grand Rapids didn’t exactly have much going on. Now, everything has changed. From arts festivals to local breweries to music venues, it’s hard to keep up with everything going on in GR but alas, I shall try.
It makes sense that Grand Rapids would receive a title such as Beer City USA. Beer seems to be a staple beverage of the Midwest, and GR has numerous local breweries for a growing city. Many bars around town make it a point to serve local beer, so when you visit Grand Rapids make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to try excellent, local brews. My personal favorite is the Rubaeus from Founder’s Brewing Co. It’s a raspberry ale, so it has a sweeter flavor if you’re into that. My favorite place to grab a beer in Grand Rapids is The Winchester over in East Grand Rapids, but another great spot is the Founder’s Brewing Co. venue where they also have live music.
East Grand Rapids!
Speaking of East Grand Rapids, back in the day this part of Grand Rapids was known for two things: Yesterdog and fancy houses. Now there’s a whole lot more going on, but of course Yesterdog and the fancy houses are still there. If you live in LA, you go to Pink’s for a hot dog, but if you live in Grand Rapids, you go to Yesterdog. Don’t get discouraged by the tiny waiting area and the chaos of trying to order from here, the hot dogs are well worth it. Also, in East Grand Rapids is the Wealthy Street Theater, which is home to concerts and other local events. If you need some breakfast, hit up The Wealthy Street Bakery or Wolfgang’s Restaurant. And no, it’s not Wolfgang Puck.
Most people think of Madcap for a cool place to grab coffee downtown, but personally if I wanted to receive unenthusiastic service from beautiful hipsters in a space with very limited seating, I’d go to Silverlake. When in Grand Rapids, I prefer to hit up Bigby Coffee instead. My favorite Bigby location is the one on Monroe Center in the heart of Downtown. Another great local coffee spot I recently discovered is Lyon Street Café.
One of my favorite qualities of Grand Rapids is the arts scene. If you’re into bigger musical productions you can see touring shows come through with Broadway Grand Rapids at the DeVos Place, but personally, I prefer to support the local theaters, especially as I know how incredible the GR theater community is. For local musical productions, you can catch performances at the Civic Theatre and Circle Theater, as well as shows from the universities like Grand Valley State and Aquinas. Other theater venues include Dog Story Theater, Jewish Theatre, Actors’ Theatre, and Heritage Theatre. Every year Grand Rapids is also home to two major arts festivals: The Festival of the Arts and ArtPrize. Festival of the Arts is held in June, while Art Prize happens during the early Fall. Additionally, the Grand Rapids Art Museum provides a year round spot to see great art while in Grand Rapids. GR also has it’s own ballet company, opera, and symphony. One of my favorite activities is to see a Grand Rapids Ballet performance of The Nutcracker, which they put on each year during the Christmas season.
Other places/activities to check out
- Frederik Meijer Gardens (themed gardens and outdoor music venue) *year round but best in the Summer season
- Grand Rapids Public Museum and Planetarium *year round
- Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum *year round
- Van Andel Arena (national music tours and hockey games for Grand Rapids Griffins) *year round for music, Winter season for hockey
- Fifth Third Baseball Park (home to the West Michigan Whitecaps baseball team) *Spring and Summer seasons
- 20 Monroe Live (music venue) *year round
- John Ball Zoo *Summer season
- Grand Haven (beach and coastal city on Lake Michigan) *Summer season
- Rosa Parks Circle (ice skating) *Winter season
So if this blog has talked you into visiting Grand Rapids, you’re probably wondering when the best time to go is. Well, another great aspect of Michigan is that it actually has all four seasons. Yeah, Los Angeles, 75 degrees in January is not winter. I would say the best time to visit depends on what you want to do and how well you can tolerate the cold. If you’re visiting from outside of the United States and want an authentic American experience, definitely come visit this amazing Midwest city. And if you are in the United States and looking for a fun vacation, come to Grand Rapids.
If you’re from GR and have some additional suggestions for places to see or things to do please comment below. Cheers!
I have been going to the city of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico for the last 20 years. Don't freak out; I've also traveled to other places during those 20 years as well. I even lived in PV briefly during college. Puerto Vallarta has certainly changed over the years, but it also remains the same in many ways too. I've seen new businesses built up and beloved old ones go away. I've seen once-cherished beach spots become overrun by 20-something hipster tourists. But then again, I guess me saying I knew it before it was cool makes me a hipster too right?
After 20 years though, you'd think I had seen all there was to see in Puerto Vallarta. That's when you realize that sometimes father really does know best. This past December, I met up with my folks down in Puerto Vallarta. They came from Michigan, and I came from LA. So, shout out to my dad for providing me with some new experiences this last trip to Puerto Vallarta. That, and he insisted on getting credit. Humility comes and goes in our family.
So for those who think they've seen it all in their travel destinations, I am here to tell you that even after 20 years of visits, I was able to have new experiences and discoveries in this wonderful city.
New Discovery #1: Lo De Marcos
The furthest up the coast from Puerto Vallarta I had ever ventured to was Sayulita, so when my Dad suggested a tiny beach town called Lo De Marcos, which is just about 15-20 minutes north of Sayulita, I was intrigued. He had been there before and spoke so highly of it, plus it was somewhere I had never been and I was craving something new. Coming from Old Town Puerto Vallarta however, it was almost 2 hours via bus to arrive in Lo De Marcos, but when we finally got there, it was well worth the trip. To say the town was small would be an understatement; You saw more street dogs around than you did residents. For someone who craves a local experience though, it was perfect. With only just a few others along the beach, it was clear that Lo De Marcos had yet to be overrun by tourists, though I fear the hipsters and surfers will soon catch on. Shhh. Don't share this blog with them! Ok. I'm just kidding. Well, maybe...
The beach and ocean are also way better than in the city of Puerto Vallarta. With no rocks at the shore and big waves to play in, I had a blast swimming in the ocean that day. Just be mindful that sometimes people on horses come through there, so keep your eyes peeled when walking through the sand. We had to shout after a young woman who almost ended up stepping in horse poop with her bare feet. Not all heroes wear capes...
New Discovery #2: Jungle Hiking
Another fun adventure my dad showed me was the hike from Boca de Tomatlan through the jungle to Las Animas beach. Boca de Tomatlan is to the south of the city and is where you can go to catch water taxi boats to the more secluded beaches down the coast. Instead of taking a water taxi though, my Dad and I hiked along the trail through the jungle. The trail can be somewhat strenuous, so if you are new to hiking in the heat I might suggest building up for that hike before you do it. It's a fun challenge though and an absolutely gorgeous route. You get to hike through a beautiful jungle and look out onto the ocean at the same time. Plus, the waters down the coast of Puerto Vallarta are much more of a pretty blue color. If you need a break along the way, or just a really great photo op, stop at Colomitos beach, which is about half way into the hike. It's a cool, small beach spot and the water is a really pretty emerald green color. Finally, when you get to Playa las Animas you can enjoy a refreshing Pacifico beer at a local restaurant and even encounter a talking parrot there. I kid you not.
After 20 years visiting Puerto Vallarta though, this hike had some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in the area. It's absolutely worth it.
New Discovery #3: Live Jazz Music
Over the years I've been exposed to different music while in Puerto Vallarta. There's the live Mariachi band performing along the Malecon boardwalk or the Salsa band at La Bodeguita del Medio. And there's even the nightclub that plays nothing but techno while you sit and pray for some Beyonce to come on while fending off drunk male tourists. From my knowledge, Puerto Vallarta hadn't really been much of place you go to listen to jazz. My father, a lifelong professional musician and music teacher, has more recently gotten involved with the local music community in Vallarta. It's through this that my parents met a trumpet player originally from Havana named Josvani. They suggested we go watch him perform with his group at a new venue along the Malecon called The Jazz Foundation. You don't always get many opportunities for live music around town there, so to see a new venue that not only has frequent live music performances, but also in a style not commonly performed there, was actually quite cool to see.
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer, comedian, and television producer who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com