Ask a Local About Grand Rapids, Michigan
Welcome to Grand Rapids, Michigan
A historic milling town turned fine furniture capital, Grand Rapids, Michigan has evolved into a capital of art and design. With its past life as Furniture City setting the tone among a new generation of Grand Rapids creatives, the city is alive with innovation and artistic vision. From its sprawling sculpture gardens to its many cutting-edge LEED Gold-certified sustainable buildings to its inventive, risk-taking microbrewery scene, Grand Rapids is a small city with big ideas. To give you an insider’s look at the city, we asked the locals what to do when you visit. Here are a few favorites:
Grand Rapids is home to an outrageous number of breweries—the Beer City Ale Trail includes over 60—along with distilleries, cideries and meaderies. Among them, Founders Brewing Company is the brewery that put Grand Rapids on the map and continues to be one of the most famous destination breweries in the U.S.. Its downtown taproom overlooks its brewhouse and offers a few beers each day that can’t be found elsewhere. For a very different taproom experience, head to Brewery Vivant, a microbrewery modeled off the farmhouse ale-makers of Southern Belgium and Northern France. Except, you know, housed in a LEED-certified former funeral home. Locals recommend the fries in three styles: truffle, garlic and parsley, and traditional pomme frites.
Where Everyone Knows Your Name
For a casual place to kick back with locals, head for Eastown’s Harmony Brewing Co., the passion project of three siblings and devoted homebrewers, or Harmony’s westside Harmony Hall, a 100-year-old Bavarian sausage factory-turned-Mexican restaurant that maintains the “whimsical castle”-like character of the former and the Frida Kahlo décor of the latter while serving Harmony’s beloved beer and pizza. For “a warm place in the winter time,” locals recommend The Cottage, where there’s a cozy, dark interior and they always have a fire going. “They have some excellent, hearty food that makes you feel right at home.” Locals recommend the fried green beans with a blue cheese dip and delicious old-school iceberg salads. “Everything there is pretty much fried and battered and ready to be dipped in some sort of fatty sauce.” “It is, essentially, the Grand Rapids place to be—Cheers, but for Grand Rapids.”
Art, Art Everywhere
Once a year, each fall, Grand Rapids is home to Art Prize, a 19-day international art competition that takes over museums and galleries and turns laundromats and abandoned buildings into showcases for works by artists from all over the world and all mediums. Locals say that the best exhibitions can be found at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, which dubs itself Michigan’s largest multidisciplinary contemporary arts center, and Grand Rapids Art Museum, a century-old institution that has a stunning new building and has embraced the city’s status as a manufacturing capital with its collections devoted to design and modern craft. But one of the most intriguing aspects of Art Prize is how many of its “venues” are not traditional museums and galleries. Run by volunteer artists, SiTE:LAB takes “underutilized sites”—a once-grand downtown hotel, an abandoned high school—and turns them into “site-specific interventions.” For locals, Art Prize turns their whole city into a dazzling art gallery that they’re generous enough to share with the rest of us.
A sprawling 158-acre outdoor space, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a botanical garden and sculpture park. There are four season nature trails that can be explored year-round, some 300 sculptures by internationally known masters, and a massive tropical conservatory of orchids, figs, cacao, and bananas—a lush escape from the Midwestern winter.
Why should breweries have all the fun? In a city that’s wild for beer, gastropubs have popped up to fulfill the need for great food to go with all that great Grand Rapids beverage of choice. Two local favorites are Hopcat, where the “Crack Fries” aren’t just fried but fried in beer batter and served with warm cheese sauce. Over at The Winchester, the pub fare is a bit flashier. Think house-made pierogies stuffed with butternut squash and goat cheese and served with braised purple cabbage and lemon brown butter or a curried cauliflower salad with feta, cucumber, golden raisins, mint, and wild rice. When it comes to pub food, Grand Rapids has come a long way, baby!
Mad For Tacos
In a former 1920s-era service station, Donkey Taqueria is a local favorite for spot-on Mexican street food, an admirable tequila list, and a happening scene fueled by prickly pear margaritas and a side patio draped in lights. For another take on tacos, head to the Downtown Market—an indoor vendor market with a green roof, rooftop greenhouses, and living walls—for Tacos El Cuñado’s tacos trio. They serve a hard to beat three classic street tacos with your choice of meat (or veggie). Try the asada (steak), al pastor (grilled pork) and nopales (cactus paddle) with a Mexican Coke or horchata (sweetened rice milk). For a post taco pick-me-up, locals advise some “tasty, high-end goodness” at the ultra-sleek Madcap Coffee. A futuristic, circular coffee bar with potent pour-over brews, a toast menu, and some unusual seasonal offerings like the summer-time coffee float or the Arnold Palmer-esque “Black & Yellow” (iced coffee, black cherry juice, and lemonade). It’s not your father’s cup of Joe.