My family has lived in Michigan for ten years now, but since they moved there after I went to college I haven’t had too many opportunities to explore. Usually I’ll visit around Christmas time, and we won’t go beyond my parent’s neighborhood because, well, it’s freezing.
Which is why I was excited to visit in July, for once, giving me the opportunity to drive to Grand Rapids and visit my brother. I only had one solid day of exploring, but Sean and his girlfriend Caitlin, from …And Possibly Dinosaurs did a great job of showing me around town!
If you’re visiting Michigan, and you’re looking to make a Grand Rapids day trip, I highly recommend that you follow in our footsteps.
I could tell when we pulled up that this was a popular spot. The entrance was filled with people waiting for their seats, a line that was still there in force when we left.
Wolfgang’s (not to be confused with franchise Wolfgang Puck’s) has a phenomenal breakfast menu with a great atmosphere. I ended up ordering the “Max Wolfgang”, a scrambled egg dish with a Mediterranean twist of kalamata olives, feta cheese, spinach and tomato.
It was as good as it sounds, and everything I tried of my family’s was also good. We ended up hanging out for an extra hour due to an unexpected thunderstorm, and our waitress was great, keeping our coffee topped off while we waited.
Seriously. It’s pretty fantastic. Download the menu to see for yourself.
Funny how some people forget that Gerald R. Ford was ever President (myself included, I’m ashamed to admit). A Grand Rapids native, he stepped up to the plate after Nixon’s impeachment and resignation surrounding the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. He only served for two years or so, which is probably why a lot of people consider him forgettable. That said, the Museum was a nice insight into this tumultuous time in the 70s, and to the legacy Ford left behind.
A word of warning: The museum is large. For someone who was only president for a short time, they’ve put together quite an impressive exhibition space. There’s no way that you’ll see it all in one go, so just stroll through and peek at what interests you the most. It is worth seeing the film at the Museum’s entrance, which gives visitors an overview of Ford’s presidency. I knew very little about it going in, so the video gave me the context I needed to understand the exhibits.
Lunch: Founders Brewery
Founders Brewing Company was founded (hah) in 1997, and is one of the most well-known breweries in the Grand Rapids area, with brews that can be found all over the state of Michigan and beyond.
It’s not just a Michigan favorite, though. In 2013 Founders was voted the third best brewery in the world on Ratebeer.com and it has collected a slew of other awards over the years.
The brewery is close to the Ford Presidential Museum, and offers a full lunch menu which we definitely took advantage of. Along with, of course, beer. We didn’t take a tour ourselves, but they run on Tuesdays and Saturdays and include an optional tasting.
Afternoon: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
When I heard that we were going to botanical gardens, I was expecting a lot of foliage. And I wasn’t wrong — the gardens included a lot of interesting flowers, trees, and herbs from a variety of environments.
What makes these gardens unique, though, is that it also houses a variety of sculptures and statues, integrating powerful art pieces with the landscape effortlessly.
We opted to take the tram tour, since it was pretty hot outside (and the gardens are huge. It would have taken forever to walk through them). This was a nice opportunity to get an overview of the gardens while staying relatively cool.
The sculptures ranged from the abstract to the realistic, some surprisingly so.
As we trollied around, the volunteer guide provided us with background information about the artists responsible for the wide variety of sculptures. This was great, because it added context to everything we were seeing. Artistic interpretation is not my strong point, so I appreciated the insight. We were also able to get off the tram at the newest section of the park, the Japanese garden, complete with a Japanese Tea House, and explore.
Evening: Baseball Game
It’s the Midwest in the summertime, so of course there’s baseball. We actually went to the game the night prior to our adventures in the city, but the game was low-key enough that it could be tacked on anywhere. There’s nothing that feels more like summer than sitting in bleachers, scarfing down a hot dog, and washing it down with a cold beer — all while praying you don’t get beamed in the head by a foul ball.
The nearest pro team is in Detroit, so if you go to a game here you’ll be rooting for the minor league West Michigan Whitecaps. Personally, I’m a fan of the minor leagues. The atmosphere is much more chill, the food is (slightly) cheaper, and there is still a fireworks show to look forward to at the end.
Nighttime: Ice Cream and Lightning Bugs
Do you call them lightning bugs or fireflies?
Either way, the Midwest has a lot of them! I always forget about these luminescent critters, until I visit and am immediately swept away to memories of my childhood.
After a long day, the best thing you can do is give yourself a reward. Head on over to Jersey Junction in East Grand Rapids, which has a slew of ice cream flavors, along with various other unhealthy goodness, and treat yourself.
Then watch the sun set (it sets late in western Michigan, thanks to being practically on the line between Eastern and Central time!) and try your luck at catching a few lightning bugs.
Just be sure to let them go again.