10 Summer Activities for Families in Grand Rapids

Having the kids home for the summer adds a whole other layer to your daily schedule; on top of work and other daily duties, you now have to find time to keep the kids busy during the day. Luckily, Grand Rapids is full of activities for all members of the family to enjoy. In fact, Places Rated Almanac rated Grand Rapids as the #3 city in the nation for fun and recreation. Whether you’re spending your day out in the sun or nestled in between the city buildings, Grand Rapids has a lot to offer.

1. Fredrick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Rated as one of the top 30 must-see museums on the planet, Fredrick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park boasts 132 acres of beautiful landscape and art. The most unique part about the gardens is the open-air museum, which includes over 200 sculptures throughout the park created by renowned artists such as Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, and Roy Lichtenstein. Visitors can also take a stroll through one of the many gardens, such as the new Japanese Garden or the Children’s Garden. If you decide to visit on a Tuesday, then you can head on over to the amphitheater stage to enjoy local artists as a park of the Tuesday Evening Music Club, which runs from July 7 - August 25. 

2. Art Prize

If you’re from the Grand Rapids area, chances are you’ve heard of Art Prize. For 19 days in the late summer, downtown Grand Rapids becomes transformed with paintings, drawings, sculptures and tons of other kinds of art scattered throughout the streets. Art Prize is a competition where anyone over the age of 18 can showcase their work anywhere within the Art Prize district. Visitors can walk through the city and marvel at all of the art entries, while learning the meaning behind each piece as they chat with the artists. Once you’re done wandering throughout the city, you can vote on your favorite piece in order to help the expert jury decide the winner. Art Prize 2015 is taking place September 23 through October 11. 

3. John Ball Zoo

Just two miles outside of downtown, John Ball Zoo is home to over 1,100 animals from five different continents. Along with hosting different habitats such as the Mokomboso Valley Chimpanzee Exhibit and Treasures of the Tropics, the zoo also features fun activities like a zipline over the zoo, camel rides and a tram ride to the second highest ridge in Grand Rapids. The zoo is very shaded making it perfect for a hot, summer day, and offers open land and tables perfect for a family picnic.

4. Saugatuck Dune Rides

If you’re looking for a more adventurous way to see West Michigan, consider going for a ride throughout the Saugatuck Dunes. Overlooking Lake Michigan, exploring the dunes is a great way to see all that west Michigan has to offer. Taking a ride through the wooded forest and along the coast line will definitely be the highlight of your day out. Dune rides are loaded with historical information about all of the different sites you’ll come across, including information about the Great Lakes and how dunes are formed. Taking a dune ride allows you to see and learn about west Michigan in a truly unique way, and provides a fun and thrilling adventure for the entire family to enjoy.

5. Grand Rapids Public Museum

Adding to the truly diverse culture of the city is the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which is one of the oldest history museums in the United States. Standing three stories above the streets of downtown, the museum offers a collection of exhibits focusing on history, culture and science, along with specialty exhibits that are showcased throughout the year. Permanent exhibits include Habitats, guiding visitors through the different ecosystems of Michigan; The People of This Place, which explores Native American’s contributions to West Michigan; and Streets of Old Grand Rapids, recreating what the downtown street scene in the 1890s looked like. On display until January 2016 is the Discovery of King Tut, which showcases a realistic replica of the tomb and treasures of Tutankhamun. 

6. Grand Haven City Beach

One of the best parts about living in Michigan is the abundance of shoreline that’s never far from home. The Grand Haven City Beach is not far from downtown Grand Rapids, and is a great spot to take the family for a day in the sun. The soft sand shoreline is perfect for relaxation (for you), sandcastles (for the kids) and picnics. On the south end of the beach is Bil-Mar restaurant, perfect for an end-of-the-day dinner. Spend the day in the sun and the evening watching the sunset over the horizon, and find out why they call it “Pure Michigan.”

7. Millennium Park

A few miles southwest of downtown lays 1,500 acres of trails and lakes that make up Millennium Park in Kent County. Along with a beach and plenty of lakes, Millennium Park is home to the Mehney Splashpad, where kids can play with more than a dozen sprayers, buckets, splashers and other water toys to have some fun in the sun. Millennium Park also offers boat rental, giving your family the opportunity to rent out kayaks, canoes, row boats, paddle boats and paddleboards for any amount of time you’d like. 

8. Movies in the Park

For a fun night out with the family, consider heading to Ah-Nab-Awen Park for Movies in the Park every other Friday night. Movies shown include Dirty Dancing, Hook, and The Matrix. Bring blankets, chairs, and warm clothes to be as comfortable as possible after the sun sets. Vendors are available throughout the entirety of the movie to provide your family with snacks and beverages, but you are also welcome to bring your own. For a little added fun, an award is given to whoever wears the best costume to the movie, so dressing up like movie characters is encouraged!

9. Blandford Nature Center

One of the best ways to spend a nice summer day is to become immersed in nature, which Blandford Nature Center does a great job of providing. You may choose to explore the wildlife on your own by hiking through the trails, or with a guided tour in one of the Heritage Buildings. Blandford also has a farm, where visitors can visit the different farm animals and learn about the roots (no pun intended) of agriculture. Blandford also hosts a variety of Signature Events on different days, such as Harvest Festival, Jeans & Jewels and Sugarbush, where families can come and enjoy all of the special themed events taking place. 

10. GR Paddling

One of the best ways to become immersed in the waterways of Michigan is through GR Paddling, a canoe/kayak rental service that offers excursions throughout lakes and rivers surrounding Grand Rapids. Families can choose to float down rivers including Coldwater River, Flat River, Grand River, Rogue River and Thornapple River, all with varying lengths and difficulty levels. Families may also choose full-day excursions, including Paddle & Dine, Paddle & Picnic, and Paddle & Art, which includes a stop to Fredrick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. 

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