A Sunday Drive in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids, Michigan. Known for furniture and former president Gerald Ford, a city-wide revitalization project is slowly (but surely) transforming this city of nearly 200,000 into an urban destination for students, professionals, and families alike.
Spring is inevitable in April in Grand Rapids, and the entire population of Kent County collectively emerges to check on the perennials and go for a Sunday afternoon drive. Family friendly destinations are sprinkled throughout the city and surrounding area. We were in the area this past Easter weekend; come follow our winding path.
We began at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park east of downtown. I suggest this first because by only looking at a website or a brochure, a person can truly underestimate the wonders “Meijer Gardens” has to offer. In fact, I was surprised to learn that that it’s West Michigan’s most-popular tourist destination.
On the grounds–spread out over a 15,000 square-foot indoor facility (complete with conservatory, library, cafe, and gift shop), 30-acre four-season outdoor sculpture garden (ride the tram for a guided tour), and a five-acre children’s garden–you barely notice any other people at all.
With the annual “butterflies in bloom” in the tropical conservatory, thousands of butterflies surrounded our family in the humid, lush room. We hurried under the indoor waterfall to search for a blue morpho around the bend.
Fluttering outside, we were quickly drawn in to the splendors of the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden. One paragraph cannot do this garden justice, take my word on this. With attractions ranging from a rustic log cabin to a rock quarry, a wooded wetland, story-telling garden, tree house village, butterfly maze, a labyrinth, and a sculpture walk, plan some extra time to take it all in. Oh, did I mention the Great Lakes Garden; a giant, wet, geographical learning experience complete with sailboats and mini waterfalls?
A Sunday afternoon drive isn’t complete without a sweet treat for the entire family. Jersey Junction in East Grand Rapids was originally opened in 1963 by Doris VanAllsburg, mother of author Chris VanAllsburg and his famous Christmas-classic, The Polar Express.
Maintained as an old fashioned ice cream parlor, complete with model train that runs the ceiling of the main parlor, Jersey Junction serves locally-based Hudsonville Ice Cream and owns bragging rights for the number one dip shop in Michigan. If you aren’t in the mood for a sundae, peruse the packaged and bulk candy displays, try a hand-made frozen treat, or even just nibble on a home-made waffle cone.
Jersey Junction is located in the historic Gaslight Village neighborhood. Take your double scoop “to-go” and wander up and down the now hip-and-trendy neighborhood. Head east and you’ll find Reeds Lake and picnic-worthy John Collins Park. West will lead you through the eclectic, funky, vintage stores leading all the way up to Heritage Hill and into downtown along the famous old red-brick streets (you may not want to eat or sip anything at this temporarily bumpy point along your drive).
At this point, the city is yours. Whether you ride the carousel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, touch a sea star at the John Ball Zoo, or find your way to the splashpads at Millineum Park, you’ll inevitably want to roll down the windows, take a deep breath and rest assured that even an afternoon road trip can be a memorable one.