The Blue Bridge over the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids

18 Things to Know About Living in Grand Rapids

Thinking about moving to Grand Rapids? With affordable living, great outdoor recreation, a budding art scene, and excellent food and beer, Michigan’s second-largest city is a wonderful place to call home! Here are 18 things to know about living in Grand Rapids!

It’s a Great Place to Live & Work

View of downtown Grand Rapids across the Grand River. Photo by Instagram user @jason.arntz
Photo via @jason.arntz

If you’re looking for big city amenities with small town affordability and charm, look no further than Grand Rapids, one of the most affordable cities in the country! The cost of living in Grand Rapids is 12% cheaper than the national average, and housing is affordable with a median home price of $113,600. The city is also among the best places for careers with top employers like manufacturers Steelcase and Herman Miller, both of which helped Grand Rapids earn the nickname “Furniture City.” But there’s more than just furniture manufacturing! Healthcare network Spectrum Health ranks not only as Grand Rapids’ top employer, but also as the largest in Western Michigan. Grocery chain Meijer and product maker Amway are also headquartered in the area and rank among the city’s top ten employers!

Grand Rapids Is Going Green

Green hybrid public transit bus in Grand Rapids. Photo by Instagram user @ridetherapid
Photo via @ridetherapid

As one of America’s greenest cities, Grand Rapids prioritizes sustainability, environmental protection, and carbon emission reduction. The city’s public transportation system, “The Rapid,” uses hybrid electric buses, and the Rapid Central Station even features a green roof. It’s one of several initiatives to help Grand Rapids eliminate net carbon emissions entirely by 2050. Thanks to years of dedication to constructing sustainable buildings, Grand Rapids is now home to the world’s first LEED-certified microbrewery, art museum, transit station, school, and church—to name a few. The cycling scene is also on the rise, thanks to an app designed to help beginners navigate Grand Rapids’ bike paths and explore the city!

Experience All Four Seasons

View of bridge at Frederik Meijer Garden & Sculpture Park. Photo by Instagram user @g.a.r.r.e.t.t.h.e.i.n
Photo via @g.a.r.r.e.t.t.h.e.i.n

Grand Rapids’ weather gives you the best the seasons have to offer in the Upper Midwest! During the winter, go ice skating, join a broomball league, or play human Hungry Hungry Hippos at Rosa Parks Circle Ice Rink. Experience spring in full bloom at Grand Rapids’ many beloved parks. In the fall, take in all the beautiful changing colors and taste the bounty of harvest season with cider and doughnuts at nearby apple orchards and cider mills. For a one-stop shop to experience all things fall, Fruit Ridge Market offers a pumpkin patch, corn maze, hayrides, apple picking, and more! And during the summer? Well, summer is for the beach!

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Travel to Nearby Beaches

View over Oval Beach in Michigan. Photo by Instagram user @katpixels
Photo vis @katpixels

You can spend your summer at some of America’s best beaches on Lake Michigan, just about an hour drive from Grand Rapids! Soak up the sun at Oval Beach in Saugatuck, which is consistently ranked among the best beaches in the country (and even the world), thanks to its clear water, white sandy beaches, easy parking, and picnic spots. While you’re there, go on a Saugatuck Dune Ride for a unique way to enjoy the coastal dune trails! Or seek out Grand Haven for more of a “hidden beach town” feel and for the beautiful sandy Grand Haven City Beach. And don’t forget to check out Michigan’s famous lighthouses that dot the shoreline of Lake Michigan!

Connect with Nature

Trees in Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens. Photo by Instagram user @ricktreur
Photo via @ricktreur

Witness all of nature’s glory without leaving the city of Grand Rapids! Visit Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park to explore 158 acres of outdoor gardens, exotic plants, a waterfall, wetlands, wildlife, and a sculpture garden with nearly 300 pieces from internationally renowned artists! Wander along any of the 11 trails at Blandford Nature Center, a 143-acre wildlife park that also offers interactive classes on woodland creatures like owls and reptiles. Roam the trails that line the 100 acres of public nature habitat at Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens. Watch fish in the Grand River swim upstream at Fish Ladder Park with the assistance of a unique sculpture designed to help them migrate though the river rapids. Venture just 15 minutes from downtown to Millennium Park, a 1,400-acre park alongside the Grand River. Or stay close to the downtown area and explore the great outdoors with Lookout Park and Ah-Nab-Awen Park!

Engage in Higher Education

View of Grand Valley State University Campus. Photo by Instagram user @gvsu
Photo via @gvsu

Students looking to further their education have plenty of options in Grand Rapids! Start your pathway to a degree in architecture, culinary arts, or education at Grand Rapids Community College, the state’s first of its kind. Study engineering, business administration and management, or become a registered nurse at Calvin University, one of the top-ranked Christian colleges in the country! Enroll in top-of-the-line programs including education, marketing, and psychology less than 20 minutes from Downtown Grand Rapids at Grand Valley State University. Or become the next great Grand Rapids artist with mentors and instructors from Kendall College of Art & Design, a college campus of Ferris State University located in the heart of downtown.

Learn About Grand Rapids’ History

Historic home in Heritage Hills neighborhood in Grand Rapids. Photo by Instagram user @heritagehillgr
Photo via @heritagehillgr

Founded in 1850, the city is now split into distinct neighborhoods with plenty of classic and modern architectural styles like Greek Revival, Italianate, and the Prairie style made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. Architectural history buffs can visit the Meyer S. May House, Wright’s most famous home in the city. As one of the country’s top neighborhoods for historic homes, you can take a self-guided walking tour of Heritage Hill in Grand Rapids to witness more than 175 years’ worth of historic architecture, including the former mansions of the entrepreneurs who helped Grand Rapids earn its “Furniture City” moniker. To further your history experience in this Michigan city, check out a piece of American political history at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, right in the city where the 38th president grew up.

LGBTQ Pride Has a Home Here

Aerial shot of Rainbow Road LGBTQ pride mural in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo by Instagram user @jonshotwell
Photo via @jonshotwell

The thriving LGBTQ scene in Grand Rapids dates back to a group of activists from Western Michigan who attended the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights in October 1987. The group formed a community center that grew over time and officially became the Grand Rapids Pride Center in 2016. Their goal was to empower the Grand Rapids LGBTQ community through supportive services and awareness. Now, LGBTQ-owned and operated shops, salons, and businesses dot the metro! Take a walk on Downtown Grand Rapids’ Rainbow Road along Sheldon Ave. Visit Michigan’s oldest gay bar, The Apartment Lounge, which moved downtown in 1988. Or head over to Rumors Night Club, a local favorite known for its drag shows and welcoming atmosphere.

Art & Museums Are a Way of Life

Art exhibit at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Photo by Instagram user @grartmuseum
Photo via @grartmuseum

Take in the city’s vibrant art scene throughout the City Art Tour, including a stop to see more than 5,000 pieces at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the towering 43-foot Alexander Calder sculpture outside City Hall. Fans of modern art covering contemporary issues can visit Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, part of the Kendall College of Art & Design. But it’s more than just art in the robust list of museums in Grand Rapids! Dig into natural and scientific history at the Grand Rapids Public Museum and its ever-growing collection of artifacts, exhibits, and galleries. Visit the Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives and take the Black History Tour that explores the history of civil rights in the city.

Win $200,000 at ArtPrize

Large outdoor metal human sculpture at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. Photo by Instagram user @l.a.coxen
Photo via @l.a.coxen

Art doesn’t just exist in Grand Rapids’ many museums and galleries—every other fall, Downtown Grand Rapids transforms into one of the largest art festivals in the world for ArtPrize! With $250,000 of total prize money given out, any artist 18 or older can submit work to be displayed in galleries, museums, bars, and parks—any space within the district that can house an exhibit! Past festivals brought in works from nearly 1,500 different artists and 500,000 patrons, who can vote for their favorite pieces through the ArtPrize app. The grand prize winner takes home $200,000! Many works from past competitions can still be found at museums, galleries, breweries, hotels, and restaurants around Grand Rapids.

There’s All Kinds of Music

Backstage view of concert at The Intersection in Grand Rapids. Photo by Instagram user @paxton.powell
Photo via @paxton.powell

With over 100 venues, live music in Grand Rapids is one of the top things to do! Head to Van Andel Arena in the heart of downtown to see big acts like Justin Bieber, Elton John, and Dave Matthews Band. Attend a show at the 2,500-seat 20 Monroe Live for a more intimate Grand Rapids concert experience. Check out the best local and up-and-coming bands at The Intersection. Looking for classical music? You can find the Grand Rapids Symphony putting on more than 400 shows each year at venues around town, from DeVos Performance Hall to churches and the St. Cecilia Music Center. There’s even a Musical Fountain in nearby Grand Haven that plays 25-minute water and light shows synched to popular music every summer evening!

Downtown Offers Something for Everyone

Madcap Coffee in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo by Instagram user @madcapcoffee
Photo via @mapcapcoffee

Downtown Grand Rapids is bustling with dozens of spots for shopping, dining, drinking, and entertainment! Plus, it’s easy to get around the downtown area thanks to DASH, a free transit system. Explore the unique Downtown Market, open seven days a week with specialty food and drink shops, cooking classes, and incubator kitchens for food startups. Enjoy your morning cup of Joe at Madcap Coffee, an award-winning burger at Stella’s Lounge, or a drink at The Cottage Bar, a cozy throwback open since 1927. If your stomach and shopping bags are full, check out a boat show, comic convention, home and garden expo, or wine festival at DeVos Place on the Grand River.

Shopping Possibilities Are Endless

Outdoor shopping at Woosah Outfitters in Grand Rapids. Photo by Instagram user @woosahoutfitters
Photo via @woosahoutfitters

Downtown boasts dozens of galleries, gift shops, and boutiques, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg for shopping in Grand Rapids! Of course, Furniture City sports plenty of antique stores. Look through one of western Michigan’s largest antique collections at Century Antiques, or track down vintage furniture and Mid Century Modern goods at Lost & Found – Treasures of Old & New. Shop your way through Uptown Grand Rapids, a hub for clothing stores, spas, salons, and gourmet food shops. Explore Rivertown Crossings and Woodland Mall, both within a 20-minute drive of the downtown area! Check out the Gaslight Village neighborhood in East Grand Rapids for one of the city’s more unique shopping and dining experiences. Or get fresh fruits and veggies along with local crafts and pottery at Fulton Street Farmers Market, the oldest (and largest!) of nearby farmers markets. It’s just one of the perks you get from the state that grows the second-widest variety of produce in the whole country!

It’s Fun for the Whole Family

Child painting at an easel at the Grand Rapids Childrens Museum. Photo by Instagram user @grcmuseum
Photo via @grcmuseum

It’s more than just an affordable city to raise a family in—there’s plenty of fun things to do in Grand Rapids for kids, too! Check out the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, which has more than 15 exhibits of kid-friendly topics like dinosaurs, bubbles, and construction, plus a full calendar of art classes, story parties, magic shows, and more! Enjoy apple orchard season year-round at Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery, where families have visited for apple picking, baked goods, wine, hard cider, and more for over a century! Take the whole family to John Ball Zoo, which has more than 1,800 animals and an aquarium, aviary, and several interactive animal exhibits. Feeling more adventurous? Kids and parents alike can take on TreeRunner Adventure Park, an aerial adventure park with ziplines and obstacle courses suspended in the trees. Or take the bikes out and explore over 100 miles’ worth of paved and mountain biking trails and reward your efforts with a leisurely ride on the Ice Cream Tour!

Catch a Game Year Round

Grand Rapids Griffins goalie in the net. Photo by Instagram user @griffinshockey
Photo via @griffinshockey

In a sporting mood? Whether you’re looking for baseball, hockey, basketball, or soccer, Grand Rapids has the pro games you want! Watch the Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL), a Detroit Red Wings affiliate, take the ice at Van Andel Arena from October through April. You can watch the Detroit Pistons affiliate Grand Rapids Drive (NBA G League) in the winter, too! Cheer on the Grand Rapids FC (USL) as they kick around the ball in the warmer summer months at Houseman Field in Midtown. As summer turns to fall, enjoy America’s pastime at a West Michigan Whitecaps (MiLB) baseball game. If you’re looking for a different kind of thrill, catch a Grand Raggidy Roller Derby (WFTDA) bout!

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Race at the River Bank Run

Runner nears the finish line at the Amway Riverbank Run. Photo by Instagram user @urimiscott
Photo via @urimiscott

Every year, runners from all over the world flock to Downtown Grand Rapids to compete in the Amway River Bank Run! This 43-year-old competition is the country’s biggest 25k road race, sending runners through downtown’s streets, parks, and stretches of the Grand River. People of all ages, skill levels, and capabilities can take part, too, with a 10k and 5k race, 5k Community Walk, the non-competitive Amway Junior, and the world’s only 25k hand cycle and wheelchair racing divisions!

Experience Michigan’s Best Food City

Steak frites with beer and Moscow mule from Butcher's Union. Photo by Instagram user @butchersuniongr
Photo via @butchersuniongr

Grand Rapids’ food scene is home to some of the best cuisine and finest chefs in the country, as well as the “Biteseeing” tour along the Food Trail! Devour a hearty lasagna and tiramisu for dessert at Amore Trattoria Italiana. Enjoy Poutine Tots and an ice-cold beer at Blue Dog Tavern. Feast on steak and a whiskey at Butcher’s Union. Have an adventurous palate? Take a culinary tour of the world at Roam By San Chez Bistro with Dutch fruit donuts, Indonesian Lumpia, or Vietnamese Banh Mi. Craving creative tacos and Mexican cocktails? Look no further than Luna, where you can sample Mango, Paloma, or Spicy margaritas, then chow down on tacos ranging from Carne Asada to Sweet Potato & Black Bean. And if you like nostalgic, vintage vibes, grab the best hot dog in the city at Yesterdog in Eastown, famously featured in American Pie.

Drink Up Beer City, USA

Variety of beers from City Built Brewing Company. Photo by Instagram user @citybuilt
Photo via @citybuilt

Home to more than 80 breweries, Grand Rapids takes its reputation as one of America’s best beer scenes seriously! Enjoy the best of Beer City, USA on the Ale Trail and become a Brewsader along the way! A trip to Founders Brewing’s Grand Rapids Taphouse is a must for beer lovers—order a famous KBS beer, a hoppy and crisp All-Day IPA, or the silky-smooth Nitro Oatmeal Stout. Looking for an old-world take on craft beer? Make your way to Brewery Vivant, a brewpub in a renovated funeral home constructed in 1915, for traditional European and Belgian beers alongside a menu of locally sourced food that’s updated every day. Venture a few blocks north of downtown for some of the best brewery experiences in Grand Rapids, including Puerto Rican food and experimental beers like Crystal Sesh or Into the Fray at CityBuilt Brewing. Try the baseball-themed beer and pizza from The Mitten Brewing Co. Or enjoy the tropical POG-O-LICIOUS IPA or Purple Gang Pilsner from Atwater Brewery.

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PINTEREST: Grand Rapids, MI: 18 Things to Know

Thinking of living in Grand Rapids? Michigan's second-largest city provides affordable living and big city amenities. Check out these 18 things to know about Grand Rapids! via @extraspace