101 GuidescityTravel

grand rapids guide

by Stephanie

Image above by Grguy2011

Today’s city guide comes to us from Jane Whittington, a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. When she is not reading, traveling (especially to New York City) or spending time with her family, you can find her compulsively redecorating her home. She has lived in Fremont, Lansing and East Lansing, Detroit, Kalamazoo and Muskegon. She liked them all, but she likes Grand Rapids best, so today she shares with us the many gems this city has to offer. Thanks, Jane, for this wonderful guide! — Stephanie

PS — Also check out this recent viral YouTube video filmed in Grand Rapids showcasing the city’s many citizens. Thanks, Jane, for sharing this!

Read more of the city guide after the jump . . .

Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in Michigan, with a city population of 188,000 and a metro population of 778,000. To locate Grand Rapids, hold up your right hand facing you. (We all carry portable maps in Michigan.) Draw a line from the webbing of your thumb straight across to about 1/2 inch from the edge of your palm. Grand Rapids. (If you go just a bit farther, you’ll tumble into Lake Michigan.)

The largest influx of settlers was from the Netherlands, people who came to America to follow a far straighter and much narrower path to salvation than was practiced in the old country. Their Calvinist religion (Christian Reformed) has left Grand Rapids with a Dutch legacy, which includes a disproportionate number of blonds, a reputation for Conservatism and 27 pages of names starting with “Van” in the telephone directory.

Grand Rapids has been called The Furniture City, since it supplied many of the country’s parlors and dining rooms with sturdy furniture for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Manufacturers like Widdicomb, Berkey and Gay, Sligh, Kindel and Stickley made Grand Rapids famous. Today, the furniture produced in GR is mostly of the office variety and includes names like Steelcase, Haworth, Knoll and American Seating. Herman Miller is based in nearby Holland, MI.

GR is home to Amway (Would you like to buy some soap?); Meijer, a “superstore” with facilities throughout the Midwest; Bissell (the vacuum cleaner people); and Wolverine World Wide (Hush Puppy shoes) and is also part of a flourishing bio-medical corridor stretching from Detroit/Ann Arbor to GR.

GR has six colleges or universities, of which five are Christian. Grand Valley State University is the sixth. GR is also home to the Michigan State University School of Human Medicine, a branch of Thomas J. Cooley Law School (the largest law school in the country) and Kendall College of Art and Design along with GR Community College.

It has the only professional ballet company in the state, an excellent symphony orchestra and the Opera GR, as well as numerous community and civic theater organizations.

GR is divided into four quadrants. The north/south dividing line is Fulton St., and the east/west dividing line is Division Ave. Addresses all include SE, SW, NE or NW, which will tell you in what direction to head. In general, avenues run north and south; streets run east and west.

The main commercial strips are 28th Street and Alpine Avenue. With few exceptions — unless you feel a deep need for an Applebee’s, Olive Garden or Target — you can avoid these streets.


The recommendations included in the GR city guide are based on my opinions and only include places I have actually frequented. They are all in the city of GR; suburbs are not included. Almost all are locally owned and operated. Space does not allow for the inclusion of all the fine establishments in Grand Rapids. At some point, I just had to say, “Enough already!” Fellow Grand Rapidians are encouraged to add their own picks and pans in the comments section.

And be sure to call before you go. Many places are still closed on Sundays, and some have odd hours during the week.


Eastown — Young, busy, lots of things to do and places to go. You can spend a day just exploring the streets, the shops and the restaurants, which appeal to the hipster in all of us. Bounded by Fulton on the north, East Grand Rapids on the east, Franklin on the south and Fuller on the west and centered on Wealthy and Lake.

East Hills Center of the Universe, or so the signs report. Quirky, funky, urban — you know all the adjectives. Shops and restaurants and antiques and bars. Local artist Reb fancies up the area with his colorful, primitive work. Walkable, friendly. Fuller and Union are the boundaries on the north and south, and Fulton and Wealthy are on the east and west.

Fulton Heights — A thriving area with some of the best antique and second-hand stores in town. Ethiopian vegan food across the street from a Dutch bakery. In other words, something for everyone. Fulton Heights boundaries are Fuller Ave., Michigan Ave., Fulton St. and Plymouth Ave. It’s between Heritage Hill and East Grand Rapids.

Heartside — Missions, soup kitchens, dive bars, trendy bars and art. Pretty much downtown; bounded by Fulton and Wealthy, E/W and Grandville and Lafayette, N/S. Urban renaissance meets urban squalor. You get the picture.

Heritage Hill — A monumental victory for preservationists! This neighborhood, on its way downhill and slated to be demolished, was rescued, restored and preserved by a devoted group of activists. The district is just east of the central business district and is six blocks wide and about eight blocks long. Most houses were built from the 1840s to the 1920s and include beautiful homes in all architectural styles. It’s fascinating to just walk up and down these tree-lined streets and drink in the grandeur of days gone by. There is even a Frank Lloyd Wright home, the Meyer May House, meticulously restored by Steelcase.  In May, there are Heritage Hill home tours. You can also download a walking tour guide on their website.


Fulton Heights


Teshlu’s Little Africa Almost literally a hole in the wall. You feel like you’re in Lou’s dining room. Interesting, spicy, intimate. Can be slow. This is a great place to try Ethiopian for the first time — and if you’re already a fan, you won’t be disappointed. They don’t take credit or debit cards. Vegetarian.

956 Fulton E.


50s Nostalgia or Retro Food

Vans Pastry Shop You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another era. This third-generation bakery, decorated with an astounding array of cookie jars, makes everything fresh all day long in the back kitchen. People visit between the small tables or sit outside to watch what’s happening. Try a loaf of their popular English muffin bread for toast. The best! And for $1, you can get coffee and a doughnut. 955 Fulton St. E, 616-458-1637

Assorted Foodstuffs

Fulton Street Farmers’ Market This is one heckuva farmer’s market. Filled with locally grown, organic, free-range, cage-free, fresh, healthy, beautiful, delicious (etc.) stuff. For buying food from May through Christmas, this is the only place you need to go. Saturdays (and some Fridays) are seriously crowded, and parking can be hard to find. They’re open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. And on Sunday, it turns into an Artisans’ Market with local artists selling their wares. 1147 E. Fulton St., 616-454-4118


Coffee Etc.

Madcap CoffeeIt’s expensive. It’s slow. It’s worth it. It’s what other coffee wants to be when it grows up. Best. Coffee. Ever. Cool vibe, nice people. And did I mention the coffee? 98 Monroe Center NW, 616-242-9194


One-Stop Coney Shop Simply hot dogs, but not simple hot dogs. Chicago style, Detroit style, Grand Rapids style, your style. Also delicious French fries and toothsome malts. Best vegetarian hot dogs I’ve ever had. And all the tips go to charity. Friendly people and nice to kids. 154 Fulton Rd. E, 616-233-9700

B.O.B. Just what it says it is: a Big Old Building. It contains a number of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. And you can’t miss the gigantic “Steam Pig,” which came for ArtPrize and never left. Always busy; always fun; always good. Part of the Gilmore Collection (see next entry). 20 Monroe Ave. NW, 616-356-2000

Fancy Schmancy

You can take the “fancy” designation with a grain of salt (specially imported sea salt, of course), as no place is particularly fancy anymore. In other words, no black tie and evening gowns necessary. But no flip-flops either.

Bistro Bella Vita Excellent downtown restaurant with extensive wine list and good food. They use local and organic food. Best to make reservations on weekends. 44 Grandville Ave. SW, 616-222-4600

Louis Benton Traditional, opulent steak house. Prepare to pay. Reservations recommended. 77 Monroe Center NW, 616-454-7455

Tre Cugini — Elegant Italian. 122 Monroe Center NW, 616-235-9339

San Chez Bistro — Tapas comes to Grand Rapids. San Chez is regularly mentioned in everyone’s list of best restaurants in town and deservedly so. Excellent food and wine and lots of choices. Beautifully presented. As San Chez Café, they open for breakfast and lunch. On weekends, it’s best to have a reservation. (Downtown) 38 W. Fulton St., 616-774-8272


XO — XO is consistently voted Grand Rapids’ favorite Asian restaurant. They serve Thai and Chinese along with sushi, so they’ve pretty much covered all the bases. I’ve never had anything there that disappointed. Try the spicy mango sauce with tofu! Outside seating available in nice weather, or nab a table by the front window to people watch. 58 Monroe Center, 616-235-6999

Angel’s Thai Café — Another Thai restaurant comes to town. Pleasant atmosphere with excellent food. Right across the street from Rosa Parks Circle, makes it handy to drop in before or after downtown events. 136 Monroe Center NW, 616-454-9801



Stella’s — Stella’s advertises “strong drink, cheap beer, loud music, no bullshit.” There you have it. An unusual blend of heavy metal, arcade games and vegan food. For carnivores, they have a “pet cemetery” menu. This is one seriously off-beat place. Live music on occasion. 53 Commerce Ave., 616-SHAG-444

The Viceroy In the same building as Stella’s (above). They share a kitchen and a roof, and the menus are similar. But they are into quieter music (except for Wednesday, when a local band rocks) and a huge menu of mixed drinks. You have to ring the bell to get it. Who knows why. 53 Commerce Ave., 616-774-VICE


Pikositos —  This new addition to Heartside is an authentic Mexican eatery that is sure to make your taste buds sing a Spanish tune. Fresh, authentic, homemade. Original artwork adds to the ambiance. 122 S. Division Ave., 616-454-3847

Eastown and East Hills

Coffee Etc.

The Sparrows Coffee, Tea and Newsagent Drinks and esoteric magazines in a cozy environment. Quiet, good music and art. Outside seating is available. Free trade coffees and teas, and a big selection of both. (Eastown) 1035 Wealthy St. SE, 616-608-3375

Kava House — Eastown location draws a lot of locals. Inside and outside seating, good coffee and lots of pastries. Big for a coffee shop. 1445 Lake Drive SE, 616-451-8600.

Rowster This is seriously good coffee and oh so New Yorky. Comfy chairs, unusually satisfying brew-on-demand coffee and off-beat treats. You will be happy! 632 Wealthy St. SE, 616-780-7777


Cherie Inn  They’ve been pleasing Grand Rapids since 1929. Very popular for breakfast. Charming ambiance. Food is uniformly good; Sunday mornings are always super busy. 969 Cherry St. SE, 616-458-0588

Gaia — Hippie food for hippie folk. Service is sometimes slow, but the food (vegetarian) is good, the atmosphere is lively, and the people are friendly. Super casual. Far out, man! 209 Diamond Ave. SE, 616-454-6233

Marie Catrib’s So good! And the fact that’s its always busy tells you that a lot of other people like it too. Amazing breakfasts. Astounding entrees. Superlative desserts. American with Mid-Eastern touches. Marie is usually in the open kitchen, so you can thank her personally. Light-hearted art enlivens both interior and exterior. Really, go there. (Vegetarian-friendly) 1001 Lake Dr. SE, 616-454-4020

Yesterdog This is where people who were born in Grand Rapids come back to visit. Crazy busy, loud, chaotic décor. But the locals love it! You might recognize the place from the 1999 movie American Pie, which was written by a young man who grew up in nearby East Grand Rapids. The website is fun and will introduce you to the staff. (East Hills) 1505 Wealthy St. SE, 616-336-0746

Sandmanns — Old-time BBQ, lovingly cooked onsite. Nothing fancy here, but darned good food. It’s small with few tables, so takeout is a good idea. Their special “soul food Sundays” are a religious experience! 1200 Wealthy St. SE, 616-459-0900

Electric Cheetah Always something super interesting, not to mention delicious! They use as much locally grown and produced items as possible, and you can taste the freshness. And the ambience is just as fresh (also noisy). Oddly, they have a long menu of craft root beers. Who knew? 1015 Wealthy St. SE, 616-451-4779

Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop Cozy setting for good soup. A dozen choices daily, and the menu changes often. Everything is made right there with fresh ingredients. Decadent desserts. Small and friendly. They’ll act like they know you even if they don’t. 1133 Wealthy St. SE, 616-451-4780

Winchester Bar — A good place to eat, drink, socialize or do all three at once. Creative, local menu. Noisy and friendly. Patio seating as well. 648 Wealthy St., 616-451-4969


Brick Road Pizza This is just a very cool place. Locally owned, using local products for local people. Lots of vegetarian and even vegan offerings, and, if you must order meat, be assured that whatever you’re eating has had a happy, free-range kind of life. Not fancy but fun. 1917 Wealthy St. SE, 616-719-2409

Middle Eastern

The Pita House — AKA Sami’s. The place for gyros and hummus. Certainly unpretentious but tasty. 1450 Wealthy SE, 616-454-1171

Assorted Foodstuffs

Wealthy Street Bakery Friendly neighborhood place. Good for soups, sandwiches and pizza, but best for breads and pastries. Delicious and caloric, but who’s counting? Pleasant atmosphere with local art. 610 Wealthy St. SE, 616-301-2950

Other Locations


Nantucket Bakery — Primarily a bakery (and a WONDERFUL one), but I think they have the best pizza in town. All kinds of interesting taste combinations, or you can make up your own. Great pizza at a very reasonable price. And good luck resisting the cookies and bread when you go pick it up. Take out only. Right next door to Martha’s Vineyard (see entry in assorted foodstuffs). 200 Union Ave. NE, 616-726-6609

Red Jet Café Part of the Gilmore Collection of restaurants. They have a limited menu but excellent quality. Their pizzas are miles ahead of standard issue. The restaurant occupies an historic building that was formerly a library and a bank. 1431 Plainfield St. NE, 616-759-5500

50s Nostalgia or Retro Food

Fat Boy — It’s worth the drive just to see the great Fat Boy sign that has served as the restaurant’s logo since it was opened forever ago. Fairly pedestrian food but lots of visiting between tables with people who grew up in the neighborhood. 2450 Plainfield Ave. NE, 616-447-2200

Choo Choo Grill — This teeny-tiny restaurant next to the railroads tracks used to be a real rail station and now serves old-fashioned diner fare with no irony intended. Burgers, fries, malts, giant breakfasts in railroad-themed surroundings. The kids will think it’s a lot of fun. And you do understand that it is small? 1209 Plainfield Av. NE, 616-774-8652

Fancy Schmancy

Shiraz — And now for something completely different: This Persian/Mediterranean restaurant features good food and, on Thursdays, belly dancers! Opulent décor. 2739 Breton Rd. SE, 616-949-7447


Maggie’s Kitchen Real Mexican food in this long-time GR favorite. Fresh and authentic but certainly nothing fancy about it. Like Grandma’s kitchen if Grandma were from Juarez. 636 Bridge St. NW, 616-723-8626

Beltline Bar — Some people love it; some people hate it. But it’s been doing business since 1953, so they must be doing something right. If you like it, you’ll like it. If you don’t, you won’t. (However, it’s always voted GR’s favorite Mexican restaurant.) 16 28th St. SE, 616-245-0494


Rak Thai Bistro This strip-mall restaurant is a surprise. Excellent food, good value, cheery décor. And bubble tea. Be careful not to overreach when choosing your spiciness level. 5260 Northland Dr. NE, 616-363-2222

Assorted Foodstuffs

Dorothy and Tony’s Kettle Corn — Addictive. Once you’ve tried it, you’re hooked. Fortunately, you can buy it not only at their main store where they cook up the stuff (apparently lacing it liberally with crack), but also at Fulton St. Farmers’ Market, local D & W grocery stores and at Kingma’s Market. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. (Sometimes called Dorothy and Toto’s Kettle Corn — same thing.) 2106 Plainfield Ave. NE, 616-447-9800

Kingma’s Market — Since 1917, the Kingma family has been serving GR. They have over 750 wines, over 350 beers, and domestic and imported cheeses. The kids will love the candy wall with row upon row of delicious confections. The butcher shop in the back has some of the best meats in town. During the spring and summer, they also offer plants and garden supplies and the holidays bring greenery galore. Good selection of Dutch candies and pastries as well. 2225 Plainfield Ave. NE, 616-363-7575

Martha’s Vineyard — Huge selection of wine and beer. Also gourmet food items, freshly made pastries and candies and bread from the shop next door (Nantucket Bakery). It’s like Zabar’s but on a small scale. And no kugel. 200 Union St. NE, 616-459-0911

Nantucket Bakery — Wonderful breads and other baked goods. Also notable for pizza. They have different breads each day plus regulars. Worth finding even though it’s a bit off the beaten path. 200 Union Ave. NE, 616-726-6609

VanderVeen’s, the Dutch Store — “Ya ain’t much if ya ain’t Dutch.” Here’s where you can discover your inner Dutchman/woman. Come here for snoep (candy), kaas (cheese), klompen (wooden shoes: you know you want some) and rusk (rusk). You can also order online when you get back home and have a yen for that strange, salty, hard Dutch licorice. 2755 28th St. SW, 616-531-2012

Multiple Locations


Gilmore Collection — The Gilmore Collection includes a long list of uniformly good restaurants throughout the area. You can’t really go wrong if you choose one of these. All different. All good. Check out the website for locations and menus.

Coffee Etc.

Biggby — Not local, but close to local. Its headquarters are in Lansing. Many franchises throughout the area. Pleasant atmosphere, pleasant coffee, extra-pleasant blueberry muffins.


Vitale’s — Since 1966, Vitale’s has been a GR favorite. There are now six restaurants throughout the area. Old-timey Italian atmosphere.

50s Nostalgia or Retro Food

Russ’ — This family of restaurants is based in Holland but has several locations in GR. Russ, the happy Dutch boy, is on all the signs. The place to go if you want to eat the food your grandparents love — chops, hot turkey sandwiches, cole slaw, cherry pie, vegetables cooked to a delicate hyper-softness. Definitely not open on Sundays.


Not being a frequenter of many bars, this section will include bars which I’ve been told are well above average. Food, music, conviviality.


Bar Divani — 15 Ionia Ave., 616-774-9463

Hopcat — 25 Ionia Ave., 616-774-9463

Pyramid Scheme — 68 Commerce SW

Founders Brewing Company — 235 Grandville Ave. SW, 616-776-1195

Intersection Lounge — 133 Grandville Av. SW, 616-451-3039

Eastown and East Hills

Brewery Vivant — 925 Cherry St. SE, 616-719-1604

Meanwhile Bar — 1005 Wealthy St. SE, 616-233-1679

Billy’s Lounge — 1437 Wealthy St. SE, 616-459-5757

Be Merry (Special Events and Special Places)

The Thursday edition of the Grand Rapids Press features a listing of weekend events in the area.

Various Locations

ArtPrize Nineteen days, over 1,500 artists in venues throughout center city, over 100,000 visitors — that’s ArtPrize. 2011 marks the third year of this uber art festival bringing artists of all genres from all over the world to display their art and compete for more-than-generous cash awards. While the artists are in town, that’s about all anyone talks about, and it’s great fun to get into conversations at the bank, coffee shop or grocery store about what you’ve seen. Wonderful way for kids to get exposure to all different kinds of art outside of a museum. If you sign up (a simple process), you can vote on your favorites. If you’re planning to stay in a hotel, book early, as GR has lots of visitors during ArtPrize. 2011’s ArtPrize is September 21 to October 9. To see a video of ArtPrize on the Today show, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdgvzn8OIZY

Center for Inquiry — Atheists! In Grand Rapids! This group of freethinkers meets on a bi-weekly basis for programs of interest to atheists, agnostics, skeptics and other such folks. Speakers have included such heavy hitters as Susan Jacoby, Christopher Hitchens and Paul Kurtz. Check the website for upcoming events.

Rob Bliss — This young college student has mastered the art of unique community events. Working with volunteers, donations and lots of imagination, he has staged the World’s Largest Zombie Walk, an epic water balloon battle between the Americans and the British on the Fourth of July, a four-block downtown slip and slide and, my favorite, the synchronized release of over 100,000 rainbow-hued paper airplanes from downtown high rises while a crowd of 20,000 all sang the same song, composed for the occasion. Rob doesn’t have a website, but you can follow him on Facebook. And here are some YouTube videos that “document” his work:





Heritage Hill

Meyer May House — This stunning Frank Lloyd Wright house was built in 1909. Over the years, it fell into disrepair and was ultimately rescued and beautifully restored by Steelcase. Steelcase uses the home for corporate special events and also opens it to the public for tours. It is a fine example of Wright’s prairie style and is on a par with anything in Oak Park, IL. where Wright’s studio is and where he designed and built many homes. Free tours Tuesday and Thursday, 10–2 and Sunday, 1–5. 450 Madison St. SE, 616-246-4821


UICA — Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts. “A dynamic, multi-disciplinary laboratory for the advancement of the art of our time.” They will be moving soon (probably July 2011) into a new building. In the meantime, visit the old one for art exhibitions, special events, indie movies and all manner of artistic endeavors. 41 Sheldon Blvd. SE, 616-454-7000

Festival of the Arts — A summer weekend’s worth of art, entertainment, food, activities and kids’ events. Except for the food, it’s free, free, free! Held downtown in early June.

Rosa Parks Circle — Features a statue of Rosa Parks and a fountain designed by Maya Lin, who designed the Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington, DC. Frequent weekend events and activities. Open for ice skating in the winter and dance parties in the summer. 155 Monroe Center

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum — President Ford was born and lived in Grand Rapids and is proudly claimed as a native son. A statesman not often seen in today’s political scene. The museum features exhibits about Ford and his family, both in the White House and out, and an extensive overview and artifacts from the Watergate scandal (I guess Nixon wasn’t interested in having that particular exhibition in his museum). This is also where President Ford is buried. 303 Pearl St. NW, 616-254-0400

Other Locations

Pulaski Days — Held the first full weekend in October, this festival honors Revolutionary War hero and Polish immigrant Casimir Pulaski. Lots of beer, lots of brats, lots of polkas.

Meijer Gardens — An expansive botanical garden, outside gardens, sculpture garden, children’s garden, farm garden and art garden. In April, the butterflies get up close and personal. In December, there are Christmas trees from around the world. In summer, there is music (think KD Lang, Lyle Lovett and Buddy Guy). There is always something beautiful to see. Nice gift shop and café too. 1000 E. Beltline Dr. NE, 888-957-1580

Eastown and East Hills

Wealthy Theatre — There’s always something going on at this revitalized movie palace. Music, movies, lectures, dance . . . you name it, they have it. 1110 Wealthy St. SE, 616-459-4788 X 130


Prices will be a pleasant surprise to most, but GR knows its furniture, so don’t expect to find a genuine leather Herman Miller Eames chair for a bargain. But you can buy a new one from the maker for $4,500 (or so)!


Minty Keen — So darned cute! Lots of locally made arts and crafts (but not in a bad way) as well as retro, vintage and antiques. Mid-century modern vibe. Their website is even cute. 1125 Ottawa St., 616-551-1613

Fulton Heights

East Fulton Art and Antiques My favorite. Beautifully renovated, restored or painted pieces attractively displayed at reasonable prices. Shabby chic fans will be happy. Ellie the dog (rescued from a nearby intersection by the shop’s owner) will greet you at the door and invite you to play. I guarantee (really, I do) that you will find something you desperately want. I could easily furnish my whole house from this store. 959 Fulton St. E., 616-774-3320

Blue Door — Interesting assortment of items from maps to door knobs to who-knows-what-you’ll-find-this-time. You’ll be hard-pressed to get away without buying something. The staff will let you roam uninterrupted through their rooms, but they’re always happy to answer questions or discuss decorating dilemmas. Their in-house greeter is Ben, an indifferent yet decorative cat. 946 Fulton St. E, 616-456-7888

City Antiques — Estates bought and sold. Jam-packed with all kinds of treasures. And their stock changes often. Beatrice is their lovely little dog. And the bubble gum is free! 954 Fulton St. E., 616-776-5550

Rebel Reclaimed — These people have obviously been reading Design*Sponge. Sweet little shop that does repurposed with flair. Whimsical and fun. 926 Fulton St. E., 616-218-9257

Mercury Head Gallery — Fine art, framing and fripperies all in one spot. Beautiful and inexpensive silver jewelry, glass baubles and other items share space with work by local artists. Always worth a visit. 962 Fulton St. E, 616-456-6022

Eastown and East Hills

Wealthy at Charles — Super stylish home-design boutique. Beautiful things beautifully displayed. The owners live upstairs, and I would love to see their house! 783 Wealthy St. SE, 616-458-6664

Eastown Antiques — Two floors and a back room chock-a-block full of antiques and second-hand books, lamps and glassware and much, much more. Really nice selection of Art Deco. Fun to poke around, and the people who run it are super friendly and accommodating. You’ll love it! 1515 Lake Dr. SE, 616-776-1076

Other Locations

Stonesthrow — Long-time GR furniture family owns and operates this modern furniture store with ample showroom space and lots of flair. The store also includes EQ3, contemporary furniture, accessories and art. 1428 Plainfield Ave. NE, 616-459-4167


See other art events and venues under Special Events and Special Places.


GR Art Museum — A newly built museum on Rosa Parks Circle. It’s the first art museum in the US to be LEED certified and was designed by Kulapat Yantrasast (architects will know who he is). Mostly American and European art as well as furniture and accessories from GR, both historic and modern. Also has a nice gift shop and café. 101 Monroe Center, 616-831-1000

Kendall College of Art and Design — This downtown campus has frequent displays of student and staff artwork. Always something new and interesting. 17 Fountain St. NW, 616-451-2787


Sanctuary Folk Art — Reb Roberts et al. sell their work from this Heartside locale. Intuitive, outsider, naïve folk art. Reb’s work is super colorful, happy and fun. You can’t help but respond to the spirit of the art. His work is featured all over East Hills. 140 S. Division St. NE, 616-454-0401

Heartside Gallery — Unconventional, outsider, local art from self-taught artists. Part of Heartside Ministry. 48 S. Division, 616-235-7211 X103

Other Locations

Beerhorst Family — This eccentric family of artists sells their work and frequently opens their home for exhibits and concerts. Rick’s (the dad) work is expensive but stunning. Everyone in the family creates, and they are an interesting group. Their website announces their events.

LaFontsee Galleries — This gallery represents many of Grand Rapids’ finest artists. They also do framing and have a craft boutique. They’ll be moving in the summer of 2011. 820 Monroe Ave. NW, 616-415-9820


Eastown and East Hills

Literary Life — A small but unusually pleasant bookstore in what was once a bank. Nice, although not large, selection of books for adults and children plus coffee and tea. A couch in front of the fireplace makes a comfy spot to sit, read Proust and sip your tea like the civilized person you are. The website includes a blog and a listing of special events. 758 Wealthy St. SE., 616-458-8418

Redux Books — Old books, rare books, used books, out-of-print books. Lots o’ books. 1349 Lake Dr. SE, 616-742-2665

Argos Book Shop — Used books, comic books and graphic novels and vintage books. Close to Redux Books. If you can’t find what you want at one, try the other. 1406 Lake Dr. SE, 616-454-0111

Multiple Locations

Schuler’s Books and Music — A local, independent bookstore with three Grand Rapids locations. Big selection of new and used books, newspapers, magazines, music and gift items. Each store also features the Chapbook Café with coffee and food. Their menu includes what you’d expect in a bookstore and then some. Fresh and delicious. Good food, attractively presented and plenty of places to sit. The downtown Schuler’s also serves beer and wine. Check for music, author visits and other special events. 3165 Alpine Ave. NW; 2660 28th St. SE; 40 Fountain St. NW



Amway Grand Plaza — Built in 1913, it operated for years as the Pantlind Hotel and reopened in 1981 with extensive restoration and renovation plus an addition. This hotel is in the center of downtown. Even if you can’t stay there, it’s worth going in just to take a look. Impressive, to say the least. The hotel also has several fine restaurants. 1876 Monroe Ave., 616-774-2000

J. W. Marriott Grand Rapids — A downtown, high-rise luxury hotel fairly new on the scene. 235 Louis St. NW, 616-242-1500

Heritage Hill

Peaches Bed and Breakfast Ooooh, just lovely! This Georgian Country Manor home was built in 1916 and is in the heart of Heritage Hill. Cozy rooms, good food and a Dalmatian. Who could ask for anything more? 29 Gay Street SE, 616-458-8000

And, of course, there are all the usual Red Roof Inns, Holiday Inns, Days Inns, etc. Many close to the airport.


East Grand Rapids is a city within a city. Bounded on three sides by Grand Rapids, East (as residents call it) is an affluent enclave of some 10,000 tucked into the southeast corner of GR. With award-winning schools, a quaint downtown (Gaslight Village) on the aptly named Wealthy Street and block upon block of beautiful homes (mostly dating back to the 1920s, 30s, 40s and earlier) on pleasant, tree-lined streets, it is well worth a visit. Gerald Ford lived in East Grand Rapids; his former home is at 1011 Santa Cruz. Reeds Lake and Collins Park on the eastern border take up a goodly portion of the community, and from the park, you can watch sail boats or ice fishing on the lake (as this is Michigan, sometimes these activities are on alternate weekends).

The stores are mostly expensive, but you might find something chic and semi-cheap at Rosa’s Closet, a resale and consignment shop at 2141 Wealthy Street, SE.

Rose’s on Reed’s Lake is popular with locals and has consistently good food. It’s at 550 Lakeside Dr., SE.

Olives at 2161 Wealthy St. SE offers casual dining, good wine and a three-season deck.

Jersey Junction, 652 Croswell, SE, is where everyone goes for ice cream. They sell locally made Hudsonville Ice Cream in either single, double or “Jersey single” (scoop and a half) portions along with the usual sundaes, floats, etc. Kids will enjoy not only the ice cream but also the toy train circling the ceiling.

Ramona’s Table, 2232 Wealthy St. SE, is a fairly new addition to Gaslight Village and serves fresh, local (when possible) soups, sandwiches and pastries. They also cater.

Mary’s Ann’s Chocolates sells seriously good, locally made chocolate and other candies. Don’t go in unless you are prepared to purchase, as you will be unable to escape the tempting goodies inside. It’s at 2226 Wealthy St. SE.

Suggested For You


  • Amazing post, I heart all things Michigan and GR is a must-visit everytime we head west!! Our first stop late at night after the trip from Northville (Northeast of Ann Arbor) is Yesterdog, and in the morning Van’s then the market and who knows after that. Love love love that you chose to feature GR =D This will be our guide for this summer’s trip, thanks Grace!

  • WOW, great list, very thorough! I live in GR and she hit all of the good spots. Thanks DS!

  • As a resident of Grand Rapids for the past 10 years, I am super excited to see this guide to the city featured on Design Sponge. Props to Jane for putting together an incredibly extensive article. GR is a great city and I encourage everyone to check it out. I’m a big fan of the East Hills area especially – best eats in town and wonderful little shops.

    Again nice work and thanks for featuring this wonderful city.

  • I grew up in Grand Rapids so I am very excited to see it featured here! However, the photo at the top of the article is NOT Grand Rapids, MI. I think you may have used a photo of another city of Grand Rapids by accident. I would love to see this corrected since GR, MI is so beautiful! Thanks!

  • Thanks for the positive coverage of a great city. Though, let it be known that Bangkok Taste is by far the best Thai restaurant in Grand Rapids. Nothing else comes close.

  • The photo is not of Grand Rapids, Mich. That bridge does not exist there. And the skyline is wrong.

  • Wow! My (blond, Dutch, Christian) boyfriend lives in LA but was born and raised in GR, and I visited for the first time at Christmas. From this list, we did B.O.B., Stella’s, Gaia, Winchester, Hopcat, Founders, Billy’s, Intersection (Mega 80s!), and loitered in the Amway Grand Plaza. We’re both vegetarian and were recommended Marie Catrib’s, but sadly ran out of time. Loved it all, but I must admit Meijer was my favourite thing of all. Ha.

    The Public Museum was cute. Not a word often used to describe a museum, I know, but most aren’t organized from A-Z with giant alphabet blocks and don’t have a merry-go-round! The exhibit of Amway paraphernalia was pretty amusing too. :)

    I’ll be back again for the 4th of July and hope to check out some of these artier, craftier spots. I know dinner with the parents at Russ’ is on the docket. Thank you for the list!

  • Grand Rapids is a wonderful place, and I am so happy to see it featured. The picture you used, however, must have been labeled incorrectly– because that is definitely not our GR!

    • hi guys

      i emailed the photographer to ask about that shot. i didn’t get much help confirming the ID with the site where i bought it, so i’m hoping the person who took the shot will know. as soon as i can confirm it’s not GR (because i already paid for this shot and they won’t refund me, argh!) i’ll swap this out with something new.


  • So nice to see my hometown sounding so appealing! (This wasn’t always the case.) Last time I visited I was introduced to Reserve, an incredible wine bar downtown with amazing design (real Eames dining chairs!) See it here: http://www.reservegr.com/ Definitely worth adding to the list above.

  • As a Grand Rapids native I can tell you that picture is definitely not Grand Rapids, MI. When you compare the first image with the second, you’ll see that that the building to the left of the bridge is completely different (the one in Grand Rapids, MI is the Amway Grand Hotel and has a blue, slanted profile).

  • Hi Grace,

    here is the bridge from the wikipedia entry: http://www.city-data.com/picfilesv/picv20638.php

    As you can see it’s not the same bridge. The other one almost looks like it could be GR, but other commenters are correct, the skyline looks wrong.

    I lived in GR for 18 years and I’ve been in Chicago ever since, but I love going home to visit!

  • Yay hometown! I grew up in GR and eventually plan to move back for a while to start a business with my sis.

    Just to add, Hopcat has the some of the best macaroni and cheese in the world, and their crack fries, holy cats. Every time we go back for a visit, we make it there at least once.

    And if you’re there in the winter, Griffins games at Van Andel are super fun.

    If you want some delicious chocolate, go to Art Of The Table on Wealthy (right by the Wealthy Street Bakery) and get some Patricia’s. They have a small case and usually a good selection.

    For bottles of beer, check out Siciliano’s on Lake Michigan NW & Collindale.

    And a fun fact–Festival is one of the largest all-volunteer run festivals in the country.

    If you have some extra time and want to check out Lake Michigan, take Lake Michigan Drive (duh) west until you hit West Olive (it’s also 31), turn right and follow 31 up into Grand Haven. Nice little beach town, great for an afternoon picnic. You can also follow the lakeshore up to Muskegon or south to Holland.

    Finally, the Meijer on Cascade out by the airport is the best location. :D

  • Wow! Great city guide – I wish I would have had this when I was a student to at Kendall and new to the GR area. One of favorite places in MI! Thanks.

  • I went to college at one of those five Christian Colleges (Calvin!) and lived in Heritage Hill for a year after that and let me tell you my little (1/2) dutch heart is loving this! Five years after I moved to the other side of the state (find the base of your thumb and move your finger an inch in!) I still crave The Pita House, wish I could head to San Chez for my birthday and now really need some Dutch Licorice. In addition to everything listed I would add that GR always has great free shows you can catch (I recall One Trick Pony being a good spot for that).
    P.S. Grace, I don’t think those are the same bridge, but there are at least 1/2 a dozen bridges that cross the Grand River in down town.

  • I’m from GR and I honestly couldn’t tell . . . perhaps it was taken a decade or so ago? The skyline has changed a lot over the years.

  • Grace,

    The picture at the top of your guide is not of downtown, Grand Rapids. Our skyline does not look like that.

    Great guide, full of places I visit weekly. Thanks!

  • Hi! While Fulton Heights is cool and has Ada Bike Shop as well as Schnitz Deli, I want to point out that the items you mention under the Fulton Heights heading aren’t Fulton Heights–that’s actually Midtown. That includes Little Africa (the Ethiopian spot you mentioned), consignment shopping at Urban Exchange along with its twin, Rebel Recalimed, Blue Door for antiques, Van’s for pastries and the Fulton Street Farmers Market. Fulton Heights is East of Fuller. However, the East Fulton Business district straddles both Midtown and Fulton Heights and include both these neighborhoods.

  • Oh yay! I am also a GR native. This was so fun to read through and I didn’t even look at it all yet as it is SO extensive. But I’m totally geeked to see if I’ve been missing out on something, here. I think it’s pretty clear I have been because I’ve never even heard of some of these spots and I’ve lived here my whole life!

    I have to agree that the image you have up does not seem right, but I think those who have suggested it is merely an older photograph of the city are correct.

    Oh and I’d like to add one little secret to the city I have! I don’t know how it compares to the other antique’s stores listed, but 29th Street Antiques is a favorite of mine. 29th street is the younger, calmer and more modest younger sister to 28th street (one of the “main commercial strips” listed above). And 29th Street Antiques is tucked away back there with a surprisingly huge amount of inventory in a old multi-level building that seems to go on and on forever. It’s contents are filled up by endless booths that are all privately operated so the pricing and quality varies, but you’re sure to find something you’ll love!

  • The pic is definitely not Grand Rapids Michigan. I’ve lived here all my life and am on the river weekly! Great article though… sad to see you missed the boatload of really authentic international restaurants we have (pupuseria el salvador, wei wei palace, 7 mares, tacqueria san jose, boba late, palace of india, etc etc!)

  • Design Sponge, you’ve done it again. Thanks for a wonderful guide to Grand Rapids, the city where I am currently located, and have been living in for four years now. I have never felt so at home in a place in my life. This guide is spot on! I don’t think I would have included anything else. If you visit on a monday, Founder’s has pints of their incredible beer for just $2.25. It’s something you don’t want to miss out on. Also, a new vegan/raw restaurant just opened up on Jefferson Ave. called Bartertown. I haven’t been yet but friends say it’s great.

  • Christina is incorrect. The photo is definitively not Grand Rapids Michigan. (there are other Grand Rapids’ though – including Minnesota).


  • Thanks D*S for posting the GR Guide – I lived there for years and love it. The picture is not GR – the Pearl St Bridge is the one you have in the Wiki picture and the one in the Veer picture is different (not sure where it’s from).

    I could go for breakfast at Cherie Inn and my favorite cookie from Gaia right now… yum!!

  • A pretty comprehensive list, but many of my favs were lacking representation! I know no one can cover everything, but lots of essentials didn’t make the cut. WestSider Diner, Pub 43 (sleepy favorite Heartside bar), Jonny B’s on Wealthy (Only 2 am veggie dog option I know of) Lai Thai (on Leonard), Bangkok Taste (Downtown and in Jenison) and Mikado Sushi on 28th are all vital parts of GR for me.

  • makes me miss my old home town. Very thorough review. Wish the post had identified it at MI because the picture didn’t look familiar.

  • Its a pretty good list but more like a guide to GRMI South of Leonard and east of the river. Creston doesn’t have the the public stops but does have the creative class such as K Studio, Nollette Studio, artgoodies and others. Lots of others to be found on NW side…just sayin’

  • Grace, sorry that you got taken for your money, but that is (i can guarantee) not Grand Rapids. If it were the bridge you believed it to be, you would see the amway grand hotel directly behind it, and the JW marriot to the right of it (south). I was downtown in GR every day for years, and have walked around the city in my free time more than weekly..

  • I lived in GR for 4 years and although my job now has me in Detroit, I would love to live there again. You hit all my favorite places and I am so proud to know the amazing mother/son team of Marie Catribs – and can’t speak enough about how WONDERFUL their food and experience is! GR will always have my heart for it’s creative and eclectic community. There is no other place on earth quite like it. Great job with reviewing my favorite city!

  • Great to read such a good list of hotspots in my hometown. It’s definitely changed a lot since I grew up there! Thanks for featuring Grand Rapids!

  • What a wonderful article! Once you get the correct picture, it will be perfect. I lived in Grand Rapids, MI for 20 years – all my growing up years – and I will return in September to get married there. Our reception will be at the B.O.B. and it is truly as good as she mentions. Grand Rapids is a lovely city filled with wonderful people and I am proud to see it featured.

  • Great write up. And kind of a nice picture of St. Paul :)

    In my recent trips to GR, I could definitely feel the energy of all that good stuff happening all at once. Lived there ages ago, and it was definitely pleasant. But the food, the art, the coffee (Mad Cap is unbelievably good), everything is just kicking in full force now. Feels like a city about to take off.

  • If you like beer, you MUST try Founders and Hopcat. Quickly becoming nationally known. Otherwise, very impressed with this comprehensive list. Couldn’t have done it better as a GR native.

  • Yay, GR!

    The Pyramid Scheme is the newest, coolest addition to GR–a much-needed mid-size music venue, in the tradition of the *old* Intersection club.

    Best places to eat, IMO: Brewery Vivant (decent beer, but it’s the food that’s really good), Bistro Bella Vita, Winchester, the Cottage for burgers, Amore Trattoria (a bit north of downtown in Comstock Park, with kind of a family-friendly feel, but really good Italian food using local ingredients).

    Bar Divani and the Viceroy are the only two places (well, maybe one of the old school Amway Hotel bars) to get a good, classic cocktail (i.e. not something overly sweet masquerading as a “martini”).

    Highly recommend the new art museum, the UICA for indie/foreign films (when it reopens next month!) and art, and the Meyer May house tour.

  • Yay! I am a Grand Rapids dweller :) I grew up in Holland, MI which Jane mentioned in reference to Herman Miller and I love anything West Michigan. The seasons are lovely and the people are so kind. I lived in Heritage Hill going on four years in two different apartments. I attend the one non christian college in Grand Rapids, Grand Valley State University, and most of the students are indeed Christian ;) As a college student and soon-to-be newlywed GR has served me well and I appreciate all it has to offer. If you plan on visiting, come the fourth week in September for ArtPrize http://www.artprize.org/ you wont be disappointed!

    • hi guys

      so sorry again about the image mixup. i spoke with the photographer finally and it was indeed mislabeled. he’s sending me a replacement image to use (since i paid for the other one), but in the meantime i swapped it out for an accurate one ;)


  • Though the stock photo is tagged with “Grand Rapids”, the title of the image is “Panoramic of St Paul, Minnesota, USA”. (Perhaps the owner updated it since you contacted him… not sure.)

    Love the article, though!

  • Great post, Grace! Born and raised in Grand Rapids and am always learning of new places to explore!

    Also.. Can’t forget Nucraft Furniture. :)


  • unless the picture has been changed, that looks like the Grand Rapids skyline to me. Great article. I should point out that Founder’s Brewery is genuinely considered one of the best breweries in the world. I like to say its more than just a bar. Its an icon in the craft beer community and is a national draw for some.

  • How timely! My husband and I are planning a long weekend in Grand Rapids for the Fourth of July and I couldn’t have been more pleased to see this today! Looks like we’ll have some tough decisions to make :)

  • The picture is absoltely Grand Rapids. The view is from the Gerald R FOrd Museum. The bridge is there and the Amway Grand Plaza, JW Marriott, and other identifiable buildings are there. Your photo is correct and it is a beautiful city!

  • I came to Grand Rapids for college and have stayed these two years since. I don’t plan on staying forever, but I simply adore this city. I was thrilled to see this guide!!

    Marie Catrib’s is my absolute favorite place to eat, hands down, with its incredible food, cheery and eclectic atmosphere and, of course, the lovely Marie herself. I also love Gaia, Nantucket (oh, the baked goodness!!) and the neighboring Martha’s, MadCap for its coffee and atmosphere, Vivant and Founders for drinks and, of course, the farmers’ market for all kinds of wonder.

    There is a row of shops in the East Hills district that I would add: Global Infusion (coffee, tea, amazing homemade chai, lovely fair trade goods, wonderful owners–www.globalinfusion.net), Clothing Matters (eco-friendly clothing–www.clothingmatters.net) and the newly-opened Rock, Paper, Scissors (consignment–rpsgr.com). I also would mention the Green Well for great food and drinks (www.thegreenwell.com), as well as the Caribbean fare of Chez Olga in Eastown (www.chezolga.com), and I’ll second the notes above about Reserve (downtown) and Art of the Table (right next door to Wealthy Street Bakery).

    As a resident of Heritage Hill, I’d also recommend a wander through this neighborhood; the old houses are full of character.

    Thanks, Jane, for this guide!

  • Lots of great information. A few corrections: The Dutch immigration wave was at the turn of the 19th century. Grand Rapids had long been home to large populations of Polish and German immigrants, remnants of their neighborhood social halls are still scattered about the West and Northeast areas of the city. Pulaski Days, Polish Fest and Ocktoberfest still celebrate the culture of these earlier immigrants. Also, the directions are switched for the East Hills boundaries – Fuller and Union are E/W and Fulton and Wealthy are N/S.

    • This correction is wrong. The first Dutch came in the mid 19th c. (1840s), most came after the 1860s… Michigan wasn’t even a territory in the turn of the 19th c.

  • We’re GR natives who have lived in lots of other places (including overseas), and now we’re living in Holland, a half-hour drive to the west of GR. Grand Rapids is definitely “on the move” in recent years–*many* of the places mentioned in this review have only been around for five-ten years, some just a year or two. But there’s a vitality and spirit of change in GR that seems to be driving a lot of cool changes, including lots of places you could call “hip”–not a word anyone would have used to describe GR twenty years ago!

    A few other comments:
    –For those of a “hip-intellectual” bent, GR just hosted the first “TEDxGR” conference, with plans to make it an annual event.

    –We add our vote to those who’ve already praised Marie Catrib’s wonderful restaurant (with a great website, too!: http://www.mariecatribs.com/)

    –You should really visit Holland and Saugatuck, too, for two very different but fun lakeside towns.

    –And finally, you can’t visit Michigan without visiting Lake Michigan, the one thing we missed more than anything else when we lived elsewhere (especially in rural Iowa!). We have a stunningly beautiful beach pretty much all the way up the west coast of Michigan, with tons of state parks and some huge dunes.

  • As life long resident of Grand Rapids I can without a doubt say that, that photo is of Grand Rapids. It captures the walking bridge, the JW Marriot hotel, the Amway Grand Plaza and one of the hospitals. My heart is so warmed by this article. Grand Rapids was recently named one of the nations largest failing cities which is what caused the lip dub video by Rob Bliss. It is so wonderful to see all the grand places of our city highlighted and recognized. I would for sure add wealthy st station. On the corner of wealthy and fuller this goes great before or after a stop to the wealthy st theatre across the st. It is such a wonderful place to live and to work not to mention raise a family and go to school. There are so many unexplored nooks and crannies that even long time residents such as myself are continuously hunting for. Don’t make Grand Rapids your “stop if I’m in the area” city, destin to Grand Rapids and find other places to hit along the way. There is so much to see and do here and it has been wonderfully captured in this piece. Thank you so much. Love from the mitten.

  • We’ve lived in GR for several years and love it! It’s also a great city for families with the Children’s Museum, Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Youth Ballet, Picnic Pops and much, much more. Definitely a midwest friendly place. You can see more of it in this awesome video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RptTZjUS14

  • Grand Rapids is definitely “on the move” in recent years–*many* of the places mentioned in this review have only been around for five-ten years, some just a year or two. But there’s a vitality and spirit of change in GR that seems to be driving a lot of cool changes, including lots of places you could call “hip”–not a word anyone would have used to describe GR twenty years ago!

    A few other notes:
    –For those of a “hip-intellectual” bent, GR just hosted the first “TEDxGR” conference, with plans to make it an annual event.

    –We add our vote to those who’ve already praised Marie Catrib’s wonderful restaurant (with a great website, too!: http://www.mariecatribs.com/)

    –BlueDoor Antiques is one of the best in the area, with reasonable prices on some really unique stuff.

    –You should really visit Holland and Saugatuck, too, for two very different but fun lakeside towns.

    –And finally, you can’t visit Michigan without visiting Lake Michigan, the one thing we missed more than anything else when we lived elsewhere (especially in rural Iowa!). We have a stunningly beautiful beach pretty much all the way up the west coast of Michigan, with tons of state parks and some huge dunes.

  • Awesome post! I am a proud Grand Rapids resident and absolutely LOVE it here!

    My MUST try restaurant for GR is Greenwell Brewpub – it’s the best in local and creative cuisine with a great outdoor deck in the summer and an hour or two wait on weekends (that’s how you know it’s good) and it’s DEFINITELY worth the wait!

  • Awesome article! I love my fair city. You should also check out lost and found antiques in old town district and rebel reclaimed I LOVE those shops. If you venture out to Holland Mi check out my vintage clothing and furniture store on 8th. Facebook: foundon8th. Shameless I know but there is a ton to do!

  • I agree with the wow that is Grand Rapids, it’s true we (and I say we because I feel honored to have been a part of the rebirth of the Uptown area) have some amazing places to eat, shop, sit and sip and generally live! It’s hard to believe 10 years ago we were 180degrees from today’s GR and it’s so very fun. I appreciate those of you, Aimee & Stacy Marie, who added Art of the Table to your favorites, that in itself was an honor!
    And as for the conservative Dutch CRC thing, we are a little of that but reaching out of conservatism (i own a wine store!!!!) we Dutch CRC are really bringing back our strong roots of owning stores in the very neighborhoods where our ancestors had them many years ago. And we’re happy to be part of the great revitalization – thank you again for writing this and encouraging people to come to our neighborhoods!

  • As a GR native I find this post lacking in content and overall insipid. The entirety of the locations mentioned is exclusive to the northeast side, home to GR yuppies, hipsters and EGR expats. The whole west side & south side are unmentioned, and I mean the real west and real south sides of the city, not the most western or southern sectors of the geographical Northeast side of town. Following this “native’s” tips will have you missing out on great restaurants and places such as El Caporal, 7 Mares, Wing Heaven, Real Food Cafe, JB’s Pizza, Divine Salon ( ask for Jansey), etc. So many places on the south side that make you feel at home and treat you like family, no matter what side of town you’re from. If you desire to be some yuppie’s sycophant while in GR, continue to visit the Northeast side exclusively. Just know that you are doing a disservice to not only yourself, but the city as a whole…north, south, east and west.

    • ken

      i’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this post, we always welcome additions from natives. although i can assure you the person who wrote this guide is a genuine native, there’s no need for sarcastic quotation marks around that word.


  • Justin- I agree about Boba Latte!

    Overall a fantastic representation of GR! Can’t believe you got the choo choo grill on there, my father in law would approve.

  • Ken- wow could you sound anymore pretentious? The poster did an awesome job. This is about highlighting the city for visitors, and she did just that. People from out of town will have a great time enjoying the above mentioned places because they are close together, you don’t want to send them on a wild goose chase to less frequented (and frankly not something I’d show off to visiting friends) areas just to meet your smug, arrogant standards.

  • Ok sorry for the commenting diarrhea… I’m just so excited about this guide! I have lived in Pittsburgh the last 3 years but after reading this I am absolutely itching to go back.


    My favorite Mexican restaurant is La Cantina, it’s kind if low brow but in a charming way if that makes any sense.

    If you want to get your hair did, nails done, back massaged… Go to Tanaz.

    If you are here in the summer, def venture out about 30 min to Grand Haven for a beautiful beach.

  • IMHO, Brewery Vivant does not belong on this list. The wait is two hours (call and ask!) on any weekend, they are always sold out of their best brews, and the food is exceedingly bland. If you want to sit at their bar and try their beer, this might be the place for you, I guess. Good luck trying to even get close enough for the bartender to notice you.

  • Great list! I’ve only lived here for a few years so this list had a few things I never knew about!
    I wanted to mention Franco’s pizza on Alpine (between Richmond and 3 mile) which has the best, most authentic pizza ever, and Mulligan’s (bar) on Wealthy, for those who crave a biker-ish feel to their drinking. Its great on St Patricks Day and they only ever play heavy metal.
    Also, in Heritage Hill there is the Voight House, a Victorian museum that is cool to walk through.
    If you’re inspired by the exteriors of houses, definitely bring a camera to Eastown and go through the Ottawa Hills neighborhood (drive around Plymouth) and Heritage Hill.
    And if you’re near 28th street Mikado Sushi (which serves more than just sushi) is very authentic and yummy, and Carraba’s (Italian) is wonderful.

  • I am moving to Grand Rapids in about 2 weeks to attend grad school. I read Design Sponge everyday! What a wonderful list to have found!!! Soon I will be living in Heritage Hill and as I am coming from a VERY small town finding everything in a big city has been a bit overwhelming. Of course, it is at the same time exciting and adventurous. I have been to a few obvious spots already but you can bet I will hit every place on this list. I’ll go anywhere whether it be off the beaten path or right smack dab in the middle of it! :] I am especially excited for antiques and wonderful restaurants. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  • Awesome guide! I live in nearby Holland, but I’ve always worked in GR. So many of my favs are on the list. Few cities in MI have what GR have and I’m so proud to see it on Design Sponge!!

  • One of our favorite restaurants – for REAL ‘street’ Mexican food is El Granjero (in West Grand Rapids). It’s authentic, inexpensive and friendly – great for eat in or takeaway.

    I second the notes above on the Reserve, Green Well, Art of the Table and Bangkok Taste (definitely the best Thai in the city).

  • The picture in your post IS Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ve lived here for 35 years and have looked at this scene many times.

  • I am from & grew up in Holland, MI, so this seems like a great list of places to check out! I miss it a lot, the beach was just a walk away, GR 20 minutes away, a very underrated vacation spot, if you ask me! I’d like to see a city guide on Holland someday–with it being a very mini “Dutch” town, the tulip festivals, beautiful landscapes, all along Lake Michigan is great!

  • What an extensive list! I’ve lived in GR my whole life, and even though it’s not a huge city, I feel like there’s always new places to discover. Great to see many of my favorite places mentioned here. I am more towards to west side of Grand Rapids, and have a few “west side” locales to add in… Uccello’s has the most awesome stuffed spinach artichoke pizza on the face of the planet. And a second-hand/repurposed store that always has something you didn’t know you desperately needed until you saw it there is Changing Thymes, actually in downtown Grandville, 10 minutes outside of downtown GR. Thanks for a great post!

  • Great post! Thnaks for doing such a great job to promote our city. For restaurants, I would have to add Cherry Deli. It’s located on Cherry Street, just east of Eastern Avenue. Best sandwiches. EVER. Just plan extra time to read the extensive menu. Consider yourself warned. For entertainment value, don’t miss Jazz at the Zoo Monday evenings at John Ball Park Zoo (check website for schedule mid – June – early August (free concerts, a donation basket is passed). Bring some food, a bottle of wine and a comfortable chair.

    Don’t be afraid of all the “dutch people” references (I am one of the many blondes myself.) Grand Rapids is becomng more diverse. Don’t miss out on going to one of the many little Mexican/Peurto Rican/Dominican restaurants, esp. plentiful along the Burton SW and Grandville Ave. corridors.

  • Thanks to Stephanie & Design Sponge for the honorable mention of our store Wealthy At Charles. We have had several out of state guests that have discovered our store & other shops because of this gude. Great work!

  • I very much enjoyed reading about my hometown. I grew up in GR, moved away as an adult, but still get back there to see family. I am proud to see what a great place it continues to be. I did notice an error in the guide–Gerald R. Ford was not born in GR. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska–and with a different name. More biographical information can be found at the website for the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum. (Since so many people have been concerned about presidential birth certificates, I thought it might be good to provide the correct information!) :)

  • Thanks, Kathy. I had forgotten that. This week was Mrs. Ford’s funeral here in GR, and she is now buried next to her husband at the Ford Museum.

    Jane Whittington

  • To all those who say the picture is not of GR, IT IS! I’ve sat right where this picture is taken many times.

  • My mother grew up in GR. Her dad owned a butcher shop. It was called Casimir Wolski Meats and Butcher. Anyone know anything about that shop????

  • Thanks for the great review of GR. I’m from the area, moved away, moved back and this helped to rediscover GR and I found some unique places I want to try out! Thanks!
    Also, Eliott’s right. Your picture up top is of GR. I have an almost identical photo from this year’s ArtPrize on my camera. It is taken from the back of the Gerald R. Ford Museum/Ah-Nab-Awen Park, looking toward the Amway Grand Plaza (slanty roof).
    Thanks again!

  • I know it’s a little late, but Minty Keen’s address is actually 125 Ottawa, not 1125, just so people don’t get lost trying to find it. So proud to have our shop included in such a fabulous list of Grand Rapids treasures! Thanks so much! :)

  • Pretty good rundown of the top spots.

    A few things to add:

    Hopcat, in addition to being named Beer and Wine’s #3 bar in the world, also has fabulous food. Worth a stop for lunch. Their crack fries really ARE addicting, and the Killer Mac and Cheese is…. killer. Add to that a fabulous selection of craft beers and recent addition of craft hard ciders and it’s a great little spot. NOT kid friendly.

    Jersey Junction, in the Gaslight District of East Grand Rapids is a fun little candy store and ice cream parlor. With a train theme and lots of pictures of the town as it once was, it’s a great spot to grab a cone – just try it in the spring or fall when it’s NOT packed to the gills!

    Redux books is even more fun if you know that the gentleman who is usually at the counter speaks both Dutch and Fries. If you speak either, try negotiating for your purchase in that language!

  • I just found this post and I LOVE grand Rapids, it’s the best city ever! The picture above is indeed Grand Rapids, I’m not sure why everyone is saying it’s not. Please also note, you forgot to include: Bull’s Head and Bombay for the best Indian food ever, besides those two the list was wonderful and hit all my favorite places.

  • While I am not a native of G.R., MI, (lived here 54 years), I would bet the city scape at the top of the article is indeed Grand Rapids. Perhaps the photo has been changed since the posting.

  • A bunch of people are verifying the picture is GR, without giving thought that this photo may not be the original one on this guide.

    Ok… The Pita House on Monroe Center? It’s gone. So sad. I’m not sure if it was part of that chain. Fro-yo in there now. XO further down Monroe Center? They pull out a cart in appropriate seasons during lunch, selling some basics like sweet-and-sour chicken, crab cheese, rice, egg rolls, etc. I like stopping there during ArtPrize because it’s so convenient, as are the food trucks outside GRAM and in Bob’s lot, as of the most recent ArtPrize. Benson’s Steakhouse closed without warning last year, just suddenly gone. Schuler’s has downsized, the downtown location is gone. We have a ton of micro-breweries, and GR is Beer City USA. Pikositos is gone. That location is the kind with a lot of… turnaround? Alpine has a few spots like that, though Amore seems to be lasting longer than others. Martha’s Vineyard/Nantucket has grown. The Nantucket spot is only pizza now. But immediately south of Martha’s is a new parking lot followed by the new Nantucket non-pizza location, a cafe that uses the type of coffee brewing that Madcap does (but much more choices in drinks and food), and a place selling home brewing supplies. I think Nantucket may have added a gluten-free bakery space. Beware the one-way streets, there’s a few in this area. Steam Pig was taken away a couple years ago. I don’t think the Viceroy is still there, link re-directs to Stella’s – which is known for their stuffed burgers. Someone mentioned Pub43, that was the last place in use in an otherwise dilapidated building, which was torn down last year. At the time they didn’t have plans to move elsewhere or nowhere. There’s a Fat Boy on Pearl, just west of the highway. The Grand Rapids Pizza and Delivery place is pretty good, and delivers really late. The majority of downtown buildings were cleared away and replaced in the 60’s by urban renewal. Before and after images are crazy… I can’t imagine what that cost! Festival of the Arts is always the first full weekend of June. The 5 downtown bridges have a pattern; from either end: road bridge, pedestrian bridge, road bridge, pedestrian bridge, road bridge. The Downtown Market on south Ionia is really new. They have a farmer’s market in season, and similar in content and price of others locally. Inside, the first floor is filled with fancy foods and gadgets that can be pretty expensive. The second floor is more learning-based, there’s a greenhouse and a kitchen specifically for kid use – just like the one you’d see in the Food Channel’s kid cooks competition show. I don’t know what else is up there. LaFontsee is on Lake. Minty Keen is only online now. I loved living about a block from Heritage Hill. The houses are so special.