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