MichiganTravel

City Guide: 24 Hours in Grand Rapids, MI

by Sabrina Smelko

Grand Rapids, Michigan City Guide

Libby VanderPloeg is an illustrator, letterer and designer who grew up on the edge of the Great Lakes dunes in the lovely Grand Rapids, MI. Though she’s since moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, her affinity for storytelling, music, letterforms, printed ephemera, and wildlife has remained with her. Libby’s charmingly witty and beautifully descriptive 24-hour guide is filled with all the goodness in life, from food and drink to art and antiques. Click through to read her short-story-esque city guide! –Sabrina

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

This is how we show you where we’re from in Michigan. Photo by Claire Geist

While these days, I spend most of my time making stuff in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I’ll always consider Grand Rapids, MI my home and a source of inspiration. Every time I go back to visit, I’m amazed and encouraged by how much GR is growing, and am excited to see the city’s artists and craftsmen as a driving force behind this awesome progress. So if I could imagine a perfect day in this fine city, it would go a little something like this…and go!

7:30 am: It’s imperative that I start the day with a stretch, so my friend Molly and I go for a hike around Reed’s Lake in East Grand Rapids. Once we’ve completed the roughly 4-mile, wooded loop, I’m very ready for a coffee and something sweet.

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Pour-over coffee drippers lined up at Rowster Coffee. Photo © Damon Card

9 am: We pop over to Rowster Coffee on Wealthy Street for a little pick-me-up. I glance around the light-flooded cafe, enjoying the beautiful photography lining the walls, while friendly baristas weigh out coffee beans for pour-over cups of house-roasted coffee. My eyes settle on the pastry case, and a particularly golden gougere from Field & Fire, which I decide not to resist.

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Rowster Barista. Photo © Damon Card

10 am: The antique stores are open, and since Grand Rapids is a haven of mid-century modern artifacts (this town is the home to Steelcase and Herman Miller, afterall), my mom (who documents Mid-Century Design) and I head over to Century Avenue (i.e. Antique Row) and let ourselves get lost for an hour in Warehouse One, Bluedoor, Phil’s Stuff, Lost & Found, and Century. I want to take everything home, from a shiny 60s Grundig stereo console, to a nearly-mint 70s Wrangler denim jacket. I walk out with a lightly weathered 1930s railroad dining car menu. Paper score!

11 am: I’m not yet tired of looking at old stuff, so we drive to Eastown, taking the scenic route, passing by Frank Lloyd Wright’s gorgeous Meyer May House on Madison, eventually ending up at Argo’s Book Shop on Robinson, where as a kid I’d get stacks of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics. As I’m browsing through illustrated books, I decide to jot down some notes, and realize that I (GASP!) forgot to bring my notebook. No worries — I know a place close by that might have one. We head over to BLACKLAMB, a cute, little boutique on Cherry Street, stocked with pretty paper goods (e.g. travel journals and cards), clothing, jewelry, and odds and ends to decorate the designers’ home. I not only find a cute journal to take my notes in, but a pencil case, a warm and stylish beanie (because it’s freezing out), and a really lovely Lotta Jansdotter candle (because I’m a sucker for anything illustrated by Scandinavians that smells good).

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Cool home goods at BLACKLAMB. Photo by Marissa Boswell.

11:45 am: My stomach is growling, and seeing that it’s almost lunch time and we’re just a block away from Marie Catrib’s, we make a mad dash to beat the rush. I’m not kidding — you’ve got to get to this place early if you don’t want to wait. With their Lebanese-influenced menu full of healthy, delicious food and walls adorned with works by local artists, this place has rightfully won over the locals, securing its place as a neighborhood institution. I order a Reuben, made with tasty Creswick Farm corned beef, and get a deli container of their signature Mother Earth salad to go.

1 pm: It’s time to go on a studio visit to Issue Press! I’m really excited about this. Ever since I read about the Risograph machine, I’ve been dying to see how it works. I browse their amazing collection of artist books and get a little tutorial from George on how the machine functions.

 City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Photo © Have Company

No surprise, I’m now completely inspired, daydreaming about all of the million things one could make and print on the Risograph, such as this beautiful calendar of “Grand Rapids Firsts” which you can pick up at Have Company, a gallery, artist residency and shop located within Division’s Avenue for the Arts. So I dash over to Division to say hello to Marlee, the shop’s lovely proprietor, and pick up some Bloom Ferments kombucha while there.

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Wall Hanging by Meghan Shimek, at Have Company’s Art Space and Shop. Photo © Marlee Grace

Since I’m over here, I’m going to pop into Parliament the Boutique, too, to see what the artists at this workspace/shop (home to Harbinger Leather, Little Wings, and Adventure Textiles) have been working on lately. Jacob Vroon and Elyse Marie Welcher’s leather goods are so well-built and beautiful, and Megan Shay Roach’s fiber works are stunning.

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

A peek inside the Harbinger Leather Studio with Jacob Vroon. Image © Harbinger Leather Co.

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Bags from Little Wings (left) and a weaving by Megan Shay Roach (right) at Parliament the Boutique.

2:30 pm: It’s about time for another coffee, isn’t it? So I take a quick break at The Sparrows — known for not only their great coffee, but their noteworthy collection of periodicals, too. I browse through an old issue of Modern Farmer and imagine a life raising happy hogs and chickens as I sip my second cappuccino of the day, when I remember that I am supposed to meet my friend at the UICA! I dash back downtown.

3 pm: My potter friend, Jon, and I meet up at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts to see the latest exhibit, works by Michigan artist Kirk Newman. I’m so happy to see that the UICA is flourishing, and continuing to present the city with challenging and interesting work (since 1977! Woot!).

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo © UICA

4 pm: The show’s got me amped up to see more work, so I convince my cohort to walk down Monroe to the Grand Rapids Art Museum. All I really require here today is 10 minutes of staring at the massive Ellsworth Kelly piece hanging in the lobby. It’s a giant parallelogram, the top half blue and the bottom white, and, while it’s one of my favorite works in the museum, my Grandma Bette can’t stand it! So I always get a little smile when I think of her unfaltering distaste for this piece.

4:30 pm: Since I’m downtown already, I’m going to run over to the Downtown Market to grab some bread from the Field & Fire outpost there. Ever since this morning’s gougere, I’ve been daydreaming of trying everything else in their bread bins. I pick up a beautiful, dark boule baked onsite in their wood-fired oven, and wish I wasn’t getting dinner soon so that I could justify that toasty croissant beckoning me from the marble countertop.

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Golden loaves at Field & Fire

As I’m leaving, I eye the fresh perch fillets behind the glass at Fish Lads, another favorite spot to pick up a little kitchen inspiration.

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

The lunch counter at Fish Lad’s in the Downtown Market. © Grand Rapids Downtown Market

5:30 pm: Gotta run and meet my brother for a beer at my favorite local brewery, Brewery Vivant, on Cherry Street. It was hard to settle on one, being that the city has somewhere around 17 breweries (Founders, Perrin, The Elk, Grand Rapids Brewing Company and The Mitten, to name just a mitten-ful). I slowly sip a Tart Side of the Moon, their delicious, dark Belgian farmhouse-style ale, while my brother, an avid cyclist, shares with me some of his favorite bike trails in the city.

6:45 pm: I get a sassy text message from my mom that if I don’t hurry and pick a dinner spot, then it’s going to be cheese and crackers for everyone. Word to the wise: in Grand Rapids, if you want a table, then you better get to dinner early. Calm down, lady! I’ve got a plan.

7 pm: We meet up with the rest of the family at Donkey, on Wealthy Street, and get in the door just before the rush. A relative newcomer to the GR restaurant scene, this cute taqueria already has a dedicated following, probably because the food here is simply delicious! I order some nice and spicy escabeche while my dad tells us about the loot he picked up at the Corner Record Shop today, and everyone orders tacos for dinner, which we consume with mucho gusto.

City Guide: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Donkey Taqueria. Photo by Paul Lee.

8:30 pm: Our dinner party is disbanding and I’ve convinced my friend Molly to step out for the evening and join me for an after-dinner drink. We meet up at the Grove for a cocktail. I love this cozy, little bistro not only for its perfect Old Fashioneds, but for its commitment to using local food producers whenever possible. I accidently start to peruse the menu as we’re catching up, and find myself distracted by words like “Beef Tartare and Octopus Duo.” Yummm. Octopus. She can tell I’m distracted, and nonchalantly pushes the menu from my sight line.

10 pm: I’m quite tired now after my perfect day in Grand Rapids, so it’s off to lay on the couch and have a bit of ice cream before bed, because that’s how you do it in the midwest! I stop by Martha’s Vineyard, pick up a pint of Love’s or something equally delicious to, err, share. Good night, fair city!

And for when you have more than 24 hours, here are more great places to check out in Grand Rapids:

Coffee:

Lyon Street Cafe

The Lantern

Madcap Coffee

 

Record Stores:

Corner Record Shop

Vertigo Records

Wayback Audio (inside The Corner Record Shop)

 

Comics and Reading:

Schuler Books

Vault of Midnight

 

Design and Home Goods:

Art of the Table

Design Quest

Wealthy at Charles

 

Grocery:

G.B. Russo and Son

Horrocks (now with growler fills, and pints available while you’re grocery shopping!)

 

Art and Botanical Activities:

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

 

Live Music:

Founders Taproom

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

The Intersection

The Pyramid Scheme

Stella’s Lounge

Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill

 

Food:

Barter Town Café

Electric Cheetah

GoJo Ethiopian Cuisine

Hop Cat

Maru Sushi

Nantucket Bakery

Schnitz Deli

Wealthy Street Bakery

 

Lodging:

City Flats Hotel

 

Suggested For You

Comments

  • We left GR 3 weeks ago after 14 GRAND years, moving to Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. That was a lovely trip down memory lane

  • Thanks for promoting our city, it has come a long way in the past 10 years. Support your local artists and retailers!

  • Great tour, well told, with good choices for stops (the appendix at the end has good choices as well.) Grand Rapids has come into its own in the last 20 years, and its arts attractions, food culture, and economic vitality make it a cool place to live.

  • My hometown! I share your pride for GR, Libby! It’s so awesome to see how Grand Rapids has changed and grown over the years. Can’t wait to visit some of these new spots on my next trip there.

  • Next time you are in town, stop by the oldest pub in
    Grand Rapids, The Cottage Bar, and enjoy the Cottage Burger, USA TODAY’s Best Burger in MI 2010 or next door at One Trick Pony Grill & Taproom , housed in the oldest continually occupied commercial building in GR, featuring farm to table dishes and free music on Thursdays and Saturdays!

  • My husband and I spent five wonderful years there, and have since lived in Chicago for five years. We often talk about the day we end up back in this creative, collaborative, and magical little place. Thanks for sharing your day with us! What a treasure!

  • Check out the Local Epicurean for a wonderful selection of international foods, a chocolate/coffee/truffle bar, and pasta-making class. My favorite. Also, Spice Merchant’s in the Downtown Market. They have a great offering of spices, salts, sugars, and loose leaf teas. My favs in GR.

  • Argo’s book store is amazing! I lived not far from GR, but didn’t explore as much as I should have when I lived there. Such an amazing spot, and so close to Lake Michigan (Holland, Grand Haven). I miss it~

  • i have been to nearly all of these places! marie catrib’s and green well are my fave restaurants. also martha’s vineyard, pizza shop, and bakery, and lyon street cafe are faves. GR is a great city full or art and culture (working on being more progressive) ;).

  • Love this, great review! So many places listed I’ve never been to and I’m excited to check out. I’d also encourage people to visit Hunt and Gather- a beautifully curated vintage store and Nourish Organic Market.

  • This is great, however I must say 24 hours is simply not enough time to explore our awesome city! So many fantastic antique stores, breweries and bars, delicious restaurants featuring local Michigan ingredients, and the Fulton Street Farmers Market is the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning. I love calling Grand Rapids my home.

  • I’m a Chicagoan who has done a lot of travel to GR over the last few years. It really is a gem of a town especially for a food and beer guy like me. One of my favorite places to eat and drink is the Winchester on Wealthy st. Holds it’s own against any Chicago gastropub. Great local beer selection and a talented kitchen staff always changing things up. Oh, also One Stop Coney for your hangover needs ;)

  • Lived in Grand Rapids for seven glorious years in eastown, cherry hill, and finally heritage hill and I still consider it more home than all the many other cities I’ve lived. I still get back every December and this pretty much sounds like my days for the entire week or two weeks I’m there. So glad to see Have Company promoted!! Marlee is an awesome gal at know from way way back! My must-go-tos are always Bulls Head, One Trick Pony, and the Cottage. Love this – thanks so much for posting such a beautifully descriptive day!

  • Thank you, Libby and Design*Sponge, for bringing Grand Rapids (“G-rap”), MI into the light! So much is happening in this great city!
    If your reader’s find themselves in downtown area, you MUST visit ‘The Local Epicurean’, 111 S Division Ave., is is a pasta/noodle shop to swoon for!

  • 24 hours is just a small taste of what Grand Rapids has to offer. There are so many cool and quaint “neighborhoods” in Grand Rapids; Creston, Alger Heights, Gas Light Village, Riverside Park…to name a few. Each has it’s own charm and individual vibe, with plenty of places to eat, drink and shop.

  • I haven’t been to GR since I was a little girl when we would spend days climbing the giant dunes and looking for “glassies” along the shore. Looks like it’s time to head back for a visit. Loved your day!

  • What a great post! Love seeing all these small businesses being promoted and shared! Another great stop to add for homewares is thePlate Boutique – really new kitchen store in downtown GR on Monroe Center. A MUST stop location for fun quirky and colorful kitchen gadgets and essentials!

    • dave

      these 24 hour guides are short and quick guides to an area, not an all-encompassing guide to the entire city. we do different versions of each city with different people, so we try to give lots of perspectives on an area.

      grace

  • Thank you D*S and Libby! What a treat to see my beloved hometown featured! It’s been years, can’t wait to go back for a visit and try some of the places I haven’t been before .

  • I spent twenty great years in G-Rap, and still miss it! I was happy to see Schuler’s mentioned. I’ve traveled the world and found few bookstores that come close!

  • Great article and great info for those of us living in the region. I only take umbrage with “the edge of the Great Lakes dunes in the lovely Grand Rapids”. . .so not on the edge. . .45 minutes from the dunes is the reality. You really must drive to Lake Michigan to see the edge and understand the dunes. Go Grand Rapids! Go lakeshore!

  • For the best Ethiopian experience, I would opt for Little African Cuisine on East Fulton (vegetarian only).

  • Thanks to everyone for noting these additional destinations that I forgot to mention! Also, good catch Kelley Jo. I was actually born in Grand Haven (a cute little harbor town right on the edge of the Lake Michigan dunes) where I lived until I was 11. We moved to Grand Rapids after that. Here’s a quick pick of favorite Grand Haven spots: Fortino’s, Oddside Ales, Temptations Ice Cream, and (my favorite) Pronto Pups! The lakeshore is definitely worth the drive.

  • Great write-up on GR! Can’t forget Hunt & Gather for home goods/design. I would also recommend The Winchester, San Chez, and Amore Trattoria (just north of GR in Comstock Park) as excellent restaurant choices. Best wood-fired pizza in GR can be found at Harmony Brewing Co. So much to love about this city!

  • Thank you for the visit and kind works about our stores! ( Lost and Found along with the rest of the Century Ave collection of stores!) It was great meeting you. We will try and keep your father from buying every vintage record console we bring into the store! Looking forward to your next visit!

  • I am always on the hunt for a good 24 hour guide. My husband travels for business and I often tag along. I usually have 24 hours to see and do the best and coolest. Your guide hit all the marks! Thanks for taking the time.

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.