Favorite Eats, Arts and Adventures
From the Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs (MCACA) Staff
We are so excited to host you in the great state of Michigan! We may be a bit biased, but we believe you will have a wonderful conference experience—learning, networking and experiencing some pretty amazing Michigan talent. We hope you can get out and enjoy the western Michigan area. To help you do that, we're sharing a few of our favorite places and spaces…our "Pure Michigan." Use these tips and this Google map to plan your trip and discover your own new favorites.
John, Sue, Alison, Chad, Adam and Jeff
Fabulous Favorites from John Bracey
MCACA Executive Director
When I visit Grand Rapids, here are a few of the places that I am particularly fond of. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Wake up and smell the coffee! My absolute favorite is Madcap Coffee, just a few blocks from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. Totally worth the walk!
Breakfast: Who doesn't love a really, really good breakfast? It's a short ride to The Omelette Shoppe.
Need lunch? Or perhaps you would just like to enjoy one of our many breweries in Grand Rapids after a long day? It is Beer City, after all! My choice is Founders Brewing Co. I love their Louis A. Cornelius corned beef sandwich, washed down with their porter or breakfast stout. Mmmm….
After lunch: Since Founders is just across the street from the Grand Rapids Ballet, it is worth the stop. Besides being an amazing company, the building they are in is a reclaimed bus station with an auditorium designed specifically for dance, which is very cool to see.
Want to plan a night out on the town? I would recommend having dinner at Tre Cugini and attending Good People at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, truly one of America's great community theatre spaces. Finish your night with a quiet walk on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum. Or forget all that and just head back to Founders!
Top Picks from Sue Carlson
MCACA Program and Financial Analyst
When I am in Grand Rapids there are a few places that always call me back, and I am sure once you visit you'll understand why! If you have time to walk downtown, I recommend Old World Olive Company, an exclusive, specialty tasting store carrying over 50 flavors of ultra-premium certified extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars.
Just a short drive from downtown Grand Rapids you can find G.B. Russo & Son. G.B. Russo & Son is famous in West Michigan for the most marvelous selection of gourmet foods, wines, deli items, craft beers, liquors and liqueurs, kitchenware, and more from around the world and around the corner. This has been my "go to" store for years for gourmet Italian foods and a wine selection that is terrific!
A beautiful place to while away an afternoon is the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Meijer Gardens is a 158-acre botanical garden and outdoor sculpture park located in Grand Rapids Township.
You could also head to "The Art Coast of Michigan," otherwise known as the Saugatuck-Douglas area. Enjoy grassy dunes, white sand beaches, and the charm of small-town rural America. So much to do in the area! Don't miss checking out the Saugatuck-Douglas Museum, the Saugatuck Chain Ferry, and all the unique shops that line the main drag. Saugatuck Spice & Tea Merchants has the best steak rub I've found!
There are also some nice wineries south of Grand Rapids. Two of my personal favorites are Cody Kresta Vineyard and Winery and Lemon Creek Winery. Cody Kresta is a small family winery specializing in hand-crafted wine produced at their vintage 1882 homestead in southern Michigan. This is my favorite Michigan winery; I love their wine, especially the reds. Lemon Creek Winery is a terrific winery and farm market. They are located in Berrien Springs, but have a wine tasting room in Grand Haven. My favorite is the Gewurztraminer.
Hot Spots from Alison Watson
MCACA Programs Manager
If I'm in Grand Rapids for a night on the town, I grab a pedicab and head to Stella's Lounge. Stella's is known as a whiskey bar with arcade games but they also have a dance floor to get groovy, plus and the best burgers in town. On Thursdays it is Burger Night and Geeks Who Drink Trivia. How fun does that sound!?
Need to stretch your legs, get some fresh air or just want to wander around downtown Grand Rapids? Then you'll want to download the walking tour of art and architecture. Art is everywhere you look in downtown Grand Rapids, in the form of sculptures, murals, and historic buildings. Be sure to visit La Grande Vitesse, the crown jewel of the city. The Calder, as it is locally referred to, was the first National Endowment for the Arts public art grant. It has been incorporated into the city's logo and even ArtPrize's logo. Grand Rapids is also home to the largest Alexander Calder painting, 127 square feet—you can view it from the 9th floor of city hall.
It would be a shame if you came all the way to Michigan and didn't experience at least one of our many lake towns. So jump in your car, rent a car, take a cab or bus and head to Grand Haven. I love the shore of Lake Michigan. Grand Haven has a beautiful beach and a great downtown. The Kirby House, established in 1873, has a wonderful atmosphere for food or drinks. Stop in at 22 Below for a cocktail or two and enjoy the expansive view of the harbor. And if you want to feel like a local, try Tip-A-Few Restaurant & Tavern. Be warned: the beer is cold and the drinks are strong!
Great Sites & Sights from Chad Badgero
MCACA Arts Education Program Manager
If you're an outdoor enthusiast, you will have your pick of parks near Grand Rapids. Here are a few you shouldn't miss:
Millennium Park: Its 1,500 acres include a sandy swimming beach, beach house, picnic facilities for families and groups, and play areas, as well as paved trails for cycling, walking, running and in-line skating.
Lake Harbor Beach Park: Accessible by foot, bike, car or boat, this 189-acre park at the junction of Lake Michigan and Mona Lake offers swimming, fishing, hiking and picnicking.
Fallasburg Park: The tree-lined park offers fishing, hiking, playgrounds, picnicking, baseball and more. It's adjacent to one of Michigan's only remaining historic covered bridges.
If you've got time to drive a bit out of town, you'll want to visit these unique West Side cities:
Muskegon: Fall marks the transition to cooler weather, with vibrant colors everywhere, especially along our scenic roads. There's still time to enjoy Muskegon County's three state parks or eight county parks for over 60 miles of recreational trails. Eat at Bella Maria's and enjoy coffee and pastries at The Sweet Spot. And not to be missed when in Muskegon, the Museum of Art, which is home to one of Alison's favorite paintings, New York Restaurant by Edward Hopper.
Holland: From an award-winning downtown to white sandy beaches, you'll fall in love with Holland's small-town charm and big-city amenities. I can't even tell you the best place to eat, or shop. Just stroll the quaint streets and find what feels right when you get there. But be sure to visit Fustini's oil and vinegar shop. You won't be sorry!
An Insider's Guide from Adam Wheater
MCACA Program Analyst
Welcome to my stomping grounds! I am a native West Sider and am excited for you to try a few of my favorite places. If you want some good food and cold beer—or want to catch up on the games you've missed—head to Peppino's Pizzeria & Sports Grille. Peppino's is known for their excellent pizza, plus they have many beers on tap and a great happy hour. If that doesn't suit you, try Slows Bar-B-Q…it's a must for barbecue lovers. Then pop on over to HopCat and relax with a cold beer. Or you could head to the 6th Street dam & fish ladder—a great place to relax and walk along the river in downtown. You may see the steelhead trying to go upstream in the fall.
Did you know that Michigan is one of the top-producing apple states? A great fall activity in Michigan is visiting an apple orchard. There are many orchards that let you pick your own apples. It's also a great opportunity to visit my home city, Sparta, 15 miles north of Grand Rapids. I recommend Steffens Orchard Market or Schwallier's Country Basket.
If you are staying longer after the conference, my favorite place in Michigan is Traverse City. Traverse City has beautiful beaches, a nice boardwalk, wineries, breweries and many great restaurants. Try Spanglish (small authentic Mexican restaurant), Harrington's By The Bay (steak and seafood), Apache Trout Grill (seafood) and the local craft brewers: Tandem Ciders, Short's Brewing Company and Right Brian.
Best Bets from Jeff Garrett
MCACA Community Development Program Manager
Hey there, welcome to Michigan! Grand Rapids is known for arts, eats and history.
San Chez, A Tapas Bistro is the most unique dining and entertainment venue in Grand Rapids. It offers a blend of authentic European and Mediterranean cuisine in a fun, laid-back, and artful atmosphere. A great place to go with a group of people and try many things (according to Adam!).
The Grand Rapids Symphony is in concert while you're in town, presenting Rhapsody in Blue, September 16 & 17. It starts at 8:00 p.m., just across the street from the NASAA Assembly 2016 hotel at the DeVos Performance Hall. Actually, you don't even have to go outside to get there—there's a skywalk connecting the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel to the theatre!
If you are arriving early, it might be nice to visit Swing Dancing at the Blue Bridge, Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m. Although its acronym is G.R.O.S.S, the Grand Rapids Original Swing Society is not! Feel free to join in or simply visit.
Last but certainly NOT least, Grand Rapids is setting up for a huge art exhibition—ArtPrize. In just three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids, everyone can connect to art and why it matters. While you're in town, art from around the world will be being installed in 179 venues—museums, galleries, bars, restaurants, theatres, hotels, public parks, lobbies, buildings, walls, bridges, laundromats and auto body shops—and it's all free and open to the public. You'll be here during Preview Week. Come see what all the fuss is about!
Check this map to locate the great places and spaces recommended by our host agency's staff: