Even though Grand Rapids is only 2 hours from Ann Arbor, we had never visited. Last month my sister’s family moved to the Grand Rapids area (while we were on vacation ourselves) giving us the perfect reason to visit the city.
Getting to Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids is roughly 2-2.5 hours from Ann Arbor (depending on your start/destination and traffic/construction). Fortunately with traffic reports and maps on our phones, we were able to take a small detour around the traffic on the way to Grand Rapids and selected an alternate route on our way home. We drove up using US-23 to I-96 in Brighton and heading west through Lansing. On the way home, we went south on US-131 to I-94 to avoid awful traffic east of Lansing. As an added bonus, by driving south and then east we avoided the rain that we likely would have encountered by driving east and then south.
We made plans to visit Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park Saturday afternoon since the weather forecast was better than for Sunday. My sister has a companion membership where she can bring one guest with her. Since my brother-in-law wasn’t able to join us, she brought my husband in as a guest and I paid for my daughter and I. Admission is $12/adult, $9/senior or student, $6/children ages 5-13, and $4/children ages 3-4 and free for children 2 and younger. They do offer reciprocal benefits with a membership to UMs Matthaei Botanical Gardens, so if you belong there be sure to bring your card.
We started by walking through some of the indoor gardens. My daughter was very impressed with the size of the plants in this greenhouse. We joked that she was the size of Tinkerbell compared to these leaves. She wants everyone to know that no Photoshop or trick photography was used to capture the picture.
After exploring some of the indoor gardens, we visited the Sculpture Park. We really loved some of the sculptures and the waterfall area. We also visited the new Japanese Gardens. They were quite impressive, although there were some areas that we didn’t navigate with my niece’s stroller.
We did not have enough time to visit everything on this trip. We decided to skip the Children’s Garden since my daughter was a little old (9.5) and my niece was too young (5 months). I have heard great things about the Children’s Garden, so I’m sure we will visit it when my niece is a bit older. My daughter did have fun joining the kids rolling down the hill by The American Horse sculpture.
Grand Rapids Public Museum
Rain was predicted for Sunday, so we visited the Grand Rapids Public Museum. One of the things that we wanted to see while there is their King Tut exhibit which runs through January 2016. We came equipped with our Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum Membership card (which I had just renewed and was so happy that it arrived in time). Since the King Tut exhibit prices typically include museum admission for non-members I was expecting to pay the member price which was just the exhibit. Unfortunately, they do not offer any reciprocal discount if you want to see the special exhibit and you have to pay the full price. When we visited the Franklin Institute and Academy of Natural Science in Philadelphia earlier this summer with our reciprocal membership, we just had to pay the upgrade price to experience the special exhibits.
The Grand Rapids Public Museum is a comprehensive museum that includes components of history, natural science, astronomy, and more. We enjoyed our time exploring the regular exhibits, but spent most of our time at the King Tut exhibit.
The Discovery of King Tut
Your admission to the special exhibit, The Discovery of King Tut, includes an audio tour. There are 4 stops on the audio tour before you enter the main exhibit. The main exhibit starts with a 10 minute video followed by 20 minute audio tour that visits 4 rooms as a group before being released into the main exhibit area.
We enjoyed the exhibit, but found a few areas for improvement:
- The narration was too long. Even in the 20 minute audio tour you visited 4 areas and they would repeat narration from one to the other.
- The order of the rooms could have been improved since the second room revealed the inner most sarcophagus while the fourth had the shrines that enclosed it.
- They needed docents in the exhibit. I did not see a single staff member inside the exhibit to ask a question (Were any of the artifacts real or are they all replicas/models?) I never got my question answered while at the museum. The online description says that all of the artifacts are replicas as the originals are not able to leave Egypt and many are too delicate for public display. The focus of the exhibit is on the discovery of the tomb.
While there is a children’s version of the audio tour (my daughter had the regular version), I do not recommend the exhibit for children under the age of 7. They will definitely be bored during the early phases of the exhibit. Even with my 5 month old niece it was tough since there was no place to leave with her during the video.
Food in Grand Rapids
Gravity Taproom & Grille
Gravity Taproom & Grille is located near Meijer Gardens and makes a great stop on your way too or from the gardens. They have an extensive beer menu and excellent food. I heard raves about the truffle tater tots from everyone else (I am allergic to mushrooms, so I passed). Other meal highlights included the Thai Chicken Pizza (my daughter liked it more than I did) and the pizza mac – mac & cheese with pepperoni, and sausage.
Rush Creek Bistro
For brunch on Sunday we visited Rush Creek Bistro which is located in Grandville at the Sunnybrook Country Club. They are owned by the same company as Gravity. Their breakfast (which is only offered on Sundays) was delicious. We definitely recommend the Stuffed French Toast. My daughter really enjoyed her Belgian Waffle. Our meals were very filling and allowed us to have a late breakfast and then an early dinner before driving back home.
Grand Rapids Brewing Company
After visiting the Public Museum, we went to Grand Rapids Brewing Company which is located nearby for an early dinner. At less than a mile, you could easily walk from the museum, but with the previous downpour, we opted to find closer parking in case it started to pour again. Their Bacon Meatball appetizer was delicious. My daughter and I shared a Caesar Salad and a half portion of the Brewhouse Mac & Cheese. It was definitely enough for us to share.
Overall we had a great time visiting my sister’s family in Grand Rapids. We are looking forward to visiting again in the future. We’ll have to find new places to explore…such as the John Ball Zoo on future trips. I’m sure as my sister and brother-in-law become more familiar with the area they’ll have more great restaurants to recommend.