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The Best Things to Do in Grand Rapids on a First Time Visit

Monday, December 16, 2019
Presented by Liz Della Croce

Blue Bridge Lit Up for Pride Night

As a local foodie who grew up here in Grand Rapids, friends, family and readers of The Lemon Bowl frequently reach out to me for suggestions on where to eat, drink and hang out here in West Michigan. Since the city is constantly growing and evolving, I play tourist in my own backyard regularly just to stay on top of what’s good!

Of course, like any growing city, my recommendations are always expanding so be sure to check out my previous Grand Rapids travel guides herehere and here! You can also follow me on Instagram to see what I’m up to on a day-to-day basis.

Getting to Know Grand RapidsDay 1: Getting to Know Grand Rapids

To kick off your first visit to Grand Rapids, grab a cup of joe of my favorite local coffee shops: Madcap Coffee Company.

If you’re not familiar with Madcap, be sure to listen to my recent podcast episode where we sat down with CEO and Co-Founder, Trevor Corlett who shared his story of how Madcap came to be (and why it’s so special.) While you're there, grab a bag of whole beans to take home to someone you love.

Spend the afternoon exploring Grand Rapids. There are countless museums and attractions within walking distance of downtown including one of my personal favorites, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.  After a long day museum hopping, you'll probably be ready to put your feet up and enjoy a happy hour cocktail or two.

Take a quick Uber ride Zoko 822, our local gin bar, and sample their signature gin and tonic. Don’t miss their frothy froze – it always hits the spot in the warm summer months.

When you’re ready for dinner, head to Terra located just a 7-8 minute drive east of downtown. I happen to live just down the street and frequent this farm-to-table restaurant often.

No matter what you decide to order, do not miss the buffalo cauliflower. It’s a game changer.

For a nightcap to finish off the evening, check out the beautiful back patio at One Bourbon. If you love Instagram as much as I do, you’ll appreciate the “You’re Neat” mural. (Get it? Whiskey?)

(Photo credit: Experience Grand Rapids)

Visiting Lake MichiganDay 2: Visiting Lake Michigan

When you wake up on day two, head to The Littlebird café for breakfast. We eat there regularly and everything is balanced, flavorful and fresh.  

They offer a wide variety of sweet and savory menu options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m confident you’ll love this unique, scratch-made restaurant.

After breakfast, head to the Downtown Market and grab goodies-to-go for a picnic because we’re heading to Lake Michigan later!  

Featuring over twenty indoor market vendors, various full-service restaurants, monthly outdoor market events, hands-on cooking classes, private event venues, a state-of-the-art incubator kitchen, rooftop greenhouses, and more… this stop is a must for anyone visiting Grand Rapids for the first time.

Now that you have a picnic packed, it’s time to visit one of the numerous sandy white beaches of Lake Michigan for a day of relaxation in the sun.

There’s no “wrong” beach on Lake Michigan, but I’m partial to Saugatuck Dunes State Park, Grand Haven’s state park and city beaches, Holland's Tunnel Park, and just about any beach in South Haven – just to name a few.

If you’ve never been to Lake Michigan before, get ready to have your mind blown. It looks just like the ocean except there is no salt, sharks, or seaweed. 

After you’ve cleaned up from your day at the beach, head to The SØvengård for the ultimate farm to table dinner, better known as “Michigan on a plate.”

Their menu changes frequently based on what’s in season but SØvengård has mastered the art of transforming local produce into something delicious and memorable. 

Pro Tip:  My favorite cocktail is "Walk in the Woods” made with seasonal fruit purees and fresh herbs. Be sure to try it out.

(Photo credit: Experience Grand Rapids)

Making the Final RoundsDay 3: Making the Final Rounds (For Now)

For your final breakfast recommendation, head to Kingfisher Restaurant and Deli located in the East Hills neighborhood.

Growing up eating homemade matzo ball soup only on special occasions, I couldn’t wait to try it when I saw it on the menu. Don’t tell my aunt but it’s just as delicious as homemade. (And way easier than making it myself!)

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not suggest a few additional coffee shops in town. Be sure to try out Squibb Coffee Bar, Rowster Coffee or Outside Coffee Co. One thing is for sure: There’s no shortage of good caffeine in this city.

And yes, Outside Coffee Co. is actually an outside coffee shop open outdoors all year round!

If you come back in the winter months, don’t fret: they offer heated igloos to keep you cozy.

You can’t visit Grand Rapids without visiting Donkey Taqueria if you love tacos as much as I do.

In addition to great tacos, you’ll love their sangria, unique appetizers, authentic soups, salads and more. It’s a mainstay on Wealthy Street so expect a small wait if you’re visiting during peak hours. Don’t worry, it’s always worth the wait.

After lunch, head across the street and begin your afternoon exploring the locally-owned shops and boutiques along Wealthy Street Corridor.

It’s hard for me to pick favorites but I high recommend you check out MoKAYA (artisan chocolates and desserts!) and Fox Naturals (your one stop shop for all natural soaps, lotions and other skincare items).

Enjoy your visit to Grand Rapids and be sure to tag me on Instagram (@TheLemonBowl) during your visit so I can follow along!

Welcome to my hometown!


Liz Della Croce, AuthorLiz Della Croce is the creator and author of The Lemon Bowl®, a nationally acclaimed food and travel blog. Since 2010 Liz has been sharing healthy recipes and foodie-focused travel guides with her loyal readers and social media followers. She resides in Grand Rapids with her husband and their two young boys. 

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