Rust Belt on the Rise: Grand Rapids

by  Tommy Burson | Jan 13, 2014
Grand Rapid, MI
Grand Rapid, MI / Sean Pavone/iStock

Beer City, USA. The Greatest Place You've (Maybe) Never Heard Of. Michigan’s Gold Coast. These don't sound like obvious nicknames for a city once filled with furniture manufacturing plants. But today, Grand Rapids is (surprisingly) becoming a genuine cultural hot spot.

Whether you’re looking to see an acclaimed art competition, try a bevvy beers, or explore some of the country’s best beaches, Grand Rapids and Michigan’s Gold Coast supply some style and culture in the midst of the Rust Belt. Here's what to do when you get there...

Cheer the beer: It doesn't take long to see why the nickname "Beer City, USA" is so apt. Featuring more than twenty-five craft breweries in the city and nearly twenty more in the surrounding suburbs, Grand Rapids loves its beer. For that, there’s no brewery more famous than Founders and no pub better than HopCat – voted the top brewpub in the nation by At Founders, guests can enjoy the extensive list of beers along with a hearty deli menu. Try the Detroit Ham & Cheese ($8.75 for a huge sandwich) with a Dirty Bastard Ale (about $2) for a perfect lunch. Beer enthusiasts, your best bet is in a brewery crawl that includes newcomers like Harmony Brewing Company, Mitten Brewery and Brewery Vivant.

Get arty: For nineteen days at the end of September and beginning of October, Grand Rapids’ acclaimed art competition (an world’s largest of its kind), ArtPrize, ponders the profound question of art. But unlike most art competitions, the best pieces – paintings, sculptures, and even performances – are voted on by the public, not a staff of curators. The best part: Admission is free to every gallery and it's free to vote for your favorite piece. If you only have a few hours to visit, then there’s no better gallery than the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, where visitors, surrounded by 134 acres of botanical gardens, enjoy sculptures and glass art.

Not visiting during ArtPrize? No problem. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum ($7), Grand Rapids Art Museum ($8 or $5 on Thursdays), and the Frederik Meijer Gardens ($12) offer world-renowned art for nearly every budget.

Dig the Gold Coast: Thirty minutes outside Grand Rapids is Michigan’s breathtaking Gold Coast. Situated on Lake Michigan, it offers beaches as scenic as Hawaii’s – only significantly more affordable. The small resort town of Grand Haven comforts lazy beach-goers with sandy spots, clear water, and a majestic lighthouses or two in the town's state park. To beat the crowds, head to – shh, let’s keep this a secret – nearby Kirk Park or Rosy Mound Natural Area.

Holland, another quaint neighboring town, models itself after... erm... Holland. As in, the country. In addition to snagging rays at Holland State Park Beach or hiking the sand dunes at Mount Pisgah, explore Windmill Island ($8) and its two-hundred-year-old De Zwaan Windmill, or enjoy artisan candies at the Holland Peanut Store where a pound of candy costs $5.

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