If you’re looking for a great day with the kids, head to Grand Rapids. The metropolitan center of western Michigan is the perfect place for families. From stunning outdoor spaces and sandy beaches to indoor amusement to cool you down, make it a day trip or stay overnight to squeeze in more fun. 

The two hour drive from metro Detroit goes fast with a good playlist. Pack up the car and get ready for an epic family day in Grand Rapids. If you haven’t been to the city before it is beautiful and easy to navigate. The following destinations are all within 15 to 20 minutes of each other and parking is easy.  You can spend several hours at a single destination or limit yourself to a couple hours to squeeze in multiple stops.

If you want to turn your day trip into an overnight stay, check out Embassy Suites – Downtown. The Hilton property is PERFECT. It’s located along the river with beautiful views of the city and a short, scenic 20 minute walk to the Grand Rapids Public Museum (designed with kids in mind) and Grand Rapids Children Museum. It’s about a 10 to 15 minute drive to the other destinations mentioned below. The room are large, there’s an indoor pool, complimentary family-friendly happy hour and a quality complimentary breakfast in the morning.

Things To Do

John Ball Zoo

If you feel like you’ve been to zoos before and don’t need another one, John Ball Zoo is not your average zoo. When you arrive you’ll think you’ve entered a nice big park because there are multiple playgrounds by the parking lot. Once you enter, it’ll feel like you’ve arrived at a hidden oasis. Take the Funicular  ($4 per person) up the hilly terrain to the top of the zoo and begin your adventure. The Zoo is organized by continenent and animal habitats can be viewed by guests from multiple angles and entry points. You’ll enjoy seeing the animals surrounded by greenspace with engaging elements like bridges and climbers to keep them busy. The zoo has over 1,300 animals including lions, tigers, chimpanzees, red pandas, and newly homed koalas.

Animals aren’t the only ones with fun things to climb on. There is a nature based Clubhouse for kids and climbers throughout the zoo to get them moving like the animals.

The zoo is open daily from 9am to 6pm during summer months and admission is $19 for adults and $15 for kids. A family membership is $130 and something to consider if you have multiple children over the age of 3 and think you’ll head back for another visit. 

Frederik Meijer Garden & Sculpture Park

The Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park is beautiful and expansive – wear walking shoes because there’s plenty to see. Start your visit inside at the Convservatory and Children’s Garden Discovery Experience, then head out to the Children’s Garden. Wear water shoes/sandals because your kids wont’ be able to resist the massive Great Lakes water table. Let them make a splash then stroll along the boardwalk to through the wetlands to the treehouse fortress. Kids love running across the bridges and from different treehouses. Afterwards let them get ‘lost’ in the garden maize. Throughout the gardens you’ll spot beautiful animal sculptures that will capture their attention – including a couple of dragons.

Pull out the map of the grounds and decide where to go next – the Sculpture Park, Japanese Gardens, Michigan’s Farm Garden or Frey Boardwalk.

The Meijer Garden & Sculpture Park is open daily. Admission is $18 for adults and $8.50 for children. The Gardens is part of the Museums for All program and EBT/WIC cardholders qualify for a reduced admission rate of $2 per person for up to four people.

Millennium Park

You don’t have to trek to Lake Michigan for a beach experience in Grand Rapids, instead head to Kent County’s Millennium Park. The playground is open to all and the ninja course is a winner for kids who love to climb.

The sandy beach is along a 100 acre clear lake that’s shallow enough for kids to play safely along the shoreline but goes deep enough to swim. Before you stake out your spot, take them to the climbing rope play area and let them ‘sneak’ through the tunnel to the beach. Rent paddle boats or kayaks to have more fun along the lake. If you want an even more relaxing place to rest while the kids play, check out the enclosed splash pad area. Millennium Park has restrooms, concessions and a gift shop too.

Admission to the beach, boat rental and splash pad is $4 for adults and $2 for kids and worth the price of entry. 

Grand Rapids Public Museum 

Don’t be fooled by the name, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is made for kids and families and features 3 floors of hands-on fun. Walk the streets of old Grand Rapids, come face to face wtih dinosaurs, and stroll through the A to Z exhibit to learn new things. Don’t miss out on the carousel that recently re-opened and sits on enclosed space overlooking the Grand River.

The museum is open daily and admission is $12 for adults and $5 for kids. 

Grand Rapids Children Museum

Grand Rapids Children Museum is a miniature world for kids of all ages with a construction site, medical center, farm and shopping center. Bubble tables and tains put it to over the top excitement for littles. There are awesome special ehibits that take over the museum each season too!

The museum is open Thursdays – Sundays and admission is $10 per person. The museum is part of the Museums for All program AND offers reciprocal membership admission for both the Ann Abor Hands-On Museum and Impressions 5 in Lansing.

Where to eat

There are a lot of restaurants in Grand Rapids but here are our favorite options for the family.