By Deb Thompson
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Take a stroll around Grand Rapids; it’s almost a sure thing groups will bump into an artist, brew master or furniture maker. Michigan’s second largest city is a Midwestern hub for creative individuals who find a warm welcome on the state’s west side.
For years, Grand Rapids proudly carried the title of Furniture City. Today, it’s also known as Beer City, thanks to a USA Today poll recognizing Grand Rapids as the best beer city in the United States. Grand Rapids is a must-see destination for Midwestern craft beer enthusiasts.
A wide range of attractions allows groups to experience the city’s art, beer, food and history.
“Groups are drawn to Grand Rapids for various reasons, including a couple of our cultural attractions such as Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum,” said Janet Korn, senior vice president of marketing at Experience Grand Rapids.
And there’s another plus for groups touring in Grand Rapids.
“Drive time to attractions is very short, and our attractions offer great group tour customer service,” Korn said.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Located northeast of the city on 158 acres, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is home to Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory with five indoor theme gardens, an outdoor garden, nature trails and a boardwalk. There’s also an extensive display of over 300 sculptures located both inside and outside. Groups can catch the indoor and outdoor docent-led tours, each 45 minutes long. The outdoor tram tours are available from March 1 to Dec. 31. Group organizers should plan to spend at least two to three hours at the gardens.
Last year, the 8-acre Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden was added, located in the middle of the campus. This garden features waterfalls, elevation changes, Japanese structures and a functioning teahouse, which will begin offering tea ceremonies in summer 2016.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
Currently undergoing a massive renovation and slated to re-open in spring 2016, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a highlight for group tours visiting the city. Permanent exhibits allow guests to participate in history and learn more about the lives of the former president and first lady. In addition to the permanent exhibits, there is a schedule of temporary exhibits made available through the presidential libraries system, the Smithsonian Institute and the National Archives. The president and Mrs. Ford are buried on the museum grounds.
Grand Rapids Ale Trail
The more than 40 craft breweries located in the greater Grand Rapids area give groups the opportunity to customize their craft brew experience. The Ale Trail offers groups a selection of tours to please everyone. Choose to visit three to five of the area’s breweries for an overall flavorful experience. Plan a visit to Founders, the world’s third best brewery according to Rate Beer, for a taste, tour and sensory evaluation class, or a hop farm and taproom tour. Follow up by downloading the Food Trail map on the Experience Grand Rapids website. Plan the group’s course through farm-to-fork restaurant favorites or the Downtown Market’s collection of markets, rooftop greenhouses and teaching kitchens.
In late September, thousands of artists from around the world descend on the city to participate in a 19-day international art competition. What sets ArtPrize apart from other art shows is that the competition is open to all artists and is voted on by the public and expert jury. Based on attendance, it is the largest art event in the world. ArtPrize is well prepared for large groups and offers easy bus parking areas. ArtPrize 2016 will take place from Sept. 21 to Oct. 9.
For more information, call Experience Grand Rapids at 800-678-9859, or visit experiencegr.com/groups.