Grand Rapids was named one of the 14 most walkable cities in the U.S. a few years back, largely because of our amazingly compact and fun-filled downtown. There are more than 200 restaurants, shops, museums, breweries and entertainment venues within a 10-minute stroll of 13 downtown hotels.

One of the best ways to experience downtown is to embark on your own self-guided walking tour. We’ve got suggested routes to help you explore Black History, Community Legends Sculptures, Center City Murals, Heartside Murals, Holiday Lights, Painted Ticket Booths, Rad Women Electrical Boxes and Sculptures & Historic Buildings.

Our Downtown Walking Tour minimizes the time you’ll spend on sidewalks and walking paths, traversing just 10 city blocks and less than three-quarters of a mile. But the sights you see will transport you all the way from outer space to the inner workings of the American presidency.

Exploring with Finny the Whale.

Stop inside the Grand Rapids Public Museum to explore the history of Grand Rapids.

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids Public Museum

Start at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which is just across the Pearl St. Bridge from the Amway Grand Plaza and JW Marriott hotels. The GRPM tells the stories of West Michigan and the wider world through historical and cultural artifacts, permanent installations and touring exhibitions. Visitors can travel back to the 1890s on the Streets of Old Grand Rapids, ride a 1928 Spillman Carousel, learn about the indigenous People of This Place and the waves of Newcomers that settled here later, explore West Michigan’s unique Natural Habitats, journey through the cosmos in the Museum’s Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium and much more. (Note: the 1928 Spillman Carousel is temporarily closed for renovations until spring 2025.)

Oh, and be sure to look up as you poke around the first floor Galleria of the three-story facility – you’ll see the skeleton of a 75-foot finback whale (dubbed “Finny”) that washed ashore on Florida’s Gulf Coast more than a century ago. GRPM acquired the skeleton in 1905 and it’s been a centerpiece of the Museum ever since.

Founded in 1854, GRPM moved from another downtown site to this beautiful riverfront setting in 1994 – and it’s just beginning a $50 million renovation that will expand Grand River access, add new outdoor exhibit space and more.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Just across Pearl St. from GRPM is the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, a tribute to the 38th president of the United States. Ford grew up in Grand Rapids and represented the area in Congress for 25 years, and his namesake Museum contains more than 19,000 historic artifacts from his youth and his one-of-a-kind political career.

Dubbed “America’s most entertaining presidential museum,” the Museum features state-of-the-art technology-based exhibits, including a thrilling multimedia simulation of the 1944 typhoon that nearly swept Ford off the deck of the USS Monterey aircraft carrier during World War II.

There’s also a replica of the White House Oval Office – you can stand behind the president’s desk – plus a section of the Berlin Wall, the original Watergate burglar tools and more. Touring exhibitions illuminate Ford’s impact and the times in which he lived.

The President and First Lady Betty Ford are interred on the grounds of the Museum, and many visitors stop at the gravesite to pay their respects to the couple.

Family picnic at Ah-Nab-Awen Park

Ah-Nab-Awen Park is the perfect spot for resting, relaxing and picnicking, just be sure to keep off of the mounds to prevent damage.

Photo by Ideology for Experience GR

Ah-Nab-Awen Park

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum looks out over Ah-Nab-Awen Park, a gorgeous greenspace fronting the Grand River. Ah-Nab-Awen means “resting place” and it was originally home to a series of burial mounds built by the Hopewell indigenous peoples between 450 B.C. and 450 A.D. Today, three symbolic earthen mounds in the park represent the three major indigenous tribes of Michigan: the Ottawa, Potawatomi and Chippewa. (Please keep off the mounds to prevent damage.)

Ah-Nab-Awen is also home to diverse works of art, including a bronze statue of early Native American leader Nishnabe Gemaw, the Spirit of Solidarity Labor Monument commemorating the Grand Rapids furniture worker’s strike of 1911, and Lorrie’s Button, a bright red sculpture that kids have been climbing on and around since 1976.

Ah-Nab-Awen frequently hosts community festivals – including the annual 4th of July celebration culminating in fireworks over the Grand River – and it’s a popular spot for relaxation, sightseeing and picnicking throughout the year.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

Follow the Grand River Edges Trail alongside Ah-Nab-Awen Park to the historic Gillett Pedestrian Bridge. The fourth longest concrete arch bridge in Michigan, the Gillett was originally built as an interurban railway over the Grand River in 1915. The bridge hosts major art installations during the annual ArtPrize and World of Winter festivals.

At the east side of the bridge, you’re standing behind DeVos Place Convention Center, the city’s largest exhibition and meeting space. Turn right (south) and travel back to Pearl St. along the Riverwalk, passing the outdoor patio of The Kitchen By Wolfgang Puck. The Pearl St. entrance of the Amway Grand Plaza is just around the corner, past the valet station.

An AAA Four-Diamond hotel, the Amway Grand Plaza blends the elegant history of the 1920s Pantlind Hotel with the modern amenities of today. The Pantlind side of the hotel showcases the Old World glamor of its original era, with three magnificent chandeliers made of Austrian crystal, a domed ceiling featuring the largest gold leaf installation in the U.S, a wooden-gilded sunburst that hung in the ballroom of wealthy Italian merchant for 150 years, and many other Art Deco-influenced details.

Need a refreshment break? The Amway has plenty of dining and sipping options to choose from: The Kitchen By Wolfgang Puck, The Kitchen Counter by Wolfgang Puck, Starbucks, Rendezvous, IDC and Lumber Baron bars, and MDRD, perched at the top of the hotel’s soaring 27-story glass tower. MDRD was named the #2 best new restaurant in the country by USA Today in 2021, and it’s epic casual dining experience.

You could also check in to the hotel’s Celeste Salon & Spa, play RoofTop pickleball or enjoy a game of duckpin bowling – you don’t have to be a hotel guest to partake of these amenities, visit the restaurants or just admire the lavish interior.

Swing dancing at Rosa Park Circle.

From dancing to ice skating, Rosa Parks Circle is a hub for community, hosting many public events.

Photo by Brian Kelly for Experience GR

Rosa Parks Circle

Exit the Amway Grand on Pearl St. and head east to the Monroe Ave. intersection. Cross the street and go right to Monroe Center St. To your right is Rosa Parks Circle, a public plaza designed by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Lin celebrated the city's connection to water by representing it in three forms: liquid (flowing water), vapor (a mist fountain), and solid (ice).

Named one of America’s Top 5 Great Public Spaces in 2017, Rosa Parks Circle hosts a wide variety of public events in warm weather – festivals, concerts, swing dances, lunch programs and more –and it converts to a public ice rink in winter.

The plaza was named for civil rights activist Rosa Parks in 2011 and a statue of Parks was dedicated at the entrance to the space in 2010.

That’s the end of our tour – but you’re now perfectly positioned to explore even more of the city, from the Grand Rapids Art Museum (on the edge of Rosa Parks Circle) to the many shops and restaurants that line Monroe Center St.


Looking for a guided tour of downtown? Check out Grand Rapids Running Tours, which offers dozens of guided running and walking tours organized around specific themes, and

Tours Around Michigan, which conducts public and private tours exploring downtown GR history, art, architecture, ghost stories, churches and more.