Grand Rapids boasts 4 beautiful seasons, all with their own particular appeal. But summer, with its long, warm, sunny days, is special. It’s a season to celebrate: we grill, we spend time outdoors with family and friends, and we bask in seemingly endless days when the sun doesn’t set until well after dinner.
Make the most of this summer by marking your calendar NOW for these 12 Grand Rapids summer events you won’t want to miss!
Started in 1969, this June 3-5 marks the 47th annual Festival, which is a weekend of downtown art-related fun aimed at making art accessible to everyone. Join the throngs of locals and visitors who turn out every summer to enjoy the free live music, dance, and arts activities…and indulge in tasty treats from dozens of food booths.
Don your sexiest cocktail dress and tuxedo for this black tie (or “vintage, 1960’s sophistication) occasion, where music, art and martinis will accompany steamy jazz at The Harris Building downtown. (21 years and up, only!) Saturday, June 18, 2016 at 8:00 PM. Click here for tickets.
On the 4th Sunday in each of the summer months (and also in May and September), you can shop the Pop-Up Marketplace at the Downtown Market, featuring Michigan made, and grown, treats and gifts. Admission is free. Afterwards, take a stroll through the rest of the Downtown Market—this would also be a great time to grab a pain au chocolat from Field and Fire Bakery or try some of Slows delicious BBQ. Pop-up Marketplace summer dates: June 26, July 24, August 28, 2016 from 10:00 AM – 4PM.
For the 4th of July (takes place July 2, 2016). This family-friendly event takes place in Grand Rapids’ Ah-Nab-Awen Park, and features music, entertainment and family friendly activities from 5:30 until 10PM, just before the fireworks light up the skies (usually around 10:30PM). In addition, there are plenty of food and other vendor exhibits to peruse and Amway is sponsoring a Family Fun Zone from 7-9PM that will include fun activities like temporary tattoos and face painting.
Related suggestion: The Grand Rapids Public Museum offers a program in conjunction with the annual firework display called Front Row for the Fireworks. Doors for the event open at 6:30PM (July 2) and tickets include access to the museum and viewing the fireworks from their lawn. Bring your own lawn chairs! Click here for more details and ticket information.
Founders Brewing Company
Beer lovers unite! Gather with beer aficionados from GR and everywhere else for this celebration on the streets outside Founders. You’ll find great beer, live music, awesome food, and a strong sense of community. (Ages 21+ only!) June 18, 2016, 3PM-11PM.
Related event: Downtown is full of awesome pubs with outdoor seating and summer is the perfect time for a snow-free pub crawl. Check out HopCat, The BOB, Grand Rapids Brewing, Grand Woods Lodge, Rockwell/Republic, and wherever else catches your eye!
6. Visit Lake Michigan
No summer in Grand Rapids is complete without at least one visit to the big lake. There are tons of great beaches to explore including stunning state parks in Holland, Saugatuck, South Haven, Grand Haven, Pentwater and Ludington, all within an hour and a half drive (mostly closer). If you’re headed to Grand Haven, plan your trip to coincide with one of their highly-anticipated annual summer events: the Great Lakes Kite Festival takes place May 21 - May 22 (a little early, but a great way to kick off the summer season), the Grand Haven Art Festival (June 25-26) or the Coast Guard Festival (July 29 – August 7).
Outdoor Concert Series at Meijer Gardens
7. Experience an outdoor concert at Meijer Gardens
Tickets go fast for the hottest acts in the Fifth Third Bank Summer Concert Series, but any ticket is worth the chance to experience live music in this beautiful, intimate venue with stunning acoustics. Meijer Gardens members can buy tickets during the pre-sale from Saturday, April 30, 2016 through Friday, May 13, 2016. Ticket sales to the public begin at 9 am on May 14, 2016.
Related suggestion: The gardens and sculptures at Meijer Gardens are breathtaking all year long, but the summer brings new blooms and outdoor delights that are worth at least a day to explore. Don’t miss the 8-acre Japanese Garden, which opened June 13, 2015 to well-deserved fanfare.
8. Picnic Pops at Cannonsburg
Picture it: fresh air, a grassy ski slope, a picnic basket filled with your favorite treats, like wine, fruit, cheese and crackers, and melodies ranging from Classical to the Beach Boys, courtesy of the Grand Rapids Symphony. Choose from five concerts, with dates from July 14 – July 29. Enjoy a beautiful night with beautiful music in the great outdoors—it’s the perfect event for a couple’s date night, an evening out with the entire family, or an annual get-together with dear friends.
Just steps away from the John Ball Zoo entrance, John Ball Park is the "home" of Oktoberfest West Michigan. The park includes picnic areas, playgrounds, biking, hiking/walking, access point for Kent Trails, and pond.
Grand Rapids’ John Ball Zoo turns 125 this year and there’s no time like the present to check out how it’s grown. From the Funicular to the tigers, mountain lion, bobcat, and the newly-renovated grizzly bear exhibit, there’s always something to explore at John Ball Zoo.
Related suggestion: The zoo’s always-fun annual fundraiser, Rendezoo, takes place on June 10, 2016 (tickets and more info here).
10. GRandJazzFest presented by DTE Energy Foundation
Back for a fifth year, this free two-day jazz extravaganza takes place at Rosa Parks Circle on August 20-21. Be sure to bring chairs, blankets, snacks, and sunscreen as you get ready to kick back and enjoy the jazz festivities .
Taking place August 26-28, is held every summer in downtown Grand Rapids and is the premier annual celebration of the rich heritage of the community.
12. Find a Fair!
Visit the fairgrounds and treat yourself to a funnel cake, elephant ears, or a carousel ride.
Ionia Free Fair July 14 - 23
Ottawa County Fair Caledonia Fair
Kent County Youth Fair August 8 – 13
Volleyball at Meijer State Games
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Lonna Blair
13. Get sporty.
Great weather means lots of outdoor sporting activities in Grand Rapids. Whether you watch or participate, here are a few you'll want to check out:
Grand Rapids Triathlon (June 12)
Meijer LPGA (June 14-19)
Beat the Grandma 5K (June 18)
Meijer State Games (Opening Ceremonies begin June 23)
Grattan Raceway WMR "Majors at MIS" event (August 13 & 14, 2016)