As a young professional, getting together with my closest friends is one of my favorite ways to rejuvenate.  And, as a proud Grand Valley State University (GVSU) alumna, I always look forward to the times I can return to the school for a visit or celebration. I am even more excited when I can couple that with sightseeing and exploring a city that will always hold a special place in my heart -- Grand Rapids!

After years of planning, my friends and I were finally able to execute this girl’s getaway and attend this year’s GVSU Homecoming! While the GVSU festivities were the reason for my trip, most of my itinerary can be recreated for your own girls’ weekend getaway!

Since graduating in from GVSU in 2015 Grand Rapids has grown so much with its infrastructure, entertainment, dining options, and more. When I think of the city nowadays, it is much like a mini-Chicago that’s so quick and easy to get around. It’s a good deal and more affordable, too.

I grew up in Chicago and live there now, but as I mentioned I will always treasure the years I spent in Grand Rapids, and the lifelong friendships I was able to cultivate and nurture at GVSU – including Aja Powers and Daria Siler, also Grand Valley State University Alumna. Daria also lives in Chicago, so the two of us loaded up my car and headed to Grand Rapids. Aja lives in Atlanta now, so she flew into Gerald R. Ford Presidential Airport and met us at our hotel.

It had been four years since I was last in Grand Rapids and I was eager to revisit some of our favorite destinations, as well as try new ones. We came up with a list of places we wanted to visit and added a few suggestions from Experience Grand Rapids.

Here’s a look at what we packed into our well-needed girls’ trip. I hope it will inspire you and your friends to plan your own Grand Rapids getaway.

Girls Trip at Celeste Salon & Spa

The Amway Grand Plaza's Celeste Salon & Spa provided the perfect moment of relaxation during a busy weekend.

Photo by Dorelle Brock for Experience GR

Thursday

We arrived at the Amway Grand Plaza Thursday afternoon. This is the crown jewel of downtown Grand Rapids hotels, boasting a 29-story glass tower overlooking the Grand River. From the beautiful, comfortable rooms to the 10 on-site restaurants to a spa, swimming pool and rooftop pickleball courts, it’s first-class all the way.

It’s also a short walk across the river to the downtown campus of GVSU, where the three of us studied and lived during our school years.

The Amway has a parking garage across the street, which is very convenient if you want to drive yourself around town. We took my car sometimes and also used Lyft.

After getting settled in our rooms, we headed to Chez Olga for dinner. Located in the city’s Uptown district, about a 10-minute drive from the Amway, it’s a Caribbean restaurant that we frequently visited while at GVSU. I’m happy to report it’s just as delicious as ever.

Girls Trip at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

Both kids and kids at heart will love taking the Spillman Carousel for a spin.

Photo by Dorelle Brock for Experience GR.

Friday

Breakfast was at Morning Belle on Bridge Street, a flourishing entertainment district adjacent to downtown. It’s new since my last visit and we were all impressed with the bright and welcoming ambiance, attentive staff, fantastic food and yummy mimosas.

Bridge Street is an older section of town that had undergone significant revitalization while we were in school but we were happy to see even more new businesses and buildings here. We popped into Eden Café, a coffeehouse that we were gratified to see also serves tea, hot chocolate and smoothies. It felt like a real community coffee shop, small and intimate, with excellent drinks.

We then spent some time taking photos near the hotel and on The Blue Bridge, an iconic local landmark. We walked the bridge across the river to the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which none of us had visited before. The history and natural science exhibits were fascinating – especially BUGS. It was so realistic and cool in taking you inside the world of insects, I highly recommend it. It’s open through February 4, 2024.

We also rode the 1928 Spillman Carousel at the Museum, because we’re all kids at heart.

We had a lunch of fresh-made sandwiches and wraps from The Kitchen Counter by Wolfgang Puck at our hotel. After lunch, we took advantage of another Amway amenity – the Celeste Salon and Spa. We enjoyed the cozy robes, and the relaxation room that had a great view of the city!

We relaxed some more in our rooms before heading for our 7:30pm dinner reservation at Reserve Wine and Food, a few steps from the hotel. We recommend the Chef’s Tasting menu selection consisting of five courses with wine pairings. My friends and I were so wowed by their customer service and felt that all courses were thoughtfully prepared - it was an experience we will treasure forever.

Following dinner, we headed to WMCAT (West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology), just a block from Bridge Street, for the GVSU Black Alumni Network Welcome Reception. We took some nice photos at the photo booth setup, had a few cocktails and danced before calling it a night around midnight.

Girls Trip at Courage & Soar
Girls Trip at Periwinkle Fog

Saturday morning after breakfast called for some downtown shopping.

Photo by Dorelle Brock for Experience GR.

Saturday

We spent the morning getting ready for homecoming and we also managed to get some shopping in before the game. We started with an in-room breakfast of pancakes, sausage, eggs and coffee from The Kitchen Counter by Wolfgang Puck.

We did some sightseeing around the hotel after breakfast and browsed two really nice downtown gift stores: Periwinkle Fog and Courage & Soar. All three of us left with shopping bags and I left with the first book I will gift to my niece, a book called My Hair, My Crown by Tonya Abari. I'm so excited to gift this book to her and help her grow and learn about herself.

We then headed to Allendale for the GVSU homecoming game. The Allendale campus is about 20 minutes due west of downtown, and it was interesting to see all the new developments along the way. Grand Rapids continues to grow like crazy. Tailgating was fun and we won the game, go Lakers!

That evening, we stopped at IDC in the Amway Grand before attending the Black Alumni after-party. IDC is a speakeasy-themed bar with a great outdoor balcony. They mixed some tasty drinks for us – I had a pomegranate martini, which was a pretty pink that matched my outfit.

The after-party was at the Embassy Suites Grand Rapids Downtown, less than a mile from the Amway. Like the Amway, it offers a great view of the river. We stayed long enough to enjoy a few appetizers and cocktails along with some good music before heading to Billy’s Lounge, an entertainment lounge in the Uptown neighborhood. That was a good time, they had a live DJ and I saw a few familiar faces throughout the night.

Sunday

We checked out of the hotel Sunday morning and headed to Judson’s Steakhouse at The B.O.B. (Big Old Building), a downtown entertainment venue less than a half-mile from the Amway. We had 10:30 reservations for their Drag Brunch. The drag queens were fabulous and the food was, too.

Daria and I then reluctantly said goodbye to Aja and Grand Rapids to drive back to Chicago. Aja caught a flight in the afternoon. We all had a great time and vowed that we would do it again soon!