Although I’m a relative newcomer to Grand Rapids, I am still a Midwesterner, and I can tell you we’re a practical bunch. Case in point: winter. Midwesterners make the best of this season with festivals, outdoor adventures, and warming food.

And while I am likely biased, if you’re looking for an easy winter getaway, the Grand Rapids area is where you need to be. In fact, I can prove it to you with this weekend itinerary designed with adults in mind.

MDRD - Bar

MDRD's elevated dining (literally and metaphorically) is a must-try while in GR.

Photo by Credit: AHC Hospitality

Thursday: Exploring Downtown and World of Winter

While I think it’s fun to stay Downtown, hotels in the suburban areas of the city are generally only a 15-20 minute car ride to the center of the city and are also great options.

Wherever you stay, head Downtown early to score a seat at MDRD’s bar for a pre-dinner drink and snack. The restaurant’s reservations fill up quickly, but locals know the bar is open seating. I recommend the patatas bravas (crispy potatoes with a spicy aioli) with the gin and tonic, which they elevate with a raspberry granita and rosemary. Enjoy breathtaking skyline views, thanks to the restaurant’s location on top of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

For dinner, Ionia Street is filled with lots of options, though the Polynesian vibe at Max’s South Seas Hideaway is especially enticing this time of year. Their menu features options for a variety of diets, including vegetarian and vegan (the vegan curried vegetable bowl is my go-to), and features an extensive cocktail menu, though I always order Aku Aku.

From Michigan With Love exploring World of Winter 2024 and the Stargate installation

Stargate is one of the outdoor art instillations of World of Winter, a perfect post-dinner activity.

Photo by Photography: Bryan Esler Artist: Chalk River Labs

Next, walk off dinner by taking in World of Winter outdoor art installations. The evening is an ideal time to view these installations as many of them light up the night in unusual ways. DGRI, the organization hosting the event has created a handy interactive map to help you find your way around. 

Don’t be surprised if you see people walking around with adult beverage in hand. The Downtown Refreshment Area encompasses several city blocks allows you to enjoy an alcoholic drink while outside while in the designated area.

Valent-ICE 2016 Downtown Grand Rapids
Ice sculpture at Valent-ICE

Checking out the Valent-Ice sculptures is a great way to explore the city.

Photo by Melody VanderWeide

Friday: Touring Valent-Ice and Shopping Uptown

Today is all about urban exploration, so let’s start with a hearty breakfast… or at least coffee.

San Chez Bistro's wide selection of menu items, including lots of vegetarian options, is a favorite of my husband and me. Do yourself a favor and try their coconut oil latte—it’s so good and warming. While reservations aren’t required, they are strongly encouraged and are easily made on their website. For a cup of coffee and a lighter bite, try Terra Bagels or Madcap.

Valent-Ice is another World of Winter program featuring ice sculptures placed throughout the downtown area, taking place February 9-11. Learn more about the sculptures and sign up for a free walking tour, provided by Grand Rapids Running Tours.


Mokaya Specialty Chocolates
Rebel Interior

I like to enjoy a sweet treat from Mokaya (left) while I'm visiting local shops like Rebel (right) in the Uptown neighborhood.

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

From there, it’s about a 10-minute car ride to cover the two miles or so to the Uptown neighborhood. Even my husband, who is not much of a shopper, likes to join me. We also like to intermix our shopping with stops at neighborhood restaurants for coffee, snacks and meals. There are so many wonderful shops to visit in this area. Below represents the tiniest fraction of this area’s delights, listed from closest to furthest from Downtown.

  • Books & Mortar. I was an English major and this is a local bookshop. Naturally, we go together. Truth is, anyone who enjoys a good read will appreciate Books & Mortar’s curated selection.
  • Woosah Outfitters. With the term "outfitters" in the name, you might think Woosah is a place to stop and gear up for your next campout. And while that's true, Woosah is so much more than that. It's also an art gallery, home store, clothing boutique -- just to name a few of the items you'll find to outfit both your campsite and your life.
  • Mokaya. Whenever friends and family visit me, we usually find our way here for their decadent chocolates. Expect it to be busy since it’s Valentine’s Day weekend. I recommend taking advantage of their online ordering system and place an order ahead of time for pickup at the shop. Your sweets will be ready for you at their window and you’ll look like a hero to your sweetie.
  • Wax Poetic Candle Bar. Owner Jill Bromley-Sung and her team really understand how scent can enhance your mood, something I’ve really come to appreciate as the amount of time I spend at home has increased. You can purchase pre-made candles or you can make a reservation to create your own.
  • Rebel. This is the shop I visit when want to buy a present for someone, but I’m out of ideas. There is no shortage of inspiration to be found at Rebel. This gift shop is full of clever, fun finds.
Takeout from Terra GR - On Plates

The focus on seasonal ingredients is a common value of many Grand Rapids area restaurants, like Terra pictured here.

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

At this point, you’re really close to one of my favorite places for dinner: Terra GR. Their menu changes weekly to take advantage of local, seasonal ingredients.

If a reservation is hard to come by, these other Uptown restaurants use local ingredients and are also great options: The Winchester, Brewery Vivant, Hancock, Green Well Gastro Pub, Maru SushiForty Acres, and Donkey Taqueria.

Grand Rapids Arch by Andy Goldsworthy
Frederik Meijer Garden Greenhouse

There's plenty to see and explore, both indoors and out, at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

Photo by William J. Herbert, Courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture

Saturday: Spending Time in Nature

Have a leisurely brunch in West Side neighborhood at Morning Belle.

You don’t have to go far from the city to enjoy nature. Blandford Nature Center is about six miles out from downtown and generally less than a 15-minute car ride away. You can hike the trails or, depending on weather conditions, rent snowshoes for a wintery excursion.

A little further out of town is Cannonsburg Ski Area, where you can ski, snowboard, and tube down their pristine slopes. Cannonsburg rents equipment for all of the above. They also have a winter trail system for fat biking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has beautiful outdoor grounds and winter adds its own beauty. The sculpture park has completed a multi-million-dollar renovation to its visitor center that features a breathtaking sculpture called "Utopia" by renowned artist Jaume Plensa. 

Pair your RWGR meal with one of more than 100 wines on Reserve's expansive wine menu.
Mertens Prime - Interior

If you don't mind dining during off peak hours, you can still find reservations at many romantic restaurants like Max's Southseas Hideaway (left) or Mertens Prime (right).

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

Since this weekend is about romance, an intimate dinner for two is a must. First among them, Reserve, whose elegant décor and seasonally inspired cuisine has made it a date night favorite among locals. Other options equally delicious and romantic: Divani, Bistro Bella Vita, Forty Pearl, Margaux, Mertens Prime, and MeXo, to name a few. 

Consider going to dinner during an off-peak times. I love doing this because it allows for plenty of time for another stop either before or after dinner. GRNoir, a jazz and wine bar, makes for a fantastic pre- or post-dinner activity.

Exterior view of the Gerald. R Ford Presidential Museum

As the hometown of President Gerald R. Ford, Grand Rapids is one of the few cities in the county that can claim the honor of being the birthplace of a president.

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

Sunday: Heading Home

If you happen to be taking your long weekend over the President's Day Weekend, you’ll have the chance to take in a bit of presidential history before you head home. After all, Grand Rapids is the hometown of President Gerald R. Ford. 

First, head to one of the many coffee shops that Grand Rapids has to offer for a quick breakfast. Ferris Coffee & Nut Co., Lyon Street CafeLocal Mocha and Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge are all great options. Grab a beverage to go and take a stroll along the Riverwalk in front of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. Purchase your admission tickets online and make your way over to my favorite exhibit: a full-size replica of President Ford’s Oval Office. President and Mrs. Ford are laid to rest on the grounds. While pausing there, in the heart of the city, think about your favorite parts of your weekend in the city; after all, those memories are the best souvenirs.

I'd love to hear your tips for long weekend getaways in Grand Rapids. Let me know in the comments below!

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