I did this tour not too long ago and I LOVED it! It was a great way to enjoy your afternoon, especially on a tight budget (and we all know how that is these days)! My favorite part was the Amway Hotel Plaza Hotel with the inside tour. The building was absolutely gorgeous! So put on your walking shoes for an insightful ten block tour of the city. Also, at the bottom of this blog is a link to view other self tours in Grand Rapids!
Grand Rapids Tours: Downtown Walking Tour
This ten-block downtown walking tour covers less than three-quarters of a mile – but it takes you all the way from Berlin to Vietnam!
Your tour starts at Van Andel Museum Center, on the west bank of the Grand River at Front Ave. and Pearl St.
Here, you can experience history made real: View an actual segment of the Berlin Wall. Peruse fossilized remains of mammals, dinosaurs and sea life. Wander through the multimedia Furniture City exhibit to learn how Grand Rapids made its mark on the world scene. Walk down the Streets of Old Grand Rapids, where costumed volunteers might engage you in a discussion of the finer points of life circa 1890.
You’ll find this and so much more at Van Andel Museum, including a Curiosity Shop selling Native American baskets and beadwork, miniature furniture, and Frank Lloyd Wright memorabilia.
Cross Pearl St. to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. After representing Grand Rapids for 25 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Gerald R. Ford became president in 1974. This museum pays tribute to his life and times – with interactive exhibits focusing on his early life in Grand Rapids, the Watergate crisis, the Vietnam era, and more. There’s even a full-scale reproduction of the White House Oval Office!
Walk directly east through Ah-Nab-Awen Park. Follow this lush green space – once the site of a Native American village – to the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Grand River. This is where lumbermen used to float logs from nearby walnut, maple, and cherry forests down to sawmills and furniture factories. Go over the bridge and look for the plaque commemorating the great 1883 logjam. Walk south along the east bank back to Pearl St.
From Pearl St., enter the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and ask for a free self-guided tour brochure at the concierge desk. The hotel’s Beaux-Arts style east wing, originally called the Pantlind Hotel, was built in 1913. Grand Rapids’ twice-yearly furniture markets attracted thousands of buyers, sales reps and manufacturers – the wealthiest of whom stayed here. Two-ton chandeliers, gold leaf ceilings, a pineapple spigot fountain and Duncan Phyfe furniture still shine as they did in 1925, when the Pantlind was named among “America’s Finest Ten Hotels.”
The 29-story glass tower was added in 1983. A 2000 Conde Nast Traveler reader survey ranked the Amway Grand the 12th finest North American hotel and one of the world’s 100 top lodgings. One of the hotel’s seven dining options – the 1913 Room – is Michigan’s only five-star, five-diamond restaurant. Ready for a break? Ask a passerby to point you in the direction of the hotel’s Starbucks coffee shop.
Now, walk one block east on Pearl St. to the Waters Building, on the northwest corner of Pearl and Ottawa. Built in 1899 by Dudley Waters and Philip Klingman as one of the nation’s largest furniture exhibition buildings, this block now holds offices, banks, a gift shop, and two restaurants. Note the Chicago influence: steel-frame construction, masonry cladding, and three-part windows. Go inside (either from Pearl or Ottawa) to admire the lobby’s century-old woodwork and chandeliers.
On the southeast corner of Pearl and Ottawa is the Michigan Trust Building, 40 Pearl NW. Built in 1892 as the city’s first skyscraper, it was styled after the office buildings of Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. The exterior has russet masonry walls, half-arch windows and terra cotta ornaments. Inside, between the lobby and Sundance Grill (expect creative breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus), you’ll find historic Grand Rapids photos, including Frank Lloyd Wright standing outside the Meyer May House he designed in nearby Heritage Hill.
A block east on Pearl, you’ll find the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM). But before you enter off Pearl, walk west along Ionia Ave. to admire the copper roof; granite niches, sculptures, and columns; and decorative metal doors. Built in 1911 as the city’s main post office and courthouse, this National Register of Historic Landmarks site became the GRAM home in 1981.
The museum’s strengths include furniture, American and European 19th and 20th century art, and a hands-on children’s gallery. But if time is short, simply stop in at the gift shop. Walk through the Decorative Arts Gallery, where former post office windows now display American pottery. Look for indentations in the marble floor, made by people waiting to buy stamps. Don’t let this opportunity pass by, because GRAM is soon moving to a new, ultra-modern building in downtown Grand Rapids.
At the corner of Pearl and Division, go right (south) one block to Kendall College of Art and Design. This internationally renowned school was named for David Wolcott Kendall, chief designer of Reform and Mission furniture for Phoenix Furniture Company. Ninety percent of all U.S. residential furniture designers today are Kendall College alumni!
Enter from Fountain St. to peruse the college gallery, where year-round exhibits feature paintings, drawings, sculpture, and industrial designs by students, faculty, and visiting artists.
Follow Division right (south) one long block, then turn right on Monroe Center. These three blocks include shops and eateries in some of Grand Rapids’ oldest buildings, such as the 1874 Ledyard Building (100 Monroe Center), an Italianate commercial block that, fittingly, includes fine dining at Tre Cugini. This white tablecloth restaurant features seafood, veal, lamb, and homemade pasta for lunch and dinner. Ask to eat on the outdoor patio, inside Tre Cugini, or in the exposed brick atrium.
Your tour ends at Rosa Parks Circle, a tribute to the late civil rights activist. This outdoor attraction was designed by Maya Lin, best known for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Rosa Parks Circle features Lin’s characteristic use of stone, water, and earth in a form that blurs the lines between sculpture and architecture. During warm weather, you can play in the fountains or enjoy festivals and concerts. You can ice skate here in winter.
Visit: http://www.visitgrandrapids.org/tour.php?type=visit for more great tours in Grand Rapids, MI