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Downtown: Free-Style (part I)

Underwriting support from:


/Alex Carpenter

Why pay when you can have fun for free (or close to it)?

Downtown Grand Rapids has hundreds of places to go and things to do. Entire Web sites and advertising campaigns tout the day-time events and vibrant nightlife, but these things cost money. All the free activities remain a closely guarded secret. It is time to unlock the true treasures of downtown: and they are all free!

Parking is a big reason people avoid downtown. Parking meters, those money-swallowing, curbside sentinels, are nothing to fear if you know when and where to park. Meters are only enforced 8am-5pm, Monday through Friday (and Saturday on Monroe Center only). This means that you can park for free on nights, weekends and national holidays. Side streets without meters, unless otherwise posted, are free also. The parking ramp on Monroe Center is free for the first hour if you enter before 6pm. Plan ahead and know where you are going; chances are you can find free parking any time of day.

Walking remains the best and easiest way to get around downtown. Just remember to save some energy to get back to your parked car. If walking is not your style, you can ride certain lines of The Rapid for free. The DASH, a bus route that revolves around the city center, is free for anybody to ride. Go to the DASH Web page for routes and schedules.

Rosa Parks Circle hosts events all year long. Ice skating in the winter is $1 but, to keep with the theme, the skate rental is free. Other events include Blues on the Mall, concerts, rallies, swing dancing lessons and the occasional community event by Rob Bliss. It is also a great spot to sit and have a picnic. Visit the parks and recreation department Web site for a full listing of events at Rosa Parks Circle and other great downtown parks like Ah-Nab-Awen and Veterans’ Memorial Park.

Fishing is a popular pastime for many people downtown (although not exactly free if you consider the cost of a fishing license). You will find people dotting the banks of the Grand River, all day long, waiting for the fish to bite. And occasionally some big ones do. If you enjoy the river, but pulling fish out of their homes by their lips is not your idea of fun, check out Fish Ladder Park. You can stand and watch the water rush over the dam or wait patiently for a fish to jump up the ladder.

The Gerald R. Ford Museum is free to visitors on the birthdays of both the namesake and his wife (July 14 and April 8). Or stroll through the Amway Grand Hotel, which is always open for the curious to explore. While you are there, start window shopping and continue past the stores on Monroe Center. Smile big at the person working the XO Asian lunch cart and you might be handed a free sample. Be sure to peek into the lobby of the Kendall College of Art and Design, also, where there is always a new piece of art.

The possibilities are endless but the list does not stop here. Stay tuned for part II to learn more about the diverse culture and many enriching experiences that are… you guessed it… free! Post any other ideas you have in the comment section and they could be included in the next article.


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 sounds like you are into the same mindset i have been exploring recently... maybe you and Jen S (Word on the Street) and I should form our own site?


cool to see someone esle promoting good things like this. keep it coming