The Rapidian

So this is Grand Rapids

Follow my story as I get to know Grand Rapids and help me find new places, new people and new adventures.
Underwriting support from:
ArtPrize 2011

ArtPrize 2011 /Barbara Caralis

Fulton Street Farmers Market

Fulton Street Farmers Market /Katie Caralis

Literary Life Bookstore

Literary Life Bookstore /Katie Caralis

As I prepared to move to Grand Rapids a few months ago, I had little idea what to expect. While it’s true that I’d spent most of my life living in Michigan (Metro Detroit and then Ann Arbor), in the past few years I’d explored both sides of the country, living in Phoenix and then Boston. I’d visited Grand Rapids as a child, but had no memory of it.

In some ways, I knew what to expect from Michigan. I knew that it would be a challenge finding work and that I should pay the extra $20 for covered parking in winter and that sometimes while driving I would need to turn right to go left. But I didn’t know anything about Grand Rapids. I had never heard of the DeVos or Van Andel families. I didn’t go to Zoo School or Grand Valley. In fact, I wouldn’t have been able to name the river running through Grand Rapids, not because I’m dense, but because I’d never even considered that Grand Rapids had a river. (Better than my coworker in Boston who said, “You’re going to Montana, right?” Close.)

So when I arrived with my Penske truck, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. It’s rather cliché to say that Midwesterners are nice, but I was stunned that the people in Grand Rapids were so nice! While living in Boston taught me to stare at my feet while walking, people here smiled at strangers. Shortly after my arrival, the city was taken over with ArtPrize. I marveled at the concept. Art is shown all over the city for anyone to see and it’s all free? And yes, some critiqued the event, but I couldn’t get over the fact that an entire community was celebrating art and embracing artists in such a hugely accessible way. Oh, and there were monkeys hanging from the bridge downtown. Monkeys!

Walking distance from my apartment, I found an excellent farmers market and a great local book shop. I loved the spacious bike lanes around town (even though I’m still scared to use them). I certainly had no need to worry that Grand Rapids wouldn’t have enough going on. I saw Nicholas Kristof and Jeannette Walls speak at the GRCC Diversity Lecture Series. I enjoyed dollar beers and hot dogs at a Griffins game. I began volunteering with the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center and writing for The Rapidian.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Michigan Film Art and Literature Symposium at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and one of the panelists said, “You can’t come to Michigan on accident.” She meant that as a northern state one has to go out of the way to get to Michigan—it’s never on the way to somewhere else. Right then, I realized that more important than why people came to Grand Rapids was the fact that they chose to stay.

I’m learning that there are people who have lived here forever. There are people who have left and come back. There are people who are new in town like me. And all around, I see people who have chosen to invest in the community—chosen to invest their time, their money, their passion.

With this, comes a palpable sense of possibility I didn’t expect to find.

I know I’ve only just met Grand Rapids, and I know the best way to learn about a city is to hear from the people who live there. So where should I be going? Who should I be meeting? What should I be writing about? Leave me a comment with your suggestion, and I just might write the next piece of “So this is Grand Rapids” about it.

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there are so many ways to tune in. and better yet, so many ways to sculpt this town into what you want it to be. writing for the rapidian is a rad way to get involved, keeping up on stories, and seeing what other folks are up to.


the daac (the division avenue arts collective) is a rad place to meet other people who are really making things happen in this town. the heartside neighborhood which includes the avenue for the arts has events all year around celebrating art in an accessible and unique way, not just during the three weeks that is artprize :)

you can also check out shows at mexicains sans frontiers, hoi polloi, and other spots along south division. hang out at heartside gallery and studio to volunteer, buy outsider art by folks in the neighborhood, and get to know other awesome grand rapidians. and are great places to start. both offer volunteer and internship opportunities. 

if you're into going to bars check out pub43 and the meanwhile. both would generate safe spaces for drinkers, non drinkers, queer folk, and oddities alike. the pyramid scheme is another rad venue/bar and is putting on some great shows. 

wealthy theatre is the gem of this town, in my opinion. so many incredible movies, events, dance performances. it's 100 years old and you get chills just walking into it. the meanwhile puts a film series on on tuesday nights you should check out!

eat at gaia, marie catribs, little africa, wealthy station and salem store. seems like you already jam the farmers market. 

go to uica. artists memberships are only 25 bucks a year. then movies are only 4 bucks a pop. melancholia, the new lars von trier movie, is playing now. go! 

go to the west side. see that it sort of feels like another world. then shop at flashback and captain bizarros for rad vintage clothes at stellar deals. 

jam over to the south side. see that you are now in yet another world. jam on some of the best tacos, shop at salvation army, and wheel and deal at st. vincent de pauls. i'm sure there are more good things that happen south and west in this town, but i'm a non car owner and rarely go there and not the person to ask. 

just keep showing up. and don't let the man get you down. it's cold here in the winter. but there are plenty of potlucks, house shows, and my house even has a fireplace if you need to sit in front of it.

this town has no shortage of people doing the raddest things. you just have to dig. somedays harder than others. but know that other people are digging too. and if we all do it together it's a hell of a lot easier. 

i keep thinking of so many more things to write but i need to eat breakfast now. 

Thanks, Marlee! I'm overwhelmed with all of your suggestions! I can't wait to start checking them out.

also i just woke up and do know words other than : rad, jam, and dig. 



oh man. comment #2 has me laughing out loud. coworkers are looking at me strangely. 


good stuff abounds. it's true. thanks for helping katie start digging. 

Awesome story! The Farmers Market you found is awesome and getting more awesome. The best part I found in the community is that it is really easy to get involved. We have a ton of people who want to make this city better (which is why it is where it is) so you can decide how involved you want to be. Living on the east side of town myself I know that we neglect the west side of GR... but dont! There are tons of strange bars and good food. Also, as a cyclist... don't be afraid of the lanes or places there aren't lanes in Grand Rapids. Generally, people are just as mid-west nice when you're riding on the road when there aren't lanes. 

Thanks for the comments, Joshua. I'll work on braving the bike lanes when it gets warmer again!

you should check out the GR beer culture. all across the country people are talking about the beer coming out of this little unsuspecting city. founders, vivant, hopcat, to name a few places. homebrew has it's place too!

Thanks, Taylor. I like the idea that "GR is Beer." I look forward to exploring this part of the culture.

Great article Katie!  I look forward to seeing more articles from you.  No one can keep up with everything that GR has to offer but here are some of my personal favorites.


The beach at Lake Michigan.  I like to go to Oval Beach in Saugatuck in the off season.  Walk the beach in spring or fall, and just listen to the waves.


The Festival of the Arts.  Good food, music and great people watching.


Reed's Lake Art Fair.  Great art available, if a bit pricey.


Meijer Gardens.  Okay, I work there but you must come see the Christmas trees now and the butterflies in the spring.


Celebration on the Grand.  Music, food and great fireworks.


Four distinct seasons.  I lived for a short while where there was no winter and it wasn't fun.  We are blessed with a variety of weather here.

Food on the westside:

Shawmut Inn is a bar/restaurant that I frequent. The food is fantastic.

The Westsider Cafe is a delicious place for breakfast. You sometimes wait a while in the mornings Sat & Sun, but it's worth it.

Mr. Burger has burgers that will melt in your mouth. It's a hassle free, cheap, cafeteria style restaurant.


You have to experience Ice Skating at Rosa Parks Circle. Perhaps one of my favorite spots in Grand Rapids, that space transforms by season or even by week to bring us all of these great events. Ice skating will be the prominent one, but then there's Blues on the Mall, swing dancing, concerts, the list goes on.



Oh, boy, where to start?

You have discovered some great things on your own and been tipped off by commenters, but here are a few more:

If you like Yoga or Tai Chi, we have an excellent Anusara Yoga studio -- From the Heart Yoga on Wealthy.  In the same few blocks, starting at Eastern and Wealthy and heading West, check out Literary Life Bookstore, two Aveda salons, Wealthy at Charles home design (stuff like vases, candles and THE best fresh flowers), an amazing antique/junque shop called Phil's Stuff, the yoga/tai chi center, Nourish Organic Market, Rowsters Coffee,  The Winchester Bar and restaurant (they own an urban garden across the street and grow a lot of their own produce in the summer), Wealthy Street Bakery, and Art of the Table (wine, gourmet sauces and chutneys, gelato, classy cloth napkins, etc.)  These are all indpendent, locally-owned businesses -- you'll see a lot of that here.

If you'd rather take a walk in the woods than indulge in downdog or pulled pork and a Bloody Mary, head for the Westside.  Blandford Nature Center, on Hillburn Ave NW, off West Leonard, has acres of trails  for hiking or cross-country skiing.  So does Aman Park, on M-45, on the way to Grand Valley's Allendale campus. The bus to West Leonard is #7 and I think you can take the Grand Valley bus that runs between the downtown and Allendale campuses out to Aman Park.  That line stops near the downtown YMCA.

The "Y", by the way, is an incredible facility -- stop by and take a tour sometime.

And while you are downtown, check out the only LEED-certified art museum in the world (fronted by Rosa Parks Circle, where the ice-skating happens).  In the summer, there is a free Blues on the Mall event each Wednesday night in Rosa Parks Circle, and swing dancing there on Tuesday nights.  Summer Monday nights are Jazz at the Zoo (back to the Westside.)

Spring/summer/fall are also a great time to walk along the river, a "linear park" that runs from Fulton Street to the Boardwalk Condominiums (a rehabbed furnitre factory) on the east side and from Fulton to the historic 6th Street Bridge on the west side of the river.

Those are just a few of the things I appreciate about this town: a few others are the commitment to community and to buying local when possible, investments available to seed new businesses and new ideas, and the people who are new to the area and the fresh perspectives and ideas they bring!

Welcome -- and have fun getting to know GR.



Walk around Pickerel Lake (any season) and then get a bite to eat at The Grist Mill.

Go skiing in the winter at Cannonsburg with a group and then grab dinner at The Honey Creek Inn (you won't feel out of place in your skiing gear).

Check out the Fish Ladder in the fall and see the huge salmon trying to flip and flop up the ladder.

Get a tea latte at The Sparrows and sit and read a new magazine from their selection.

Go for a casual dinner at Erb Thai and sit and watch the traffic on Wealthy Street.

Get the chai latte at Global Infusion (seriously its the best I've ever had). While you're there buy some of the Heart Warming Cinnamon bulk tea and then browse the consignment shop next door.

Pack a picnic in the summer (or stop by The Cherry Deli to buy one) and then spread out a blanket and watch the airplanes at The Airport Viewing Area.

If you have kids or know anyone with kids...bring them to the Lena Meijer Children's Garden in the summer. Its not just a garden, and its seriously fun.

Take a break on a summer day downtown and get take out sushi and ice cream from Marado Sushi, then sit on the grassy hills by Rosa Parks and people watch. Cool off in the mister if necessary.

Visit the Public Library downtown without an agenda. Wander around inside, grab a snack or drink at Dewey's Cafe and then find a place to sit and read.

Go to Rowsters and order your favorite drink without any specific instructions (they make them all just right). Be sure to buy some coffee to bring home.

I'm looking forward to seeing Katie (or the rest of you!) reporting back on our pages about your explorations of these suggestions explored. I have to admit, I'm quite the homebody but I'm inspired to get out and enjoy all of the goodness in my city again! 

Surprised not to see any mention of Yesterdog here!  I tell people all the time that we have more hot dog joints per capita than anywhere.  Starting in the gas light village (East Grand Rapids) and working west on Wealthy you have Crazy Charlies, Yesterdog and Jonny B's.  Across from Rosa Parks Circle is The Dog Pit on Monroe Center.  Ritz Koney on Ionia (downtown) has specials throughout the week and there are several other coney places about town that do it right.

For dining on special occasions my wife and I enjoy Bistro Bella Vita or Leo's.  The Greenwell is priced a bit above moderate in my opinion but the food is local and very good.  Reserve is also a newer place in the downtown area that has a fantastic wine and cheese selection along with dinner options.  Other less expensive favorites of ours are The Beltline Bar (amazing burrito), Big Bob's Pizza (great happy hour specials), and Uncle Cheetah's Soup Shop.

I saw Founder's, Brewery Vivant, The Hideout, Schmoz, and Harmony Brewing Company (opening soon) all mentioned and that's great.  GR has an amazing beer culture.  If homebrewing is your thing (as it is mine) there are several clubs in the area you could get involved with.  The Brewsquitos is my club and there is also Prime Time Brewers, Brewers On The Lake, and the Pussycat Brewers Guild (all female group that meets at Hopcat).  Sicilanos Market in Standale is a great place for supplies and they also carry bulk coffee, loose leaf tea, cigars, pipe tobacco and plenty of beer and wine.  The staff is incredibly knowledgable.

If you're just interested in getting a pint or two check out Graydon's Crossing, Derby Station, Monarch Club, The Establishment, and Hopcat.  They all have expansive selections and knowledgable staff.  Stellas and Viceroy have a great vibe too and are not to be missed.

To indulge your vices I can't stress checking out the following markets enough:  Martha's Vineyard, Smitty's Specialty Beverages, Nantuckett Baking Company,Rowster, and Wealthy Street Bakery.  Whether it's specialty beer or wine, coffee, or sweets you're looking for you must get to know these places!

For entertainment you have a lot of options too.  Grand Rapids has great live theater.  If you head to Circle Theater at Aquinas, The Civic downtown, or Devos for an off-broadway show the quality of performance will impress you.  Founder's has the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra twice a month and live music Thursdays (free) and Saturday (usually $5), Hopcat has a Jazz jam on Sunday evenings, and there are many other places depending on your taste.  They Pyramid Scheme, Wealthy Theater and The Intersection each bring in artists of different levels and styles too.

In closing, Welcome to Grand Rapids and enjoy your stay!


Welcome to Michigan (my native state) and to GR (my adopted city). While you'll receive advice about places and things to see, I find it most meaningful to touch base with the amazing people who live here.

No list is exhaustive, but let me get you started by suggesting you meet (in no particular order) the following dozen. Consider it a GR networking scavenger hunt if you will.

Judge Ben Logan

Gail Harrison

Bing Goei

Pastor Chico Daniels

Colette Seguin

Eddie Tadlock

Pastor Doug Van Doren

Skot Welch & Rick Wilson (RIBW)

Maxine Gray

Sonya Hughes

Mayor George Heartwell