A Planner’s Unplanned Trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan

I am a planner. I’m not a professional event planner, wedding planner, or financial planner, but I do have a natural tendency to make plans. So, naturally, when I went to Michigan for a friend’s wedding, I had a plan for how to spend the rest of the weekend. My husband and I would go to the western coast of the state to visit parks along Lake Michigan. I researched Muskegon, Ludington, and Manistee National Forest. I did not, however, research the weather forecast. So when the time came for us to make the drive to the coast, there was a high enough chance of rain that we decided not to pursue the outdoor activities we had planned. Not wanting to waste our time in a new place, we quickly hit the laptop and cell phone to research activities that could entertain us for day and a half in Grand Rapids. We soon made a make-shift list and set out, not knowing what exactly to expect.

The Meyer May House

As we had enjoyed a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park, IL, it seemed logical to tour another house designed by the famous architect. The Meyer May House, built in the early 1900’s, is not far from downtown Grand Rapids. Upon our arrival there, we were shown a documentary about the restoration of the property. The video built up my anticipation of the Meyer May House and provided a background of information about the home that helped me more fully enjoy the tour that followed.

Our guide was skilled at pointing out the features of the home and how they relate to Wright’s approach to design. While the house itself is the primary attraction, the experience is enhanced by the accents in the house that were also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In addition to homes, he designed furniture, windows, rugs, dishes, and more. To tour a Frank Lloyd Wright house is to learn about a style, not just a building. To tour the Meyer May house is to see this style restored in immaculate detail.

The Grand River

Once it was clear that the forecasted rain would not be making an appearance after all, a walk around Grand Rapids sounded appealing. We found parking on a side street downtown and headed toward the Grand River. The river area was certainly the highlight of the walk, especially because of the iconic Blue Bridge. Originally a railroad bridge, the Blue Bridge now serves as a pedestrian bridge that links the paths that run along either side of the river. After spending some time walking along the river, we used this bridge to cross over to our next destination, the Ford museum.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Confession #1: When my husband suggested “the Ford Museum,” I initially ruled it out because I had no interest in looking at old cars. When he clarified “Gerald Ford, not Henry,” I was slightly more interested but still hesitant. Confession #2: Before I visited the Gerald Ford Museum, I could not have told you where he fell in the order of presidents. In case you’re as unaware as I was, he was president after Nixon and before Carter.

Gerald Ford had a unique role in leading the country, as he had to rebuild a country torn apart by scandal and bring respect and confidence back to the presidency. The lack of drama during his term, while making him more forgettable than others, is his significance. It’s a significance I may never have fully understood without visiting this museum.

The quality of the exhibits held my interest more than I anticipated. The mix of artifacts, text, and media clips was well-balanced. Visitors can even view a full-size replica of the oval office. Not only did this museum give me a new and unexpected appreciation for our 38th president, it also gave me a desire to visit other presidential museums. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for presidential museums when I travel in the future.

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Last but certainly not least was Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. We went here on our second day in the area, and I’m certainly glad that we set aside plenty of time to explore and appreciate this beautifully landscaped destination. Our visit began with a walk through several indoor gardens, in which different rooms mimicked various climates and featured plants that thrive in those environments. The outdoor gardens, however, are certainly the main attraction.

It took a few minutes to get our bearings, but we soon discovered that many of the paths form large loops that have offshoots that lead to large pieces of art. The sculptures vary greatly in style and scale and are mostly found in clearings that are surrounded by trees and other plants. Small ponds and other manmade water features contribute to the peaceful, but not boring, setting. We slowly made our way to the Japanese Garden, which features a larger pond.  A short bridge leads to a small island in the pond, where a gazebo provides a spot to sit and enjoy the scenery. A hill near one end of the pond offers a higher vantage point, from which we could see much of the Japanese garden. This overlook should not be skipped, as it offers one of the best views in the park. 

A Successful Trip without a Plan

My low expectations for Grand Rapids were certainly surpassed. If I had planned my trip ahead of time as I usually do, it likely would have included the Meyer May house, river area, and gardens. The Ford museum, however, was probably the result of the last-minute effort to find activities to fill time. It, out of all aspects of my Grand Rapids trip, was the one that most surprised me. I thoroughly enjoyed all four of these stops, which I would highly recommend to anyone planning a trip to Grand Rapids, whether that plan is made in advance or spontaneously.




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