15 Charming Places to Visit in West Michigan: A Travel Guide

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15 Charming Places to Visit in West Michigan: A Travel Guide

Exploring the places to visit in West Michigan can be an enchanting journey.

West Michigan is a stunning destination with its abundant art, culture, nature, and spectacular shorelines. But where do you start?

The answer: right here. We’ve compiled some of the best spots in this vibrant part of the Midwest for your next adventure.

Finding these unique places to visit in West Michigan, whether it’s immersing yourself in Dutch culture during Holland Dutch Tulip Time or savoring local wines on a tour around the Saugatuck neighborhood, will make your trip unforgettable.

For even more great West Michigan suggestions, listen to my guest appearance on the Amateur Traveler’s Podcast, hosted by Chris Christensen.

Exploring Grand Rapids, Michigan

In the heart of West Michigan lies a vibrant city that’s just waiting to be discovered. Say hello to Grand Rapids – an urban haven filled with cultural landmarks and attractions tailored for every interest.

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The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

When you’re choosing a place to stay, you absolutely can’t go wrong with the Amway.  A stay in Amway Grand Plaza Hotel is not merely about comfort; it’s also a rendezvous with art from around the globe. The hotel houses an impressive display of artwork throughout the facility, and in the rooms.

From intricate sculptures to thought-provoking paintings, each piece narrates its own tale. It’s like embarking on a global journey without leaving your cozy room.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Your visit won’t be complete until you’ve explored the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. This really cool stop offers glimpses into U.S. history through documents, photographs, and artifacts pertaining to President Ford’s life and career.

More than books – this library provides insights into our nation’s pivotal moments while honoring one man’s significant contributions.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum

If hands-on learning sparks joy for you, then don’t miss out on visiting Grand Rapids Public Museum. You will find a compelling and interactive space that showcases exhibits ranging from natural history displays to local cultural relics.

My favorite attraction is the Streets of Grand Rapids display, which takes visitors through a 3/4 scale re-creation of Grand Rapids in the 1890s. The vintage style lighting and brick street showcases eleven shops based on actual businesses and buildings from that time. And of course, you must take a ride on the period bicycle!

a woman in a white jacket and jeans takes a ride on a bicycle with a giant front tire.
Enjoy this photo of me before PINK-haired Hip Grandma was born. This photo was taken when visiting the Grand Rapids Public Museum when my kids were young.

The museum has a couple of other highlights as well.  Make time to visit the planetarium, which offers a variety of shows that explore the wonders of space.

The best part?  No light pollution here.  You can watch this show right within downtown Grand Rapids.  And don’t leave the museum without a ride on the fully restored 1928 Spillman Carousel, which is a showcase of vintage craftsmanship.

Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Besides being visually stunning, the gardens at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park also serve as living classrooms for botany enthusiasts or anyone interested in learning more about our planet’s incredible biodiversity. Every plant has its own tale of where it hails from and how it manages to thrive in varying environments.

In the spring, you must visit the Dorothy Fichter Butterflies are Blooming exhibit, which showcases over 7,500 tropical butterflies annually in March and April.

Outdoor Sculptures Amidst Greenery

Immerse yourself in the beauty of outdoor sculptures as you wander through the paths and railways outside at the Meijer Gardens.  Meander through the verdant landscape of Western Michigan and take in the artistry and nature that these sculptures bring to life.  The grounds are stunning, and the beautiful variety of artwork throughout the gardens is stunning.

A visit to Meijer Gardens isn’t complete without posing in front of the 24-foot tall DaVinci’s Horse, which Nina Akamu crafted from Leonardo DaVinci’s original design.  Two casts were made, one for Meijer Gardens and the other for the city of Milan, Italy.  I have many memories of my friends and family posing with that giant horse!

DaVinci's Horse, a giant metal sculpture of a horse against a blue sky background.
DaVinci’s Horse stands 24-foot tall and makes a wonderful photo opportunity. You will often see school kids rolling down the grassy hill behind him.

John Ball Zoo

Prepare to be dazzled by the diverse range of wildlife at John Ball Zoo. This really amazing zoo is home to over a thousand animals from all over the planet. From majestic African lions and playful penguins to adorable red pandas and awe-inspiring Komodo dragons – there’s an animal encounter for everyone.

The Meerkat exhibit is one of our favorites at John Ball Zoo. How can you not LOVE these little characters!?

Experiencing Thrilling Activities

For thrill-seekers, the zoo offers a range of activities to get your heart racing, such as the Sky Trail Ropes Course and ziplining across its expanse. The Sky Trail Ropes Course takes you on an adventurous journey high above ground level through lush trees on suspended platforms and bridges. And if heights don’t faze you, try ziplining across the expanse of the park – it gives you a bird’s eye view into various exhibits.

Educational Programs About Wildlife Conservation

The visit doesn’t just stop at thrilling experiences, though. The John Ball Zoo provides educational programs about global wildlife conservation efforts. These include live demonstrations where educators share fascinating facts about specific species, their habitats, and the threats they face in the wild.

You can even participate in interactive feeding sessions with stingrays or budgies, which not only bring you closer to these creatures but also impart valuable lessons about coexistence with nature. So remember, folks, each trip here isn’t merely an outing – it’s actually contributing towards preserving biodiversity right here on Earth.

The bears that live at John Ball Park Zoo are always ready for their photo moment!

Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park

If you love discovering wildlife and observing cool animals, then another one of the excellent places to visit in West Michigan is the Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park, located midway between Lansing and Grand Rapids.

Walk Through Your Own Safari

The Safari Walkthrough is a self-guided walk through the park’s animal enclosures. Here you’ll be able to get up close and personal with many of the animals, including giraffes, zebras, and kangaroos.

Get Personal with a Live Giraffe

The Giraffe Feeding Platform allows you to step right up and feed the giraffes by hand. This is a great opportunity to get a close-up view of these amazing animals and the built-in sunscreen on their black tongues.

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Beach Getaways Along Michigan’s West Coast

When you’re ready to begin exploring Michigan’s amazing West Coast, hop on over to the West Michigan Pike, a scenic byway that hugs the shore of Lake Michigan and stretches more than 120 miles.

A road trip down the Pike will take you through a whole host of amazing small towns with historic sites aplenty!  And did I mention one of my favorite things about Michigan, the beaches for summer fun and the great outdoors all year round?  

Grand Haven

Grand Haven is the perfect place to stop for a relaxing beach getaway. This charming lakeside town boasts beautiful sandy beaches and stunning sunsets over Lake Michigan. Be sure to take in a performance of the Musical Fountain, one of the top-rated places to visit in West Michigan, and one of the most unique.

Enjoying the Beach

Grand Haven State Park is a popular destination for beachgoers. While here you can enjoy the sun and surf on its vast shoreline or opt for a more tranquil experience at Rosy Mound Natural Area. The park also offers amenities such as picnic areas, volleyball courts, and concession stands.

If you are a camper, then pull into Hoffmaster State Park for a clean and family-friendly camping experience.

Exploring the Downtown Area

After a day at the beach, take a stroll through Grand Haven’s charming downtown area. Here you will find stores, eateries, and art galleries. Don’t forget to grab an ice cream cone to enjoy while walking along the boardwalk of the Grand River.

For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Tri-Cities Historical Museum is a must. Learn about the area’s rich maritime history and explore exhibits showcasing the region’s past.  Another must-see is the USS Silversides Submarine Museum in nearby Muskegon

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Holland’s Dutch Tulip Time

Keep on moving down the coast, and you’ll find yourself in Holland.  Holland is beautiful any time of the year, but Spring is both the busiest and the most tempting time of the year to visit.  Why?  Tulip Time, of course!

Imagine yourself in the heart of West Michigan during the annual Holland Dutch Tulip Time. Every May, this region transforms into a vibrant spectacle with millions of tulips blooming across parks and public spaces. The sight of the tulips is breathtaking, and the sound of wooden shoes is one of the most unique and fun things in Holland!

Parades and Dance Performances

The festival isn’t just about flowers, though. It’s an opportunity to immerse oneself in traditional dance performances that echo back to Holland’s rich cultural heritage. Groups clad in authentic Dutch attire perform dances passed down through generations.

You can catch these lively shows at various times each day throughout the festival.  And yes, yours truly was a Dutch Dancer for several years, so I am ready to answer any of your Dutch Dance questions!

Besides dancing, several Tulip Time parades are featured in downtown Holland with beautifully decorated floats and bands playing festive music. It brings together people from all walks of life who appreciate nature and culture – Tulip Time is quite a sight indeed.  This beach town is full of outdoor fun!

I was an official Dutch Dancer for several years during Holland’s Tulip Time. It’s GREAT exercise!

Blooming Fields Of Tulips

Naturally, you cannot miss out on the star attraction – the tulips themselves. With over 5 million bulbs planted annually across town, including Windmill Island Gardens and other locations including 7 miles of city streets lined with the rainbow display of colorful blooms!

Each location offers its own unique charm, whether it’s walking amidst rows upon rows of brightly colored blooms or learning how these beautiful flowers grow from bulb planting demonstrations at local Veldheer Farms, where you can even take a few bulbs home with you or have them shipped back to your address.

No matter where you go within Holland during the first full week of May, you’ll find picturesque views filled with bright colors around every corner.  Holland Michigan in the Spring is the perfect place to capture Instagram-worthy photos all while immersing yourself in local traditions.

DeZwaan Windmill at Windmill Island is just one of the many Instagrammable places in Holland.

Nelis’ Dutch Village Theme Park

If you’re in West Michigan at Tulip Time, or any time during the summer, and looking for a place that offers both entertainment and cultural immersion, then look no further than the charming Nellis’s Dutch Village theme park. For those looking to experience a little nostalgia, Nellis’s Dutch Village theme park offers plenty of entertainment and activities for the whole family.

This destination has a unique charm that transports visitors to another era. The vintage carousel here never fails to enchant children.  It’s outdoor fun while still being under cover.

The whole family can enjoy a ride on beautifully crafted horses while listening to traditional organ music play around them.

Cruise through the petting zoo where kids can interact closely with friendly farm animals.  Learn about different farm animals and their care requirements.

It’s little wonder why families exploring West Michigan often have this attraction at the top of their must-visit list.  Because it is modern, it is not considered one of our historic sites, but it is a great place to learn about Dutch History while you’re in town.

The Hungry Dutchman Restaurant

Of course, a day at Dutch Village will likely leave you famished. But don’t worry!  Food is close with a visit to The Hungry Dutchman, which serves up meals inspired by traditional recipes straight outta Holland – whether your taste buds fancy trying genuine Pigs in the Blanket or crave a hearty Pea Soup, rest assured they’ll be delighted here.  The Hungry Dutchman is one of the best places for a real Dutch meal.

The Beach at Holland State Park

Holland is only one of several incredible beach towns along the West Michigan coast.  If you’re a beach lover, then you’ll love the expansive public beach at Holland State Park.  This picturesque park is great for those looking to kick back near the water and soak up some rays.

Of course, nearby South Haven, Grand Haven, and Saugatuck, among other places to visit in West Michigan, are great beach towns with sand dunes, beaches, and plenty of sunshine, sand, and fun!

Accessible Facilities On Beach Areas

Holland State Park has made sure to provide a way for everyone to take in its stunning scenery by making it more accessible. The park has features such as accessible mats that provide an even surface from parking lots right down to the water’s edge, making it easier for individuals using wheelchairs or other mobility aids to navigate across the sand.

Several of the beaches in West Michigan have accessible beach mats like this one.

In addition to these mats, specially designed beach wheelchairs are also available at this state park. Unlike traditional wheelchair models, which may struggle on uneven surfaces like sand due to their small wheels, these chairs come equipped with larger balloon tires that allow them to roll smoothly over challenging terrains.

a book sits on a wooden table with greenery in the background. The book's title is Midwest State Park Adventures

Midwest State Park Adventures makes a great travel companion or gift. Some of the best travel writers in the Midwest collaborated to put this book together, which covers 12 Midwest States and hundreds of state parks.

And I, the Hip Grandma, contributed by writing the Michigan chapter!

You can click on the photo to order on Amazon or click HERE to learn more and order a signed copy directly from me.

Head Down the Coast For More Lakeshore Fun

Saugatuck Sand Dunes

After you’ve spent some time enjoying Dutch culture in Holland, head south down the Lake Michigan coastline and stop at one of the many great beaches along the way, such as Oval Beach.  There are so many beautiful places to stop in and explore.  It’s hard to narrow it down to just a few.

A definite standout is the inclusive and artsy neighborhood of Saugatuck.  Wander the shops in town, grab a bite to eat at The Butler or one of the many other great options, then take a ride across the Kalamazoo River on the only working Chain Ferry left in the U.S. and one of the best things to do in the area.  End your time here with a hike up the sand dunes at Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

South Haven

If you move down the coast a little further South, you can explore the small town of South Haven and the Michigan Maritime Museum, where you’ll find the Friends’ Goodwill, a replica tall ship, along with many other permanent and changing exhibits that showcase Michigan maritime history.

South Haven has just one of the many gorgeous piers and lighthouses in West Michigan.

Southwest Michigan’s Wine Country

Now that you’ve made your way down to Southwest Michigan, you’ll love exploring Michigan’s excellent wine country.   This popular spot is home to many wineries that are as unique as they are exquisite.

If you’d like to know where to begin, click here for The 5 Best Wineries In and Around New Buffalo, Michigan.  Southwest Michigan is one of the best places to experience an amazing wine-tasting experience.

During your tasting experience at any of these top-notch wineries, knowledgeable staff members will guide you through the different wines, explaining their flavors and characteristics.

You can also learn about food pairings and the best ways to enjoy each wine.  No doubt about it, a Southwest Michigan wine tour is one of the top things to do when you’re in the area.

And if you’re worried about driving, take a look at The Bottle Run, a local service that will take you on a fully curated wine-tasting tour around the area.  This is truly a unique experience and you’re guaranteed the best time in their capable hands.

West Michigan wineries are a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds!
 
The Gist: 

 

 

West Michigan is a haven for wine enthusiasts and beach lovers alike. Saugatuck offers immersive vineyard tours, tastings of local wines, and small-scale wineries with quality offerings. Grand Haven promises tranquil beaches, charming downtown explorations, and rich historical experiences.

Need a Place to Stay in Michigan?

Zoom in on the map to see hotels and VRBO rentals available in the area where you’d like to stay.

FAQs in Relation to Places to Visit in West Michigan

What is the west side of Michigan known for?

The west side of Michigan, often referred to as West Michigan, is renowned for its stunning Lake Michigan beaches, vibrant art scene in Grand Rapids, Dutch heritage in Holland, and wineries around Saugatuck.

Why do people vacation in Michigan?

People vacation in Michigan to enjoy its diverse offerings – from pristine beaches and beautiful state parks to rich cultural experiences like Holland’s Tulip Time Festival. The state also offers exciting wildlife encounters at places like John Ball Zoo.

What is the west coast of Michigan called?

The western coastline of the Lower Peninsula that borders Lake Michigan is commonly referred to as “Michigan’s West Coast”.

What towns are on the west side of Michigan?

Towns on the west side of Michigan include Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Holland, Grand Haven, South Haven, and others.  Each of these towns has unique attractions making them worth a visit.

Wrapping It All Up

You will find a treasure trove of experiences to be discovered and places to visit in West Michigan.  Begin your explorations in the lively city of Grand Rapids, where you can delve into art and history.  Then, step into the world where nature meets art at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

A visit to John Ball Zoo brings you closer to wildlife while Holland Dutch Tulip Time takes you on a cultural ride.  Nelis’s Dutch Village theme park offers family fun, and Holland State Park provides beach leisure like no other.

The Saugatuck and South Haven neighborhoods will introduce you to local vineyards with exquisite wines.

If exploring these charming places has sparked an interest in Midwest adventures, then Hip Grandma Life is here for you! We provide content that helps women over 40 explore this beautiful region further. So why wait? Dive into more exciting journeys across West Michigan and the entire state with us!

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