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Grand Rapids, MI :: Cool City. Great Beer. Perfect Getaway.

I actually had no idea that such a cool city was waiting for us just three hours away. My husband I went on a fantastic getaway to Grand Rapids, MI. I was surprised that it is such a thriving and cultural city. Downtown is very much alive and kicking and reminded me a mini Chicago. 

Grand Rapids has so much to do and see. We had a very hard time deciding how to spend our three day getaway! You can definitely easily fill an entire week with all of the museums, attractions, restaurants and breweries. Yes, I said breweries. Did you know that Grand Rapids was named Beer City, USA?! Neither did I. But more on that later.

Experience Grand Rapids booked us an amazing room at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. We were welcomed with a lovely welcome bag! This premier hotel blends the elegant history of the 1920s Pantlind Hotel with modern amenities of today. With 682 attractive guest rooms and suites, you'll experience the timeless beauty of the early 20th century. We had a corner room in the 29-story Glass Tower. It was absolutely stunning. Amenities include a fitness facility, 24-hour room service, as well as boutiques and a Spa and Salon.

The Amway has everything you need including a sports bar, deli, Starbucks, family restaurants, as well as fine dining. We got breakfast one morning at Conucopia (left) which is more of a grab and go kind of establishment. Another morning we chose the breakfast buffet at Bentham's Riverfront Restaurant (center). The breakfast buffet offered a very nice selection in a quiet environment with a great river view. We even got dessert at GP Sports Bar one night (right). I have never seen so many TVs! Just about every game you can imagine was playing on one of them. That was a more casual environment.

Our corner room was incredible! Two entire walls were windows giving us the most amazing views of the city! The night views were my favorite. If you stay at the Amway Grand, make sure you request a corner room. You will not regret it! The service and accommodations were fabulous.

I liked wandering about the hotel corridors as much as I loved being in the room. The classical architecture is just breathtaking. I felt like I stepped onto the set of an old Hollywood movie. All of the gold and the chandeliers were gorgeous! 

The Amway Grand Plaza has been making history since the original hotel - The Pantlind - opened in 1913. Fashioned after English Adams architecture by designers Warren & Wetmore, the hotel's special details included one of the world's largest gold-leaf ceilings in the Pantlind lobby. By 1925, The Pantlind was rightfully ranked "One of the Ten Finest Hotels in America." That distinguished history paved the way for the new Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

These are all views at different times of the day from our room. I mean come on! It looks like a postcard! Our stay at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel was one we will not soon forget. I would highly recommend you stay there not only for its history, beauty and premier service, but it is also very conveniently located downtown. Just about everything we wanted to see and do was within walking distance.

We enjoyed dinner one night at Charley's Crab Restaurant located on the Grand River. We love seafood, so we decided to give it a try! You will find fresh fish and seafood in this business casual upscale restaurant. I loved our table (left) which had a great view of the river. I ordered the Macadamia Coconut Shrimp (center) which was delicious and flavorful. My husband ordered two appetizers, the Maryland Style Crab Cake and Dynamite Scallops (right). He loved both. We could see why Charley's Crab was voted Restaurant of the Year by Grand Rapids Magazine. Expect to pay for this experience though. The prices are on the high side, but well worth a lovely night out.

We spent much of our time in Grand Rapids exploring Beer City, USA. Fun fact, did you know that in a given week, Grand Rapids' breweries sell over 30,000 glasses of beer? Yea. Pretty incredible. So we had to see what all of the fuss was about. We started our beer tour at Founder's Brewing Company. We went on a Monday and we could not believe how crowded it was! We later discovered that it was Cheap Pint Night. From 7pm to close, you can enjoy $2.50 class 1 pints or $3.50 class 2 pints. Nice. 

I tried both the Pale Ale and the Rubaeus. Both were pretty awesome. My favorite is the Rubaeus, which is Founders’ way to celebrate the season’s warmest months. Optimizing the flavor of fresh raspberries added at multiple stages during fermentation, this stunning berry red masterpiece is the perfect balance of sweet and tart. That berry kick was absolutely perfect for a warm summer night. My husband loved the Centennial 45. We also enjoyed dinner there, ordering a Cheese Pizza, Pulled Pork sandwich and Beer Cheese Dip. I highly recommend the Beer Cheese Dip! Warning - you get huge portions of everything (right)!

One of my husband's friends had told him about the unique atmosphere at Brewery Vivant, so we had to check it out. It is a short drive from downtown, but worth it for the experience. Much of the inspiration behind Vivant comes from the small breweries that you find in the countryside in Southern Belgium and Northern France. From the moment you walk in, you feel transported. Brewery Vivant is housed in an old chapel from the early 1900's. It is really something to see. I went for the Belgian Wit, which I found quite enjoyable. I favored the Turkish orange peel added to this brew giving it a crisp citrus punch. My husband chose the Trebuchet, which also had doses of citrus. Very enjoyable.

HopCat was our next stop, which is known as a beer bar. In fact, it was rated the 3rd best beer bar in the world by Beer Advocate. Our sever, Allie, was awesome. She knew a lot about beer and helped us make an informed decision. This was important because the menu had tons and tons of beers! I have never seen so many! They specialize in Michigan brews, but also offer a wide range of regional craft brew, global beer, and a large Belgian selection. Decisions, decisions.

With the help of Allie, I decided on the Zugspitze, which happens to be a HopCat beer. Delicious. Loved it. I also ordered a Classic Burger with "Crack Fries" - named that way due to being highly addicting. I would have to agree. My entire meal was awesome. My husband ordered The "Voted Best!" Wings which Allie explained were done just perfectly, along with the North 45. He loved both. We really loved the atmosphere, the selection and the service. From the super cool staff to the huge selection of beer to the great music playing the background during our visit - we loved it all. This place is awesome.

The last stop on our beer tour was Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Harry, our server, was very friendly. He had the same vibe as the whole establishment, very laid back and cool. Upon Harry's recommendation, I tried Roslynn’s Bliss Blonde - named after ward #2 city commissioner and her passion for local craft beer. I loved the subtle apricot and tea flavors that complimented this classic blonde ale. Hubby tried John Ball Brown - named after a true Michigan pioneer, John Ball. We found out that John Ball was instrumental in the development of downtown Grand Rapids! Cool. We really liked this place - perfect for a few drinks with friends.

Okay enough of the fabulous breweries. It is time to check out some of the must-see attractions in Grand Rapids. It is also time for another fun fact! Did you know that Grand Rapids was named the #3 city in the nation for fun and recreation?! I told you there was a lot to do! First stop, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Just minutes from downtown, this 132-acre haven integrates horticulture and sculpture throughout its site, setting it apart from other more traditional botanic garden or art museum experiences.

This huge attraction features the most comprehensive outdoor sculpture collection in the Midwest, indoor and outdoor gardens, the largest tropical conservatory in the state, nature trails, a guided tram tour and 5 acre Children’s Garden. We tried to take in as much as we could! There was so much to see! From the masterpieces of art to the surprising silhouettes and endless kaleidoscope of colors, there was beautiful inspiration around every corner.

You should plan at least four hours and up to eight hours to enjoy all there is to offer. We decided to partake in the Tram Tour ($3) to save a bit of time. It took you through most of the sculpture collection, with a nice narrated tour explaining the significance of what we were seeing. The permanent collection focuses on works by established and emerging sculptors from the Modern tradition to the present. The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a must-see for sure during your visit. Don't forget your camera!

Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States wasn't born in Grand Rapids, but he was raised there and represented the city in the House of Representatives from 1949-1973. Just across the river from our hotel was the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in downtown Grand Rapids.

My husband, the history buff, loved this one. I really enjoyed it too. One of my favorite parts of the museum was the original Watergate burglar tools. The Watergate gallery also includes a six-minute, multi-screen history beginning with the June 1972 break-in. Another very cool exhibit was the Oval Office replica. It has been updated and expanded with dramatic overhead lighting synchronized to a narration detailing activities in America's most famous room.

Just across the street from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, you will find the Grand Rapids Public Museum. It is among the oldest history museums in the United States. But you would never know when you stepped inside this sparkling facility, which rises three stories above the downtown riverfront! Inside, you will find a fascinating panorama of permanent collections and temporary exhibits preserve the treasures of the past and the present. There is a Collecting A-Z exhibit, which is a great way of presenting just some of the million or so objects the Museum has collected. I loved the Streets of Old Grand Rapids, a detailed recreation of an 1890s street scene. It is like walking through time.

If you visit soon, don't miss one of the biggest shows in the Museum's history - "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition." This amazing exhibit, there until September 8, 2013, allows visitors to view more than 150 legendary artifacts conserved from the Ship’s debris field are showcased offering a poignant look at this iconic Ship and its passengers. Your journey begins as you go back in time to 1912 as you receive a replica boarding pass of an actual passenger aboard Titanic. Then you begin a chronological journey through the life of the Titanic, moving through the ship’s construction, to life on board, to the ill-fated sinking and amazing artifact rescue efforts. If you get a chance to see this exhibit, you must!

Finally, we ended our getaway with a visit to the John Ball Zoo. This classic urban zoo is located just two miles west of downtown. The John Ball Zoo is home to more than 1,100 animals from five continents. We really enjoyed our visit, seeing some amazing animals like stingrays & sharks, wallabies, camels, chimpanzees, a grizzly bear, snow leopards, a Komodo dragon - and many large and small primates. This zoo is very visitor friendly. It is easy to enjoy all of the exhibits in a few hours time. 

Needless to say, we absolutely loved our visit to Grand Rapids! We are already planning our next trip back. The city has this great vibe and is thriving with cultural activity and is just plain fun. If you are looking for a fun-filled visit to Western Michigan, you are looking for Grand Rapids. It has a big city feel with small city friendliness. We love Grand Rapids! Begin planning your trip by visiting Experience Grand Rapids. You will find everything you need to plan your visit. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.