A Wheelchair User’s Guide to Accessible Grand Rapids, Michigan

Technically, I visited Michigan as a child while driving through Detroit on my way to Windsor, Canada with my parents. But that’s not really visiting Michigan, so I was super excited when I got an invitation to visit Grand Rapids as a wheelchair user, and show off the accessibility of this charming and beautiful city! It’s very easy to navigate on wheels or by vehicle, and it’s filled with accessible things to do and fantastic places to eat. It’s also very family friendly, and I can’t wait to bring my teenage sons here next summer. Here are some of the best reasons to visit accessible Grand Rapids as a wheelchair user!

Wheelchair accessible things to do in Grand Rapids

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a lush and expansivr 158-acre botanical garden with over 300 outdoor sculptures. It offers a diverse collection of plants, flowers, trees, and internationally recognized artworks. Visitors can explore various themed gardens and enjoy the natural beauty of the surroundings. One of the treats for wheelchair users is a huge tree house that has a ramp leading to the upper levels for adults and children like in wheelchairs to enjoy. The park also hosts educational programs, events, and exhibitions throughout the year. It is a unique and very wheelchair friendly destination for all, including Chihuly art fans and nature enthusiasts. Make sure you make some time for lunch or a snack at the café, which provides incredibly delicious sandwiches and bacon mac & cheese!

Grand Rapids Public Museum. The Grand Rapids Public Museum is a popular museum located in downtown Grand Rapids. It’s dedicated to showcasing the region’s natural history, cultural heritage, and scientific discoveries. The museum offers a wide range of exhibits and interactive displays that appeal to visitors of all ages. It covers various topics, including paleontology, Native American culture, local history, and the natural world. Visitors can explore immersive exhibits featuring dinosaur skeletons, indigenous artifacts, historical artifacts, and interactive science displays. One of the highlights of the Grand Rapids Public Museum is the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, which provides a unique and educational experience, allowing visitors to learn about astronomy, the solar system, and the wonders of the universe. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions that cover a diverse array of topics, including art, science, and cultural themes.

Downtown Walking Tour. Shortly after arriving in Grand Rapids, we were able to take a lovely wheelchair accessible tour around parts of downtown with Candace Smith from Tours around Michigan. We learned so much about Grand Rapids history as one of the logging capitals of the US, and marveled at places like the Grand River, the skyscrapers and historic architecture, the blue bridge, and the beautiful flowers everywhere. It was a really special treat to meet with Edwin Anderson, a very talented local artist who painted a stunning mural of the city’s historical timeline along the Grand River.

Downtown Market. The Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a lively marketplace in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. It features a variety of vendors offering fresh food, artisanal products, and dining options. The market also hosts community events, cooking classes, and workshops. It’s a vibrant destination for food lovers and a hub for local engagement.

Grand Rapids Art Museum. The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) is a renowned cultural institution in downtown Grand Rapids. It features a striking modern building and houses a diverse collection of over 6,000 artworks spanning various mediums and periods. The museum presents both permanent and temporary exhibitions, offers educational programs, and contributes to the vibrant arts scene in the city.

John Collins Park. Situated on Lakeside Drive between the Grand Rapids Yacht Club and Rose’s Restaurant, this lakefront park is within easy walking distance of Gaslight Village. It is named for John A. Collins, East Grand Rapids mayor from 1933 to 1956. The park was renovated in 2002 and features the only public access boat launch to Reeds Lake, as well as a lakeshore walk, overlook decks, benches, rain gardens, picnic tables, event space/plaza and public restrooms. Nearly three acres, John Collins Park is home to many events, including concerts and movies.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum is a museum and tribute to the life and presidency of the 38th President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford. Located in downtown Grand Rapids, the museum provides a comprehensive look at President Ford’s life, his political career, and the significant events that occurred during his time in office. The museum features a variety of exhibits that showcase President Ford’s life, from his childhood in Grand Rapids to his years in the White House. Visitors can explore artifacts, photographs, documents, and multimedia presentations that provide insights into his presidency, including his role in the Watergate scandal, the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, and his efforts to heal the nation following the turbulent 1970s. One of the highlights of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a full-scale replica of the Oval Office as it appeared during President Ford’s tenure. The museum also houses a variety of interactive displays and exhibits that allow visitors to engage with the history and policies of the Ford administration.

John Ball Zoo. John Ball Zoo is a 100-acre park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The zoo is home to over 2,000 animals, including tigers, lions, chimpanzees, and penguins. The zoo also has an aquarium. The zoo has a funicular ride, penguin and parakeet feeding, and behind-the-scenes training and care. It also has a camel ride and camel photo. The zoo is wheelchair accessible, including the entrance and restroom. 

Millennium Park. Millennium Park is one of the country’s largest urban parks, with portions in Grand Rapids, Walker, Grandville, and Wyoming. With 1,400 acres of rolling terrain and six miles of frontage on the Grand River, the park is rich in natural resources, featuring unique habitats and large natural areas for wildlife to thrive. Facilities within the park include a six-acre beach and splashpad, boat rental facilities, nearly 18 miles of trails, and other diverse opportunities for recreation and relaxation. There’s also a gorgeous wheelchair accessible wooden boardwalk with beautiful views of the landscape.

Wheelchair accessible places to eat in Grand Rapids

Reserve Wine & Food. This luxurious and modern restaurant in downtown Grand Rapids specializes in pairing their high-quality, aged, or limited-production wines with complementary dishes. The menu usually offers a range of gourmet options designed to enhance the flavors of the wines and create a harmonious dining experience. Reserve provides an elegant and sophisticated ambiance, with attention to detail in their decor and table settings. The food is locally sourced and so delicious! The restaurant has an elevator and accessible bathroom on both levels.

Bistro Bella Vita. Bistro Bella Vita is an upscale restaurant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offering Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. It features a cozy and sophisticated ambiance, a diverse menu with locally sourced ingredients, an extensive wine list, and a commitment to sustainability. The restaurant has also received recognition for its culinary excellence. The tomato bisque and bruschetta were amazing, but the tiramisu was to die for! Everything was spaced out well for easy wheelchair maneuverability.

Littlebird Café. This downtown bistro, which has been described as “modern yet nostalgic” and “café-style,” offers breakfast and lunch, including a full coffee menu, house-made sodas and egg creams, and the an array of pastries. The omelette at Littlebird was so delicious, and the French toast with sour cherries was to die for!

Bowdie’s Chophouse. Bowdie’s Chop House is a well-known steakhouse chain with multiple locations throughout Michigan. They are known for their commitment to serving prime, aged steaks and providing a high-end dining experience. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing the finest ingredients and using traditional and innovative cooking techniques to create flavorful and tender steaks. In addition to their steak offerings, Bowdie’s Chop House often features a variety of seafood options, appetizers, salads, and sides to complement the main courses. You can’t go wrong with the lobster bisque, which is probably the best I’ve ever had! They also typically have an extensive wine list and offer a range of cocktails and other beverages.

Margaux. At Margaux, a classic French bistro meets the sophistication and luxury of the JW Marriott brand, and is located on the second floor of the hotel in downtown Grand Rapids. Here, crisp aprons and select wine lists complement chic design and contemporary flair. For breakfast, you can eat from the buffet or a made to order meal off the menu. For lunch and dinner, they offer delectable dishes with a decidedly French flair.

The Kitchen Counter by Wolfgang Puck. The Kitchen Counter in the lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza hotel serves freshly baked goods and made-to-order breakfast and lunch items (the grilled cheese sandwich was my favorite, and their fries are amazing), with fresh ingredients to nourish and delight. Dine in or grab and go available.

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