If you’re new to the Festival, or especially if you’ve been attending for years and haven’t taken the opportunity to step off campus, we hope you’ll consider exploring our friendly riparian city. Over the last several years, Grand Rapids has seen a boom in openings of serious coffee places, craft breweries and distilleries, and restaurants with menus that venture well beyond hamburgers.
Online travel sites list and rate many of the established favorites of the Grand Rapids restaurant scene, but they can’t keep up with the crop of fine newcomers. Keep scrolling for links to some of our favorites, both familiar and new.
The addition of shops and restaurants in recent years has created a bit of synergy in certain neighborhoods and corners. Nearest to the Calvin campus, you’ll find Gaslight Village, the tidy downtown of East Grand Rapids beside Reeds Lake, once home to an amusement park and summer resort and now the site of a walkable collection of shops, restaurants, and a waterfront library. It’s a little over two miles from campus, so either a 45 minute walk or a very short drive.
Head farther west and you’ll reach Eastown, which is full of funky stores, a used book shop, bakeries, a hot-yoga studio, and many casual dining options. Nearby Wilcox Park and Aquinas College offer great spaces for stretching your legs.
The Wealthy Street and Cherry Street corridors are especially popular destinations for diners looking for full food and drink menus and warm pubs. Grand Rapids’ newest independent bookseller has a storefront on Cherry Street, serendipitously near both an ice cream shop and a Belgian beer hall.
Most of the information you’ll find about Grand Rapids online covers the immediate downtown, including the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (UICA), and the grand main building of the public library. If the weather allows, you might consider walking a loop from the art museum, across the Blue Bridge, along the footpath in front of the Grand Rapids Public Museum and back across the Pearl Street bridge. Along the way you’ll pass a carousel, and you might see a person or two reeling in a big steelhead or trout from the river.
Not to be missed: the Downtown Market, an indoor food hall, greenhouse, and restaurant space; MadCap, a local coffee roaster with a national reputation; and Founders, a prime destination for craft beer aficionados.
Food & Drink
A handful of favorites. More coming soon.
That Early Bird ALL DAY BRUNCH, PEOPLE. Vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores will all be happy. We dream about the smoked salmon benedict.
Little Africa Be sure to bring cash to this small Ethiopian diner that was rocking a vegan menu before it was cool. Budget friendly and beloved.
Sovengard This cozy basement beer garden and kitchen has “hygge” on lock with its hyperlocal and seasonally based cuisine and beverages inspired by Scandinavia.
Marie Catrib’s Inspired by their esteemed namesake, the waitstaff is among the friendliest in town and has a little something for everyone, including deli foods with a Mediterranean flair.
Palace of India Take advantage of the parking lot hidden off the alley directly behind the building and don't be shy about getting that garlic naan.
The Sparrows Coffee and Newsstand Serving up a kickin’ collection of literary journals alongside coffee and a wide selection of tea, this local favorite just added a new westside location to its original Uptown cafe.
Art & Nature
Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park A striking integration of gardens with fine art located just up the East Beltline. Here you'll find more than 200 works scattered across a 158-acre campus complete with a Japanese Garden, children's playground, and beautiful walking trails.
Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM)
Located in the heart of downtown in a distinctive, modern building that was among the first LEED® Gold certified museums, the collection focuses on American and European 19th- and 20th- Century painting and sculpture and more than 3,000 works on paper.
Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives Honoring the lives, culture, and accomplishments of African Americans from Grand Rapids including Al Green, Marvin Sapp, and Helen Claytor.
Lake Michigan Some of the country's most beautiful beaches are about 30 miles west of Grand Rapids along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Favorite access points include Kirk Park, Grand Haven, and Saugatuck.
Bookstores & Shopping
Baker Book House Located a hop, skip, and a jump from Calvin’s campus, featuring a large selection of new and used Christian books—plus overstocks from Baker Publishing Group imprints—and a comfy coffee shop that's open late.
Books and Mortar A proudly progressive, consciously curated, and fiercely independent neighborhood bookstore, plus there are dozens of amazing macaron flavors just next door.
Schuler Books Started in 1982 by a couple of Grand Rapidians with a passion for connecting writers and readers, Schuler Books is one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores and also boasts a full-service café featuring salads, sandwiches, soups, and more.
Rebel Reclaimed Giving gifts is just as much fun—maybe more fun—than receiving when you shop at this cute boutique jam-packed with luxe greeting cards, quirky jewelry, home goods, and attitude.
Art of the Table One-stop-shopping for the very best in gourmet goods, wine, and tableware.
How, you might ask, can I get to these places? The Rapid, the city’s extensive and recently upgraded bus system, takes passengers from Calvin College to downtown Grand Rapids via the Eastown/Woodland line, as well as in a loop around downtown on the new, free Silver Line. See their website for route planning and further information, or ask at the FFW information desk. In addition, as in many cities, ride share services are readily available and popular. Of course, the ideal FFW transport story would involve Festivalgoers meeting and arranging a ride together. We hope this happens for you.