Five very different museums in downtown Grand Rapids sit within mere blocks of one another, creating an easy walking tour to take in a wide variety of local culture. From exploring science on a child’s terms to contemplating contemporary art to discovering the city’s furniture making past, a day at any or all of these museums will enlighten the visitor. The tour starts at the corner of Fulton Street and Monroe Center with the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. Across Fulton stands the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. Strolling two blocks west on Monroe Center brings you to the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Monroe Center then ends at Pearl Street. Cross the Grand River on Pearl and you’ll be greeted by two more museums; the Grand Rapids Public Museum on your left and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum on your right. The entire route is about 3/4 of a mile, with plenty of restaurants and shops along the way.
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
As you might expect the Children’s Museum is kid friendly. They even have a child size entry door that adults are forbidden to use. Covering one side of the building is a large mural created for ArtPrize in 2010. Inside are all manner of science experiments designed for kids. There is even a thriving bee colony behind glass on the second floor. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday thru Saturdays, staying open until 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, Noon to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday and closed on Monday.
Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts
UICA is Michigan’s largest contemporary arts center. Originally a stand alone gallery, it is now part of Kendall College of Art & Design and focuses on exhibitions, events and film programming. Hours are Tuesday thru Saturday noon to 9:00 p.m., Sunday noon to 6:00 p.m., and closed Mondays.
Grand Rapids Art Museum
Also known as the GRAM, this is the first LEED certified museum in the country. Its collections range from Renaissance to Modern Art and special collections on 19th and 20th century European and American art. Right next to the museum is a public meeting space called Rosa Parks Circle. The area was designed by internationally renowned artist Maya Lin. Museum hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday thru Saturday, staying open until 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, noon to 5:00 p.m. Sunday and closed Monday.
Grand Rapids Public Museum
The Public Museum houses three floors of exhibits that trace the growth of the west Michigan area, going back to the time of the First Nations. A large interactive display on the second floor walks visitors through the history of Grand Rapids as the furniture making capital of the country. Other highlights include the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium and the Streets of Grand Rapids, a life size reproduction of a city street in the 1890’s. Museum hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday thru Saturday, staying open until 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Sunday noon to 5:00 p.m.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
Gerald Ford was the 38th President of the United States and grew up in nearby East Grand Rapids, Michigan. His Presidential Museum opened in 1981 and helped lead the revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids. Artifacts and documents from Ford’s long political career are on display. The museum is open Monday thru Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5:00 p.m. Note: The museum will be closed for renovation until June 7, 2016.