Seeking a quintessentially Grand Rapids summer? Check out these 9 events

With unpredictable weather for the majority of the year, West Michigan jam-packs all of our outdoor fun into just three months—celebrating summer with enough food, festivals, and outdoor activities to survive our next extended winter. So if you're staying in town this season, check out these nine local Grand Rapids favorites for a quintessentially Grand Rapids summer.  

Participate in a half-century tradition at Festival of the Arts

Before ArtPrize, before GRAM’s new fabulous building on Monroe Center, before GR’s craft beer boom, Festival of the Arts was bringing entertainment, food, and community to downtown Grand Rapids every summer during the first weekend in June.

First organized in 1969 to celebrate the Calder statue’s installation on Ottawa Ave., Festival of the Arts has remained a fixture for the past 50 years — inviting West Michiganders of all ages and stripes to attend absolutely free music, art, dance, and craft events throughout the weekend. And with hundreds of local organizations, everyone from restaurants to churches to school band troupes hocking incredible and filling street food, there is truly something for everyone at Festival of the Arts.

For more details on this weekend’s festivities, head on over to Publisher Tommy Allen’s G-sync event page for Festival of the Arts.

Broaden your horizons with local ethnic heritage festivals

Grand Rapids Asian-Pacific Festival
In its third year, this local festival, held at Rosa Parks Circle June 14-16, is really heating up. According to the press release, "The three-day showcase of Asian and Pacific Island cultures celebrates and educates about Asian heritage through a variety of cultural demonstrations, performances and vendors. This year’s festival will feature origami and martial arts classes, interactive Haka and Filipino nipa hut workshops as well as Indian, Okinawan and Bangladesh performers."

If you haven't yet made it to this relatively young festival, you're in for a rich, culturally diverse showcase of food, dance, music, and other entertainment, including Japanese-style taiko drumming, interactive Tai Chi, and a family yoga session.

40th Annual Homecoming of the Three Fires Traditional Pow Wow
Presented by the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, hosted at Riverside Park each year, and featuring the Anishinabek (Three Fires American Indian/Native American) the Three Fires Traditional Pow Wow will this year take place June 14-16.

In addition to featuring music, food, crafts, and Native American vendors, attendees of the pow wow will have the chance to witness the Grand Entry ceremony, in which an Eagle Staff guides the Grand Entry, which leads to the presentation of flags, dancers, and drumming. Three of these ceremonies will be held on Saturday at 1:00 and 6:00 p.m., and on Sunday at 12:00 p.m.  

Grand Rapids Hispanic Festival
An exciting array of celebrations, the Grand Rapids Hispanic Festival will this year take place August 9-11 at Calder Plaza. This free, family-friendly event features many food and drink vendors, as well as the Mercadito, where festival-goers can purchase handmade goods by local Latinx artisans like Guelaguetza Designs.

Grand Rapids Yassou! Greek Cultural Festival
Held each year in the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in the Michigan Oaks neighborhood, the Yassou! is known city-wide for its delicious, authentic food. This year, this three-day festival designed to invite the community to celebrate the Greek Orthodox faith and culture will take place August 16-19. And don't forget to snag some baklava...

Grand Rapids Polish Festival
Not one to miss a major milestone themselves, the Polish Heritage Society is this year putting on their 40th annual Polish Festival at Rosa Parks Circle August 23-25. Boasting "the longest continuous Festival held in the City of Grand Rapids," this free event offers live music, food, and drink curated to celebrate Polish culture.

Rent a kayak on the Grand River

This summer, consider putting the Rapids back in Grand Rapids with your very own, up-close-and-personal experience on the Grand River.

Over the past few years, as groups like Grand Rapids Whitewater have worked to reactivate the Grand River as a recreational water feature, other groups, like Canoemobile and the City itself, have followed suit, developing programming that reintroduces kids and adults to this namesake body of water.

Since April 26, the City has been offering kayak rentals at the Riverside Park lagoon for $8/hour on Fridays from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. So for those seeking to become reacquainted with the river, this is a perfect, affordable option.

Chow down on the best tacos in town

It’s finally summer, and though you are probably tempted to flock to any number of the local foodie hangouts for a $12 cocktail and an Instagram-able entree, the staff at Rapid Growth suggest a local, delicious, more affordable staple that might just feed your soul, as well.

At 1338 S. Division, in a repurposed drive-up restaurant sits the humble Taqueria San Jose, where for about $2, you can order a steak, chicken, chorizo, or pork taco teaming with cilantro, onions, and a whole lot of flavor. This apparent former Duds & Suds location still offers the unique angled parking and picnic tables, which allow you to stay and socialize, or take your orders to go.

But no matter how you consume your authentic treats, they won’t sit idle on your plate long enough to snap an Insta-pic.

Experience Drag Brunch

If you’re seeking more than mimosas for the weekend’s most important meal, then you’ve likely already experienced DragBrunch, which debuted in Grand Rapids last summer. For a $35 ticket, attendees will receive a delicious brunch from one of the organization’s many local partners like Grand Rapids Brewing Co., New Hotel Mertens, or Linear; one alcoholic beverage; and a two-hour performance by talented drag queens.

The result is a Sunday morning that you won’t soon forget.

Chill with live music at GRAM on the Green

Before you head to the lakeshore or up north for your weekends this summer, consider dropping by the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Thursday evenings for their tenth annual GRAM on the Green outdoor summer concert series. Each Thursday evening from July 11-August 22, the GRAM pavilion will host free live music with accompanying local food trucks and a cash bar. 

Since West Michigan's good weather season is so limited and the pavilion even offers shelter from the elements, this is the perfect way to kick start your summer weekends. Check out the lineup, below:
  • July 11: Last Gasp Collective, soul/hip-hop/R&B
  • July 18: Lipstick Jodi with Jes Kramer, rock and electronic
  • July 25: Pink Sky with hi-ker, alternative/electronic
  • August 1: Molly with Blushing Monk, soul and jazz
  • August 8: Hannah Rose and the Gravestones with KJ & the Good Time Family Band, funk/rock
  • August 15: Jake Kershaw, blues/rock
  • August 22: Cameron Blake with Samuel Nalangira, folk/soul and Ugandan folk

Get active for a cause at MSU Gran Fondo

If for you, the summertime means dusting off your spokes and heading back out onto the trails for an invigorating bike ride, consider joining in on the annual MSU Gran Fondo. A multi-level, all-ages cycling event, the Fondo groups together teams to fundraise each year for skin cancer research at Michigan State University.

Cyclists can choose the full 80-mile course, or opt for the 40-, 25- or 10-12-mile YMCA family ride.

No matter which route you choose, all riders are invited to the Finish Line Festival on Fulton Street East in front of the Van Andel Arena, an event complete with the event’s own signature beer by New Holland: The Fondo Fever, an English pale ale.

Still not convinced to join this great cause? Check out the Gran Fondo’s website for “7 Reasons to Ride #MSUGranFondo7.” For discounted registration, sign up before June 19.

Maximize your lunch break at Relax at Rosa

If you work downtown and like to stretch your legs on your lunch break, you'll likely hear live music emanating from our city's favorite outdoor entertainment venue. Once again, DGRI is hosting Relax at Rosa, a free lunchtime entertainment series that runs from May 2 to September 19. 

With this series, DGRI packages the perfect lunchtime outing into one destination by offering a lineup of live musical performers like Max Lockwood (June 20) and Serita's Black Rose (June 27) with irresistible food truck fare by local trucks like Sanse Filipino Cuisine, Patty Matters, and Pizza Parliament

So why spend your summer lunch breaks holed up in your office with a complete lack of live music and pizza, when you can relax at Rosa?

Celebrate inclusivity at the Grand Rapids Pride Festival

31 years after Grand Rapids' first Pride Celebration in the Monroe Amphitheater (now Rosa Parks Circle), and just three years after The Lesbian Gay Community Network became Grand Rapids Pride Center, the GR LGBTQ community is proud to celebrate over three decades of pride celebration on Saturday, June 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m at Calder Plaza.

Boasting "one of the largest one-day events in Grand Rapids," the Grand Rapids Pride Festival brings together local businesses, restaurants, and community members in a day-long celebration of diversity, inclusion, and personal truth. In addition to amazing food vendors, the festival will feature beers from sponsor Bell's Brewing, and a family fun zone from sponsor Meijer. The festival will also host top-rate entertainers like Max, Sizzy Rocket, and Mya, an afternoon community stage programmed by The Drunken Retort, and three drag queen troupes on the main stage.

So get ready to eat, dance, and do you.

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