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Take a holiday break in Grand Rapids

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer December 9, 2012

Outside patio at JW Marriott Photo courtesy of Experience GR


With holiday season in full swing, how about a quick trip to Michigan’s second largest city, Grand Rapids? You can finish your shopping, eat terrific meals and grab a wonderful respite from the rush of the season.

Grand Rapids has been a city of entrepreneurs, starting with a French trader named Louis Campau who established a trading post in 1826. Campau bought what is now the entire downtown business district of Grand Rapids from the federal government for $90.

At the time of its incorporation as a city in 1850, it already had one furniture factory and several small private shops that created various furniture pieces. Grand Rapids is now known worldwide for the production of office furniture.

Grand Rapids has a wonderful downtown for walking. In a 10-block downtown walk, you can take in two museums, a presidential library and ice-skating at Rosa Parks Circle, a tribute to the late civil rights activist. Maya Lin, best known for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, designed the park.

During your walk, you should stop at Leo’s at the corner of Ottawa and Louis Streets for an exceptional meal. I had trouble choosing between the linguine and shells with shrimp, scallops, salmon and mussels and the shrimp and artichoke linguine. Some people go to Leo’s for their six types of oysters on the half shell. If you like seafood, this is your stop for lunch or dinner.

Another favorite dining spot is San Chez, a Tapas Bistro. Tapas, also known as small plates, originated in Spain more than four centuries ago as “tops” made from bread, cheese or sausage for drinks. Spanish wine glasses are small and round, without a stem to better balance the tapas plates. San Chez has a huge menu with something for every taste. Their vegetable paella, a saffron rice dish with portabella mushrooms, asparagus, spinach and artichokes, was worth the 45-minute wait.

This season also offers some special entertainment choices. Plan your getaway around the unique Cirque de Noel, Dec. 21-23 at DeVos Performance Hall. Magical aerialists fly overhead and acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers and strongmen perform awe-inspiring feats, all choreographed to classical and seasonal music performed by the Grand Rapids Symphony. Snowflake Break at the Grand Rapids Public Museum happens for two weeks starting Dec. 17. The museum’s planetarium offers a special wintertime sky show, “’Tis the Season,” and a “Holiday Magic” laser light show. At the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, the annual Christmas on the Grand display of trees and holiday quilts runs through Jan. 8.

I love staying at the JW Marriott on the river — a new, luxurious glass tower hotel with 337 rooms. A lovely indoor swimming pool and spa round out the experience.

Another notable hotel is CityFlatsHotel in what was once the Fox Jewelers Building. With only 28 rooms, the five-story CityFlatsHotel was designed to achieve the highest environmental certification. This jewel of a boutique hotel offers another kind of overnight experience, with each guest room uniquely designed.

If you haven’t met all your gift needs downtown, you can finish most of your list at one of the area’s two malls, Woodland Mall and Rivertown Crossings Mall.

Take a holiday break and relax from the craziness of the season with a weekend of fun in Grand Rapids.

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