Thursday, January 19, 2012

Supporting Local Businesses while Traveling

View of the city from across the river
This week, Mike and I decided to take a little mid-winter vacation to Grand Rapids. We've spent a lot of time and effort trying to buy locally, so when traveling, we try to continue the trend.

Both of us had only spent one evening in Grand Rapids previously, and we wanted to learn about the city. Also, Grand Rapids was featured in some bad press earlier this year, being ranked as #10 in Newsweek's America's Dying Cities list. In response, the city made a video-it's pretty cute. We wanted to show our solidarity by visiting and spending some $$ there. Here are some spots we stopped, sights we saw, and where we stayed, in case you're ever traveling that way!

Kalamazoo Train Station

Travel: We chose to take the Amtrak train from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo, and then a Indian Trails bus from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids. If you've never taken the train or bus to a far-off locale, here's why you should try it:
  •  It's fun- there are always some characters on the train/bus
  • You save on gas
  • You don't have to park a car for $20/night.
  • One of our favorite "experiences" was just walking to each destination- that was an adventure unto itself!

Awesome hotel!
 Hotel: We stayed at the CityFlats Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, on the east side of the Grand River. CityFlats has a LEED Gold certification, and features Michigan-made products. It was also a GREAT locaiton, close to restaurants, coffee shops, and walkable to everything! Some of the eco-friendly features include:
  • Cork flooring
  • Naturally hypo-allergenic bamboo linens
  • Low-flow faucets and toilets
  • Locally manufactured furniture and décor

Restaurants: While in GR, we made a point of eating at locally-owned restaurants, especially those featuring locally-grown produce and products. Some of our favorites were Bistro Bella Vita, Bar Divani, Founders Brewing Co., and MadCap Coffee. Bistro Bella Vita had a LOT of local produce, and all of their meat seemed to be locally-sourced and humanely-raised as well. Bar Divani featured local meats as well as local cheeses and some other products- very, very good food! Founders didn't seem to have local food, but they brew their beer right there in GR and you can eat at the Brewery.

Honorable mention: We had a several hour lay-over in Kalamazoo on our way there, and we hung out at Something's Brewing for a few hours, followed by a trip to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange. Both were super cool: I wish we had more time in Kalamazoo! Maybe our next trip will be to stay there for a few days.

Meyer May house in Grand Rapids
 Attractions (Grand Rapids): Both of us share a similar vacation philosophy- travel lightly, walk to your destinations, and get to know the city you are visiting. Because of these values, we chose to go certain places. We saw the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meyer May house, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. While on our commute to these places, we also stumbled upon the public library and an independantly-owned book store!  The Meyer May house was really cool- I love FLW's design principles of bringing nature indoors and complementing the house with landscaping and completing the landscape with the home. The Public Museum was pretty kid-focused, but still fun. the Gerald R Ford Museum was really interesting- I knew almost nothing about him, and now I know a lot more!

loves waitin' for the train home

 So if you're heading out to the West side of Michigan, consider visiting Grand Rapids! The downtown area was really, spotlessly clean and tidy, there were a lot of independently-owned businesses, and there was a lot to do. As I mentioned before, it was really walkable and there seemed to be a good bus system, although we didn't use it on our trip.

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