Grand Rapids is the state's second-largest metropolitan area. Located 145 mi/230 km northwest of Detroit, the city (and the surrounding west Michigan region) bears the mark of the Dutch immigrants who settled the area. Heavily influenced by the Dutch Reformed Church, it's one of the more conservative sections of the state.
Grand Rapids used to be known as a furniture center, and although some companies remain, it now has a more diversified economy and has become a big convention city. Visitors will find century-old architecture alongside high-profile buildings that bear the names of the area's businesses and business moguls—Amway, Meijer, DeVos.
The city's biggest attraction is the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, dedicated to Grand Rapids' favorite son, who was buried on the grounds in December 2006. The museum includes holograms, interactive displays and re-creations of the Oval Office and the family business Ford worked in as a teenager. Other displays help convey the flavor of U.S. society in the 1970s, when Ford served as president. A small piece of the Berlin Wall and the Saigon Staircase—the metal staircase used to evacuate people from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and into waiting helicopters—are located in the museum's Meijer Lobby and are part of the permanent collection. After a stroll through the grounds, enjoy the simple beauty of the Betty Ford Garden.
Another area favorite is the Frederik Meijer Gardens, which has a five-story glass conservatory full of exotic plants as well as outdoor gardens with sculptures. Take the time to stroll through the Heritage Hill Historic District, where the historic homes range from Gilded Age mansions to the Meyer-May House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie-style designs.
The Van Andel Museum Center has exhibits about the history of Grand Rapids, including re-creations of a furniture factory and a downtown street from the 1890s. The remains of more distant events are viewable at the Norton Mound Group, ceremonial mounds built by the Hopewell civilization between 300 BC and AD 700.
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