15 Best Things to Do in Grand Rapids, MN

Grand Rapids, M

Welcome to my hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota - a charming town tucked away in the Northland, boasting an alluring blend of natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture.

Nestled among majestic pine forests, glistening lakes, and rushing rivers, there's something about Grand Rapids that immediately captures your heart and beckons you to explore.

From the moment I first traveled its tree-lined streets to every sunrise I witness over the tranquil waters, I'm constantly reminded of the unique charm that my hometown possesses.

Join me as I guide you through the best things to do in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it's important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the city for yourself.

Unlock History at the Old Central School

Exterior of Old Central School
Anon a mouse Lee, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You wouldn't believe it now, but the stunning building that houses a collection of quaint little stores, eateries, and, my favorite, an art gallery was once a place of learning for children of all ages.

I'm talking about the Old Central School, built in 1895.

It's incredible to think that, walking through its halls, I'm tracing the footsteps of generations of Grand Rapids residents who filled their minds with knowledge within these very walls.

When you visit Old Central School, you will be greeted by the stunning architecture that has stood the test of time.

The allure of history hangs in the air, making each visit feel like a step back in time.

The breathtaking art fair is one of the highlights of this place.

Holding the title of the longest-lasting art fair in Minnesota, it is a treasure trove of creativity and talent.

I have spent countless hours exploring the different works of art, each telling a different story.

The Story Art & Museum on the 2nd floor is another delightful spot in the school. Here, stories are brought to life almost magically.

I often lose track of time, engrossed in the stories that unfold before my eyes.

The shops and eateries in the former classrooms offer a unique shopping and dining experience, with remnants of the past peeking through the modern setup.

Walking through the school, you can almost envision the past, the good old days of polio and children being disciplined with yardsticks.

You will also see the remarkable American grit that led to the creation of such a beautiful and robust building.

This isn't just a place to shop or dine; it's where you interact with history and soak in the rich heritage.

So, stop by the Old Central School next time you're in town.

Experience History at Gilbert Mansion Bed & Breakfast

Have you ever had the chance to wake up in a historic mansion?

I have been frequenting the Gilbert Mansion Bed & Breakfast, and let me tell you, it's like stepping back in time.

It's a living, breathing capsule of our local past.

The mansion is a historical icon, but the period decor makes it truly stand out.

Every room is a meticulously detailed trip down memory lane.

You'd almost expect to bump into a Victorian gentleman or lady in the halls.

Every time I visit the Gilbert Mansion, I am reminded of our city's rich history, and the sense of belonging it offers.

If you have the chance, I encourage you to spend a night at this stunning bed & breakfast. It won't be just a stay but a historical journey!

Explore the Brews at Klockow Brewing Company

As a beer fan, I've enjoyed sampling craft beers at the Klockow Brewing Company.

This spot is a landmark in Grand Rapids, known for its friendly staff and distinct, homemade brews.

Each visit feels like the first, with the impressive mural on the wall capturing your attention every time.

It's an enormous piece of art that practically begs you to admire it.

The atmosphere here is casual and laid back, with board games for patrons to enjoy.

Moreover, the flight boards are also a nice touch, each carefully crafted into the shape of a different fish species.

These small details make you appreciate the creative spirit behind Klockow Brewing Company.

It's a genuine treat to try their vast array of beers, each crafted with a unique twist that sets them apart.

Klockow Brewing Company is still worth checking out, if not for the beer, then for the amiable vibe and the compelling mural.

A large parking lot with free parking makes it all the more convenient for a casual weekend visit.

Remember, there's no outdoor seating, so snag a spot inside.

Visit MacRostie Art Center

One event I never miss in my town is the First Friday of the MacRostie Art Center.

This one-of-a-kind place not only showcases magnificent art and extraordinary talent but also brings together the warmest, kindest people I've ever had the pleasure to meet.

Moreover, the MacRostie Art Center is also a platform for cultural exchanges.

I vividly remember the Native American culture program that gave me a profound understanding and appreciation of their art and way of life.

Every time I visit, I fall more in love with this place.

The people, the art, the culture, the learning, and most importantly, the stories give the MacRostie Art Center its charm.

Spend the Day at the Children's Discovery Museum

There's something so magical about watching the world through a child's eyes, and the Children's Discovery Museum makes this possible.

It has become a favorite weekend spot for my kids and me.

As soon as we step in, the friendly receptionist greets us with a warm smile, setting the tone for the fun-filled day ahead.

The museum is brimming with hands-on educational exhibits and activities, each one designed to ignite a child's curiosity.

My kids often dive into role-playing games in the pretend town section, exploring different careers and community roles.

They take turns being the banker, the grocer, and the homemaker, learning about the real-world applications of these roles.

This section allows them to understand the world around them, right from steam to art, music, and more.

It's like a miniaturized, child-friendly version of our town.

But the place that steals the show for my youngest is the toddler area. Packed with engaging activities, it's a haven for parents like me.

It's enclosed, so I don't have to worry about my little one running off amidst bigger kids.

Meanwhile, my older children love the outdoor-themed room and the grocery store-themed room.

They have an absolute blast exploring these spaces, and it's interesting to watch them in action, simulating the grown-up world.

So, if you're in the area, it's a must-visit. Plus, they have a gift store where you can find unique toys and keepsakes to remember the fun day.

I believe the Children's Discovery Museum is a fantastic place for children to learn, play, and unleash their imaginations.

Walk Through Time at the Forest History Center

Fire lookout tower at Forest History Center
Tlkremer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I head toward the Forest History Center whenever I need a peaceful getaway.

It's like stepping back into history right in the heart of Minnesota.

One of my favorite aspects has to be the period re-enactors.

They don their period-appropriate attire and breathe life into the old buildings, telling captivating tales of what life was like in the logging camps.

They are genuinely compelling storytellers who can transport you back in time.

A visit to the History Center is incomplete without meeting their majestic horses.

These beautiful creatures are solid yet gentle, and their great temperaments make them a joy to interact with.

The center is perfect for families and history enthusiasts. They close their gates at 4 pm, so come early to make the most of your visit.

If you're an MHS member like me, admission is free!

What makes the Forest History Center unique is its embrace of the beautiful natural environment it's nestled in.

The trails around the center are pet-friendly, making it a fantastic place to walk with my dog.

And for those with more oversized vehicles, there's plenty of space to park, even for an RV.

The Forest History Center is a local treasure thatcombinesf history, nature, and entertainment.

Visiting here is always rewarding and educational, no matter how often you've been.

Enjoy an Unforgettable Evening at the Reif Performing Arts Center

I'll never forget the magical evening at the Reif Performing Arts Center.

Who knew that tucked away in my hometown, Grand Rapids, was such a gem?

The center puts on various fantastic shows, offering a touch of Broadway in Minnesota.

One evening, I watched Beauty and the Beast play with my kids.

As they watched the enchanting story unfold, the magic in their eyes was priceless.

During intermission, they even had juice and cookies! It was a heartwarming scene straight out of my childhood memories.

I recall watching the same play here when I was in high school.

Over the years, the Reif Center has consistently brought us high-quality performances.

The rendition of The Wizard of Oz was phenomenal.

It was as if the performers had leaped straight off the pages of L. Frank Baum's beloved book and onto the stage before us.

We've seen various artists perform, each performance unique and captivating in its own right.

The center truly is a hidden jewel in Minnesota, a beacon of culture and art in the heart of Grand Rapids.

If you're ever in the area, do yourself a favor and book a ticket for a show. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Start Weekend Rituals at Grand Rapids Farmers Market

There is something magical about the hustle and bustle at the Grand Rapids Farmers Market before sunrise.

The air is crisp and fresh, the chatter of the vendors setting up their stands fills the air, and the promise of discovering local treasures is always exciting.

I've come to cherish these moments. The market may be small, but it's never short on charm.

The place has this cozy, intimate feel with only about a dozen stands.

Every vendor is a familiar face, each with their unique offerings.

And because there are few, it's easy to take my time strolling from one stand to the next.

One thing I've always appreciated about the market is the variety of payment options available.

Whether you're a cash carrier or a card swiper, you won't have any trouble here.

And let's talk about the special themed weeks!

Even though the on-site parking is limited, it's never been an issue.

There's plenty of public parking available in the vicinity. And you know what they say, a little walk never hurt anyone.

Apart from the fresh produce, there's also a great selection of handmade items worth checking out.

I've found many unique pieces that have become conversation starters at my home.

The vendors are always helpful and friendly, making the shopping experience even more enjoyable.

But more than the fresh produce and handmade items, it's the sense of local color that I love the most about the Grand Rapids Farmers Market.

Every visit feels like a deeper dive into the heart of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  

Immerse Yourself in Barely Reality

I've got to tell you, whenever it's time for some video gaming, Pokémon trading, or even a little VR exploration, no place in town beats Barely Reality.

I feel like a kid in a candy shop every time I step in there.

My buddies and I have made it our tradition to hunt down the best new and used games in town, and Barely Reality has never disappointed us.

Their selection of games is phenomenal, with a range that leaves you spoilt for choice.

And for the Pokémon buffs? Well, let's say the Pokémon cabinets are always overflowing.

I once spotted a rare, shiny Gengar SP that I'd hunted down for ages.

It was a tad pricier than the rest, but their assurance of "we do it right" persuaded me to loosen the purse strings.

But the cherry on top? The reasonable prices.

Why pay shipping and gamble on something you can't even touch when you can support a local brick-and-mortar business instead?

The kids, too, have a blast every time we visit.

Seeing their faces light up as they dart around the store, picking up PS3 games to take back home is a joy.

It's an immersive experience that takes you back to the good old days of gaming.

And that's why Barely Reality is our local gaming haven.

Take A Trip Down the Yellow Brick Road at the Judy Garland Museum

You know, it's not every day you live in a townhome to such a significant piece of Hollywood history.

Just around the corner, we've got the Judy Garland Museum, where you can get up close and personal with the life and times of our local star.

The first time I stepped inside, I was greeted with a sea of photos, costumes, and memorabilia.

Many of these items directly relate to Judy's life and career, and it's remarkable to see them firsthand.

It's like taking a step back to the golden age of Hollywood right here in our backyard.

As a person who's always been fascinated by the diversity of human personalities and talents, I find Judy's story incredibly inspiring.

From a young age, she proved that she wouldn't be typecast.

She was a woman of many talents, and our youth can look up to her success in multiple roles.

The museum also doubles as an interactive kids' museum and boasts beautiful gardens.

It’s not just about looking at exhibits, there are plenty of photo opportunities, and even the young can participate in interactive exhibits.

I've taken my nieces and nephews there a few times, and they've always had a blast.

Oh, and I should mention that it's handicapped-accessible, at least on the first floor. It's nice knowing everyone can enjoy what the museum offers.

I usually join the tour they conduct during the annual Judy Garland Festival.

It’s informational and adds much more depth to how this museum keeps the memory of Judy Garland, or as we know her, Frances Gumm, alive.

Living in the same town where Judy grew up, seeing the house she lived in, and learning about her life it's a little exciting and surreal.

Our town may be small, but it holds a big piece of history and is worth taking pride in.

Get a Glimpse of the Past at the Itasca County Historical Society

Exterior of Itasca County Historical Society
Myotus, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One fine day, I took my daughter for an enlightening Itasca County Historical Society tour.

Seeing her eyes sparkle with curiosity as she recognized various items and places was heartwarming.

From the old trinkets to the hardbound books, she appreciated the glimpse of history that the museum presented us.

Yet, that didn’t stop me from renewing my family membership. After all, it's essential that we, the people of the county, support our local history centers.

The museum itself is an exciting place. Its exhibits are varied and intriguing, providing a comprehensive view of our county's rich past.

Among the displays, the train model managed to catch our attention.

From the tracks to the tiny compartments, the details were splendid.

On a separate visit, I discovered more about the museum, a quaint little place with a mix of miscellaneous antiques that make it even more intriguing.

The best parts were the sections about the Mississippi River and the Rabbit family.

Its displays paint a vivid picture of their stories, keeping their history alive for us, the future generations.

Experience the Pokegama Dam Campground

Living near the Pokegama Dam Campground has provided me with many memorable experiences.

As soon as you enter, you'll notice that the campground is immaculately maintained - the level gravel sites are clean, and the water dump area is in order.

One of the highlights of this place is its abundant greenery. The trees are dotted around the campground, providing a peaceful ambiance.

If you're a pet parent like me, you'll appreciate the dog walking areas spread across the campground, allowing you to take your furry friend for a stroll, even across the dam.

Now, if you're planning a visit during the summer, particularly in June, don't forget your bug spray!

The mosquitos can be a bit of a nuisance after dark. However, it's a small price to pay for enjoying the serenity of the nights here.

The campground facilities include a washroom with one shower and two toilets.

Don't expect a high-pressure shower, but the warm water makes it pleasant.

Although the campground is close to Highway 2 and a busy railroad track, it also offers fantastic views of the Mississippi River and the dam - a sight you wouldn't want to miss.

Despite the proximity to the highway, the campground remains relatively quiet, making it a perfect spot for relaxation.

The campground is also conveniently located near Grand Rapids, so you can easily venture out for an urban experience.

But honestly, you might not want to leave once you've settled into the campground, with the sprawling green grass and the majestic view of the Mississippi River.

Enjoy Tranquility at McKinney Lake

Have you ever experienced peace in its purest form? Well, that's what I enjoy daily living near the serene McKinney Lake.

It's the kind of tranquility that soothes your soul, a place where the hustle and bustle of city life feels like a distant memory.

The crystal clear water of the lake reflects the sky just perfectly.

Imagine sipping your coffee in the early morning, watching the sunrise paint the sky in splendid hues of orange and pink.

The birds begin their symphony, filling the air with sweet melodies as the lake gently laps against the shore. It's just breathtaking.

And the magic doesn't stop with the sunrise. The lake is a wildlife sanctuary.

Deer often visit the shores to quench their thirst, and if you're quiet enough, you can hear the distant hoot of an owl.

But what I love the most about McKinney Lake is the sense of community.

The friendly faces, the warm welcomes, the spontaneous fishing trips, and the shared love for this beautiful corner of the world.

We picnic together, swap stories, help each other out, and enjoy the serenity that our beloved lake has to offer.

Yes, life near McKinney Lake is something to be treasured.

It's a tranquil haven that offers the perfect balance of natural beauty and community spirit, where each day feels like a gift.

Final Thoughts

Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is a treasure trove of experiences.

It's a town woven from the threads of history, culture, community, and natural beauty, offering something for everyone.

I look forward to every new day here, discovering another reason to love this town even more.

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