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The Anatomy of a Neat Public Museum Trip

The Anatomy of a Neat Public Museum Trip: Grand Rapids Public Museum Edition

The slogan of the Grand Rapids Public Museum – “be curious” has always fit into the mission of the Museum. The GRPM has a long history as an educational resource in the community. Founded in 1854 as the Grand Rapids Lyceum of Natural History, the Museum started with the “Cabinets of Curiosities,” put together by influential civic leaders such as John Ball. In 1868, the Lyceum merged with the Grand Rapids Scientific Club, which added a collection of specimens to the institution. In the early 20th century, GRPM’s Board of Education purchased the Howlett house (at the corner of Jefferson and Washington Streets). Then, in 1994, the current facility opened on the west bank of the Grand River – right in the heart of downtown. With three floors open to the public – filled with exhibits, the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, the Cook Carousel Pavilion, Meijer Theater, cafe, and gift shop – the Museum has been a staple in Grand Rapids. 

Sara Plante (’22) using the interactive bat ears.

General Admission Exhibits:

There are numerous exhibits available with general admission. Currently, there is a second-floor exhibit titled “Bats: Masters of the Night.” It is a temporary exhibit that will be available until January 16, 2022. This exhibit explores the wondrous uniqueness of bats. It provides many life-size models of bats in their natural habitat, magnified statues of different species of bats, and other eye-catching displays. There are several kid-friendly activities, such as interactive bat ears (which display the hearing capabilities of bats), a table for drawing with crayons, and several short informative documentaries.

The front of a drugstore in the “Old Grand Rapids” exhibit.

“Streets of Old Grand Rapids” is a permanent exhibit on the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s first floor. This exhibit is a “3/4 scale detailed re-creation of Grand Rapids in the 1890s, eleven shops based on actual businesses and buildings. The storefronts and interiors are stocked with real merchandise from the past,” according to GRPM’s official website. The exhibit is outfitted with a darkened ambiance, false snow, and depictions of St. Nicholas for the holiday season. 

On the third floor, another permanent exhibit – “West Michigan Habitats,” showcases a plethora of Michigan’s native animals. This exhibit has everything from taxidermied wolverines in a snowy hunting pose to an entire marshland diorama outfitted with birds, deer, and fish. These exhibits discuss human lifestyle choices impact the natural world through a myriad of kid-friendly, interactive stations. Included within this exhibit is the Kent Scientific Institute room. According to GRPM’s official website, “The Kent Scientific Institute room is a re-creation of the GRPM’s exhibit hall before 1900, with huge shells, fossils, minerals and exotic animal skeletons, including a mastodon replica in a Victorian period setting.”

Sara Plante (’22) admiring the wetland exhibit.

Other exhibits include Anishinabek: The People of This Place (a commemoration of the Native American tribes living in historical Grand Rapids), Collecting A-Z, Newcomers: The People of This Place, Egypt: Be Curious (includes a real mummy), 1928 Spillman Carousel, Lego Grand Rapids, and Musical Instruments. 

Special Exhibits:

The current special exhibit, open until January 30, 2022, is called “POPnology.” It is a comprehensive exhibit highlighting the greatest works of popular culture-inspired technology innovation and imagination in history. It includes dozens of interactive games and modules that are kid-friendly. Four featured areas explore science and technology: “How We Play, How We Connect, How We Move, and How We Live & Work.” This exhibit features, among other things, the Mars Lander, artistic rendering from visual futurists responsible for creating the look of movies like Star Wars, and a Delorean time machine. This exhibit requires another ticket in addition to General Admission. 

The Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, named after the Grand Rapids-born astronaut who lost his life in the 1967 Apollo 1 spacecraft fire, has been open since 1994. As one of the main attractions of GRPM, the planetarium has several hits. On the weekends, the starlight show “From Earth to the Universe” plays at noon.

The iconic whale skeleton in the GRPM entrance hall.

This show educates viewers about the journey of celestial discovery, from ancient Greek astronomers to modern telescopes. At 2 pm every day, join a presenter live to explore the wonders of the night sky. The planetarium show, “Under Starlit Skies,” teaches tricks and tips that help to find planets and constellations. “Ice Worlds,” at 3 pm every day, takes viewers to the Arctic and Antarctic regions of Earth, examining the ecosystem that thrives out of the reach of humans. The show also discusses ice shapes found on other planets and moons in this solar system. Other shows occur at different times throughout the week, such as “Let it Snow” and “One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.” Note: The Planetarium will be closed from November 29 to December 3 to install new audio equipment. 

Parking and Hours:

The Museum’s parking is across the street from the GRPM (Front Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504).

The hours are Monday through Friday 9 am – 5 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 5 pm.


Per Half Hour $1.50 (Free if living in Kent County)
Maximum  $15.00 (Free if living in Kent County)
Tickets General Admission (GA)
Adults (18+) $8.00 ($5.00 if living in Kent County)
Senior Citizens (65+) $7.00 ($3.00 if living in Kent County)
Children (3-17) $3.00 (Free if living in Kent County)
Students (with ID) $3.00
Infants (2 and under) Free
Tickets Planetarium 
With GA $4.00
Without GA $5.00
Member $2.00
Temporary Exhibit (Must Also Purchase GA)
Not Member $5.00
Member  $3.00


Additional discounts can be found on the GRPM website: 

Nearby Restaurants:

The Grand Rapids Public Museum is right in the middle of many downtown shops and restaurants. Here are a few places to eat that are within walking distance from GRPM: 

Little Bird: 95 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 (0.4 miles from GRPM)

 Uccello’s: 122 Monroe Center St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 (0.4 miles from GRPM)

ATO SUSHI: 180 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 (0.3 miles from GRPM)

San Chez A Tapas Bistro: 38 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 (0.7 miles from GRPM)

Tupelo Honey: 140 Ottowa Ave NE STE 100, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 (0.5 miles from GRPM)

Sundance Grill & Bar: 151 Ottowa Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 (0.4 miles from GRPM)

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