(Updated for 2017)
Let me start off by saying that if you suffer from Meniere’s Disease, a disorder of the inner ear that can cause vertigo, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, and other problems, you owe it to yourself and those you love to pay a visit to Burcon Chiropractic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have bilateral Meniere’s, and I have lost most of the hearing in my right ear. While I have also lost much of the hearing in my left ear, I firmly believe that if I had not been coming to Burcon Chiropractic for treatment on and off for the last seven years I would now be deaf. Dr. Michael Burcon, or Dr. Mike as his patients call him, is the owner and founder of Burcon Chiropractic, and he has been involved in research for treating Meniere’s Disease for many years now with a phenomenal success rate at providing relief for a variety of Meniere’s Disease symptoms. He has traveled the world speaking at every international Meniere’s seminar over the past twelve years presenting the findings of his research. You can find additional information on his website or his Facebook page.
I originally wrote this article in December 2014 after returning from a five week visit to Dr. Mike for a series of exams and adjustments. During my stay I would come in for my Monday morning appointments and would describe to Dr. Mike what I had done the previous weekend out and about in Grand Rapids. It was after several of these Monday mornings that he asked me about putting some of this information together for other folks who travel to Grand Rapids for treatment of their Meniere’s symptoms in hopes that this might offer some alternative ways to make a trip of this nature. You see, I traveled to Grand Rapids from New Mexico by train, and I also spent my entire time in Grand Rapids without a rental car – these weekend excursions and adventures of mine were done either on foot or by taking the bus. Dr. Mike also mentioned to me that he thought his patients could benefit from not immediately getting into a car to drive back to their hotel room after an appointment, that this might adversely affect the adjustments, and that walking after the adjustments might be beneficial. So I offer this information in hope that it may be helpful to other long distance travelers who come to see Dr. Mike for treatment. I have added to and updated the information for this 2017 version.
What is this place called Grand Rapids?
According to Wikipedia Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in Michigan and the largest city in West Michigan. It is on the Grand River and is about 30 miles (48 km) east of Lake Michigan. While one might not place Grand Rapids at the top of their places to vacation or easiest places to visit without a car lists, if you are coming to Grand Rapids to spend a week or longer getting treatments with Dr. Mike you might be surprised at the options available for getting around easily and for keeping yourself busy and entertained in between appointments. I was pleasantly surprised at all there was to do here, even though I was somewhat limited in the time I had to explore due to the fact that I was working at the job I had at the time 5 days a week from my hotel room. Grand Rapids is a vibrant city with plenty to see if you have a sense of adventure and make a small effort to get out and see for yourself what it has to offer. And while writing the original article I came across a link to a Lonely Planet article on the top 10 US travel destinations for 2014, and Grand Rapids topped the list. Since the Lonely Planet link no longer seems to work, I’ve found a couple of other links that do, one to an article on CNN and the other to an article on a site called Pure Michigan.
Before I planned and made my trip I had decided that I would attempt to make my stay not only enjoyable, but to seek out things I could do that were budget friendly. At the top of my list of keeping expenses in line were figuring out how to get to Grand Rapids relatively inexpensively, and how to get around town without the need of a rental car. In addition I wanted a place to stay that had good internet access, I wanted it to be relatively close to Dr. Mike’s office so that I could walk there for my daily appointments, and I wanted it to have a kitchen so that I could prepare the majority of my meals.
I am a lover of travel by train, and I was lucky enough to live relatively close to one of Amtrak’s cross-country routes (The Southwest Chief), so it was an easy decision for me to chose to travel to Grand Rapids via Amtrak from Lamy, New Mexico. Part of my love for this means of travel is it gives me time to relax and read a good book, an opportunity to better see the landscape, and the longer travel time afforded by train travel means I have more time to adjust to environmental and time zone changes between New Mexico and Michigan. One of the disadvantages is the late arrival time into Grand Rapids of the connecting train from Chicago to Grand Rapids, 11:39 PM. So if train travel is not your thing you can still get to Grand Rapids quite easily by flying into the Gerald R. Ford International Airport which is served by several airlines.
If you do choose to travel to Grand Rapids by train, here is a link to the Amtrak web site where you can find all of the information you need to plan your trip. Once you arrive in Grand Rapids at the downtown Amtrak station it is a short walk (literally through a parking lot and across a street) to the Central Bus Station where you can catch one of The Rapid buses to the part of the city you are staying in. The Rapid web site has information about bus schedules, route maps, and ticketing. If you travel by air to Grand Rapids, you can take the #17 bus from the airport to the Woodland Mall and transfer from there to one of several buses to get you to other parts of the city including the downtown Central Bus Station. Other options for getting to your hotel include, of course, Uber, Lyft, or a taxi.
Where to stay
On each of the trips I’ve made to see Dr. Mike I have stayed at the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham which is about a 10-minute walk from his office (see map to the right showing the walking route I take) – the thing I like about this hotel is that you basically get a studio apartment complete with a kitchen. Also included with the room is breakfast every morning, and a light dinner four nights a week. There are other places to stay close by, so if the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham is not up to your standards be sure to check out other hotel options in the area. You can get to the Hawthorn Suites from the downtown Central Bus Station by taking bus #5 or bus #6 and getting off at the Woodland Mall stop, or if coming from the Gerald R. Ford International Airport by taking the #17 bus to the Woodland Mall. It is about a 5-minute walk to the hotel from the Woodland Mall bus stop (see map below where it shows the location relative to the hotel and lists the bus lines that are available at this station). Note: There is a gate in the fence just outside of the Hawthorn Suites reception that you can take to walk through the parking lots and get to the bus stop more easily than following the roads after you get settled into the place and familiar with the lay of the land.
Another benefit of staying in this area close to Dr. Mike’s office is that there are many restaurants within walking distance of the hotel offering a wide variety of food choices. So if you don’t like to cook or don’t want to take the time, eating out in this area is easy even if you plan to walk to your restaurant of choice.
Getting around town
One of the main keys to making your healing trip to Grand Rapids both affordable and adventurous is to use the bus system for your travels around town. This will also insure that you get out walking more, and as a result you end up seeing more than you would if you were in a car all the time, and you get some exercise along the way. If you decide that this is for you then I highly recommend getting a bus pass for The Rapid as this eliminates fumbling around with cash each time you take a trip, you save money with a pass, and it allows for easy spontaneous treks around the city. Tickets and passes can be purchased from the Ticket Vending Machine at the Central Bus Station, or you can purchase them online. In addition, some of the short use passes can be purchased on-board the bus from the driver. The buses run regularly and on time, and as mentioned earlier the Woodland Mall bus station (six routes intersect here) is within a 5-minute walk of the Hawthorn Suites. Remember to check and use the Rapid web site for the following:
- download schedules, view route maps, a stop finder
- an easy-to-use trip planner
- get ticket/pass prices, and purchase tickets if desired
Using both The Rapid website and Google Maps you should be able to easily plan trips around town.
Where to buy groceries
If you decide that you want to prepare some or all of your meals while in Grand Rapids, here is a listing of places to buy groceries, specialty foods, baked goods, and even a farmer’s market as well as which bus (where applicable) to take to get to each of them if you are using the Woodland Mall bus station.
Trader Joe’s, Grand Rapids (Kentwood), 3684 28th St SE, Kentwood, MI 49512 – if you’re not familiar with Trader Joe’s, this is a great store to stock up on all kinds of foods and beverages. Prices are usually very good, and they carry a lot of items you won’t necessarily find in your typical grocery store. It is about a 10 minute walk east on 28th street from the Hawthorn Suites.
G.B. Russo & Son International Grocery, 2770 29th St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512 – this fantastic store has excellent selections of beer, wine, cheeses, and specialty foods along with a good assortment of kitchen gadgets. Be sure to check out their frozen foods and refrigerated foods sections for some great ready-made Italian foods. It is about a 20 minute walk (one mile) from the Hawthorn Suites. They even offer an in-store weekly wine tasting event.
Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, 2470 Burton St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546 – you can take either the #5 or #6 bus from the Woodland Mall station towards Central Station and get off at the Burton & Breton stop – the store is a short walk east on Burton. I have not had a chance to check out this fairly new store yet, but it should be a good place to get organic produce and natural products.
D&W Fresh Market, Breton Village Shopping Center, 1814 Breton Rd SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506 – take either the #5 or #6 bus from the Woodland Mall station towards Central Station and get off at the Breton & Breton Village Mall stop which is right in front of the market – you can catch the return bus (#5 or #6) to Woodland Mall across the street from the market. This is a good general grocery store that also offers organic produce, grass fed beef and organic chicken, a fairly good selection of cheeses, and fresh baked breads and goodies.
Aldi, 2120 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49508 – take either the #5 bus to the 28th and Breton stop and walk west on 28th to the store, or take the #28 bus to the 28th and Grand Plaza stop and walk east on 28th to the store. This is another fairly new store I have not had a chance to check out yet, but it is supposed to be similar to Trader Joe’s.
Fulton Street Farmer’s Market, 1147 E. Fulton Street, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 – take the #6 bus from the Woodland Mall station towards Central Station and get off at the Lake Drive and Luton stop. It is about a 5-minute walk from where the bus lets you off to the farmer’s market – check the trip planner on The Rapid web site to get the exact directions. Also be sure to check the market website for days and hours of operation as these change by season. This is a wonderful farmer’s market that offers a wide variety of Michigan grown produce, meats, cheeses, and baked goods along with some arts & crafts items. This is not to be missed if you are a fan of farmer’s markets as I am! This was one of my regular stops on Saturdays where I bought locally grown fruits and vegetables (I found some of the best tasting apples I can remember ever having), Amish made sharp cheddar cheese, and locally raised grass-fed beef and lamb. And I ran into something I haven’t seen in a very long time – there was a Hungarian woman who was selling baked goods, and she had these rolled nut-filled pastries that reminded me of what my grandmother used to make from my childhood – very nice!
Wealthy Street Bakery, 610 Wealthy SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 – you can get to this wonderful bakery and café on the #5 bus heading from the Woodland Mall station towards Central Station and get off at the Wealthy & Union stop – the bakery will be right across the street. Or if you are feeling adventurous you can walk to the bakery from the farmer’s market as I did on one Saturday and get to experience first-hand the neighborhoods these places are located in. I really enjoyed walking down Wealthy Street and seeing all the small businesses particularly the great looking restaurants that I have filed away in my memory as places to try on my next visit to this area. This bakery was another of my regular Saturday stops, and I would use the opportunity to stock up on goodies for the week. What I particularly enjoyed was their selection of scones and their chocolate chip breakfast cookies. They also have a great selection of breads and pastries as well as coffee drinks and a bistro menu. The seating area is cozy, and it makes for a really nice place to hang out with a coffee drink, your favorite pastry, and a good book, or you can get some good homemade soup (the Tomato Bisque was fabulous!) and a sandwich for a nice lunch. I highly recommend this place especially if you come from a town that does not have a real bakery.
Things to see and do
There is much to see and do in Grand Rapids. The short list I’ve put together here is what I found during my stay and includes places I was able to easily access using the bus or walking. Of course if you have a car or want to use Uber, Lyft, or a taxi then you can explore a much wider area.
Schuler Books & Music, 2660 28th St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512 – this is a fantastic independent bookstore that reminded me a little of Powell’s Bookstore in Portland Oregon, but on a much smaller scale. It has an inviting café serving soups (they had a wonderful creamed spinach and bacon soup one of the days I was there), salads, sandwiches, pastries, and coffee drinks. This is another wonderful place to spend an afternoon with a good book or browsing the shelves for your next read as I did on a couple of occasions where I ended up purchasing a couple of new books for the train ride home. They have a fairly good selection of used books. The store is about a 20 minute walk (one mile) down 28th street from the Hawthorn Suites and is not to be missed if you like supporting independent bookstores. Also check out their event calendar as they have book signings and talks scheduled throughout the year.
Founders Brewing Co, 235 Grandville Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 – this place is so easy to get to and from since it is right across the street from the Central Bus Station in downtown Grand Rapids. They have a large selection of beers on tap that they brew on-site, offering something to meet almost anyone’s beer tastes. To go along with that they have an extensive menu of “munchies” (recommend either the Chips & Guacamole or the Hummus & Tapenade appetizer to go with your favorite beer), sandwiches, soups, salads, and French bread pizzas. The place can get busy and noisy, but if you don’t mind sitting outside they have lots of outdoor seating that is less noisy and is well heated even on the colder days. They do have live music there a few nights a week, so you might want to check out their event calendar if that interests you.
The Downtown Skywalk – this enclosed, above street-level, 1.4 mile long walkway connects: the 12,000-seat Van Andel Arena, JW Marriott Hotel, Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Marriott Courtyard Hotel, and the 1,000,000 sq ft (93,000 m2) DeVos Place Convention Center. This is an excellent place to go walking if the weather is bad. Don’t miss the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel – the lobby is amazing!! Also, the JW Marriott Hotel has a collection of photographs of the Sister Cities to Grand Rapids on display in the corridor that links the hotel to the skywalk that is worth seeing. There are several places that the walkway can be accessed from in addition to the hotels listed here. The closest access point I found to the Central Bus Station was located at the parking lot on the corner of Market & Fulton. Unfortunately, I can no longer find a map of the skywalk online.
Woodland Mall – by now you should know where this is located. If shopping is your thing, then this is the place to go. This indoor mall is huge, and they have over 100 stores, a food court for fast food options, a handful of restaurants, and a multi-screen movie theater that shows many of the latest movies. If shopping is not your thing this is still a good place to go walking when the weather is bad.
Grand River walk – If you can get to the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids, then you can find hiking trails on either side of the river that connect parks, museums, downtown businesses and hotels. There are a lot of great photo ops along the trails and the bridges, and this makes for a really nice way to see parts of downtown Grand Rapids. During one of our summer visits we enjoyed a jazz concert presented by the West Michigan Jazz Society in the park area along the river behind the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.
Grand Rapids Art Museum, 101 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 – this place is easy to find on one of your excursions to downtown Grand Rapids. It makes for a nice outing on a Sunday afternoon. As a side note, I spent one Sunday afternoon wandering around the different rooms in this multi-floor museum when a drawing caught my eye. It was by an artist named Chris Van Allsburg who as you may or may not know wrote The Polar Express, which just happens to be one of my favorite Christmas movies. And Van Allsburg just happens to be a native of Grand Rapids – small world!
Downtown Market Grand Rapids, 435 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 – The Grand Rapids Downtown Market is home to 22 indoor market vendors, 2 full service restaurants, and much more. It is a foodie’s delight. We stopped here one morning and bought some wonderful cheeses from Apertivo, smoked fish from Fish Lads, a great baguette from Field & Fire Bakery, and a container of delicious kale salad from Making Thyme Kitchen and ended up having a fantastic picnic lunch there.
Experience Grand Rapids – this is an excellent web site for information on all things pertaining to Grand Rapids.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, 1000 East Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525 – although I have never been here, their website touts this as “one of the nation’s most significant sculpture and botanic experiences”, and it is rated at the top of several “things to do in Grand Rapids” lists. Unfortunately, there is no bus service out to the gardens – one of my pet peeves – the closest bus service gets to within a mile of the gardens, and so far I have not made the effort to go. I keep expecting The Rapid to extend service out to the gardens, but so far no luck.
So there you have it – a collection of information from my experiences for the times I’ve spent in Grand Rapids. If you have questions please leave them in the comments, and I will attempt to answer them in a timely manner.
Thanks, and Safe Travels!