We all have our summer mainstays — our favorite beaches, campgrounds and festivals — but there’s nothing like trying something new to create lasting memories. And until you make new friends, it can be difficult to find that “something new.” Well don’t worry, because we’re your friends now. Our writers have hand-picked some of our favorite hidden gems and perennial favorites for you to enjoy. Make it your goal to give even one (or two, or five) a try before summer disappears.
Have a Hot Air Balloon Ride
In a hot air balloon, no one can hear you scream, but you still will — things like, “I can see my house from here!” and “Wheeeeee!”
Join Doug and Karen Mills in the sky as you dangle from a balloon the size of a humpback whale. Seasoned sky people, Doug and Karen have actively run Sky High Hot Air Balloons since 1973, chartering expeditions everywhere from Hollywood to Tanzania. Although somewhat less illustrious than East Africa, floating over Middleville does have its charms. There is a peace to the rollicking countryside, like counting sheep to fall asleep. Trees, streams, a hill or two, it’s a gentle breeze into the sunset known to change those who ride.
Consider bringing a ring to propose to your sweetheart. What could be more romantic than getting on one knee, 1,000 feet in the air? - Jack Raymond
Sky High Hot Air Balloons
9251 Garbow Rd., Middleville
Swinging Through the Trees
The woods hold many secrets. We know not what mysteries lie within the leaves and betwixt the roots, creeping through the branches at night. One less arcane secret, however, is TreeRunner Adventure Park, nestled in the trees behind Celebration! Cinema North’s parking lot. TreeRunner welcomes you into the forest, then gives you the tools you need to traverse its many obstacles. This isn’t simply walking along a plank in the sky — it’s climbing, swinging and pulling yourself along with balance and dexterity. It’s honestly some of the best exercise I’ve ever got, forcing me to use muscles I never even knew I had (or rather, muscles I didn’t have, but discovered I should’ve). Walking along the highest branches of the tallest trees is somehow both soothing and exhilarating, confirming my long-held belief that we would all be happier if we were squirrels. Bonus: Head to the park after dark on weekends for Glow Night, a neon-lit trip through the boughs. - Josh Veal
TreeRunner Adventure Park
2121 Celebration Dr. NE, Grand Rapids
Feeding Budgies at the John Ball Zoo
If you haven’t the gall to cage dive with Great Whites but crave the raw intensity of direct animal interaction, John Ball Zoo has the exhibit for you. Meet the Budgie. For a dollar, you can hang out with a bunch of them.
This pint-sized Australian parrot is a neon puff of feathers and squawks. Given a couple hundred thousand years longer to evolve, it could probably learn to say your name, but for now, it is a simple bird that enjoys simple pleasures like tickles on the back of its neck and balls of granola off a feed stick. Maybe one will land in your hair. Maybe you’ll spot two of them kissing with their strange wormy tongues. A stroll in the birdcage is an experience no one can quite predict.
However, do not try to feed one a Skittle like I did last summer. The aviary bodyguards will toss you out faster than you can say, “Taste the rainbow, my little birdie.” - Jack Raymond
John Ball Zoo
1300 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
Exploring the Stars
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had this fascination with outer space. I thought the night sky was the absolute coolest thing, and I spent plenty of time reading about the moon, stars and planets. Then, it finally happened — on my 15th birthday, I got the best gift ever: a Galileo Telescope. I immediately pulled the scope from its box and began exploring what I could of the night sky (mostly the moon).
On occasion, I’ll still dig up my dinky little telescope, but for a more stellar view, I suggest a visit to the James C. Veen Observatory. The Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association opens the observatory to the public on select Saturdays of the month. You get the chance to explore beyond the moon with the observatory’s two large telescopes, but GRAAA members also set up their own telescopes to give visitors more ways to admire the stars. Public night events are listed on the website. - Elma Talundzic
James C. Veen Observatory
3308 Kissing Rock Ave. SE, Lowell
Admit it — when it’s blazing well over 90 degrees for more than a week, the cold winter months actually sound kind of fun. What’s even more fun? Careening down the only wheel-luge track in all of North America like a bonafide Olympian. Without that sub-zero wind chill freezing your face off, it’s even better. Located at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, the wheel-luge track gives those interested in the high-velocity sport a chance to experience all the thrills, while also learning some basic skills. Think roller derby meets roller coaster. And better than those malfunctioning rides at Cedar Point, the 300-foot track shoots racers from top to bottom in about 10 seconds. So hang on tight, compete for a spot on the podium against your friends and have the time of your life! - Eric Mitts
Muskegon Winter Sports Complex
462 N. Scenic Dr., Muskegon
This summer, it’s all about being outside, enjoying your coffee and your community. The new place to do this and completely Zen-out is Outside Coffee — a curated green space with a 1956 camper that’s been converted into a coffee shop. From coffee to tea and small nibbles and noshes, the space is like entering a book on nature, your best outdoor field trip in school or a favorite spot in your backyard. Summer means gorging on fresh air and only coming indoors sporadically. Stay out as long as you can and do it in this green-friendly, community hub where you can bring a dog, sip on a specialty drink and let the outside soak in one sunbeam at a time from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., every damn day. This gem is located right next to sister store Woosah Outfitters. If there were summer rules, this would be one: get there. - Missy Black
734 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
Beach & Drinks
Sometimes, all it takes is being a tourist in your own state to find your favorite places. That’s how I stumbled upon West Side County Park … on Trip Advisor. I was over the large crowds at Holland and Grand Haven State Park and wanted a place where I could go read a book without sand being kicked in my face from a herd of screaming children (sorry not sorry). I cringe to think telling you, dear reader, about my park will result in its imminent popularity, but at the same time, sharing IS caring. West Side County Park is accessible by wheelchair which makes it very popular for older folks. My favorite summer trips include a few hours at West Side Park followed by a tasting at Virtue Cider, located right down the road. Vastly different from the style produced by Vander Mill, Virtue is known for their European-style cider which features strong farmy flavors that I personally can’t get enough of. - Kelly Brown
West Side County Park
2152 Lakeshore Dr., Fennville
2170 62nd St., Fennville
Hanging in the Park
I’ve grown up going to Ada Township Park. The park holds countless memories of cookouts, family gatherings and long nature walks. Ada Park has a little bit of everything for everyone: there’s a large playground for kids, numerous grills throughout and plenty of greenery to take in. I’m partial to the nature trails and old trees.
If you’re looking to relax, this is the place for peaceful walks. The trails are shrouded in shade by the enormous trees, to the point where you might not feel a single drop on a rainy spring day. Another small detail I enjoy is the placement of subtle plaques in front of the trees that list the date it was planted. - Elma Talundzic
Ada Township Park
1116 Buttrick Ave. SE, Ada
Slap a Bag of WineDown the Rogue River
You can find great pleasure in doing absolutely nothing. Just take one look at a sloth. As it loafs from vine to vine, it always wears a smile. The closest I’ve come to such bliss was on my back, Rockford-bound, gliding along a lazy river. Cloudless, 80 degrees. Very nice indeed.
Like Dionysus reclined on his slab chaise, bushel of grapes draped above and all, so too can you feel like a god while floating down the Rogue River, suckling from the nozzle of a boxed chardonnay. For an extra dose of luxury, spring for the Cadillac of tubes: a 52” flotilla with back rest, cup holder, and mesh seat. No one has formally named the tube yet, but I’ve taken to calling it the S.S. Franzia. All aboard!
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen liberally lest you risk the accidental wine nap. The trip can last between two to four hours, so if you’re not careful, the sun will cook your outsides until you look like a lizard raised on planet Mercury. - Jack Raymond
AAA Canoe Rental
525 Northland Dr., Rockford
Shopping Flea Markets
There’s nothing like the smell of treasure in the morning. Take a road trip to Trufant and spend a beautiful summer day out in the fresh air at this flea market where most vendors are ready to sell around 7 a.m. and close shop around noon. With vintage jewelry, books, collectibles and plenty of plants and garden fare, these are wandering grounds for sure. If you get hungry, there are food vendors and homemade Amish treats. It’s a hodgepodge of yesteryear with plenty of people-watching and dog meeting, and if you leave empty handed, there’s surely something wrong with you. Of note: the market is only open on Thursdays. - Missy Black
Trufant Flea Market
299 N. C St., Trufant
Drinking at Red Dock
I am a sucker for anything someone older than 50 would love. I enjoy wine tasting and napping at three in the afternoon. I love a solid pair of high-waisted pants, antiques, talking about the weather and yes, birding. But what I love the most about being an old soul in a 25-year-old body is going to established, townie places. Red Dock is my kind of place and I wait all winter for my first annual visit.
Located on Kalamazoo Lake, Red Dock is one of West Michigan’s best-kept secrets, an outdoor pub right on the water. You can find unknown bands unloading equipment for their evening concerts, a bartender chatting up a group of regulars, and boats docking alongside the bar for a refresher before heading home. Drinking at Red Dock feels like the best days of Spring Break, but not the cool spring break you took to Panama City … more like the year you were too broke and stayed at a friend’s grandparents in some Podunk town (which ended up being the best spring break trip yet). Red Dock is its own seasonal rite, a lakeside Cheers — a place where everyone knows your name. - Kelly Brown
Red Dock Cafe
219 N. Union St., Douglas
Music in the Gardens
There’s absolutely no live music experience quite like the Tuesday Evening Music Club at Frederik Meijer Gardens. Nowhere else in West Michigan can local up-and-coming bands play on the very same stage as nationally touring headliners for a crowd of up to 1,900 music fans of all ages, eager to hear someone for the very first time. The unparalleled beauty of the gardens blends perfectly with the sheer wellspring of creative talent flourishing right here in our community, giving concertgoers a one-of-a-kind experience — on a weeknight! Plus, it’s free for Meijer Gardens members, and only the cost of regular admission for everyone else. The nine-night series features a diverse mix of local bands paired up and performing for two hours every Tuesday. - Eric Mitts
Here’s the full run-down:
July 3: Hannah Rose & the GravesTones and Rachel Curtis
July 10: The Kathy Lamar & Robin Connell Band and Soul Syndicate
July 17: The Eric Engblade Quartet and Wire in the Wood
July 24: Valley Girl and The Hacky Turtles
July 31: Lipstick Jodi & Hollywood Makeout
Aug. 7: Nessa and The Moxie Strings
Aug. 14: Franklin Park and 6 Pak
Aug. 21: Winnow and Desmond Jones
Aug. 28: Ralston & Friends
Frederik Meijer Gardens
1000 E. Beltline Ave. NE, Grand Rapids