According to Insider Intelligence, the average US adult spends about 30 minutes a day on Instagram. And unlike other social media sites, the primary activity on Instagram is—you probably guessed it—sharing photos. So, trust—you’re not alone if you want your Instagram photos to just look the best.
From parks to gardens to statues, we’ve compiled a list of eight sites in West Michigan that are sure to grab eyes (and Likes) on the ‘Gram.
Remember: These locations are for personal use photography only. If you’re a professional or looking to do a for-profit photoshoot, contact the folks in charge for more information about their photo policy and permissions.
Grand Haven State Park, Boardwalk, and Lighthouses
The Grand Haven area is not only a beachtown paradise, it’s also the location of one of the most-photographed lighthouses in the Midwest. If your Instagram is all about sunset photography, this is your photo-op.
The Grand Haven State Park is located within the city, and its entire 48 acres are just … beach. There are multiple shorelines within the park, including the Lake Michigan shore and the Grand River shore. It has a designated swim beach, beachfront campsites, and a beach pavilion. Adjacent to the park is the Grand Haven Boardwalk, which borders the Grand River channel. The boardwalk is a mile-and-a-half long and intersects with the downtown shops and restaurants. The Chinook Pier overlooks the boardwalk and is where you can catch the Pere Marquette steam locomotive on permanent display.
Along the south pier, Grand Haven has two lighthouses—both painted red. The Inner Light was constructed in 1881, while the Entrance Light was built in 1905. The two lights serve as a reminder of the importance of water commerce in the Grand Haven community. Not to mention, the two lighthouses are the most iconic photography subjects of Grand Haven, contributing to gorgeous photos made by amateur and professional photographers alike every year.
Windmill Island Gardens
The Dutch-built community of Holland is perhaps best known for its Tulip Time festival in May. But even outside of those Instagrammable tulips, the community gardens are photo-ready during other parts of the year as well.
The Windmill Island Gardens are particularly special because of De Zwaan, the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the United States. Not only is De Zwaan still in operation today, it’s also a unique feature to add to your Instagram page. The tulips in the Windmill Island Gardens are annuals that continue to amaze visitors throughout summer and early fall. The gardens have more than 30 acres of natural beauty to explore and photograph.
If you can’t make it in person, take a virtual visit with the Windmill Island Gardens Live Camera, which is a cool way to check this community out from the couch, though admittedly not nearly as Instagrammable.
1000 E. Beltline Ave. NE, Grand Rapids
The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, or Meijer Gardens for short, is a major cultural attraction. And yes, it’s related to the Meijer where you buy your groceries. This 158-acre botanical garden and sculpture park started as land owned by Meijer stores founder Frederik Meijer, who originally planned to use the acreage to build a superstore near his headquarters. But alas, a member of the West Michigan Horticultural Society nonprofit organization approached Meijer and convinced him to donate the land parcel for a public garden. The land included valuable stream and wetland areas that are preserved through the park.
The Meijer Gardens opened in 1995 and since then has attracted more than 13 million visitors within its 25 years. In fact, USA Today readers named Meijer Gardens the No. 1 sculpture park in the United States. The sculpture park is obviously one of the biggest attractions at Meijer Gardens, but the sculptures waiting to be found on the garden trails are worth the exploration. There’s also a wealth of gardens to explore and photograph, including the Japanese Garden, Victorian Garden Parlor, Michigan’s Farm Garden, and the Children’s Garden. Make sure to check out the Carnivorous Plant House, the only publicly displayed collection in the United States dedicated exclusively to carnivorous plants.
Photo tip: It may be a bit cliche at this point, but Instagram users love to take photos nearly being “stepped on” by The American Horse statue in the sculpture park.
220 Front Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
This small park on the Grand River in Grand Rapids isn’t known just for its historical value—it’s also a great place to snap photos of the Grand Rapids skyline.
Ah-Nab-Awen Park is a small 6-acre city park that was established at the site of an Indigenous village. In the Anishinaabemowin language, Ah-Nab-Awen translates to “resting place.” The park formerly held about 60 Indigenous burial mounds that the early settlers of Grand Rapids leveled and used to build roads. Since then, the City of Grand Rapids has installed hills to stand-in for the leveled burial mounds.
The large grassy area is often used for community events, including those celebrating Indigenous history events. Sculptures and public art rotate through the park, including Manidoo Bawating, an 11-foot-tall steel sculpture with symbols important to the Indigenous community. All of this has been part of a larger initiative to address the colonialism that has affected the Indigenous people.
Statue of John Ball
1300 Fulton St. W, Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids’ zoo may bear his name, but generations of children have loved taking photos with the Statue of John Ball—despite the sign at the statue’s base declaring “Notice, Do Not Climb on Statue.”
Who was John Ball? He was a “founding father” of Grand Rapids, serving as a strong advocate for the city in the youngest days of Michigan’s colonization. He was a pioneer, a lawyer, a teacher, a realtor, and a legislator. He settled in Grand Rapids in 1837 and stayed there until his death. During his lifetime, he was a key figure in the creation of Michigan’s public school system.
What is now the John Ball Zoo started as the “Ball 40,” which consisted of 40 acres of donated land that became the Central Park of Grand Rapids. Upon Ball’s death in 1884, city officials were unsure of the land’s value, but around the turn of the century started purchasing animals for what would become John Ball Zoo. The John Ball Statue is a bronze statue depicting John Ball with two of his children sitting on his lap. It was dedicated in 1925, meaning it has been greeting visitors of all ages for almost a century. It stands near the zoo’s entrance.
Holland Harbor Lighthouse
2215 Ottawa Beach Road, Holland
Also called “Big Red,” the Holland Harbor Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan. Its iconic red design is beloved by amateur and professional photographers alike, as well as painters and other creatives.
Public access to Big Red is restricted. The best place to view the Holland Harbor Lighthouse is from Holland State Park, one of Michigan’s most popular state parks. This park is known for the sugar sand beaches and beautiful sunsets. The lighthouse was originally built in 1870, a full 20 years before the completion of the harbor. It sits at the entrance of a channel connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa, along the south side of the channel. The lighthouse is shorter at only about 42 feet tall, but its iconic design is well-recognized.
Fun fact: The Holland Harbor Lighthouse has a sibling lighthouse, almost identical in structure, across Lake Michigan in Wisconsin in the form of the Kewaunee Pierhead Light.
Pickerel Lake Park
6001 Ramsdell Drive NE, Rockford
Also known as the Fred Meijer Nature Preserve, this picturesque lake in the Grand Rapids area is especially great for photos thanks to its 900-foot boardwalk crossing into the lake. The lake covers nearly 80 acres, making this inland lake a gorgeous site (and sight) for Instagram.
Pickerel Lake Park offers a scenic mix of natural areas along branching trails, so there’s plenty of nature photography with and without the lake itself. You’ll find undeveloped shorelines, forests, and tamarack swamps. Wildlife is abundant here, giving the chance to get some animal photography.
66 Lakeshore Drive N., Holland
Particularly gorge at sunset, the tunnel leading to this Lake Michigan beach could not offer a better frame for your photos.
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