Beer Today, Beer Tomorrow

America has so many great beer cities, like Denver, Millwaukee and Boston -- just to name a few of the tried and true. But after a weekend in Grand Rapids, I second its claim as the top beer town for craft brew enthusiasts.

From the nationally recognized Founders Brewery, to regionally acclaimed brewers like Vivant, this western Michigan gem of a town takes its beer seriously. Last month, seven of us made the three-hour jaunt from Chicago to sample selections at more than five local haunts.

Kicking off the evening with a variety of beers at  Grand Rapids Brewing Company , right in the heart of downtown.

Kicking off the evening with a variety of beers at Grand Rapids Brewing Company, right in the heart of downtown.

I did some research beforehand and landed us tickets on the Hoptimus Prime -- an incredible deal at only $10 per person for all-night hop-on, hop-off shuttle service around town. Our driver was more than accommodating, helping us map out the top spots to see over a five-hour span. Yes, folks, this evening was a marathon -- not a sprint.

Now this is my kind of bus. The Hoptimus Prime, operated by  Beer City Runner , is the best -- and safest -- way to get around on a Grand Rapids barcrawl... and it's a steal at only $10/person for the entire night!

Now this is my kind of bus. The Hoptimus Prime, operated by Beer City Runner, is the best -- and safest -- way to get around on a Grand Rapids barcrawl... and it's a steal at only $10/person for the entire night!

Here are my tips to make the most of a night in Grand Rapids -- and my top pick for beer to try while you're there. 

1. You must eat at Brewery Vivant.

Besides being one of the coolest breweries in the city, with fantastically eclectic brews, Vivant boasts a delicious food menu -- including to-die-for frites. As a frites connoisseur myself, I don't dole out this distinction lightly. In terms of ambiance, the space is so unique, reminiscent of a trappist monestary with a huge stained glass window in the main dining room. 

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When you're there, make sure you try at least two of the beers. My favorite was the Farm Hand, a French-style farmhouse ale, but I honestly think they could turn even me into a stout fan here. 

2. Founders Brewing Co. is a great daytime stop -- but totally skippable after sunset.

When we got to town, we wanted to see Founders, but thought it would be best to try out the more obscure breweries first (in case we didn't make it all night). But, when Hoptimus Prime stopped in front of the beautiful -- and busy -- patio at the brewery, we knew we needed to make it back.

Source:  BeerLens

Source: BeerLens

Founders became our second-to-last stop on the barhop -- but when we arrived, well after dark, we were disappointed to find the fun daytime crowd had dissipated into a strange group of folks dancing to a mediocre DJ, complete with strobe lights and old-school rap. This place is definitely a must-do during the day, when the patio is open and you can enjoy laid-back beers with a group of friends.

3. If you're looking for the best international beer selection, HopCat is your place.

While Grand Rapids is all about locally brewed beers, HopCat is a must-see for those of us who have a thing for hard-to-find Belgian classics. It's constantly listed as one of America's top beer bars -- the kind of place that makes you want to swirl, smell and sip while talking the finer points of brewing with a knowledgeable barkeep.

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We didn't have a chance to eat here, but I have a feeling the food is pretty fantastic, too. And with a central location right in the heart of Grand Rapids, it's the perfect start or end on your brewery tour.

4. The B.O.B. only gets better as the night goes on.

Before we even got to town, we had heard about The B.O.B. The downtown hotspot isn't just a brewery -- it's a consortium of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues all under one, constantly hopping roof. Sadly, after lingering a little too long at Founders, we barely made it there to hear the awesome brass band's encore -- a lively rendition of "Uptown Funk." 

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You can tell this is the place where everyone from college kids to middle-aged jazz fans come to kick back. Definitely make sure you get there in time to enjoy the weekend entertainment -- it will be a fun night well spent.

5. My favorite beer in town? The Hefeweizen at Elk Brewing.

To be totally honest, Elk Brewing -- a fairly new brewer on the scene -- wasn't exactly my favorite spot on our trip. We got there a little hungry, and looking for more to tide us over than the bar nuts and popcorn available for purchase. But what this brewery may have lacked in ambiance, it certainly made up for in flavor. I absolutely loved my Hefeweizen -- so much I'd call it my favorite brew of the trip. Chris sampled a really unique IPA micro brew, which literally looked like a science project filtered from a beaker in the middle of the bar. It was super tasty.

If you get there early enough, you'll have a good selection of board games to enjoy over a lively conversation with your buddies. Just beware: Don't plan to eat here -- it's solely focused on good beer (and that's okay by me!).

Most Romantic Places to Propose

Spring is in the air, and with the cheery weather comes a hopeful sense of romanticism. Chris and I got married in the spring, nearly two years ago already, so this season always puts me in a rosy mood.

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While we got married in the spring, we got engaged in the fall. I'll always remember it like yesterday -- a romantic stroll behind the Shedd Aquarium, with the Chicago skyline forming a dramatic and beautiful backdrop in the distance. I couldn't have asked for a better memory to look back on as the moment we decided to spend forever together.

Cheesiness aside, as the season turns warmer now and I'm feeling especially affectionate, here are a few out-of-town places I think would make for (almost) perfect proposal spots.

Next to the Seine, Paris

It's no secret I have a love affair with Paris. On one of my favorite afternoons in the city, Chris and I grabbed baguettes and a bottle of wine as we sauntered down to the Seine. We claimed a private little bench and spent a lazy couple hours enjoying our picnic and each others' company. Had we not already been married, this sweet little bench would've certainly served as a perfect proposal place.

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At the Biltmore, Asheville

Call me silly, but there's something about being in front of America's biggest mansion that makes you want to couple up and chase down your own little empire. I'm a huge fan of Asheville -- and while the few times I've been have only been in passing, the city impresses a spirit of upscale accessibility.

It would make the perfect proposal destination for a couple who loves a bit of flair mixed with down-home comfort. Plus, for beer lovers it's a budding craft brewing destination.

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On a Kayak, Charlevoix

Last summer, we spent Fourth of July weekend with two of our best friends in northern Michigan. Everything about northern Michigan in July embodies that quintessential American summer. Charlevoix itself is an adorable lake town, but the peaceful serenity you can escape to on the water is even better. 

We rented kayaks, and while a little under-matched next to the yachts and speedboats flying by, navigating the waters on a sunny summer day was so worth it. So long as you pull over to pop the question (don't dare drop the ring in the lake!), this is the perfect setting for a beautiful proposal. 

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Three Midwest Places That Wear Winter Well

Braving snow-covered sidewalks and below-zero temps on my morning commute accentuates the less glamorous side of winter. But in the right setting, snow and ice can bring out the best in some of the Midwest's best gathering spots. Below are three of my favorite winter respites in the region.

Seven Saints - Champaign, Illinois

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As a proud University of Illinois alum, I can vouch that most of the time students don't venture too far away from campus. That said, Seven Saints is a Champaign restaurant well worth the trip -- and I spent a good deal of Sunday afternoons warming up with a cup of soup and sandwich at this cozy eatery on the outskirts of downtown. Seven Saints is especially welcoming for whiskey enthusiasts, with a wide selection ranging from Canadian and Irish whiskeys to bourbon and scotch. 

Boyne Mountain - Boyne Falls, Michigan

The Midwest's ski slopes may pale in comparison to the West and Northeast -- but the buzzing atmosphere at Michigan's Boyne Mountain more than makes up for it. The Mountain Grand Lodge & Spa is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts, with downhill and cross country skiing, tubing, snow shoeing, horseback riding and ice skating, just to name a few. Plus, the lodge is a cozy gathering spot with bars and restaurants to gather and indulge your apres-ski appetite. 

Copperstone Inn - Rockton, Illinois

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Just a few miles from my childhood home lies a new, world-class bed and breakfast catering to those looking for a quiet, rustic chic retreat. The Copperstone Inn in Rockton, Illinois, is the perfect respite to seek solitude by a cozy fire as the snow piles up outside. Plus, a jacuzzi and full-service spa adds an upscale touch to a romantic weekend getaway.