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!).

Memorial Day Destination: Lake Geneva, WI

If you're still on the fence about next weekend's plans, look no further! Lake Geneva is an easy, 1.5-hour drive from Chicago -- and with a sunny weekend forecast, there will be plenty to do. Last month, Chris and I were there to celebrate our second anniversary, since it's the city where we exchanged "I do's." 

The Riviera sits prominently on the edge of Geneva Lake. This is where Chris and I held our wedding reception.

The Riviera sits prominently on the edge of Geneva Lake. This is where Chris and I held our wedding reception.

We stayed at the Mill Creek Hotel, a quaint cottage-style inn right in the heart of the city. It's the perfect location to take advantage of Main Street shopping and dining, along with the lakefront attractions just a few steps away. But if you're looking for more Memorial Day fun, surrounding resorts like The Abbey have full schedules planned.

Lake Geneva's been a well-known summer playground for Chicago's well-to-do for decades, with historic lakeside summer estates once owned by recognizable names like Rockefeller and Wrigley. While you're in town, check out the well-trimmed mansions with a stroll on the lakefront trail, which circles the entire lake and takes you into the backyards of each gorgeous retreat.

Just one example of the beautiful summer retreats sprinkled along Geneva Lake. Source:  Keefe Real Estate

Just one example of the beautiful summer retreats sprinkled along Geneva Lake. Source: Keefe Real Estate

When we were in town, we spent our time dining, drinking and lazily strolling through downtown -- but there's really so much more to do in this popular weekend destination. Here are some of my favorite things to check out if you happen to make it there next weekend.

Shopping Geneva's Picturesque Third Street

Chicago is surrounded by an intricate web of suburbs. Lots of these burbs are busy mini-metropolises packed with box stores, mega-malls and chain restaurants -- the stereotype that keeps many city dwellers from striking out to explore.

Geneva, on the very outskirts of the suburban spread, is one of those hidden gems well worth a trip. At just 40 miles from Chicago's center and right on the Metra West Line, it's perfect for a girl's day trip to wander the boutique-lined downtown. Or for a romantic getaway, the Herrington Inn & Spa within walking distance to the train offers a quaint stay for a quiet couple's retreat.

The Herrington Inn is an all-season escape, but in warmer weather there's a fantastic gazebo for romantic dining. Chris and I actually considered this venue for our wedding before we ultimately decided on a space in Lake Geneva, WI. Source:  Facebook

The Herrington Inn is an all-season escape, but in warmer weather there's a fantastic gazebo for romantic dining. Chris and I actually considered this venue for our wedding before we ultimately decided on a space in Lake Geneva, WI. Source: Facebook

A few weeks ago, I was in Geneva with my mom and sister, who just happens to live there, for a relaxing day of girls-only shopping. We started off our trip with a quick brunch at Egg Harbor Cafe and then spent the afternoon wandering from boutique to boutique on popular Third Street -- including a few stops for chocolate and cupcakes, of course.

Near the end of our shopping trip, we stopped in for cupcakes at  The Latest Crave . That's my mom and sister enjoying our chocolate peanut butter and chocolate  selections -- delicious!

Near the end of our shopping trip, we stopped in for cupcakes at The Latest Crave. That's my mom and sister enjoying our chocolate peanut butter and chocolate  selections -- delicious!

Geneva has something for everyone, with a variety of clothing, home decor and stationery shops, among many others. Below are some of my favorite stops on Third Street to check out next time you're in the area.

If you're looking for even more ideas off the main drag, check out my Geneva Jauntful Guide for a full weekend's worth of places to try!

Denise's Adornments, 221 South Third Street

This is a relatively new shop in Geneva, and it's by far one of my favorite places to visit. Anyone who loves a monochromatic color scheme of grays and whites will have a field day in here. Denise's features French-inspired home decor along with an eclectic selection of frilly clothing. I fell in love with a faux fur vest and their understated glam jewelry collection. The storefront looks small, but the store goes on and on -- make sure you make it all the way to the sale rack in the back.

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Graham's Fine Chocolates & Ice Cream, 302 South Third Street

Graham's is a Geneva staple. In the entryway, there's a large glass viewing window where you can watch the confectioners molding, dipping and icing the chocolaty treats. I like to visit this shop to buy individual truffles or chocolate-covered pretzels for carry-out. For a cafe environment, just down the street is Graham's 318 Coffeehouse, where local espresso enthusiasts gather over fancy hot chocolate and pastries. 

Source:  Facebook

Source: Facebook

Cocoon, 212 South Third Street

I've never left Cocoon empty-handed. This shop has so many great home accessories, along with a huge stationery section with cute notebooks and journals to fit every personality. This is my go-to gift store, with so many can't-find-it-anywhere-else specialties. Upstairs, there's a huge children's section, along with a row of Little Miss Sunshine-themed mugs and books -- a great way to express your feelings to your significant other. Mr. Perfect, anyone?

Source:  Chicago Now

Source: Chicago Now

Source:  Facebook

Source: Facebook

Anastazia Treasures for the Home, 447 South Third Street

Anastazia's home decor collection is seasonally driven, and when we were there in late winter they were already thinking about Easter and spring -- something very welcome in my book. Most notably, they stock my favorite soy candles from Sugar Mint Candle Co., a natural candlemaker based in nearby Montgomery, IL. They smell so fresh, burn cleanly -- and were recently featured in an Oscar party swag bag this year!

Source:  Facebook

Source: Facebook

Source:  Facebook

Source: Facebook

Source:  Facebook

Source: Facebook