Michigan is renowned for its wildlife, scenic views and array of water-loving creatures. But the state also plays host to non-native animals, plants and fish in the zoos, aquariums and gardens that can be found across the state. There’s no better way to lend an exotic vibe or to create an atmosphere of calm during your event than by hosting it at one of these venues. The following is just a sampling of the many parks, zoos, aquariums and gardens throughout the state, and the features that can create memorable experiences for your guests.
Opened in 1928, the Detroit Zoo is Michigan’s largest paid family attraction. More than 1.3 million guests visit the zoo each year to view its wide array of animals—more than 2,600 from 228 species inhabit the zoo’s 125 acres. Take a ride on the Tauber Family Railroad or go for a spin on the zoo’s historic carousel. Annual events such as Zoo Brew, Wild Beasts Wild Wine, Zoo Boo and Wild Lights draw visitors from throughout the state. It’s one of Michigan’s most beloved institutions.
Throughout the year, the Detroit Zoo hosts thousands of guests at a variety of events, including charity walks, picnics, birthday parties, weddings and corporate events. The zoo welcomes groups from 20 to several thousand, depending on the type of event, with most meeting spaces located near its beautiful and expansive animal habitats. “Not many other places offer guests the opportunity to learn about wildlife and observe lions, tigers and bears—oh my!—on a coffee break,” says Events Manager Brittany Gardners.
John Ball Zoo
Located on more than 140 acres, Grand Rapids’ John Ball Zoo offers an opportunity to see more than 2,000 animals—over 230 species—in beautifully designed habitats. From the Van Andel Living Shores Aquarium to the Idema Forest Realm Trail overlooking wolf and grizzly bear enclosures, the zoo has unique and enjoyable attractions for the entire family, and brings a sense of adventure to corporate meetings, receptions and weddings. The zoo’s most popular event space is the Bissell Tree House, located on one of the highest points in Grand Rapids and delivering a majestic view of the downtown area. This hillside getaway is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and wooden beams, creating a picturesque location for numerous events. It’s a popular space for weddings and confer- ences with space available for as many as 200 guests, depending on the event. The venue offers a large ballroom overlooking downtown Grand Rapids, a catering kitchen, wraparound covered veranda and a spacious reception area. The zoo also offers exciting private after-hours events, such as camel riding, a zip line over the zoo and a ropes course.
Binder Park Zoo
Travel the world without leaving Battle Creek at this 433-acre zoo. Split into two sections, Binder Park Zoo is known for its scenic beauty and beloved attractions that delight families and guests, including a vintage carousel and antique locomotive. Its animal habitats feature abundant trees and water. Its expansive Africa section puts guests in the heart of a safari, up close with cheetahs, giraffes and a 600-pound tortoise. “The whole thing is designed to be immersive,” says Leslie Walsh, Binder Park Zoo’s manager of marketing and development. “It’s our signature attraction.”
Binder Park Zoo boasts numerous amenities for event guests, including several pavilions to accommodate weddings, two on-site restaurants and a Conservation Discovery Center that features classrooms and lecture spaces; groups can also rent the historic carousel building. Its most popular event site is the Africa section’s Zamani School, where guests can enjoy a breathtaking view of the savannah. Overnight camping is also available, allowing guests to sleep under the stars near the zoo’s exotic residents. It’s a proven hit with families and with corporations looking for a unique team-building exercise.
Belle Isle Aquarium
Opened in August 1904, the Belle Isle Aquarium is proud to be the oldest and the longest operating single-site aquarium facility in the continental United States. Reopened to the public in 2012, the Albert Kahn-designed facility continues to delight families with its beautiful architecture and ever-growing collection of aquatic life. Detroiters and city visitors flock to this urban gem, where they marvel at the building’s design while taking in one of the largest collections of air-breathing fish in the world, with species of fish from around the globe.
Belle Isle, home to the aquarium, is one of Detroit’s most famous recreation spots, making it an ideal location for special events. It can accommodate up to 250 guests, depending on the event, and provides a unique location for memorable moments.
Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory at Belle Isle is the oldest continually running con- servatory in the United States, covering 13 acres that include a gorgeous fountain and calming pond. The conservatory boasts a collection of unique and exotic fauna, including tropical trees, cacti, flowers and even food-bearing plants. The peacock sundial, constructed in 1927, and the Levi Barbour Memorial Fountain, gifted to Detroit from the city of Toyota, Japan, in 1985, make wonderful spots to luxuriate and take photos. Belle Isle is a Michigan State Park, placing the conservatory just feet from gorgeous river views, parkland and walking paths.
Given its picturesque setting, the conservatory is a popular location for receptions and weddings and accommodates up to 25 people inside the facility and 150 guests outdoors (public access to the conservatory is not restricted during events).
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
For 25 years, the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids has served as a testimony to a great love story, combining Frederick’s love of sculpture with his wife Lena’s passion for flowers. The park encompasses 158 acres, showcasing internationally acclaimed sculptures and themed gardens, making it an ideal location for indoor and outdoor events acco- modating up to 2,200 people.
The location offers multiple event spaces, free parking and admission to garden areas during your event, along with audio- visual and technical specialists, creative catering choices and professional event coordinators. “Corporate events are our most popular, but we also have roughly 150 weddings per year, with many unique indoor and outdoor settings to offer,” says Stacie Niedzwiecki, director of hospitality. “All rooms have beautiful views of gardens and sculptures, and guests can also enjoy the outdoor spaces during the day hours. We are a great meeting location, with an opportunity to stretch during breaks by taking a short walk through our beautiful indoor gardens.” Centrally located in Grand Rapids, Meijer Gardens is situated near hotels and highways, and 10 minutes from Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
Established in 1899, Dow Gardens welcomes over 300,000 guests annually. This Midland gem features a dazzling 110-acre display of annuals and perennials punctuated by distinctive bridges, an award-winning children’s garden, towering pines and delightful water features. A 1,400-foot canopy walk—the longest in the nation—allows visitors to experience nature from soaring heights. “Dow Gardens is the perfect location for your next adventure,” says Carolynn Paten, assistant director of guest relations. “Our landscape offers multiple locations for wedding ceremonies, group tours and marriage proposals. We offer both guided and unguided experi- ences highlighting our art, history and horticulture. There is something new every season!”
Dow Gardens’ colorful flowers, rippling water features and mature trees create the perfect backdrop for weddings and special events, including classes, performances, tournaments and more, with outdoor seating for up to 200 guests and indoor spaces available on a limited basis. Guests can step away from the festivities to enjoy a calming walk on the grass, hold a butterfly or sample a vegetable in the children’s garden.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum
The University of Michigan is one of the state’s most famous institutions, renowned for its sports teams and research excellence—but a love for the natural world has been a hallmark since its earliest days, as well. Its Matthaei Botanical Gardens provide a place for nature lovers to take in a unique array of plant life and enjoy peaceful sur- roundings. One of its most notable draws is the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden, a century-old patch that holds the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America. Each June, the garden bursts into bloom with up to 10,000 flowers.
The year-round conservatory, as well as its perennial, bonsai and children’s gardens, make the botanical gardens a draw for visitors from throughout the state. The peace- ful surroundings also make it a popular choice for those looking for a meeting with a view, including local businesses, university departments and those seeking space for conferences, seminars and retreats. The Matthaei Botanical Gardens are also a popular location for outdoor weddings. The facilities can host up to 150 people outdoors and up to 125 in the auditorium, which provides a great view of the garden space.
Windmill Island Gardens
Windmill Island Gardens is a city park in Holland that’s home to the historic DeZawaan Windmill, a working Dutch windmill. The island is a romantic and scenic location, featuring a charming pavilion and an enchanting garden. The working windmill produces flour, wheat bran, grits and corn meal—all of which are available on-site.
The beautiful atmosphere makes Windmill Island Gardens a popular location for corporate events and wed- dings. The Celebration Pavilion, located in the middle of its gardens, can be enclosed during cooler weather and open during the summer, making it a popular wedding venue. The pavilion can accommodate up to 250 people and is a popular choice for corporate events, weddings and company picnics.
Edsel and Eleanor Ford House
Designed by famed architect Albert Kahn and constructed in 1929, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House was intended as a place for the two to raise their family. Today, the 30,000-square-foot, 60-room house is a popular destination for those who want a brush with Detroit his- tory. Surrounded by a large swimming pool, meadows, a lagoon and groves of canopy trees, the home is a popular tour destination and choice for special events. “This is a huge part of American history,” says Amanda Rutland, Ford House’s visitor experience director. “People are taken aback by the landscaping and surprised to see that this is a true home.” In 2020, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House will open its new visitor center, a 40,000-square-foot facility that will expand the venue’s offerings for special events. The visitor center will feature an expanded res- taurant as well as new event and conference spaces, with catering and technical assistance available. The customizable spaces feature a walkout balcony overlooking the grounds and dining space for up to 200. The visitor center will also host special exhibits, beginning with “Driven by Design,” a celebration of automobile design.
MSU Horticulture Gardens
Located in East Lansing, the MSU Horticulture Gardens are like no other campus green space. A visit quickly immerses you in a wonderland of flowers, greenery, succulents and beautifully designed spaces. Students and staff constantly work across its seven acres, ensuring there’s always something new for visitors to see and enjoy. While the gardens were not originally intended as an event space, visitors were so taken with their beauty that they inquired about availability for weddings, seminars and meetings. “The market called, and we answered,” says Wedding and Event Coordinator Sarah Heim. “We are proud to see the gardens enjoyed by visitors, vendors, volunteers, clients and eventgoers.”
The Horticultural Gardens offer a year-round, indoor conservatory, which can seat up to 170 surrounded by trees and ferns and greeted by stars that shine through its trans- parent ceilings. A plaza provides a lovely location for cocktail hours and outdoor receptions. The gardens’ day-of coordinator is available to assist with equipment rentals, setup and parking. “We promise an event that will certainly ‘wow’ your guests, as we truly embrace the beauty of the outdoors—even when you are indoors,” says Heim.
Meadow Brook Hall
A National Historic Landmark, Meadow Brook Hall is a house museum and cultural center featuring 110 rooms, 16 gardens and stunning Tudor-revival architecture. It features a two-story Gothic ballroom, a stately library, beautiful sun porch and grand entryway. Guests are surrounded by original paintings, sculptures, furniture, carpets, ceramics, silver, costumes, textiles and Tiffany art glass, transporting them to a bygone era of luxury while still enjoying all the modern amenities of a full-service event venue.
The hall is a popular location for many events, from corporate meetings to grand receptions and cocktail hours. It offers a variety of catering options from its top-rated resident chef. Meadow Brook Hall can accommodate up to 300 guests for a plated meal in its Garden Tent, multiple-room dining can accommodate up to 172 and a strolling station meal can accommodate up to 275. The venue also offers a number of other rooms for smaller meetings, which can accommodate as few as 20 people. External Relations Director Shannon O’Berski promises that “no other venue will take your guests’ breath away like Meadow Brook Hall.”