24 Hours in Kalamazoo

by Ann Dahlman  |  Published October 28, 2022

Situated halfway between Chicago and Detroit, Kalamazoo is a historic, vibrant city packed full of museums, galleries and theatres, along with seasonal festivals, great cuisine, a burgeoning microbrewery scene, and several biking and hiking trails. Downtown you’ll find an outdoor mall with heated sidewalks, restaurants, art galleries, a museum, and a beautiful park that hosts summertime concerts, art shows and other events.

Downtown Kalamazoo (Photo: Mxobe on wikipedia – Own work, Public Domain)

First settled in 1829, Kalamazoo is today home to 76,000 residents. It is the birthplace of both the Gibson guitar and Checkered Cab company, and combines an intimate small-town charm with big city events including Broadway shows, world-famous musicians and comedians at the many local theatres. Kalamazoo Mall offers one-of-a-kind gift shops, independent farm-to-table restaurants, craft breweries, and the historic State Theatre tgar stages world famous performers.

A bustling college town, Kalamazoo is also home to Kalamazoo College, the highest-ranked private college in Michigan, and Western Michigan University, whose alumni include Tim Allen, Bruce Campbell, and Terry Crews. These colleges bring a young, fun, and active vibe to the town, augmented by its year-round theatre and sporting scenes.

Kalamazoo parties all year with seasonal festivals including Beer Week, Irish and Greek Fest, the Do-Dah Parade, Fourth of July fireworks, wine festivals and Christmas parades. Art Hop takes place on the first Friday of each month, with local shops and restaurants turning into pop-up galleries for local artists. There’s snow skiing at Bittersweet and Timber Ridge; summer outdoor theatre and concerts, and biking and hiking trails open all year. Not enough? There’s always a new play at the Kalamazoo Civic, Farmers Alley, Miller Auditorium, or any of the 11 live theatres, new exhibits at the Kalamazoo Art Institute, and an indoor/outdoor farmers’ market.

Things to Do

The Gilmore Car Museum, North America’s largest car museum, is a must-visit for car enthusiasts. Travel through the history of the automobile with over 400 vintage cars. It also includes the Heritage Center with another 250 cars. Both sites are open year-round with special exhibits between April and November.

Kalamazoo has a rich history of contributions to American culture. At the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, in the heart of Downtown, visitors learn about the Checker Cab and Gibson Guitar. It includes interactive historical exhibits and a planetarium to explore the universe, travel through time and visit the Great Lakes. This museum is filled with hands-on activities and experiments about science and technology. They even have an authentic Egytpian mummy! Each visit to this free museum is a new adventure waiting to be discovered. Be sure to check what special exhibits they have when you visit.

The Kalamazoo Institute of Art (KIA) is another Kalamazoo landmark across from Bronson Park downtown. This nonprofit art museum and art studio is home to the largest art collection in southwest Michigan. Guests are greeted by a stunning Chihuly glass sculpture in the foyer. Inside houses a permanent collection of 4,600 works which include international 18th and 19th-century pieces and an extensive 20th-century American art collection including Alexander Calder, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, and others. This affordable museum ($5 adult, $2 student) has a full calendar of special events and exhibitions throughout the year.

If you like beer, come for Beer Week in February and be sure to stop at the largest craft brewer in Michigan, Bell’s Brewery. Opened in 1983, Bell’s now distributes to 42 states offering 8 year-round brews and 12 specialty brews throughout the year. The “Eccentric Café” hosts live music, excellent food, craft brews and something new for every visit.

The Air Zoo is a world-class, Smithsonian-affiliated aerospace and science museum with more than 100 air and space artifacts, inspiring interactive exhibits, full motion flight simulators, indoor amusement park rides, and hands-on science camps and classes. The air zoo brings history to life and makes learning fun, a great time for all ages!

Sue Parish’s Curtiss P-40 Warhawk (Photo: Michael Barera, CC)

Where to Shop

The Kalamazoo mall is a must-see outdoor promenade in the heart of Kalamazoo. It’s filled with locally-owned shops and independent retailers offering a variety of unique and specialty items including clothes, popcorn, Kalamazoo-themed gifts and plant shops.  At the Kalamazoo Candle Company you can join a ‘make your own candle’ workshop and create your own custom label for your unique candle.

Petals and Postings is located across the street. This unique specialty gift shop has all your gifting needs with one-of-a-kind finds, wrapping, and many unique and hilarious cards. This store is well stocked with humourous and thoughtful treasures for yourself and your friends. Housing everything from kitchen supplies to notebooks and calendars, playing cards and lighters, this store really has it all.

For a high-end gift, head down to Morrison’s Jewelers. As they put it, “One family, three generations, 82 years of excellence in custom jewelry”. You’ll find a wide range of beautiful, one of a kind, hand-crafted quality pieces created right here in Kalamazoo.

The Kalamazoo Mall (Photo: Discover Kalamazoo)

 Where to Stay

Kalamazoo is home to many different lodging options, including bed and breakfasts, hotels, and camp sites. Kalamazoo’s most famous B&B is the Henderson Castle. One of the most prominent local landmarks, it was built in 1895 and overlooks the city – a view you can enjoy from their rooftop hot tubs. This historical B&B with modern conveniences offers fine dining with daily Breakfast and High Tea Service.  Tours of these historic grounds are also available.

Book at Booking.com

The Henderson Castle (Photo: The Henderson Castle)

The Radisson Hotel is conveniently located at Kalamazoo mall with two restaurants and a coffee shop. Restaurants are Brick and Brine and Burdick’s Pub, both great spots to wander down and have a craft beer, watch a game, and chat with the locals. Both have excellent food, from shareable appetizers and handcrafted burgers to full dinners. Leave room for dessert!  The modern hotel has ballrooms to host a variety of events along with a pool, spa, and athletic club.

Book at Booking.com

While there are many campsites around Kalamazoo, Oak Shores Resort is worth looking into. Located in a forest of oak trees just south of Kalamazoo, this campsite offers 76 full hookups with modern conveniences and well-maintained facilities, including a pool. The site is located along a natural lake with 77 acres on which to roam, including natural trails. It’s a beautiful spot anytime of year, with fresh greens popping up from the snow in spring, sweet peas covering the summer forest floor, the hardwood forests turning to magnificently brilliant colors in the fall, and the crisp, quiet white forests of the winter.

Eat & Drink

For nightlife, check out the Beer Exchange and wait for the market to crash to purchase your next round. The food here is as exceptional as the experience. It’s a great place to meet up with a group to share some bites while playing pool and pinball downstairs, or  enjoying city views from upstairs.

For a hometown bar, walk down the street to Old Dog Tavern. This relaxed watering hole has live music, pinball and ping-pong. It is a great place to chill out, have fun and enjoy a great meal. Food includes burgers, pizzas, pasties (a Michigan specialty) and their locally- famous smoked whitefish dip appetizer.

Kalamazoo also has several fine dining options. First, check out Rustica, boasting a European-inspired menu and located in the Kalamazoo mall.. They serve up fresh, sustainable, and local dishes with their seasonal menus that blend influences from France, Italy, Spain, and other European countries. Watch the chefs prepare your meal in the open kitchen.

For a larger venue with a more tranquil setting, check out Martell’s in Parkview Hills, located just outside of downtown Kalamazoo. This is the place to go for seasonal dishes and classic staples such as lobster mac n’ cheese with a walnut salad. The extra touch they put into each meal makes each bite better than the last, which can be enjoyed inside at linen-covered tables or outside on the patio where you can watch the swans swim in the lake.

There’s a lot of great pizza in Kalamazoo, but Bilbo’s Pizza is the most unique. Founded in 1976, Bilbo’s offers a menu of delicious pizzas, pasta, subs, wings, and craft brews. White or wheat, thin or pan crust, with a hearty tomato sauce and a variety of toppings, you simply can’t go wrong. Stop in at lunch time for a slice or grab a whole one if you’re hungry. And don’t dodge the salad – their tangy, creamy vinaigrette house dressing is incredible.