Things to Do in Kalamazoo: The Ultimate Pure Michigan Guide

Kalamazoo building
Photo Courtesy of tricia_sarrazin_

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With a combination of big city energy and small town charm, Kalamazoo brims with vitality and innovation, friendliness and an easy-going attitude. A vibrant Art Deco downtown sets the stage for quality dining, boutique shopping and cultural attractions. University students (from Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Valley Community College) bring youthful energy and cultural opportunities. And in Kalamazoo, you're never far from enjoyable family attractions, the great outdoors…and a good beer.

1. View 20th-Century Art at Kalamazoo Institute of Arts 

The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts prides itself on its 20th-century American painting and sculpture collection. The museum displays works by Andy Warhol, Dale Chihuly and Deborah Butterfield, among many others. You’ll also find a fine collection of African-American works as well as European prints, photography and contemporary ceramics. 

2. Discover Science and History at Kalamazoo Valley Museum

Equal parts science, history and children’s museum, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum showcases this region’s contributions to the world. See the many items originally manufactured in Kalamazoo and southwest Michigan, including yellow Checker Cabs, guitars, cook stoves and toys, in the “Kalamazoo Direct to You” gallery. The interactive “Science in Motion” gallery focuses on human health, optics and magnetism while the “Children’s Landscape” features miniature play areas: an old-fashioned store, a 1950s-era ice cream shop and a modern television station.

3. Check Out Vintage and Rare Automobiles at the Gilmore Car Museum

The Gilmore Car Museum sits in the tiny village of Hickory Corners, northeast of Kalamazoo. But don’t let the museum’s location fool you. This collection ranks as one of the top five automobile museums in the U.S. More than 300 beautifully-restored and rare vehicles fill a dozen buildings spread across a 90-acre campus, including Model A’s and Pierce-Arrows, Duesenbergs and Studebakers, antique trucks and muscle cars. There are even displays of vintage motorcycles, tin toy cars and elaborate hood ornaments. 

4. Learn About Aviation at the Air Zoo

Air transportation is the focus at Kalamazoo’s Air Zoo. The main exhibition hall houses rare planes like a replica Wright flyer, school bus-yellow biplanes and a brilliant red barnstormer. Restored World War II-era Hellcats, Bearcats and Wildcats suggest where the Air Zoo’s name came from. And the world’s only remaining Blackbird stealth plane sits among the aircraft. Visit the Air Zoo’s East Wing to see spacecraft: a prototype moon buggy, a circa 1970s command module and a replica Space Shuttle. Kids enjoy amusement park-style attractions such as a hot air balloon-themed Ferris wheel and flight simulators. 

5. Relax at Bronson Park

Kalamazoo’s oldest green space, Bronson Park sits in the heart of the city. Enjoy the 3 ½-acre park’s statues, fountains and flower beds. Relax with a picnic lunch. And catch city events like outdoor concerts and the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.

6. Walk Around Arcadia Creek Festival Place

Arcadia Creek Festival Place is one of downtown Kalamazoo’s most vibrant outdoor spaces. Year-round, the park draws families with its riverside lawns, flower beds, shade trees and playground. And true to its name, the Festival Place draws big crowds to events ranging from classic motorcycle and car shows to a Greek festival, free music concerts and art shows.

7. Explore the Kalamazoo Nature Center

Farther out of town, nature lovers explore the forest and wetland habitats of the Kalamazoo Nature Center. A popular place to unplug since the Victorian era, the 1,100-acre Nature Center sits on Kalamazoo’s north side and can easily be explored by way of its trails. Hard-packed gravel and boardwalk footpaths lead through hardwood forest, across a tall grass prairie, past a pond and through swaths of native wildflowers. Take time for the Interpretive Center, which houses interactive science displays, and the Hummingbird Butterfly Garden.

8. Find Peace and Quiet at the Lillian Anderson Arboretum

The Lillian Anderson Arboretum, affiliated with Kalamazoo College, comprises 140 acres of marsh, meadow, pine plantation and second-growth deciduous forest. Established in the 1990s, the arboretum provides a quiet space for hiking and enjoying the great outdoors.

9. Spend a Day or Weekend at the Fort Custer Recreation Area

East of town, the Fort Custer Recreation Area offers three small lakes, the Kalamazoo River and terrain ranging from rolling meadows to wetlands and hardwood forests. Spend a day exploring a hiking, biking or horse trail. Or reserve a campsite or cabin and stay for the weekend.

10. Shop Downtown Kalamazoo

Shopping has long been a popular pastime in Kalamazoo. In fact, the nation’s first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall, the Kalamazoo Mall, was constructed in the heart of downtown in 1959.

Kalamazoo’s downtown is still easily walkable. Stroll the pleasantly landscaped mall to discover boutique shops like Amy Zane for jewelry, Sticks & Stones for housewares and Gazelle Sports for active wear.

11. Dine at Kalamazoo’s Best Restaurants

Hungry for a good meal? Kalamazoo’s best restaurants rely on Pure Michigan ingredients to create menus you won’t soon forget. Favorites include Food Dance, with farm-to-table fare and an ample Michigan wine list; Principle, serving locally-sourced, contemporary twists on American comfort food; and Fuze Kitchen and Bar, with an eclectic contemporary American menu.

12. Enjoy Popular Craft Beer

For after-dinner drinks head to Kalamazoo’s own Bell’s Brewery downtown. Founded in 1985, Bell’s ranks as Michigan’s oldest craft brewery and offers customers a chance to taste well-known favorites as well as small batch brews unavailable elsewhere. At nearby Arcadia Brewing Company you can enjoy a beer overlooking the Kalamazoo River. In warm weather, dine outside in the pet-friendly beer garden.