As a town that wants you to know that, “Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo” (Creedence Clearwater Revival didn’t just make it up), Kalamazoo boasts the promise that you’ll definitely be back after your first visit. Even though there is no longer a zoo, it is still a diverse city. I was lucky enough to embark on my first #MittenTrip with a jam-packed itinerary to experience as much as possible while in “The Zoo!”
Since it was the beginning of Halloween weekend, we thought the most appropriate first stop would be to see Gene the Pumpkin Man. Decked out in shades of orange, both Gene and his farm radiate the harvest season year-round. Fresh squash and pumpkins are scattered along the property, which is settled into rolling hills along West Main. It took us a while to choose the perfect little pumpkin to take with us, but once we finally plucked it from it’s orange surroundings it felt like we were taking a piece of Gene with us.
We next headed downtown to check into our room at The Radisson Plaza Hotel at Kalamazoo Center. Situated in the heart of Kalamazoo, this is a prime location for exploring the city. The mix of modern and traditional designs incorporated into the hotel makes it feel cozy and chic. We were situated on the ninth floor, which had beautiful sweeping views of the city and a 24-hour concierge service.
By the time we got downtown, we were eager to start exploring the city. After realizing how close The Wine Loft was to the hotel, we decided to walk around the corner and start the night with a drink. Known for their specialty selection of wines, it was difficult to narrow down our choices. We each ended up selecting wine from a different region of the world. I personally enjoy anything sparkling, so I chose the Sophora Sparkling Cuvee from New Zealand. The hints of citrus and green apple were simple and subtle, the perfect palate cleanser to start our night fresh.
We then popped around the corner to The Union Cabaret & Grille for some hearty food. The low-key atmosphere and live entertainment was very welcoming and relaxing. It’s definitely a nice place to kick back and have a cold one with friends after a long day. Throughout the week they feature live local music, such as jazz, blues, and many performances from Western Michigan University musicians.
In keeping with the theme of the weekend, we headed over to Wings Stadium to see the Kalamazoo Wings (K-Wings) hockey team take on the Cincinnati Cyclones in a Halloween themed game. Throughout the night they featured numerous festivities, such as trick-or-treating around the concourse and turning the hockey rink ice orange. The majority of fans were adorned in K-Wings jerseys to showcase the pride they have for their hometown team. After a close game, the K-Wings pulled out an exciting finish and won 3-1!
The night was still young for us after the adrenaline and excitement of the K-Wings’ win, so we decided to head back downtown to The Entertainment District. Our first stop was to the exceptionally amusing Monaco Bay, which features live music and a piano bar atmosphere. The musicians intermixed Motown hits with new songs while working in other songs by request. They also added sparks of humor throughout their set, which made us feel incorporated into the entire performance. We also ventured to the second floor of the building where The Gatsby Nightclub is located. It features an atmosphere that’s modern and chic with a sizable dance floor fit for anyone who loves to party, and it was a great way to celebrate the first night of our #MittenTrip.
The rain and cold couldn’t keep us away from the beautiful scenery we knew we’d find at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. Upon arriving, we met Pam, who was working at the information desk and suggested we follow the Beech Maple trail. It turned out to be good advice, as we found the best scenic views and possible critter encounters that day. The crisp and cold air kept us moving along at a good pace, but we were constantly stopping to take in the beauty of the Trout Run Stream and the leaves blanketing the ground along the trail. From Beech Maple trail we continued onto River Walk trail, which led us out to the Kalamazoo River.
Following our walk, we made it back just in time to experience their event called Creature Feature. We were able to get up close and personal with their rescued Bard Owl, which was the feature that day. Not only was this experience amazing because of the proximity and beauty of the creature, but we also learned a great deal about the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s animal rescues.
Kalamazoo is well known for having great beer, so we thought it would be fitting to stop at a couple local favorites spots to try some local brews. Our first beer stop was at Bell’s Eccentric Café. The name is truly fitting, as both the atmosphere and beer are truly eccentric. The eclectic artwork build on the character and history of the exposed brick interior, making it cozy and casual. After sampling a few beers, I settled on trying their Sweet Potato Stout. The aroma of fall spices and flavors of cinnamon and sweet potato made this unique brew quite sweet and delicious.
We followed up our tasty Bell’s visit by heading to Main & Drake: Kalamazoo Makers Market to see local vendors’ creations and confections. During our visit we toured through small pop-up shops of local vendors housed in an enormously large space. All of the vendors were welcoming and talented in making such diverse creations. Many of the items were even created to showcase the pride of all things Michigan! You really could feel the heart of the community and their desires to showcase local talent and goods.
Our next stop, thanks to AYYO Weekends‘ recommendation, was the famous Air Zoo. Did you know that the name originally comes from the animal names of the numerous airplanes Pete and Suzanne Parish had in their collection, such as their Wildcat, Hellcat, Bearcat, and Flying Tiger? Most would assume the name comes from its location in Kalamazoo. This is one of many facts we heard from Patrick Brent as he led our guided tour. We were immediately astounded by the sheer size of the location and the diverse collection of aircrafts housed there. Whether you want to experience the history of the aircrafts, the science behind these machines, or the entertainment of rides that simulate flight, there are plenty of options to explore!
Next, we headed back downtown to take part in the Historical Haunted Tour at Henderson Castle. This is the 120th year that the castle has stood along the steep landscape of West Main Hill in Kalamazoo. The beautiful Queen-Ann architecture and lovely gardens are the first thing we noticed driving up to the home. The immense interiors are decorated with period piece antiques that were included on parts of the tour because of the haunted stories connected to them and their link throughout history to the original owners. There seemed to be some minor issues and disorganization during our tour, but the experience was still worthwhile, as this is one of the most unique historical homes in Kalamazoo.
We then headed to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange to unwind after our haunted tour. We didn’t really unwind though, as loud bells and horns began going off shortly after we were seated. The noise signified a “market crash” on the price of one of the 28 draft beers on tap. Accordingly, the entire wait staff rushed to the tables they were serving to ask if their customers wanted to take advantage of the low prices from the crash by adding another round of beer to their orders. It was easy to get caught up in the excitement! Besides serving a huge variety of beer that could surely please any beer lover, the unique experience of keeping track of the market is unlike any other restaurant I’ve previously visited.
Eager to be involved with as much local fare as possible, we headed over to Food Dance next. We were excited to check out their marketplace and farm-to-table food. Our waitress, Stephanie, was spot-on with her recommendations of the subtly sweet and fresh hot ciders, hearty Food Dance Burger, and rich Cat’s Meow for dessert. With each course, Stephanie encouraged us to take our time and made sure to explain where each of the ingredients were locally sourced. After our long day, this was a great place to end the night because of the relaxing atmosphere and flavorful food, which helped us unwind before we headed back to our hotel.
Sweetwater’s Donut Mill is open twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, so we couldn’t decide whether to visit in the early morning or in the dead of night. We settled on visiting just after the Sunday morning rush. It took us a while to choose from their large variety of freshly made donuts that lined the back wall and counters. This is definitely a place not to miss while in Kalamazoo, because of the delicious donuts and their impressive reputation among locals who endlessly love Sweetwater’s!
Heading northeast on Gull Road on our way to Gilmore Car Museum, we stopped at Gull Meadow Farms to enjoy their award-winning apple cider. There’s a variety of activities at the farm, including a corn maze, a petting farm, and tours through their apple orchards and pumpkin patch. Inside the Apple Barn, a huge variety of fall and harvest goods are either made at the farm or locally in the Kalamazoo area. It’s the perfect place to go to experience the change of seasons through October and November.
Luckily, we saved our last stop for the Gilmore Car Museum. We didn’t realize how massive the museum is and figured it’d only take, at most, 2-3 hours to tour… Five hours later, we finally finished touring the last building that showcased the history and science behind many different car brands. The 90-acre property is an international destination, because it houses one of the largest collections of classic and vintage cars in the nation. Whether you’re a car fanatic or not, you’ll surely find something to spark your interest.
This city is truly a gem because of its huge variety of activities and attractions available at your fingertips, and the people are also so welcoming. The satisfaction of being utterly exhausted after our busy weekend in Kalamazoo made me excited for my next visit back!
Is there anywhere we didn’t stop that we should have? Let me know, and I’ll be sure to check it out the next time I’m back in Kalamazoo!