When you think of Battle Creek, you probably think of cereal, since both Kellogg and Post have manufacturing facilities within the city limits. But there is so much more to the city than breakfast! On our recent Mitten Trip, we set out to dig a little deeper and find the lesser-known gems that the area has to offer. Why should you consider Battle Creek for your next getaway? The answers might surprise you!
We left our home in Manistee on a sunny (albiet a little chilly) morning. Heading south on US-31, we were anxious to get our adventure started. We’ve gone “downstate” many times, but the Battle Creek area was uncharted territory for us, adding an extra dimension of excitement to the day.
By the time we reached the freeway exit for Spring Lake we were feeling a little hungry, so we pulled off at the Small Town Sandwich Shop. We had read lots of great reviews about the restaurant online, so our expectations were high, and they were definitely exceeded! The decor there was adorable and welcoming, like eating at the house of a quirky, artistic friend. And the food was just as welcoming! I had a Cuban sandwich with their homemade spicy pickles, and Adam opted for the special of the day, a perch sandwich.
Wanting to stretch our legs a little more before hopping back in the car, we decided to take a little walk across the street at Mill Point Park, a cute little spot overlooking the Grand River. We spent a few minutes exploring the park and watching some birds on the riverbank, and then it was time to hit the road again.
On our way out of town we spotted one more thing that made us feel compelled to stop: a giant Adirondack chair in front of DeLass Garden Market! (Seriously, how can you drive past such a great photo op and not stop for a quick snap?)
We decided that we wanted to see more on our trip than just the freeway, so we meandered along country roads from Spring Lake to Otsego. It was not the quickest route, but we were in a leisurely mood and enjoyed taking in the views of southwest Michigan’s farm country. One we reached Otsego we stopped for gas, then found our way back to the freeway and took US-131 and I-94 for the final leg of our trip.
Upon our arrival in Battle Creek, our first stop was at the Fort Custer National Cemetery to pay our respects. We spent most of the remaining daylight wandering through different sections of the massive cemetery, including the German Memorial where 26 World War II POWs were buried following a tragic 1945 train accident.
Next step: the hotel! We arrived at the Courtyard Marriott just as the sun was setting. One of Battle Creek’s newest hotels, the interior design is sleek and modern. The lobby has a lovely little cafe, a lounge area, and computer work stations.We dropped off our bags and headed back out right away, because it was time for something we’d been looking forward to for weeks: Sushi!
When we were looking up places to eat in Battle Creek, one of the places that stood out most was Sakura Sushi Bar. We are bigtime sushi lovers. At home in the Manistee area, the opportunities to get sushi are pretty limited, so when we saw photos of the rolls at this place, it went right to the top of our must-eat list for the weekend.
We agonized over what to order – everything on the menu looked and sounded so delicious! I really don’t think you can go wrong there no matter what you choose. We ended up getting an assortment of rolls and a few pieces of nigiri, featuring meats ranging from fried chicken to raw octopus. We ate the whole gamut, and it was all amazing!
Although we were stuffed to our eyeballs with sushi, there was one more food stop on our list for the night: Sweetwater’s Donut Mill. Open 24 hours, Sweetwater’s is practically legendary in the area. Before our trip we asked a lot of people what we should do in Battle Creek, and this was one of the most-recommended places. Since Sweetwater’s is just down the road from Sakura, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out.
Donuts in hand – chocolate frosted for Adam, red velvet for me – we headed back to the hotel, where we stopped by the hotel bar for a nightcap. Once back upstairs, we devoured our donuts before drifting off to sleep in what may have been the comfiest hotel room bed ever.
We started our Saturday with a cup of coffee at the hotel, then headed off to Historic Bridge Park to take a walk. Bridge Park is another attraction that nearly everyone mentioned, and one person described to us as “a zoo for retired bridges.” The park is home to six bridges total, weaving back and forth across a small creek in a quaint loop that is also connected to the North Country Trail and the Calhoun County Trailway, which will also eventually connect to the Battle Creek Linear Park. (There is certainly no shortage of beautiful places to take a long walk in Battle Creek!)
The morning air was chilly, so after thoroughly exploring the park and some of the connected trails, we headed to Addington Hills Cafe for brunch. The restaurant was adorable, with bright-yet-tasteful colors and lots of natural light streaming in the front windows. I had spinach, tomato, and feta quiche, with a cup of bell pepper and artichoke soup. Adam opted for a ham and cheese melt with homemade potato chips. It was a hearty and delicious fuel-up after our morning stroll!
We chose Addington Hills Cafe because of its proximity to our next stop: it’s right next door to the Art Center of Battle Creek. The Art Center hosts various exhibitions throughout the year, in addition to offering classes in many different artistic mediums. The current exhibition at the time of our visit was a student show, showcasing work from local elementary, middle school and high school artists. We checked out the entire exhibit, as well as their gift shop featuring many wonderful works by Michigan artists. We picked up a couple of handmade ceramic tiles for our collection (we love unique tiles!) and had a lovely conversation with the lady who was working there, Maureen, an artist from Marshall.
Next we headed to the Historic Adventist Village, an area covering several blocks on the west end of Battle Creek. The buildings (some restored, some reproductions of period buildings) serve as a museum, with historical scenes and information about the history of the Seventh Day Adventist church. The village was not yet open for the season when we were there, so we didn’t get to go into any of the buildings, but were still able to walk around and look at them.
The next stop on our itinerary was the Leila Arboretum. As soon as the stately gates came into view, we knew we were in for a treat. The arboretum covers 72 acres that were donated to the City of Battle Creek in 1922 by the widow of C.W. Post, and it occupies the area that was once the Battle Creek Country Club. Renovations to the land began in the mid-20s, but efforts were abandoned due to the Great Depression. The once-beautiful grounds became overgrown and fell into disrepair until the 1980s, when a group of citizens became determined to restore it to its former glory.
One of the highlights of the Leila Arboretum is the Fantasy Forest. When a grove of 100-year-old ash trees near the arboretum entrance was decimated by emerald ash borers, the decision was made that rather than tear down the trees, they should be turned into art! During a 2015 competition, artists descended on the grove and brought it new life; the landscape is now dotted with an assortment of wizards, dragons, and other mythical beings. Currently, a total of 13 dead ash trees have been transformed into fanciful sculptures.
This summer the Fantasy Forest will be expanding, inviting a select group of artists to an event June 16-18, 2016, where an additional 7 to 10 sculptures are anticipated to be completed over the course of three days. This was one of our very favorite attractions in Battle Creek, and we are already planning to go back later this summer so we can see the new additions!
The grounds of the Leila Arboretum are also home to the Kingman Museum. The museum is largely a natural history museum and also has a planetarium. It is an adorable little museum with a nice collection of taxidermy and other artifacts, with lots of hands-on experiences for kids, especially in the area dedicated to dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.
By this time, our brunch had worn off and we were feeling a bit peckish, so we headed into Downtown Battle Creek to find some refreshments. The downtown area has a strange juxtaposition of high-rise buildings that make it feel like a big city, but a personality at the street level that feels more like a small town.
We were a little surprised that most of the shops closed fairly early on Saturdays, so we decided to do a little bit of shopping first. Our stops included Battle Creek Books, where we picked up a handful of quirky greeting cards and a couple of softcover treasures off the bargain table.
Ready for some beer and food, our next stop was at Arcadia Brewing Company. While we were there we noted that they were running a promotion to gather bottled water donations to send to Flint. Bring in a case of bottled water and get a pint of beer for $1! Their goal is to ship off an entire pallet of water to the people of Flint. Of all the amazing things we saw all day long, this kind gesture was the thing that made me smile the biggest.
After finishing up at Arcadia, we moved down the street to an English-style pub called the Cricket Club. With its exposed brick walls and dark wood bar and trim, this place is definitely not shy on character! We were happy to find out that they had several different selections from Short’s Brewing Company. I opted for Soft Parade, one of my favorites, and Adam had some ControversiALE.
The staff at the Cricket Club was tons of fun and hospitable, showing us a great time while we were there. We enjoyed the place so much that we even bought T-shirts while we were there. They had some really great shirt designs, so that was a no-brainer as a souvenir!
We left the Cricket Club around dusk and spent some more time wandering around downtown and exploring. There wasn’t much else going on downtown that night, so we decided to head back across town toward the hotel, making an obligatory stop at Sweetwater’s on the way past for more donuts. (If there were a Sweetwater’s in Manistee, I would probably gain an extra 20 pounds from eating too many donuts. That place is dangerous, but in a good way!) Back at the hotel, we stuffed ourselves with cream-filled amazingness and laid out our plans for our next, final day in Battle Creek.
We started the final day of our Mitten Trip with a quick breakfast at the hotel cafe before checking out. Our first stop of the day was the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, located just a few minutes outside of Battle Creek. For a small fee you can enter the sanctuary grounds to see all of the birds and walk along nature trails that circle Wintergreen Lake. You can also buy buckets of corn to feed to the sanctuary’s waterfowl. Among the birds that call the sanctuary home are many who, due to injuries, would not survive in the wild.
These birds include a population of Trumpeter Swans that were part of a breeding program to bring the species back from the verge of extinction; the day we visited, we counted nearly as many Trumpeter Swans at the sanctuary as there once were left in the wild, a testament to the success of the program.
The sanctuary also provides homes for birds of prey, including hawks, owls, and eagles, who have injuries that prevent them from hunting in the wild. Many of these raptors are glove-trained and are used as part of educational programs. Elsewhere on the grounds, another building showcases a variety of game birds.
It was a little on the cold side that day, so by the time our bucket of corn was empty and we’d seen all of the birds, our noses and fingers were feeling a little numb, so we decided it was time to move on to the final destination of our Mitten Trip: The Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners.
Hickory Corners is a tiny speck on the map, just northwest of Battle Creek. The Gilmore, however, is anything but tiny! If you are planning to visit the Gilmore, be sure to allot an entire day. The 90-acre campus is actually home to eight separate museums (seven car museums and a dollhouse miniatures museum), as well as historic diner! They also have a small cafe in the main building, where we snagged some lunch.
When we were there, the museum was not yet in full swing for the season, so only the main museum and two of the peripheral museums were open. Though saying “only” is kind of understating – even with just a portion of the exhibits open for viewing, we still spent hours there and feel like we barely scratched the surface. Even though the rest of the buildings were closed, we still walked around because the grounds were full of amazing photo opportunities, including a vintage gas station that was just the right colors for striking a pose in my Live Love Michigan shirt. The Gilmore is also on our list of places to revisit this summer!
On the ride home, we marveled at how much we’d managed to do and see on our three-day adventure. And there were even more things that we wish we could have done! It turns out that several of the attractions that we looked up in the area – including Binder Park Zoo, the Kimball House Museum, and Southern Exposure Herb Farm – were not yet open for the season when we were in town, so we didn’t get a chance to visit those places, but you should definitely check them out as well. There is definitely a lot more to Battle Creek than just cereal!
Is there anything else we missed while we were there? Let us know in the comments!