Cool Things You Need to Do in Kalamazoo
Looking for a fun jam-packed Midwestern town to explore?
Kalamazoo has just the right amount of cool history, culture, and activities for families of all different interests and ages!
Being only a little over a 2-hour drive from Chicago and Detroit and less than 4 hours’ drive from Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Indianapolis, Kalamazoo is a great city to explore over a long weekend.
To take the hassle out of planning your trip, we want to share our favorite activities, eats, and places to stay in Kalamazoo for year-round enjoyment!
Go Shopping at the Kalamazoo Mall.
This is not what you would think of as a typical mall. Kalamazoo Mall is a quaint street lined with fun boutique shops, savory eateries, art (to include creating your own experiences), and seasonal events. A fun fact, Kalamazoo Mall was the first outdoor mall in the United States opening on August 19, 1959.
Kalamazoo Candle Company
We love candles, so Kalamazoo Candle Company was a must-stop! We love being creative and love shopping local, so we walked right in to make our very own candles.
The kids made sand candles, which was super fun for them. There is a rainbow of different scented colors that you can choose to create your very own personalized candle.
The adults chose to make homemade 100% natural soy wax candles. You can choose from a variety of different fragrances to mix and make your very own candle creation.
Any candles you make you choose the naming of them which also is cool to personalize. They are great to take home for yourself or make as a gift.
If you are in a time crunch, buy a pre-made candle or one of the many other unique items in-store, or try making a candle at home with a DIY- home candle-making kit!
Spirit of Kalamazoo
This store is filled with unique Kalamazoo-themed gifts that reflect everything Kalamazoo and Michigan. From shirts to magnets, to signs and everything in between.
Of course, our kids’ favorite part of the store was the Old-Fashioned ice cream parlor that offered a variety of delicious flavors from local ice cream makers, Plainwell Ice Cream Company.
Let me start by saying this store is the ultimate high, sugar high that is!
Remember when you earned $1 for doing a chore and you were allowed to go to the drug store and pick out your favorite candy… this store was just that for me. Because of inflation, I can’t get much for $1 anymore, but the selection was still amazing! The nostalgia of the old-school tin signs posted around the store was fun to look at and reminisce. Let’s be honest though, you don’t go to look at the signs, you go to get candy and soda! Rocket Fizz is known for its hundreds of candy and soda selections. Ranch dressing and Bacon soda were the two flavors I remember the most. This store has anything you can think of and more. I think we spent over an hour trying to decide what to buy! It was definitely a fun stop.
With 3 floors of interactive Kalamazoo history and science, this museum has a little bit of everything for everyone in your family.
Permanent Exhibits Include:
Atrium of Artifacts
Kalamazoo Direct to You
Mystery of the Mummy
Science on a Sphere
Currently, there are 2 special exhibits: The Forgotten Fighters of the Kalamazoo Boxing Academy and Toys: The Inside Story.
I really enjoyed the boxing exhibit as I had no idea that renowned boxers such as Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather were affiliated with Kalamazoo Boxing Academy. In fact, the site was in the same place as the current Kalamazoo Valley Museum!
The kids loved the Toys exhibit as it was hands-on and were able to play and learn about circuits, pulleys, gears, and the link and how they make some of their favorite toys work.
For some fun for the kids, I picked up a Science at Home project from the exhibit.
(This is to be done with parental supervision of course.)
Join Jack in a little toy take apart!
- With your parents, select an old or broken toy that you can take apart.
- Find the proper tools (most often a screwdriver or two) and safety equipment such as goggles.
- Examine your toy and remove any screws that are holding it together so that you can open it up and see what is inside.
As you examine your toy, can you find any parts? Which can you find?
- Circuit Board
- Cam Follower
If you can’t go in person, the online exhibits are a good way to get a glimpse into what you can explore at the museum.
Tip: The museum is free, but it is recommended to reserve your time online before you go.
The visitor center is worth a quick visit to check out the current exhibits. Our kids, including my husband, traced their own wildlife drawing, had a look at the art on display and were able to view the on-site animals.
We were lucky enough to run into one of the animal caretakers and had an up-close and personal visit with a 10-month-old turkey vulture! They also have resident turtles, hawks, snakes, opossum, and even a Peregrine Falcon!
After your visit to the center, you must save time for some hiking! With over 14 miles of trails, there are plenty of options to choose from depending on your physical abilities and stamina.
We really enjoy the Beech Maple trail as you hike along a stream. Mid-trail you have the option to go on an easy walk to the edge of the Kalamazoo River. If you are lucky enough you can spot some neat birds and fish. If you’re not lucky enough to spot wildlife, there are seats to take a deep breath.
Trails are open daily from 9 AM – 6 PM.
Tip: Check out the variety of programs they offer and sign up in advance so you can attend.
There is an entrance fee, but your donation goes towards maintenance and supporting the center’s mission of inspiring people to enjoy and care for the natural world.
The Air Zoo is a Smithsonian-affiliated aerospace and science museum and is one of the top aviation museums in the United States. This museum is just plain cool! The museum has you travel through time through the revolution of aircraft. Your journey starts with the Golden Age of Flight, onto WWI, WWII, Jets, and Space in the main building, the Flight Innovation Center. I can’t even tell you what our favorite part was, as there was so much to see and learn.
Don’t miss the second building, the Flight Discovery Center, and the original site of the Air Zoo Museum. This building is called The Flight Discovery Center where there are even more aircraft to see. What was really cool about this building is the restoration projects they have in progress. We were lucky enough to have a private behind-the-scenes tour with Denny, one of the volunteers. He told us about each and every plane. But then he showed us the SBD-1 airplane that crashed in Lake Michigan in 1942. It was recovered in 1994 and the Air Zoo Restoration team is hard at work restoring it to its original glory.
The museum is jam-packed with experiences and activities. You have carnival rides, interactive exhibits, flight simulators, and so much more. Fun to be had for all as they cater to all ages. There is a gift shop and a Café if you get hungry and would like to pick up some souvenirs.
LFG Gaming Bar
Are you a gamer or do you get nostalgic about old-school Super Mario on the original Nintendo game counsel? How about Ms. Pac-Man on a video arcade game? If so, you must give this place a visit. There is seriously a game for everyone!
They have a solid menu of good bar food and a full bar of game-inspired drinks.
Tip: Kids are allowed in the bar until 9 PM, so if you plan to stay and play give yourself ample time. We recommend going for an early dinner as it is less crowded, so you and the kids can freely play the games instead of having to wait.
We love trying food that is not your typical everyday staple, so Zooroona fit the bill for us. It is a Middle Eastern restaurant with tasty dishes that match the experience of the restaurant. The décor is authentic to the middle east, from the lighting to the seating nooks. I highly recommend you make a reservation in advance to make sure you can get a table. Make sure you leave some room for dessert; I highly recommend trying the kunafa.
Sweetwater’s Donut Mill
With almost 40 years in business Sweetwater’s has perfected some of the best donuts I have ever had, and it is proven as they have been named some of the best donuts in America!
Sweetwater’s has 2 Kalamazoo locations and is open 24 hours, there is no reason to skip a trip to Sweetwater’s to grab some donuts no matter what time of day!
They even have a Homer Simpson donut, doesn’t that make you want to say, “Emmmm Donuts” in your head or even out loud?!?!
Tip: Check Sweetwater’s out on Facebook to see what the Donut of the Week is!
Bell’s Brewery is a craft brewing company that was founded in Kalamazoo. Bell’s brews acclaimed beers such as Hopslam Ale, Oberon Ale, and Two Hearted Ale. It operates a brewpub and a store selling merchandise and homebrewing supplies at its original Kalamazoo location. Beginning as a homebrewing store in 1983, and producing beer since 1985, it is the oldest existing craft brewery in Michigan and the oldest craft brewery east of Colorado. As of 2019, it is the 7th largest craft brewery in the United States.
I highly recommend taking a brewery tour as it is full of really neat history. In the summer of 2022, the Comstock location is going to be offering tours as well and we have been told that it is a pretty amazing operation.
Before you go, you absolutely need to go to the Eccentric Café for a bite to eat. The food is amazing! I highly recommend trying one of the smash burgers. My husband would say a flight of beer is necessary. The kids enjoyed the homemade Mac N Cheese!
Just in case you are considering getting into home brewing after the tour they have some clone recipes to try yourself!
Here is one for the Bell’s famous Oberon:
Estimated OG: 1.056
Estimated ABV: 5.8%
Estimated Color: 8.49 SRM
5 Gallons – All Grain
6 pounds 2 – Row Malt
5 Pounds White Wheat Malt
0.50-pound Munich Malt
0.50-pound Cara Pils Malt
1-ounce Perle Hops (60 min.)
1-ounce Hersbrucker Hops (3 min.)
2 ounces Saaz Hops (Flameout)
Recommended yeast: Imperial A62 Bell’s House Yeast
Tip: You can get all of the needed homebrew ingredients and tools at the Bell’s General Store.
Location, location, location is one of the main reasons I suggest a stay at the Home 2 Hilton or Hilton Garden Inn. If you want to leave your car on the onsite parking garage and walk, you are in the heart of the city, and most of the city is accessible from these properties.
Another bonus is the two hotels as they are joined, which means that you can use the joint amenities, such as the pool, outdoor fire lounging area, fitness center, and weekend entertainment, so it is two hotels in one!
They are both newer accommodations in Kalamazoo, so they have a fresh hip vibe from the décor to the cleanliness and offerings.
This new pet-friendly hotel is perfect for those that like extra space in your room including an in-suite kitchen and separate living space perfect for a weekend or if you are staying for a length of time. Home2 also has free daily breakfast available for guests.
The hotel is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Place and was formerly a Masonic Temple. The original design can still be seen through the modern touches. The lobby area features a fireplace feature for relaxing with a neat ambiance of the open bar where you can catch a game with fellow guests.
Kalamazoo is a wonderful midwestern destination with a lot of cool things to explore. We highly recommend planning a trip to discover all the wonderful things the area has to offer for everyone big or small!
If you are looking for more ideas, check out Discover Kalamazoo as there are a ton of great ideas as well as current events that you may not want to miss on your trip to Kalamazoo.
Looking for another Michigan favorite? Check out our article on Holland, Michigan!
It is so close to Kalamazoo that you can do two places with one trip!