Sitting between Detroit and Chicago in south Michigan, Kalamazoo is one of the most famous cities in the southwest part of the state thanks to its memorable name. But there’s far more to this city than that. With a number of museums to explore, beautiful nature to enjoy and one of Michigan’s most famous breweries, Kalamazoo offers a lot to locals and visitors alike.
The Smithsonian-affiliated Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum has frequently been voted among the best attractions in the city. Celebrating the wonder of air and space flight through historical exhibits, amusement park-style rides, flight simulators and educational activities, it’s a world-class museum that’s also fun for everyone from history buffs to children of all ages.
The free Kalamazoo Valley Museum is a great value option for families. It’s a science, technology and history museum featuring a planetarium alongside a variety of hands-on exhibitions across three floors. Notable exhibits include a mummy that dates back to 300 BC, a giant animated globe and the history of Kalamazoo. As well as being educational for children, it hosts a lecture series and discussions for adults as well.
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts is the city’s premier destination for art lovers. As a nonprofit museum and school, it offers rotating exhibitions, lectures, events, activities and a permanent collection of nearly 5,000 pieces, as well as a wide range of art classes for all ages and skill levels. See everything from globally significant paintings, sculpture and photography to work by local artists and kids.
As the home of the auto industry, Michigan rightly has North America’s largest auto museum, located half an hour northwest of the city in Hickory Corners. The Gilmore Car Museum evolved from the personal collection of vintage automobiles of Kalamazoo businessman Donald S. Gilmore, and it includes a 1927 Ford Model T, a 1913 Rolls Royce, and a 1920 Pierce Arrow among the 400 vehicles on display.
North of the city, the Kalamazoo Nature Center includes 1,100 acres of wooded, rolling countryside, as well as wetlands and prairies. Explore it all on one of the many hiking trails that are suitable for every ability level, or learn about the environment and conservation at the educational visitor center, which has programming and events throughout the year for all ages and interests.
Kalamazoo is home to one of Michigan’s most famous breweries, Bell’s, which was started by Larry Bell in 1985. You can tour the original brewery where beers like Oberon and Two Hearted Ale were first brewed commercially, and then enjoy the end product at the General Store and Eccentric Café, which has exclusive beers among its more than 20 draft options.
In the heart of the city, the Kalamazoo Mall is notable, as it became the first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the United States when it opened in 1959. Running from Eleanor Street to W. Lovell Street along Burdick Street, the mall has some of the city’s most unique shops and best restaurants, as well as a variety of coffee shops and bars.
If you’re looking to take in the beautiful nature around the city on foot or by bike, the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail currently has more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) to explore. From downtown, you can head north along the river through Verburg Park, Markin Glen County Park to the Kalamazoo Nature Center, or you can follow it east all the way to Comstock. The trail is still in development and will eventually be 35 miles (56 kilometers) long in total.