What You Probably Didn't Know About 'The Zoo" (aka Kalamazoo)

Kalamazoo, Michigan. With a name as fun and quirky as that, how could this city NOT be cool?! 

Located just 45 minutes south of Grand Rapids, this booming and surprisingly urban town doesn’t always get the same recognition of its other neighboring metropolises... but it should. Kalamazoo is hip and trendy in all of the best ways (think cool coffee shops, craft breweries, local boutiques), and yet it’s warm and inviting and unpretentious AND distinctly midwestern. 

We didn’t know much about “The Zoo” (as Kalamazoo locals like to call it) upon arriving, but we left with new friendships, countless memories, and a deep love for this bustling Michigan town. Here’s what we discovered about Kalamazoo, and why we’ll be back:

The Downtown is SWEET

We tend to judge a city based on their downtown. Is it hopping? Are their cool places to eat/drink? Do we immediately want to jump out of the car and go exploring? It was a big YES to all of those questions as soon as we drove into Kalamazoo. The downtown is easily walkable, surprisingly sophisticated, and filled with charming streets, art-filled alleyways, and lively shops and restaurants. 

Bates Alley was a little known alleyway in downtown Kalamazoo that was recently revitalized with a painted pathway, new decks, twinkly lights, and more. The result is breathtaking… even our puppy Sally thought so!

The historic Kalamazoo Walking Mall is not only an incredibly picturesque street to explore, it’s the first outdoor pedestrian mall in the United States! It’s filled with local shops, vibrant restaurants, brewpubs, coffee shops, and more - you could easily spend an entire afternoon here!

In our opinion, it’s not a downtown until you have a trendy rooftop bar - and Kalamazoo has just that! SkyDeck has 360 views of downtown Kalamazoo, plenty of places to sit and hang out, and wide variety of tantalizing mixed drinks. (If you’re feeling really adventurous, we suggest taking the stairs to the top! It’s a great way to get some exercise!)

Sally loves Bates Alley too!

Of course we stopped for ice cream in the Kalamazoo Mall

Best views in town from the SkyDeck

There’s A LOT to see and do

There’s no shortage of fun activities in Kalamazoo, no matter the season! We visited in early August, when the high temperature was 82 degrees, and the low was in the 70’s… absolutely perfect, if you ask us! Now having seen photos of Kalamazoo in the fall, we’re anxious to plan a trip to see the autumn leaves, and the winter looks absolutely dreamy too! But we digress… Even though our time was short, we packed in as many “must see” spots as we could (but there is still SO much more we’ve yet to explore)!

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum shares the history of Kalamazoo in a fun and “hands on” approach, with exhibits focusing on science, technology, and more! It’s fun for the whole family, and we had a great time learning more about Kalamazoo - and the best part is? Admission is FREE! (While we were visiting in the height of summer, this would be a perfect rainy day activity!)

Located in the iconic Kalamazoo Walking Mall, the Kalamazoo Candle Company is a family owned and operated candle shop with walk-in candle making! Visitors are encouraged to walk in anytime during store hours and craft their very own scented candle! The candle making process only takes about 30 minutes, and then they need about 60 minutes to cool. We had so much fun concocting our candle scents, we each made two! (This would also be a great rainy day activity!)

If you’re visiting Kalamazoo in the summer months, like us, we highly suggest attending a Kalamazoo Growler Game! The Growlers play in the Northwoods League, a summer collegiate baseball league, and they’re REALLY fun to watch. They’re very interactive with games, dance cams, contests, and more… And if you’re traveling with your pup, you might even be able to catch a “Bark in the Park” game, where dogs can come too! Check the schedule here

The checker cab started in Kalamazoo! There’s one in the Kalamazoo Valley Museum!

Making candles!

They have a RAD Farmers Market

We can never pass up a good farmers market, and if you’ve been following us for awhile, you’ve seen us hit up dozens across the country. We can easily say that Kalamazoo’s is one of the biggest and the best, as they have over 100 businesses represented! With everything from fresh produce to locally made accessories and wellness products, they truly have something for everyone. Days and hours change based on the time of the year, check the schedule here

It’s REALLY pretty in the Summer

Both of us were born and raised in California, with little (if any) knowledge about Michigan. We knew there were a lot of lakes… but that was about it! We were amazed by the beauty in and around Kalamazoo in early August  - it’s green and lush, the lakes are sparkling, and wildflowers everywhere are blooming. Michigan friends, we understand the hype now

Our first evening in Kalamazoo was spent at the scenic Gull Meadow Farms, where we got to frolick, play, and photograph our way through sunflower fields during their first annual Sunflower Festival. Does it get any dreamier (or more romantic) than this?! 

Located about twenty minutes outside of Kalamazoo is Prairie View County Park, which features 210 acres of lakes, picnic spots, a swimming beach, dog park, and SO much more! The scenery is stunning and the activities are endless (fishing, hiking, disc golf, boating, you name it- they have it), making it fun for the whole family. (Including your pup!)

Even downtown Kalamazoo has some charming parks, our favorite being Bronson Park. It’s grassy lawns, colorful flowers, and striking fountains make it a perfect place to break for lunch. And conveniently enough, during the summer it’s the location of Lunchtime Live! Lunchtime Live! is a seasonal food truck and music festival every Friday from 11:30am to 1:30pm during the summer, and it’s just as much fun as it sounds!

While we’re no experts on Kalamazoo by any means, we experienced enough to know that this city is something special. It’s a place that surprised us in so many ways, and we hope that at the very least, we piqued your interest in this vibrant and energetic city. 

We’re not sure when we’ll be back (hopefully soon!), but one thing we know for sure... it’s only going to get better