Most people only know the name Kalamazoo from the song, I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo, but after a visit to the area you’ll see that the hometown of Yankee great Derek Jeter is more than just a punch-line.
If you visit the area the first stop to make is at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, just south of the Kalamazoo Mall. Housed in a modern building, the KVM boasts a vast array of exhibits on the history of Kalamazoo, from its founding by Titus Bronson through the rise of Upjohn, Gibson Guitars and others. Additionally, the KVM plays host to travelling exhibits, including the recent hands-on look at Anime. Best of all, the KVM is free.
After the KVM head to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. Home to an eclectic collection of works, the KIA is a modest facility that, in addition to the annual community art show, hosted recent exhibits of the works of both Dale Chihuly and Georgia O’Keefe. Though the travelling exhibits require an admission, the permanent collection is always free.
For a look at Kalamazoo’s natural history take a trip to the Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery, located west of the city. With dozens of retention ponds spread out over several acres, including a feeding pond, and an Interpretive Center, the Hatchery offers visitors the opportunity to take a relaxing walk in the country and to learn about the native fish species of Michigan. Happily, admission to the center is free.
If a relaxing country walk in the country without actually leaving the city is more in order then visit the Celery Flats Interpretive Center just south of the city, in Portage. Kalamazoo County was once home to the country’s most verdant celery-industry but now much of the land has been given over to residential development. Fortunately, some of the past beauty has been retained and now the area boasts an impressive collection of bike and walking trails that twist among historic houses, barns, woodlands and wetlands. Though you can rent a canoe and paddle the river along the trails, it’s always free of charge to walk.
For a more offbeat stop swing by the McDonalds near the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, for a Big Mac. In the early 90s this restaurant was known as the McRockin’ Café and the long-dead Elvis Presley was sighted here more than once. Though it was never confirmed if this was a hoax or the King had truly returned, the story still inspires debate.
Less controversial, though entirely seasonal, is a trip to Gene, The Pumpkin Man’s Farm. Operated on a historic Michigan farm Gene has been growing pumpkins for more than five decades on his family farm and though it is a bit one-note for adults, it is an absolute must for all children. If you’re in the area in October, be sure to stop by and while the pumpkins aren’t free, the atmosphere is.
Though most have only heard the name from a song, as the slogan says, ‘Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo,’ and it’s a mighty lovely place to visit.