One of the many joys of living in Ann Arbor is the Amtrak service. So much more relaxing to take a train anywhere than to drive. Chicago is a favorite long weekend destination. But you don’t have to ride the Wolverine all the way to Union Station to have a good good time. About halfway there the station stop is Kalamazoo, as in the “Yes there is a …” T-shirt. I don’t got a gal there, but the one I got sure loves to go. It was the “big city” when I was growing up 15 miles south in little Vicksburg, and I’ve lived in much bigger ones since. But the ‘zoo is a rich and varied place, with much to see and do. To point out the fun of a Kalamazoo train trip to our fellows, I put together the little guide which follows, updated since then.
How about a little train trip ARB -> KAL and back? Easy peasy and way fun. Here’s some information to help you along.
Getting there. Note that you can go to Kalamazoo and back in the same day if you time your trains correctly (1).
Most of the stuff I’ve listed here is accessible by foot. Kalamazoo is a great town in which to stroll about. They have a good bus system (2). Their main transit center is right next to the train station, and many buses headed in all sorts of direction line up in a big lot just south of in. If you want a car to explore the area, things become a little less convenient. There are several agencies at the airport 4.5 miles to the south. A bus directly there leaves from the transit center every 15 minutes and takes 20. And there’s always Uber and Lyft. Enterprise’s office is 3.3 miles west on West Stadium. There’s a direct bus there, too, but it takes 30 minutes. Enterprise will pick you up right at the train station if you call them (269-372-1234) at least an hour in advance of your arrival to remind them of the pickup you needed to have requested at time of booking. Then you have to get your vehicle back to their office on Stadium before they close at 6. If you’ve booked the 354 Wolverine, which leaves at 8:58, you’ve got those 3.3 miles to traverse, probably Uber time, unless you’ve got some local friends you can cajole. Plenty of places you can eat and drink near the station to pass the time. If you have a severe case of siderodromophobia (fear of trains), you can check into Bell’s for treatment, dosing as much liquid courage as you might require, which comes in many delicious varieties there. It’s o.k. You’re walking.
But I get ahead of myself. You’ve just arrived
Pause for some coffee. Right across from the train station, at the southeast corner of Rose (north-south street) and Kalamazoo (east- west street) is unfortunately closed Civil House. Around the corner on West Michigan is the Rose Gold Coffee Company (3). The same distance away, only left down Kalamazoo Ave is the cool Water Street Coffee Joint on a corner triangle lot (4). By far the friendliest coffee shop is a block down the Burdick mall on South, Something’s Brewing. They make their iced coffee with ice cubes made from yesterday’s coffee! Of course, your Yelp will find you some Starbucks nearby, but give the locals a chance. But I miss Civil House, the barista who used to serve me was niece of a Vicksburg ’70 classmate.
If you need a map, or just want to immerse yourself in a kind of place you just don’t see anymore, there’s a genuine full service papers and magazines and everything newsstand a couple blocks away on West Michigan, downtown Kalamazoo’s main drag (5). In the picture on their website looking east, you can see the “spaceship” (explained below).
If you’ve taken the early train and still crave breakfast, check out Food Dance (6) for fancy and good. Studio Grill (7) is an old fashioned diner which always satisfies located nearby on West Michigan right by the newsstand. Be sure to try their homemade hot sauce.
But you’ve come 100 miles on the train and I’m sure you need a beer. Kalamazoo has many good options.
Bell’s (note they also have a music schedule). This is a shrine, neigh a temple (they even have stained glass windows) to craft beer fans, where the whole Michigan scene began many years ago (8).
Arcadia Ales. About a half mile East of Bell’s, just over the river. This is a Battle Creek based brewery with a Kalamazoo outpost (9).
Saugatuck brewery, near downtown (10)
Final Gravity brewing, very close to the train station (11)
One Well Brewing, out by Portage (Uber or car). 13 minute direct bus ride from Transit Center. Great little place. Worth the trip (https://www.onewellbrewing.com/).
Going south on Portage, the beer destination always used to be Latitude 42, just past Centre. But since 2018 or so, the must stop is at Presidential Brewing, just north of Centre (13). The theme is good-natured politics, with beers named for presidents or their mates and pictures of Obama, Clinton, and yes, Trump, quaffing brews. Once the weather gets the least bit nice, there’s their lovely outdoor courtyard with a big fireplace where their good food seems to taste even better.
Latitude 42, further out Portage (7 miles from downtown, or an hour and 17 minutes on the bus with a transfer). Great beer. Good looking full menu. I’ve eaten lunch there, and their stuff is passable, not nearly as good as their beer (14).
Discover Kalamazoo offers a Craft Beer Trail https://fun.discoverkalamazoo.com/checkout/242/discover-kalamazoo/1510/give-a-craft-beer-trail#venues which looks mainly like entering for credit in your phones and getting T-shirt. The Kalamazoo Brew Bus makes the rounds of local breweries every Saturday for a mere 10 bucks http://www.kalamazoobrewbus.com/how-it-works.html. Good for those spots too far apart to stagger to and from.
end of beers
The Burdick Mall isn’t what it once was (auto traffic has returned to Burdick), but most of the storefronts are occupied. I own shoes and a watch from 2 of the stores. Its construction in 1959 was a historic event (17). The Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership has produced an interactive guide (18) to the many things to do there. Yes, there’s a lot. And all on foot.
A few places to eat in that neighborhood:
Rustica, with great European cuisine (19)
Principle right nearby. Equally good. (20)
Fandangos Tapas Bistro (21). Tastes of the Mediterranean coast of Spain.
Don’t forget Bell’s (8) when it’s time to eat. Yes, Bell’s has great food now, too. They’ve even put a dining area off to the side for those who want to get away from the supplicants at the altar (bar) to this shrine for beer. And there’s those stained glass windows.
Hed and watered, might you be ready for a little touring? West toward the WMU and K-College campuses you can run into the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Parkwyn neighborhood, built in 1947 after a group of Upjohn scientists commissioned Wright for the project (22). Out that way is WMU’s Parkview campus, with all the tech and engineering buildings. Standing in front of one, much larger than life, is a statue of Einstein throwing a frisbee( 23). (Note there are many other out-of-the way Kalamazoo attractions described in this article).
If you head out towards Vicksburg on Portage Road, you’ll hit an old fashioned drive in right on a lake(24). The “out of business” sign from earlier this year is down and it looks like there may be new owners. The food is predictably greasy and the waitresses don’t come out on roller skates (but they do come out), but you can’t beat the atmosphere. Just a little north, also right on West Lake, is a much fancier place: The Cove (25). The place is in full flower when the weather allows use of the marvelous deck. But even in the dead of winter, you’ve still got the view plus some of the best fireplaces in the area crackling at your back. Time your reservation right and you’ll ve treated to a sunset over the lake.
A little farther south on Portage and you’ll come to what locals still call “Upjohn’s”, labs and manufacturing on east side with offices across the road. Two other pharmaceutical outfits have since owned it, first Pharmacia and now Pfizer (26). This is where Pfizer ginned up those millions of doses of antifreeze encapsulated COVID spike protein mRNAs. Seems like a place Joe Biden should visit. We used to go there for field trips. Always smelled funny.
If you’re doing more than a day, you’ll need a place to stay. Here are my favorites. Kathy and I have stayed at them all and been satisfied with each one.
The Radisson (aka “Spaceship”)(27): a modern clean hotel right in the middle of things. A little pricy, heavily booked as it hosts many group events
Kalamazoo House B&B. Centrally located just south of the park. I’ve stayed there and it is nice (28).
The Henderson Castle. Elegant place located up by Kalamazoo College campus. I’ve stayed there and it is nice. They’ve added some features since then, like a winery (29).
Between loft conversions in spaces above commercial buildings and new condo construction, there are quite a few living units around the mall and some owners let them out short term. It’s worth consulting AirBnB. Rates are seldom more than, say, for the Radisson and amenities can be quite nice.
Downtown Kalamazoo has a web site you can peruse (30).
Just East of the train station is the Arcadia Festival Place, which often has things going on (31).
And if you’re getting tired of reading, here’s a couple videos. The first, produced by Pure Michigan, has a young guy taking in the town, surprised at all he sees (32) The second is an 8 1/2 minute drone’s eye view of the place(33)
The Kalamazoo Growlers are a semi-pro baseball team that plays at a nice little park East of town (34)
Down the path toward the river is a collection of sculptures known to some as “Kalamazoo’s Stonehenge” (35). Formally titled “The Circular Ruin”, the pillars were erected just before the turn of this century and feature objects representing different eras of Kalamazoo’s history.
The Airzoo is an aerospace and science museum located out by the airport (maybe 5 miles from downtown). Probably Kalamazoo’s biggest tourist attraction. Kathy and I can vouch for it (36).
The Gilmore Car museum is a fur piece from Kalamazoo, about 15 miles from the station to little Hickory Corners, but it’s the biggest car collection in N. America (37).
And if you want to make a pilgrimage 15 miles south and see where Dr. Ike first became an academic superstar (38). So far as I know there are no memorials. One day the old abandoned paper mill there will become a huge deal (39). A beautiful writeup in the monthly Kalamazoo booster magazine Encore showed the project, and described the hopes of the developers, in great detail (40).
I’m sure everyone will want to go. When I first wrote this in ’20, they said they’re aiming for first pull in Fall 2021. I know I sure will be there whenever it happens. And right “downtown” on Main street around the corner from the Tastee Freeze (now a bakery) where we used to hang out in the late 60s is an honest-to-God brewpub with really great beer (41). They have no food, but let you bring it in, like from Jaspare’s Pizza across the street (42), and fried chicken from the Dawg House right across from my old high school (43). There is a fancy-looking new place where I’ve never been on Prairie the south main drag into town: Michelle’s (44). They serve only breakfast and brunch, closing at 3. Just around the corner west from the 4 corners, where once 4 stop signs in a 55-gallon drum served as a substitute for a stoplight, on the inlet to Sunset Lake Vickers’ Lakeside Tavern (45). Named for John Vickers, who in 1831 threw a dam across what was a waterfall on Portage Creek to make a log and grist mill, local grammar nazis appreciating the correct placement of the apostrophe. The backflow from the dam became Sunset Lake, to the delight of generations of water enthusiasts who proceeded. While the food doesn’t always match the surroundings, its deck is the ideal place to wile away a summer day, provided the mosquitos aren’t too thick. For a more cerebral venture, the Vicksburg Depot Museum at the old train station (46) takes you back to a time when this Village was a stop on freight and Grand Trunk passenger lines. I recall back in high school boarding a Grand Trunk at the local station to take me to Detroit to visit my Aunt Dorie. Trains are still important in the fabric of the village, and not just for occasional traffic tie-up. Those distant whistles inspired the naming of the local brewpub, and what kid hasn’t lain awake at night listening to that whistle wondering where the train might be going, perhaps he/she with it.
So allow me to close out this visit to my beloved ‘burg with a video put together by some Vicksburg kids, helped out by someone much more famous (47).
So I hope my descriptions have piqued your interest in Kalamazoo and environs enough so that you actually make the trip. I still consider myself to be from there, even if I only lived 5 years in Vicksburg before splitting for Ann Arbor and never looking back, spending all but 8 of my last 50 years here. I’m fortunate to still have many friends scattered throughout Kalamazoo County and get back there every chance I get. Of course, Kalamazoo was the big city to escape to for us Vicksburg kids. It’s been great to see Kalamazoo develop into the magnet it is now. In 2004, former Governor Jennifer Granholm named Kalamazoo one of Michigan’s “Cool Cities” as part of that boondoggle. For Kalamazoo, even though it’s no longer official, that title’s very appropriate. I hope you can go and see for yourself.
- Amtrak. https://www.amtrak.com/home.html
- Metro. https://www.kmetro.com/
- Rose Gold Coffee Company. https://www.rosegoldcoffeecompany.com/
- Water Street Coffee. https://waterstreetcoffee.com/location/downtown/
- Michigan News Agency. http://www.michigannews.biz/
- Food Dance. https://fooddance.net/
- Studio Grill. http://www.studiogrillkalamazoo.com/
- Bell’s Eccentric Café. https://bellsbeer.com/eccentric-cafe/
- Arcadia Ale Co. Kalamazoo. http://arcadiaales.com/kalamazoo/
- Saugatuck Brewing Co.Kalamazoo. https://www.saugatuckbrewing.com/location/saugatuck-brewing-company-kalamazoo/
- Final Gravity. https://www.finalgravitybrew.com/contact-kalamazoo-craft-beer-store
- ONE WELL BREWING. https://www.onewellbrewing.com/
- Presidential Brewing Company. https://www.presidentialbrewing.com/
- Latitude 42 BREWING COMPANY. https://latitude42brewingco.com/our-locations/
- Discover ! KALAMAZOO. Give a Craft Brew Trail. https://fun.discoverkalamazoo.com/checkout/242/discover-kalamazoo/1510/give-a-craft-beer-trail#venues
- Kalamazoo Breweries Michigan. Kalamazoo Brew Bus. https://kalamazoobreweries.com/listings/kalamazoo-brew-bus/
- wttw. !0 StreaatsThat Changed America.#10 Kalamazoo Mall. https://interactive.wttw.com/ten/streets/kalamazoo-mall
- Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership. Experience Downtow https://downtownkalamazoo.org/experience/
- Rustica Kalamazoo. https://rusticakzoo.com/
- Principle Food & Drink. https://principlekzoo.com/
- FANDANGO TAPAS BISTRO. http://www.fandangotapasbistro.com/
- Parkwyn Village. https://www.parkwynvillage.com/
- Hidden Treasures. Encore Magazine 6/1/21. https://encorekalamazoo.com/hidden-treasures/
- Yelp. West Lake Drive Inn. https://www.yelp.com/biz/west-lake-drive-in-portage
- Cove Lakeside Bistro. https://www.covewestlake.com/
- Pfizer. PGS Kalamazoo, Michigan. https://www.pfizer.com/products/pfizer-global-supply/us-manufacturing-sites/kalamazoo
- RADISSON HOTELS AMERICA. Radisson Plaza Hotel at Kalamazoo Center. https://www.radissonhotelsamericas.com/en-us/hotels/radisson-kalamazoo-center?cid=a:se+b:gmb+c:amer+i:local+e:rad+d:us+h:MIKALAMA
- Kalamazoo House. https://thekalamazoohouse.com/
- Henderson Castle. https://www.hendersoncastle.com/
- Downtown Kalamazoo Partnership. Supporting the Downtown Community. https://downtownkalamazoo.org/
- Pure Michigan. Arcadia Creek Festival Place. https://www.michigan.org/property/arcadia-creek-festival-place
- One Day in Kalamazoo | Pure Michigan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7zGX7BGvGQ
- Drone Kalamazoo | Michigan | Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. YouTube 1/7/22. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7zGX7BGvGQ
- Official Site of the Kalamazoo Growlers. https://northwoodsleague.com/kalamazoo-growlers/
- Mann S. Why’s That? Kalamazoo’s Forgotten “Stonehenge”. WMUK 7/11/19. https://www.wmuk.org/wmuk-news/2019-07-11/whys-that-kalamazoos-forgotten-stonehenge#stream/0
- AIR ZOO. Aerospace & Science Experience. https://www.airzoo.org/
- GILMORE CAR MUSEUM. https://gilmorecarmuseum.org/
- VCS Vicksburg Community Schools. High School. https://www.vicksburgschools.org/schools/high-school/
- Haroldson T. $50 million project unveiled for old Vicksburg paper mill. Mlive.com 1/19/19. https://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/2017/07/50_million_redevelopment_unvei.html
- Mackinder L. Going in Big. Encore Magazine 10/19. https://encorekalamazoo.com/magazine/october-2019/. pp24-33 (&cover)
- Jaspare’s. https://www.jasparespizza.com/
- The Dawg House fka Fink’s Butcher Shop & Deli. Facebook https://www.facebook.com/1vicksburdawghouse/
- Yelp. Michelle’s Restaurant. https://www.yelp.com/biz/michelle-s-restaurant-vicksburg?osq=Restaurants
- Vickers’ Lakeside Tavern. https://www.vickersbar.com/
- Vicksburg Historical Society. Union Depot Museum. https://vicksburghistory.org/union-depot-museum/
- Small Town – Vicksburg, Michigan. YouTube 10/29/07. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpwDXiOXgjA