Kalamazoo Michigan: Top 11 Things To Do in Kzoo MI + Hiking Trails! (See the Air Zoo, Gilmore Car Museum, K-Wings Hockey Game +Free Ideas!)

Kalamazoo Michigan: Top 11 Things to Do in Kzoo! | By: Sherry Trautman | Travel-Mi.com | Last updated: September 18, 2022

There are so many GREAT Things To Do in Kalamazoo Michigan! Oh, and we have ideas of fun free things to do too! 

I adore this Kzoo!  I graduated from Western Michigan University (Go Bronco’s!) and lived there for around 18 years. This vibrant college town has fantastic restaurants, parks, shopping, walking trails and art centers.

Just recently, an influx in Kalamazoo Michigan breweries have sprouted up all over the city as beer connoisseurs heartily support new local businesses.  

In my opinion, Kzoo Michigan has two distinct areas that are connected by Westnedge Ave. The south side features block after block of stores, chain restaurants and the popular Crossroads Mall. 

To the north is the bustling artistic downtown area with boutiques, galleries, parks, art centers and great non-chain restaurants.  

Our Top 11 Fun Things to Do in Kalamazoo Michigan

1. Shop Till Your Drop in Downtown Kalamazoo MI

Downtown Kalamazoo Michigan- One of my favorite things to do is wander around downtown Kalamazoo.  West Michigan Avenue is the main downtown Kalamazoo street.  Popping into the wide variety of shops and boutique shops can easily fill an afternoon or evening so be sure to walk down S. Kalamazoo Mall. 

Be sure to grab dinner at one of the many delicious restaurants and bistro's.  Many offer outside seating which is great for people watching!  

Our favorite downtown Kalamazoo restaurants are Rustica (awesome pasta and steaks) and Epic Bistro, both on S. Kalamazoo Mall.  Their wood fired pizza's are divine and the restaurant offers unusual and healthy pizza toppings. 

Kalamazoo Trivia: Where did the name Kalamazoo come from?

We had to research this from Wikipedia because after living there for over 15 years I didn't know! 

So, as with history, there are a few different ideas of how the name came to be.  At one point, Kalamazoo was called Bronson but the name was changed to Kalamazoo in 1836. Kalamazoo's name comes from a Potawatomi word. 

Idea 1:

  • Previously, the Kalamazoo River was known by Canadians and French as La rivière Kikanamaso.

Idea 2:

  • Tthe word, "Ki-ka-ma-sung", meaning "boiling water", referred to a race held by local Native Americans, in which participants run to the river and back before a pot boiled.

Idea 3:

  • The word negikanamazo, having something to do with otters, has also been cited as a possible origin of the name.

What's cool? The name Kalamazoo is now associated with crazy places, as in the phrase "from Timbuktu to Kalamazoo".

2. Go for a Walk or Jog at These Scenic Kalamazoo Hiking Trails!

If you love getting out in nature, stretching your legs and exercising, check out these 4 Scenic Kalamazoo/Portage Michigan Hiking Trails!  Perfect for walking, hiking, jogging and walking with your dog! 


  • Eliason Nature Reserve
  • Bishop's Bog Preserve 
  • West Lake Nature Preserve
  • Celery Flats

3. Tour the Park Trades Center in Downtown Kzoo Michigan

Park Trades CenterPreviously the Saniwax Building, the Park Trades Center is in downtown Kalamazoo near McDonalds. This amazing four-story building is an artist mecca.  It houses a variety of artists in residence and numerous businesses. 

The first Friday of every month is the city's famous Art Hop in which artists open their studios to the public to sell their art, perform demonstrations and mingle with the community. The Park Trades Center is bustling with people enjoying art while munching on tasty snacks and wine provided by the artists.

While living in Kalamazoo Michigan, I worked at West Michigan Glass Art Center (Renamed as Glass Art Kalamazoo) located in the Park Trades Center downtown.  As such, I ate lunches at the Co-Op, shopped in the fabulous downtown shops and dined almost exclusively downtown.  

Hungry?  Check out our favorite Kalamazoo Restaurants!  

4. First Friday of Every Month is Art Hop!

Kalamazoo Art Hop-I soooo look forward to the first Friday of every month for the Art Hop from 5 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in downtown Kalamazoo Michigan! 

What's so cool about the Art Hop? 

WELL....Numerous businesses in the downtown walking mall area enthusiastically host local artists to display their artwork (and there's free snacks and wine....I know, I probably should have lead with that).

It's a win-win as businesses AND artists gain exposure to the community.   

My tips on the best way to enjoy it: Park downtown early (beat the crowds) and have dinner...May I suggest The Union, Zazio's or Epic Bistro since they are located in the heart of the Art Hop.

But eat lightly and skip dessert so you have room for free snacks and wine. Be sure to go here and obtain the current month's art hop map.  

The Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership keeps a monthly calendar of downtown events that is helpful too. 

5. Go Hiking! Kalamazoo Nature Center: Enjoy Time Outside in Nature!

Kalamazoo Nature Center-located at 7000 N Westnedge Ave, Kalamazoo Michigan. The Nature Center features 14 miles of great trails for walking or cross-country skiing. Chris and I love their Maple Syrup festival in March where you can see how trees are tapped and you get to taste fresh maple syrup in the woods! 

We also seized the opportunity to check out unbelievably cool birds of prey during one of their nature presentations. Please note, bikes and dogs are not allowed on the trails.

6. Kalamazoo Institute of Arts: Take an Art Class!

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts-located at 314 S Park Street, Kalamazoo Michigan. The KIA boasts an art gallery with rotating special exhibits, lectures and events.  Numerous classes are offered year round for adults in painting (watercolor and oil), pottery (wheel and hand built), sculpture (clay and cast), glass, fiber, jewelry, metals, photography and more. 

Summer camp and a variety of classes are also offered for children. Be sure to check out the immense and stunningly colorful blown glass Dale Chihuly piece suspended in the glass entry way. It’s also a wow factor at night!

I have taken numerous classes at the Institute of Arts including pottery, welding, silk painting, photography and floral arranging so I can attest for their high quality of instruction and dedication to student learning. 

I particularly enjoy the artistic comradery and willingness to share ideas.  Chris and I had a fabulous time at their “Date Night” class which was one evening of clay instruction on the wheel and raku firing. We look pretty professional, don't we?  ;) 

Be sure to mark your calendars for the KIA annual Christmas art fair where local artists set up booths throughout the building selling their handmade art.  Choose from paintings, pottery, glass, fiber, jewelry, metals, photography and more.  I sold my handmade kiln fused art at this sale for several years and I miss it!

7. Buy Some Art at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Summer Art Fair

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Summer Art Fair-Every June in the Downtown area.  I make every possible effort to attend this art fair every year, not just because I adore art fairs, but because it is located in beautiful Bronson Park.  The art fair expands every year so now vendors line the downtown mall area. 

This art fair rocks because there is such amazing diversity of art: pottery, jewelry, paintings, fiber art, photography, children’s art, wood furniture and clothing (I love the handmade dresses!).

Food trucks also make an appearance so you can indulge in fresh shaken lemonade (my weakness), funnel cakes, chicken on a stick and other awesome treats.  Bands perform in the band shell and trees provide shade as you shop.

8. Spend the Day at Gilmore Car Museum

Gilmore Car Museum-Located at 6865 W Hickory Rd, Hickory Corners, MI 49060.  

The immaculate museum grounds with it's iconic bright red barns is a photographers dream.  Gilmore houses one of Michigan's largest collections of classic and vintage automobiles. The museum offers a Model T Driving School Experience and numerous events throughout the year.

Gilmore Car Museum is also a fantastic backdrop for weddings.  We shot the wedding shown in the photo above.  

Beginning in May is Gilmore's free Wednesday night Cruise-In's.  Chris and his friends love to meet there to walk the grounds and discuss cars...at least that's what I am led to believe... ;)

So many fun things to do in Kalamazoo Michigan!

9.  Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum: Spend the Day in Simulators and Rides plus Learning All About Airplanes!

Kalamazoo Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum-6151 Portage Rd, Portage, MI 49002. WOW, what a place! 

My family and nephew (when he visits) loves spending an afternoon at the Kzoo Air Zoo.  We love the simulators, movie memorabilia, 3D movies and of course, the stunning array of aircraft.  You will love all the interactive exhibits.

There are also a variety of rides for adults and kids including an inside hot air balloon ride!  How cool is that!  If you are lucky, you can snag a docent to give you a guided tour with detailed information about the airplanes. 

Definitely worth the visit for the whole family while in Kalamazoo Michigan!  

10. Tour Kalamazoo College

Located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, K College was founded in 1833, placing it among the 100 oldest colleges and universities in the nation.

Click here for a Printable PDF of K College campus. There are 32 buildings on this map-use it to develop a walking tour around your interests.

Visitor Parking for Kalamazoo College

General visitor parking is available on Campus Drive and in the lot east of the Fitness and Wellness Center (blue areas on the campus map above).

Free street parking is available on a first-come first-served basis on Academy and neighborhood streets. 

Enjoy Lillian Anderson Arboretum Owned By Kalamazoo College

The Lillian Anderson Arboretum is comprised of 140 acres of marsh, meadow, pine plantation and second-growth deciduous forest.  It's a lovely way to spend a couple hours!  

Here is a trail map of Lillian Anderson Arboretum

11. See a K-Wings Hockey Game!

3600 Vanrick Dr, Kalamazoo, MI 49001. Mid-level professional ice hockey team

Watching a Kalamazoo Wings game is great fun.  Grab some snacks and drink and head to your seat as Slappy is about to start some antics to fire up the crowd!!  Check the K-Wings schedule for special events.

My co-workers and I enjoy the special green ice nights for St. Patrick's day and the pink ice nights for Valentine's day.  

Visit Nearby Marshall Michigan!

Visit nearby Marshall Michigan!  So many fun things to do including an incredible boardwalk, dam, outstanding ice cream, city-wide walking trails, great shopping, historic home tours and one-of-a-kind museums!

Pin This Kalamazoo MI Page!

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article info Not rated yet
Hello, I am a Kalamazoo resident. Just wanted to suggest a correction to your piece. I think you meant to say that Crossroads mall and the chain restaurants …

Does Kalamazoo have a downtown? Not rated yet
Is there a downtown area in Kalamazoo? Answer Hi Roger! Yes, Kalamazoo has a downtown area. Michigan Avenue, S. Kalamazoo Mall, Rose Street …

Where did the name Kalamazoo come from? Not rated yet
Do you know the meaning of "Kalamazoo?" I know it's a weird question but we were just talking about it at dinner and no one had any idea! Answer …

What is there to do in Kalamazoo for free? Not rated yet
Hi Sherry and Chris! We will be in the area for a graduation and wondered what else we could do for free. Would love any suggestions. Answer Hi …

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About the Lead Author | Sherry Trautman

Thanks for stopping by!

Our Words of Wisdom: “Never follow anyone else’s path. Unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, then by all means follow that path.”

"Sherry & Chris"

We're Sherry and Chris the founders of one of Michigan's most comprehensive and Top Travel Blogs!

    Sherry Trautman is a seasoned business owner and a multifaceted content creator, deeply entrenched in the world of travel in Michigan. With her extensive background in writing, editing, photography, marketing, website design, web mastering, social media, and publishing, she is the driving force behind the acclaimed Michigan Travel site "Travel-mi.com." A lifelong Michigander, Sherry's journey began in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan led her to St. Joseph during her formative years, and further to Kalamazoo for her higher education. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design and Fine Art from Western Michigan University. Her career initially blossomed in Battle Creek, where she contributed significantly to aviation, marketing, and the art industry.

    In 2018, Sherry, alongside her husband Chris, embarked on a passionate endeavor with the inception of Travel-MI.com. This venture was not just a business but a full-time commitment to exploring and celebrating the diverse landscapes and communities of Michigan. Together, they tirelessly traverse the state, curating unique experiences, capturing stunning visuals, and weaving engaging narratives that showcase Michigan's rich cultural tapestry and natural beauty. From her early experiences in different Michigander locales to her extensive professional background, Sherry's life and work epitomize a deep-rooted expertise in Michigan travel, making her an authoritative voice in this niche.

Sherry & Chris are at the Inn at Bay Harbor and looking out at the lake.
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