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Flying Zoos and World-Class Brews in Kalamazoo

There’s plenty to do in Kalamazoo.

Conveniently located halfway between Chicago and Detroit, this Michigan city makes an excellent destination for groups. Its urban feel and abundance of museums and unique local attractions make it a hub for culture and adventure. Its proximity to beautiful outdoor scenery means it’s also sure to satisfy nature enthusiasts. 

Among the many things to choose from, groups can experience the best Kalamazoo has to offer at these local attractions. 

Air Zoo

Doubling as a museum and indoor amusement park, the Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Museum was founded 40 years ago with the mission of bringing aviation history and adventure to its guests. It features interactive exhibits about the history of flight, rare historic planes and aviation artifacts, and thrilling indoor rides for visitors of all ages. 

“There’s a ton of things to see and do,” said Dana Wagner, director of marketing and communications at Discover Kalamazoo. “Everyone would be able to find something of interest.”

 Groups can enjoy a guided tour through the museum to view its extensive collection of historic planes, which have been painstakingly restored by the museum’s nationally recognized restoration team. Aviation enthusiasts will be impressed by rare aircrafts such as the SR-71B Blackbird, the world’s fastest spy plane. Museum guests can take a ride on the indoor Ferris wheel or test out the flight simulator. After a day of fun and learning, groups can also grab a bite to eat at the Kitty Hawk Café.

airzoo.org

Gilmore Car Museum

Michigan is well known for its contributions to automobile history, and Kalamazoo has the distinction of being home to North America’s largest automobile museum: the Gilmore Car Museum. What started as a personal vintage car collection in the 1960s has now grown to a 90-acre campus with over 400 cars from different eras of American history on display. Groups can take a step back in time with a visit to the museum’s functioning 1940s diner, 1930s Shell Station and vintage car dealerships. 

Tours of the Gilmore Car Museum are self-guided, so groups can spend the whole day perusing the museum’s expansive campus and its six onsite partner museums, including the 1950s Cadillac and LaSalle Club Museum. History and auto enthusiasts alike will enjoy the museum’s collections of unique and vintage cars, such as the 1930s Rolls Royce gifted by Walt Disney or its oldest car on display, the 1899 Locomobile steam car. Groups can visit the vintage diner or the café for a bite to eat, and a stop at the museum shop is an excellent way to round out the trip. 

gilmorecarmuseum.org

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

First opened in 1924, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts is a fine art museum located in the heart of downtown. It’s home to more than 5,000 pieces of art across multiple media, from watercolor paintings to ceramics to sculptures. The museum’s collection includes art from many different time periods and cultures around the world. It also features rotating and traveling exhibits, ensuring guests have something new to see each time they visit. 

 “It’s a nice mixture to see art from nationally known artists but also discover new things from local artists in Kalamazoo,” Wagner said. 

A selection of guided tours is available for groups to see the museum’s collections and rotating exhibits, but self-guided tours are also available. For a hands-on experience, groups can arrange to take a class at the museum’s Kirk Newman Art School, which allows them to learn about and create artwork of their own. Museum guests can also stop by the gallery shop for jewelry, pottery and many other artworks crafted by local and international artists. 

kiarts.org

Kalamazoo Nature Center  

Groups looking to enjoy the beautiful Michigan landscape should head to the Kalamazoo Nature Center, which has been recognized as one of the top nature centers in the country. In addition to 14 miles of hiking trails, it features interactive programing designed to educate about the environment and the wildlife of the Kalamazoo area. The center consists of 1,100 acres of rolling hillsides and wooded areas that provide a habitat for many types of flora and fauna and plenty of land for groups to explore. 

“If a group is looking to get outside, enjoy nature and get some physical activity, this is a great place to do that,” Wagner said. 

Groups can take a self-guided hike and also check out the education center, where hands-on presentations and demonstrations take place. Visitors can learn about and meet some local wildlife, such as the many varieties of owls that reside at the center. They can also become familiar with the local ecosystem and nature conservation efforts through the education center’s many informative exhibits, which change on a regular basis. 

naturecenter.org

Bell’s Eccentric Café

 Kalamazoo is famous for its craft beer scene and being home to, perhaps, the best-known brewery in the area, Bell’s Brewery. What started as a homebrewing operation in 1985 has since become the oldest craft brewery in Michigan and home to one of America’s top-rated beers, Two Hearted Ale. Bell’s Eccentric Café, located in downtown, provides a great place for groups to sample some of the brewery’s popular beers while enjoying excellent food in a relaxed atmosphere. Guests can even try some Bell’s creations not sold in stores. The café is a live entertainment venue and also features local artwork, making it a hotspot for Kalamazoo culture. 

“We like to think that Bell’s is the premiere craft beer destination in Michigan,” Wagner said. “They have a really fun, unique atmosphere there.”

Groups can relax outdoors in the spacious beer garden or on the patio. Or, they can venture inside the café and enjoy a meal, a craft beverage and a performance by a local artist. This might be enough to convince them to stop by the adjacent Bell’s General Store for home brewing supplies or Bell’s souvenirs.

bellsbeer.com/eccentric-cafe

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