Take a stroll through Kalamazoo, and you’ll discover the local brews, farm-to-table restaurants and world-class cultural events of a big city, set in a charming historic town alongside a winding river.
Renée Newman, Discover Kalamazoo’s vice president of marketing and communications, comes by her job honestly: She’s lived in the city for nearly 20 years. “The Kalamazoo my husband and I fell in love with is vibrant, progressive and philanthropic,” she says. “It’s a perfect mix of urban appeal and natural resources, with amazing residents.”
Stay, Eat and Drink
Kalamazoo’s stylish Radisson Plaza hotel is ideally situated for guests to explore many of the city’s attractions on foot. It offers 340 guest rooms, 22 conference rooms, a grand ballroom and a 62-seat amphitheater. The Radisson’s award-winning sales team is happy to make arrangements for groups, and planners can choose among several on-site restaurants.
For a unique overnight experience, consider The Henderson Castle Inn, a short drive from downtown. The castle, built in 1895, has 14 guest rooms (10 in the castle and four in the sister property across the street), all furnished with antiques in keeping with its Queen Anne style. There is also a guest cottage, an organic garden, vineyard, day spa and rooftop hot tub. The mansion’s restaurant is run by master chef Francois Moret and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to visitors and guests alike.
The castle can be rented for groups; its guest rooms can host up to 34 guests, and the grounds can host up to 175 for a tented reception. Henderson offers disc jockey services and horse carriage rides through the historic West Main Hill neighborhood.
Food Dance, located a few blocks from the Radisson, is another vibrant dining option, and is also open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lush depictions of vegetables in their full summer glory adorn the walls, while exposed brick and wooden floors make the space feel warm and modern.
Julie Stanley, Food Dance’s owner and executive chef, is proud of her restaurant’s commitment to craft food processes. “We make so many of our products in-house,” she says. “From the butchering, house-cured meats and sausages to the house-made breads, pastries, fruit preserves and pickled vegetables.”
The restaurant also offers classes, catering and private parties with themes like French wine tasting or custom menus starring the latest seasonal vegetables. “We love helping people come together and connect through the experience of food,” Stanley says.
Another local favorite is the original Bell’s Brewery, established in 1983. Sign up for a tour on a Saturday or Sunday and watch as beers like Oberon and Amber are made. Enjoy a craft beer and a pulled pork sandwich or a charcuterie plate on the patio of the Eccentric Café, then stick around to catch some live bluegrass or rock music in The Back Room, the brewery’s music venue that accommodates 370 guests standing.
Kalamazoo offers several worthwhile and distinctive museums, many of which offer private event space as well as an engaging side-trip experience.
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts is home to a collection of more than 4,700 artworks, including pieces by Rembrandt, Renoir and Picasso that are part of permanent exhibits. One piece has become particularly iconic, according to Marketing Manager Katie Houston. “We are known for our glass sculpture [Kalamazoo Ruby Light] by Dale Chihuly that hangs in our foyer and glows 24/7,” she says. The 7-foot chandelier welcomes 75,000 guests a year and is composed of 464 individual pieces of hand-blown glass that come together in swirls of red and gold. “When you walk through the doors, you can’t help but look up,” Houston says. “During school tours, kids will sit on the benches and their jaws will drop and they are enthralled. It’s a wonderful way to start your exploration of our small city museum.”
KIA has meeting and event space for a wide range of group sizes. The auditorium can accommodate 392 standing, 260 theater-style or 250 at tables, while the lobby (atrium and school commons) can handle 360 standing, 280 theater-style or 210 at tables. Up to four meeting rooms and classrooms are available, which have seating for eight to 30 guests. There is also an outdoor courtyard for socializing, weather-permitting. Free parking is included with event rental, planners can choose from any local caterers and museum admission is available with a rental upon request.
Newman also suggests the Air Zoo, a museum devoted to aviation that boasts more than 100 historic aircraft, including a reproduction of the first plane flown by the Wright Brothers. Kids will love the interactive exhibits and rides, like the Century of Flight Ferris Wheel and Paratrooper Jump.
The Air Zoo’s Preston S. Parish boardroom is available for groups of 18, but the entire Exhibit Hall can be reserved to accommodate a cocktail reception for 1,500 guests or a seated dinner for 600.
The Gilmore Car Museum is set on 90 acres of green space in Hickory Corners. Its dazzling collection of antique and vintage automobiles can take an afternoon to explore.
The collection is housed in recreated factory buildings, eight restored 19th-century barns, a recreated 1930s Shell gas station and a train depot from the 1890s. Peckish during your visit? Step back into the 1940s in the lovingly restored Blue Moon Diner for a slice of homemade pie.
Special options for meetings and groups include a chance to learn to drive a Model T Ford for a tour around the campus. The Automotive Heritage Center Boardroom is perfect for an intimate meeting, while the Multimedia Theater is well suited for those with detailed audio-visual presentations.
Take in the great outdoors at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, where extensive hiking trails weave through a variety of native habitats, including forest, prairie, wetlands and more. Or wander the Monica A. Evans Arboretum, which includes a butterfly garden, a picnic area and play space for little ones. Naturalistled hikes, talks and programs are offered year-round, and the center offers several event spaces for meetings, team-building events and family reunions.
Consider the Cooper’s Glen Auditorium, a multipurpose indoor space that can welcome 85 for a seated meal or provide an audiencestyle set-up for 150. The Vista Deck offers picturesque views and an outdoor setting for up to 150 guests.
A Festive Mood
Now in its 42nd year, the Stulberg International String Competition affords classical music lovers a glimpse of rising string musicians. Twelve semifinalists are chosen and a winner is selected after a day of competition before a live audience.
The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival is a biennial festival celebrating classical and jazz piano music. The 2016 festival drew artists from more than 18 countries and included performances by Pink Martini, Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers, Kirill Gerstein and Tony Bennett. “This festival is for someone who really enjoys piano music,” says Mary McCormick, the festival’s marketing director. “It’s one of the unique, unmatched jewels of Kalamazoo.