A Local’s Love – Nifty Knowledge for Vacationing with Young Children in Kalamazoo
You may have never heard of Kalamazoo, or maybe just confused it for a small instrument of a similar name, but once you read this you’ll be wishing you had booked your family tickets to the lovely destination long ago. Kalamazoo is a charming city located right between Detroit and Chicago, about 150 miles away from each. Once known for its thriving industry, nowadays Kalamazoo is known less for industry and more for its stellar offerings to developing young companies and families – it offers fresh air, open spaces, peace and quiet, wonderful food, and friendly bars for that offer something to every family member. With a variety of outdoor activities, museums, and play places, there aren’t many other American cities that offer the same calm, relaxing pace and breadth of activities Kalamazoo does.
Kalamazoo’s Gorgeous Skyline and the Surrounding Wild
Access by Air
The local Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International airport is conveniently small. Unlike bigger airports in the region like Chicago’s O’Hare, Kalamazoo airport is significantly calmer, which means less time waiting in lines and more time sleeping in or grabbing a good meal before a flight. A safe bet is to arrive an hour and 15 minutes of time before your departure time just in case there are any hiccups during baggage and security checks.
The Main Lobby at Battle Creek Airport
Another great option that can cut costs and time on airplanes is the Amtrak train service that can get a family from Chicago to Kalamazoo, or the reverse, in just about 2 and a half hours. One-way tickets are cheap and hover around $200 for a family of four. If your kids love trains and machines as much as ours, visit the Kalamazoo Valley Museum when you arrive to learn about the next frontier, space travel, and the planets at the planetarium and Challenger exhibit.
Luckily, because of Kalamazoo’s manageable size, traffic isn’t much of an issue, but it does to get congested, especially at 5:00 on Fridays. If you decide to rent a car, avoid the busiest streets like Oakland and Westnedge if possible. Downtown Kalamazoo has free 90-minute parking on the street and 2 different parking ramps to take the stress out of finding a spot. When it comes to getting around walking is also a great option as all the restaurants and breweries are in walking distance from downtown. If you decide to get around by car remember, Kalamazoo’s Uber scene has a great reputation and drivers are usually available at a moment’s notice.
Kalamazoo is a Great Walking City!
Considering the many outdoor excursions Kalamazoo offers, it seems as if the city was made for adventurous, nature-loving families. In the summer check out the Kalamazoo Nature Center where kids get in free and adults only pay $7. The center rests on a huge reserve that offers 13 hiking trails covering over 10 miles of varied terrain. It also features educational programs like bird-tagging and butterfly observation. Visiting families can interact with farm animals and learn about the seasonal changes a farm experiences at the associated Delano Farms. Another warm month option is the Al Sabo Land Preserve, a free park with 25 miles of trails varying from flat terrain to rolling marshland. This is the perfect place to trek around while your child enjoys the views from your back in a baby backpack. If you’re lucky you might even come across the secluded boardwalk that extends over one of the park’s many marshes.
Just One Mesmerizing View at Al Sabo Nature Preserve
If you visit in colder months the outdoor attractions are just as welcoming as their warm season counterparts. For skiing families Timber Ridge and Bittersweet resorts are both great options. For families that just want to play in the snow, Echo Valley Winter Sports Park offers ice skating, tubing, and tobogganing for around $25 a person and has great food and fireplaces to warm up at while watching daddy scream like a kid as he flies down the mountain. Of course, if your family is itching to ride down other hills in Kalamazoo you can rent sleds for $6 a day.
The Massive Ice Rink at Echo Valley Winter Sports Park
Kalamazoo is chock full of great eateries and breweries, but don’t think they’re only for adults. Plenty of food options in Kalamazoo are great for the whole family. A personal favorite is Food Dance, a restaurant that supports local farms, has quite an affordable kid’s menu, and enough stretching room for restless kids. For breakfast try out the ultra tasty, supremely affordable Crow’s Nest restaurants where virtually every meal is under $11!
Goodies Await at Food Dance
When it comes to breweries, there is a stellar map great for planning a pub crawl for mom and dad – it can be found here at discoverkalamazoo.com. Make sure to visit two great family-friendly spots: Old Dog Tavern which has $6 pizzas on Monday and $6 pulled pork sandwiches on Tuesday, and Bell’s Brewery which offers a highly educational brewery tour.
The Homey Backyard at Old Dog Tavern
Kalamazoo’s Markin Glen Park is the perfect option for a family looking for some activity and some relaxation. The park is an awesome all-day option because it offers so much: fishing, hiking, sunbathing, camping, tennis, volleyball, and picnics. Don’t even bother bringing beach toys – you can rent a beach toy package for $4 a day. There’s a beech maple forest in the park, and a huge lake for swimming, sunbathing, wading, and fishing. If you do plan on bringing a picnic, stock up on fresh fruits, veggies, and meats at the Bank Street Farmer’s Market, which opens at 7am on Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday.
Marking Glen Has Beaches, Playplaces, and Hiking
Lake Michigan is only 45 minutes away from Kalamazoo and has sandy beaches to caress your and your kid’s feet, but don’t forget – there are more than 83 lakes with public access all around Kalamazoo all with different flavors and activities to try out!
Southern Michigan is liable to experience some extreme weather, both hot and cold. Here are some ideas for when the climate poses a challenge to outdoor plans, or the kids are in the mood for an educational experience: Binder Park Zoo is in nearby Battle Creek and holds 433 acres of space for all kinds of animals – polar bears, giraffes, prairie dogs, a red panda, and others. Children under 2 get in for free and if the family is around for meal times, kids can feed the giraffes for a dollar. The zoo also has a carousel, a mini train, and a high-flying tram.
Can’t Miss Feeding the Cute Giraffes at Binder Park Zoo
Air Zoo is an aviation and science museum with cheap admission and free entrance for children 0-4 years of age. It is a truly educational experience where visitors can learn about american aviation history, take flights across the Michigan countryside in a biplane, and try out flight simulators. Other exhibits include an examination of the Wright Brother’s first plane models and TIGERS: Tracking a Legend exhibit where visitors watch the journey a mother Bengal tiger and her cubs take through their territory.
There Are Planes Galore at the Air Zoo!
The extensive Gilmore Car Museum provides free entry to children 6 and under. A great place to learn about 20th century American history, the Gilmore museum has our county’s most memorable cars, from Model Ts, to 1930’s whiskey runners, and the most powerful hot rods from the 1960s and 1970s. Other activities include the Automotive Research Library and Archives, a model 1930s Shell gas station, a classic automotive artwork exhibit, an automotive mascots exhibit, and George & Sally’s 1941 Blue Moon Diner.
If you’re just looking for pure, unadulterated fun you can’t miss Bounceland in Kalamazoo proper, a facility that holds over 12,000 square feet of bouncing, jumping, and climbing equipment. Children under two years of age get in for $4 and everyone else only pays $8. This climate-controlled facility is the perfect place to get some exercise and go crazy while doing so.
Bounceland is Chock-Full of Bouncy Structures!
Whether you’re coming for a quick getaway or a lengthy vacation from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Kalamazoo has a new activity for every day you spend here. It’s down-to-earth citizens and affordable, beautiful, and stressless living will make a fan of every member of your family. And while you’re taking a metaphorical load off, take the physical load off too and leave your baby equipment at home. Contact one of the local baby gear rental companies a week before your arrival so that they can meet you at the airport with all of your baby needs covered – strollers, car seats, bassinets, and even smaller essentials like stools, baby toys, books, and much more. ___________________________________________________________________________
Jessie Maier is a Babierge Independent Trusted Partner, renting baby gear to traveling families out of Kalamazoo. Jessie has the down-low on how to enjoy every moment in southern Michigan. Find her at: http://www.babierge.com/kalamazoo or follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/babiergek_zoo.