Yes, Kalamazoo is a real place! I personally never questioned its realness, however, I did see a ton of souvenirs with that slogan so I guess that may be a question on some of your minds. Kalamazoo is located in southwest Michigan, not too far from Grand Rapids and Saugatuck, two destinations I reported on a few years ago.
Kalamazoo is one of those cities that you may not know a lot about, which is actually really exciting for me. I love to travel to those type of destinations, so I have absolutely zero expectations going into the trip. I really didn’t know what to expect. This may make some people nervous, but I love going on new adventures.
My guest Devin and I drove to the city from Indianapolis. We were running a bit early, so we decided to swing by the Lillian Anderson Arboretum for a quick hike and to see the beautiful fall foliage. The 140-acre property is a private facility, owned by Kalamazoo College and can easily be passed if you aren’t paying attention, but once you enter the property, guests are drawn in by its natural beauty. We were lucky enough to have visited at the perfect time of year to get those Instagram-friendly photos of the beautiful fall colors.
The goal of this trip was a fall getaway, so Devin and I wanted to indulge in all the seasonal activities humanly possible in two days. We stopped by Kalamazoo Candle Company located in the heart of downtown. Here you can either purchase the perfect fall-themed candle, or if you are brave enough, you can make your own. The homemade candles, which are very affordable, take about an hour to make. While you wait for your candle to settle, you can visit the dozens of quaint boutiques along Kalamazoo Mall – it’s a street, not an indoor mall. My candle was exactly what I was hoping it would be. I’m not sure what I put in it and will certainly not be able to recreate the scent, but I love it.
Conveniently located a block from the mall is Radisson Plaza Hotel, a modern property complete with tons of amenities including multiple dining options as well as a Starbucks. The magnificent Upjohn Suite (above), is larger than my loft in Indy, consisting of a full living room, dining room, kitchen, master bedroom, and two bathrooms. The Radisson property offers a huge pool, fitness center, and sauna and really is in the heart of downtown (it is pictured in the right of the opening image). Almost every activity we had planned was a quick 5-10 minute walk from the hotel.
Kalamazoo loves its beer and Bell’s Brewery is one of the local favorites. Although not gay-owned, the brewery is a huge supporter of the LGBTQ+ community as well as the local pride events. If you visit, make sure you check out the gift shop and ask for one of their rainbow beer sweat shirts.
You can either grab a quick bite at Bell’s or head back over to the Mall where you will find an Italian restaurant called Rustica. Devin began his meal with an incredible Wedge Salad while I opted for the Braised Heirloom Beet salad with currant, hazelnut, ricotta, and port glacé. My salad was so large I decided not to finish it as I wanted to save room for the main entrée, Bouillabaisse, a seafood stew made with shrimp, scallops, mussels, salmon, and potatoes in a delicious saffron broth. This is one of the items I always look for on a menu when I travel and is wonderful on a cool fall evening. It’s the perfect sharable entrée and this time was no different. We had to order extra bread to soak up the broth.
We didn’t mind consuming that many carbs at dinner because we were booked on the Haunted History of Kalamazoo walking tour organized by Paranormal Michigan. The nearly two-hour tour snakes you around downtown to some of the city’s most haunted locations and buildings. You don’t get to go inside the buildings unfortunately, but the knowledgeable tour guide recants stories of paranormal activity that has taken place throughout history, in some cases dating back to the 1800s.
After a wonderful night’s rest back at the Radisson Plaza Hotel, head to Air Zoo, one of the most unique attractions in the Mid-West. The Air Zoo is a Smithsonian-affiliated museum containing over 100 air and space artifacts. The experience begins with some of the earliest forms of flight including a Curtis Pusher from 1911. Guests journey on a chronological history of aviation, up until the modern age and space era. Some personal favorites included the Lockheed SR-71B Blackbird, McDonnell F-4E Phantom 2 and the Grumman Cougar. This is the perfect place for LGBTQ+ families as well. The staff and volunteers at Air Zoo have undergone extensive diversity training and are welcoming to all!
After Air Zoo, head to Henderson Castle, a magnificent mansion completed in 1895 by Frank Henderson, a successful Kalamazoo businessman. The Queen Anne style house was designed by C. A. Gombert of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and constructed for $72,000, a lofty sum for the time. The castle is known as the Jewel of Kalamazoo and was voted one of the top historic inns in America. Guests can stay at the inn or visit for one of their popular murder mystery dinners. Henderson Castle also offers Sunday Brunch, Afternoon Tea, and is available for private events.
Before heading out on the town, grab dinner at Theo & Stacy’s, a family-owned Greek restaurant originally established in my hometown of Flushing, New York, before relocating to Kalamazoo in the 1970s. The menu contains traditional Greek favorites including Mousaka, Grape Leaves and Gyro’s but if you want to sample a bit of everything, try the Greek Combo Plate.
No trip would be complete without visiting the local LGBTQ+ establishment. Club Vortex is technically located in Blue Dolphin restaurant, but on Saturday evenings, the restaurant converts into the hottest spot in KZOO. Devin and I arrived a bit early to get the lay of the land and meet some of the locals. The owner of the club introduced himself to us and asked us if we wanted to be the spotlight dancers of the night. The evening’s theme was wigs & heels and even though we had neither, the locals still made us feel welcome. It was an unexpected memory that made this trip so much fun.
Joey Amato is a travel writer and publisher of Pride Journeys.