8 Things to do in the Zoo this Fall

(For little or no money)

We’ve all seen those Best of lists—The 10 funniest comedies of the nineties, the friendliest town in every state, quirkiest museums in Michigan, even best dysfunctional-family books to read with wine (Full discloser – I wrote that last one). It’s what the social media world calls Clickbait, and yes, we can’t help but click. Sometimes these online articles pull us into a rabbit hole of ads, but occasionally we actually discover new places to visit or cause us to shake our heads, saying things like, “How could they not mention Tahquamenon Falls as a best state park?!” The simple fact is that many of us feel a sense of camaraderie when a Best of article reflects our own opinion.

But seriously, why should Saugatuck get all the credit for being the best (fill in the blank) town on so many favorites lists? Best artsy town, yep. Best beach town, natch. Best small town, kinda vague but sure. But why should our beach towns have all the fun? One has only to travel a little inland to discover what we in the Zoo already know is the best kept secret on any Best list. That little city whose name would fit in naturally in any Doctor Seuss Book—Kalamazoo.

Of course, I could list off the obvious places everyone should visit at least once, like the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, where visitors are greeted at the front entrance by a magnificent Chihuly and can browse the KIA gift shop for beautiful affordable artwork and gifts. Or the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, which pays homage to the Checker taxicab company known as Checker Motors. Under the ownership of Morris Markin, Checker became the first cab company to hire black drivers and the first taxicab company that instructed drivers pick up people of all races. Some speculate this is why the cabs have the black and white checker stripes. And of course, Kalamazoo is also home to the Air Zoo where one can check out the world’s fastest air-breathing aircraft, the SR-71B Blackbird.   

But there’s so much more to do in the Zoo …

If you think you’ve done it all, here’s a list to prove you haven’t even scratched the surface. Or at least provide you with the argument that yet another list has failed to mention one of your favorite, “Things to do in the Zoo…”

  • Attend the monthly Art Hop – While we’d like to think we invented Art Hop, it’s likely we didn’t, but we sure have perfected a perfectly good reason for visiting the downtown area. Kalamazoo is rich in the world of arts, and wine, shopping and great local art just go hand-in-hand. Taking place on the first Friday of every month, Art Hop invites shoppers and art lovers to experience downtown in fun fashion. Do yourself a favor and visit the participating merchants that are located off of the main busy streets. It’ll be a win-win for the both of you.

Speaking of Downtown …

  • Did you know that you can now stroll the downtown area with a drink in your hand? What started out as a solution to the challenges of the Covid pandemic has evolved into a standard rule and one more reason why Downtown Kalamazoo is the place to go for dining, shopping and hanging with friends. Beverages must be purchased from one of the designated Downtown establishments and must remain within a defined area. Finally, you don’t have to go to Vegas to stroll the shopping district with a drink in your hand!

Since we’re on the topic of drinking …

  • It’s no secret that West Michigan boasts a great assortment of wineries that will placate the palate of the sophisticated wine enthusiast and the casual admirer alike. But once again, don’t be afraid to step off the well-traveled path and experience a winery tucked away on winery trail less traveled. Have you been to B 52 Winery in Paw Paw, featuring photos and stories of the female aviators of WWII? If not, we suggest, you start there.     

But you’ll need to work off those wine calories …

  • Fun fact – Pickleball acquired its name from Joan Pritchard, wife of co-founder Joel Pritchard, and is a reference to the group of non-starters in the “pickle boat” of crew races. There’s an internet story circulating around that claims the sport is named after the family dog, but the lucky dog was actually named after the quirky sport. Anyway, there’s still time to purchase your paddles and balls to join in on the party that is catching fire, and curiously exploding with mature adults. This is an interesting phenomenon since the sport is not exactly for those with a weak heart. But if you’re looking to burn off some serious calories while laughing at the shot you just made, this is your game. You should have no problem finding a court near you, but here’s a list to get you started … https://www.discoverkalamazoo.com/blog/post/10-ways-to-experience-pickleball-in-greater-kalamazoo/

And if pickleball ain’t your thing …

  • How about a walk or bike ride down the Kal-Haven Trail or any one of the many trails in the area. Repurposing what was once a railroad bed, this unique linear state park welcomes many walkers and bicyclists, leading them from Kalamazoo to South Haven. Visitors will pass through a delightful collection of small towns and villages dotting the trail. As you pass through Alamo, take note of that barn located on the northeast corner of 6th St. and Hart Dr. Back in the late 1800’s that barn functioned as the Alamo Valley Creamery and was the largest employer in Alamo.       

And if you really enjoy learning about history on your walks…

  • Put on your sneakers and take in one of the Kalamazoo Historic Walks sponsored by Discover Kalamazoo, Gazelle Sports and the Zhang Legacy Connections Center. These 90-minute walks take participants through areas of Kalamazoo rich in history. Learn more at  https://gazellesports.com/pages/kalamazoo-historic-walks.

Or maybe you just want to sit back and take in a little music…

  • There’s no shortage of music available in the Kalamazoo area. Whether it’s local and regional bands playing at familiar bars like Old Dog Tavern and Bells or bars that maybe you haven’t taken a look at, like Lucky Girl in Paw Paw or Liquid Note in Otsego. Many of these spots offer outdoor dining while taking in the music.

And because it’s that time of year …

  • Take in a football game—any game. Kalamazoo is the home of Western Michigan University Bronco Football, and you don’t have to be a former student to appreciate and enjoy great football. But there are so many other teams to root for from the stands. When was the last time you attended a football game at your old stomping grounds at the high school you graduated from … never?! Come on, grab your husband, kids and old friends and make it an evening of hotdogs and touchdowns.       

Did I leave anything out? Of course, I did. This list can be so much larger but let’s call it a good start.

Heidi McCrary is a contributing writer. Her novel, Chasing North Star is available at Kazoo Books, This is a Bookstore, and online wherever books are sold. Follow Heidi at heidimccrary.net and facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor

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