Yes, there really is a city named Kalamazoo. In reference to the area’s bubbling natural springs, the name is derived from an Indian word meaning “place where the water boils.” Its notoriety came later, when it inspired the Big Band–era song, “I Gotta Gal in Kalamazoo,” as well as Carl Sandburg’s poem.
From Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo is a straight shot south on U.S. 131. Produce from the nearby vegetable-growing region, pharmaceutical industries, and several papermaking plants form the foundation of the city’s diverse economy. Academia provides steady employment, too: Kalamazoo is home to Western Michigan University and a number of respected private schools, including the academically renowned Kalamazoo College, site of a popular annual Bach festival and internationally known for its K-Plan, which includes international study and required internships.
Kalamazoo’s population of 72,600 comprises a sizable gay community, a substantial African-American community, a burgeoning alternative music scene, a number of big-city refugees, and an almost even split between liberals and conservatives. Kalamazoo’s balanced economy and population represent such a slice of the American pie that The Wall Street Journal featured the city as a focus group during the 1992 presidential election.
While the poet Carl Sandburg didn’t think much of Kalamazoo, its downtown streets reveal many of the vanishing pleasures of small-town life: quaint paths perfect for walking, a gracious downtown park, vintage architecture, interesting shops (including a number of antique outlets), and several top-of-the-line bed-and-breakfasts. There’s a great sense of civic pride and an active population that truly gets involved in city affairs. While not really a final destination, Kalamazoo makes a great stop en route to Harbor Country to the south or Lake Michigan’s well-known resort communities in the north.
Getting to Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo is accessible via plane, train, bus, and, naturally, car. The Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport (AZO) (5235 Portage Rd., 269/388-3668, www.azoairport.com) is just south of town. Both Amtrak (800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com) and Greyhound (800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com) serve the same station (459 N. Burdick St.).
If you have a car, you can reach Kalamazoo via I-94, U.S. 131, and several state highways. Once here, you can either stick with your car or use Kalamazoo Metro Transit (269/337-8222).
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel