When I lived in Chicago, there were so many great cities within a short drive. Even so, it took me almost six years of living there before I finally made it over to Michigan—which is only a couple hours’ drive from the city. I made the drive in mid-February with one of my girlfriends, not entirely sure what to expect. I knew very little about Western Michigan (our destination), but I was eager to explore.
We hopped in the car one early morning, and made the three-hour drive to Holland, Michigan, just on the other side of Lake Michigan. You immediately feel the quaintness of this small city, with its historic downtown and strong Dutch influence, a complete contrast from Chicago. In desperate need of caffeine, we located Lemonjello’s Coffee, a dynamic café brimming with character. I absolutely love neighborhood coffee shops. Their personality just shines through, and you can’t help but feel sad that there aren’t more places like this in the world.
Once we had a sufficient dose of caffeine, we wandered over to the Holland Visitors Bureau to get more information on the city. Loaded down with brochures and flyers, we decided it was best to have some lunch as we looked over it all. We ate at Hops at 84 East, and decided what to do with our limited time in Holland . February isn’t the best time to visit, only because many of the major attractions are closed until spring. However, there are many things to experience in the winter:
- Shopping on 8th street. The sidewalks and streets are heated for snow-free walking, and there are a number of locally owned businesses where you can find one-of-a-kind Holland artifacts and food.
- Visit the city’s two distilleries: New Holland (also great beers!) and Coppercraft.
- A wide variety of winter festivals and events, including Holiday Open House, Santa’s Shoppe, Parade of Lights and Shopping Jam. If you happen to go during the holidays, try to catch Sinterklaas Eve, the Dutch folk celebration centered around Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas.
- Painting and candle making at places like Candle-ology and Carolyn Stich Studio.
We had a few things to tackle in Holland. Bellies full, we checked into our hotel, Haworth Inn, a fairly modern hotel right on the campus of Hope College. The college has been part of the community for more than 150 years, starting from just 10 students in 1862. We took some time to wander around the campus, admiring the historic architecture and charming churches.
We walked over to 8th street to check out some of the shops, being sure to stop at the famous Peanut Store, opened in 1902. We picked up some candies and roasted nuts. We really wanted to try Fabiano’s famous ice cream nutty paddle pops, but it was pretty cold out, so we passed—next time. The main street of Holland has a variety of shops. There were some chains we knew, but for the most part it was a lot of boutique clothing shops, antique stores and home décor retailers. We perused a few, including The Blackbird, which had dozens of delicious smelling candles and funky light fixtures; and Threads on 8th, which carries all kinds of women’s clothing.
We managed to control our shopping spree, and only hit a few of the many shops on 8th. Our next stop was Warner Vineyards tasting room. Warner Vineyards was founded in 1928 and is said to be Michigan’s second oldest winery. At the tasting room, you can pay $5 for five tastings, but we got two extras, cause we’re so pretty (according to the man behind the counter). They have a range of wines, from fruity and sweet rosés to bold and flavorful reds to crisp and refreshing whites. We liked pretty much everything we tried, and I ended up buying a bottle of their Veritas red.
After our tasting, we headed over to the New Holland Brew Pub to sample some local hops. We ordered a delicious cheese board along with three different beers, each. Sipping and sharing each of the beers, we soon landed on our favorite one, Black Tulip, Belgian Tripel Ale. Since we enjoyed it so much, we decided to get a growler to bring back with us to Chicago.
The next morning, we drove over to Windmill Island. Even though it was closed for the season, we were able to meet with one of the women who operate the windmill. The windmill is incredible, even covered in snow. The woman we met with showed us a promotional video for the attraction, and it would be absolutely gorgeous to see in the summer, especially with the rainbow of tulips growing in the open field next to it. I’m also curious to see it work. Apparently, when it runs, it creates flour that is distributed to the whole city.
Since we visited during winter, we didn’t get to experience the full breadth of Holland’s attractions. I unfortunately have not made it back for the summer season, but we received some wonderful recommendations from people in the city for the best things to do when it gets a little warmer out:
- Tulip Time, the kickoff to the summer season and one of the most popular events in the city.
- Dutch Village, a theme park modeled after the towns of The Netherlands. Pick up a pair of personalized wooden shoes, traditional Dutch delftware and a bag of just-can’t-stop-eating-them kruidnootjes (tiny gingerbread cookies covered in chocolate).
- Windmill Island Gardens, home of the DeZwaan Windmill, the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the U.S.
- Boat cruises on Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa.
- Dune riding in nearby Saugatauk.
- Thursday night street performer series all summer long.
- The low-rider show, a vintage cruise along 8th street and the all-European “Euro Hangar” show at Park Township Airport.
- Holland State Park and Big Red, the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan
It was a short-lived trip to Holland, but certainly a memorable visit. Even if Western Michigan has never been on your destination list, I would highly consider making a stop in Holland and the surrounding region.