downtown Holland MichiganOne of the biggest draws in living on the west side of Michigan is, of course, the ‘Big Lake’ – Lake Michigan. It defines many of the communities over here and brings in a lot of tourist dollars to the area. Although I’ve spent a lot of time in other lakeshore communities, one of the towns that I hadn’t visited much until recently is Holland.

With its Dutch heritage, it’s easy to see why events like their annual Tulip Time Festival are hugely popular. And of course Holland has beaches, like any other coastline town. But what makes this area very unique among local tourist destinations, is the downtown. I recently spent 3 days in Holland for a local blogging conference and had a lot of fun exploring. I’d been to the outer commercial area and the state park there many times, but had never really experienced the downtown area before. Now that I know what I was missing, I can’t wait to take my family back there this summer!

As you drive into Holland, you pass the obligatory commercial strip, along US-31 on the outskirts of town. That’s where you’ll find the big box retailers, fast-food joints and budget hotels. And this is the area where many families will choose to stay, due to the lower prices and convenience of everything you could possibly need to shop for. But in between the commercial strip and the beach, don’t forget to take a quick turnoff and visit the downtown area, on the south side of Lake Macatawa.

downtown Holland Michigan
It’s not just the attractive brick architecture of adjoining Hope College – there’s something different about what at first glance appears to be a rather stereotypical Michigan small-town downtown area. Maybe it’s the outdoor brick fireplace that’s kept burning every day where locals and tourists can gather to rest and relax for a few minutes. Or the many statues you can find along the tulip-adorned streets or in local parks. Or the snowmelt system that keeps downtown street and sidewalks clear of snow and ice in the wintertime. Or the block after block of shops along 8th Street where you can find something for just about everyone, of all ages – from Lizzie Ann’s Wool Shop, to Sandcastle for Kids toy store, the Tip Toes baby boutique, Skate Casa, the Holland Clock Company or Velo City Cycles and a lot more. The downtown has a good wayfinder signage program that provides several outdoor guides and maps to the area so you can find where you want to go easily. There is on-street, angled parking available along 8th Street, and just about everything in the downtown is within easy walking distance.

Downtown Holland is seen nationally as one of the most successful Downtown revitalization programs in the country and received a Great American Main Street Award in 1997. In February of 2010 Holland, Michigan hit the national headlines when it was named the Second Happiest City in the U.S.

On my first night in town, a group of us ate at the CityVu Bistro, on the fifth floor of the CityFlats Hotel in downtown Holland. This is an environmentally-friendly hotel – in fact, they’re the first hotel in the Midwest to achieve Leed Gold certification. The bistro offers a full bar and 100+ wine list for adults, as well as a full kids menu that includes not only their five-cheese ‘Mac & Cheese’, but chicken stir fry and roasted salmon. Regular dinner menu items are inspired by world cuisine – I had the blackened salmon and it was amazing. The fifth-story view of downtown Holland is beautiful and there is rooftop seating available as well. There are a lot of other dining options in town too, including 84 East Food & Spirits, the 8th Street Grille, Curragh Irish Pub, and The Windmill Restaurant.

CityVu Bistro
Walking around downtown Holland was a lot of fun both with a group or on my own. Some (not all) of the stores stay open into the evening, and there are options for coffee or ice cream lovers too. We ducked into the local Kilwin’s – where any Michigander can tell you that you’ll find incredible sweets like fudge and ice cream. I can personally vouch for that – as well as for their chocolate shakes, which I discovered are also divine. I also enjoyed walking through Tip Toes (where I mourned the fact that I no longer have any babies or toddlers in the house), Home & Company, and Lizzie Ann’s Wool Shop (the local yarn shop – knitting is one of my favorite hobbies).

At this time of year (after Tulip Time but before Memorial Day and the summer crowds), it wasn’t very busy at all, but there were still people out and about all day and evening, which was nice. I know that my aunts used to enjoy shopping in downtown Holland on their annual summer visits to the area, and now I certainly understand why. I look forward to bringing my own girls here and exploring Holland more with them soon!

tulips in Holland Michigan
For more information about Holland, MI, you can check out http://holland.org/, visit them on Facebook or follow on Twitter. You can also find fun Holland adventures on Goby.com as well! And check back next week as I explore some of Holland’s beaches and other attractions. 

Deb writes as West Michigan TravelingMom as well as at Mom of 3 Girls and Just a mom’s take on things…. You can also find her on Twitter – she’s @DebMomOf3. See more photos from her recent trip to Holland over at Flickr!