Live Like A Local is a series I wanted to create in an effort to expand the travel section of my blog beyond where I live and have personally been. I wanted to create a resource for anyone reading who might be 1. traveling to other areas, 2. live in other areas or 3. moving somewhere new! I’ve been to some cool places, but I haven’t lived everywhere and what is better than some insider knowledge, eh?!
What is it about Holland that makes it different from other cities?
Holland is a small town of about 35,000 people that, while growing in diversity, is still very attached to its Dutch settlers’ roots, which is evident in last names commonly beginning with “Van” and the many very tall people, but also in the fairly conservative, hard-working, church-going attitudes and city pride of the people who live here. This means we also have a lot of Dutch stuff: Windmill Island
with lovely gardens and a working, 250-year-old windmill, tulip farms plus thousands of bulbs in bloom around the city during tulip time, and even a wooden shoe factory. We are also located on Lake Michigan, which makes us an amazing summer destination – and gives us a lot of winter lake effect snow…
What is the best time of year to visit?
We enjoy 4 seasons’ worth of weather (though some last longer than others…ahem, winter), so it depends what you like! If you enjoy autumnal activities like apple picking, colorful foliage tours, and craft brewery hopping, then come in the fall. If you like cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, or sitting by a cozy fireplace, come in the winter. If you like tulips, most definitely come in May when we have a huge Tulip Time festival and thousands of tulips in bloom around the city. But what I live for around here is the summer. If you like beautiful sandy beach days, bike riding, al fresco waterfront dining, outdoor concerts, farmers market strolling, gorgeous sunset watching, trail running, cute downtown shopping, ice cream eating, paddleboarding, boating, or all of the above, then summer is your time to come!
Are there any cool festivals or annual events that are not to be missed here?
is the big event around here – every year in early May we get our total Dutch on for a week with tulips blooming everywhere, daily performances of Dutch dancing done by high schoolers in traditional Dutch costumes and wooden shoes, three parades, trolley rides along Tulip Lane, carnival rides and foods (elephant ears for the win!), and more. It skews a bit on the older side in terms of tourists, perhaps, but it’s still a fun time to be around town. My husband and I also love the annual Holland Hundred
cycling event in early July, which has courses mapped for 18, 34, 67 or 100 miles. And while it’s about a 45-minute drive away, in Grand Rapids, our favorite event series of the summer is the outdoor concerts at Frederik Meijer Gardens
. They have a lovely outdoor amphitheater which is the perfect place to pack a picnic dinner and enjoy an intimate concert setting. Last summer we saw Old Crow Medicine Show, OAR, Of Monsters and Men, and The Decemberists, and this year we got tickets to The Beach Boys and The Shins. Huge variety of great shows – you just have to plan ahead and buy your tickets in the spring, as most shows sell out early!
Places to eat?
New Holland Brewing
, located right downtown, has great beer, a good-sized pub menu (get the bacon and potato pizza and thank me), and a big outdoor dining section. If you have to wait for a table, also check out Our Brewing Company
, which is just two doors down and has a fun vibe and free popcorn. No food for sale, but you’re allowed to bring in anything you like, and several of the downtown pizza/sandwich places will deliver to you there! For something a little more upscale, with a great wine selection, definitely check out Butch’s Drydock
, also downtown. Look for Seventy-Six to open downtown in the fall, our first farm-to-table restaurant, by the chef from one of our favorite restaurants in the region (you can drive 15 minutes over to Zeeland to eat at Public
now). Plenty of good breakfast places too: The Windmill Restaurant
is a classic dive right downtown, with lines out the door. Their pancakes are my favorite in town. The Biscuit
is in Washington Square, another cute little area about a mile from downtown. For other meals outside of downtown, Pereddies
in Washington Square has tasty Italian – they catered our wedding! – and The Black Sheep
has kind of a dive bar atmosphere with more eclectic/interesting food. Bonus is that you get to cruise down Southshore Drive, along inland Lake Macatawa, to get there, and you can ogle the nice mansions on the way.
And if you run out of places around here, downtown Grand Rapids is only a half-hour drive away, where you can find some more great breweries (Founders
and Brewery Vivant
) and tons of interesting restaurants (we especially like Grove
, The Green Well
, and San Chez).
Places to shop and what to buy? (What is the area known for? )
Pretty much the only shopping to do around here is shopping local…our mall is basically non-existent at this point. But downtown Holland has a mix of chain stores (White House Black Market, Francesca’s, Talbots) and local boutiques that are really fun to browse – especially check out Frances Jaye
, Urban Found
, and JB & Me
. For kids, Sandcastle
is the local toy store, and Tip Toes
has cute boutique clothes, lots of toys, and a tree house for kids to play in. You can get them some Great Lakes/Michigan-themed tees there as a souvenir, and one for yourself down the street at Harbor Wear
. We have a couple of great Michigan-centric stores you should visit to bring home a taste of the area: Michigan Pantry
and Cherry Republic
both have all kinds of yummy things made with Michigan-grown cherries, blueberries, etc. Also can’t miss the town’s go-to candy shop since 1902, The Peanut Store
– it smells soooo good when you walk in – as well as our Wednesday/Saturday huge Farmer’s Market
. And if you come in August, you can hit this all up during the annual Sidewalk Sale, when the streets get shut down and lined with all kinds of clearance deals from every downtown shop.
What do you do on a Friday night?
Usually in the summer we’re at my parents’ cottage on Lake Michigan, enjoying dinner, climbing sand dunes, and watching the sunset. The area has several state and county parks on the beach where you can do the same! But if we’re home and have a babysitter, we walk around in the beautiful historic district where we live, and then wander over the few blocks to downtown for drinks and/or dinner at a brewery. Downtown Holland also has tons of activities going on in the summer, from movies in the park to special farmers market activities to evenings with street performers (musicians, etc.) so we also keep an eye on that events calendar
for something fun to do on the weekend. With kids, an ice cream outing to Captain Sundae
, which also has a mini golf course, would also be a hit.
Cool places to stay?
We’ve stayed in the LEED-certified CityFlats Hotel
, and it is a pretty cool, modern place. Just a block off of downtown, so you can easily walk to restaurants and shops. If you need more space, there are some great apartment rental options downtown as well, like the Teerman Lofts
, located above a downtown store. Alternatively, you can stay on the other side of town, by the beach – tons of rental house/condo options (check VRBO or AirBnB), but you’ll probably want to book early on those as things fill up for the summer. We have a State Park campground right at the beach too, if you’re into that kind of thing. If you want to add a night of fancy to your stay in the region, there’s the Amway Grand and the J.W. Mariott in Grand Rapids, half an hour away.
If there isn’t a major airport nearby what is the best way to get there?
Cars reign supreme in Michigan, so there’s not a whole lot of public transport options. Chicago is about 2.5-3 hours away by car, and you can take an Amtrak in from there. Otherwise, the Detroit airport is also about 2.5-3 hours by car, and the Grand Rapids airport is just 40 minutes away.