Its famous tulips only come around in the springtime, but Holland is always in bloom.
A cozy city with a small-town feel, Holland is equal parts beachy paradise, foodie fun, shopper’s delight and adventurer’s dream. Many cultures, one destination, no plane ticket required.
A short drive from Chicago (about 2 1⁄2 hours), Holland is an easy weekend getaway. From heart-pumping thrills to relaxing sunset strolls, Holland holds appeal for any type of traveler.
Seek an adventure
Holland is surrounded by natural beauty. Towering sand dunes, fresh-water waves and virtually endless hiking trails and bike paths are among the many draws outdoor enthusiasts cannot resist.
Holland State Park is one of Michigan’s most-visited state parks. It’s the perfect place to hit the beach, unwind with family and watch boat traffic glide through the channel. The park offers fishing, a small playground, concession stand and camping.
It’s also home to the beloved Big Red lighthouse. There is a good chance you’ve seen it before — it’s Michigan’s most-photographed lighthouse. For the best views of Big Red, you can walk along the state park’s boardwalk. Or you can take it to the next level.
Mt. Pisgah is a sand dune that sits 157 feet above Lake Michigan. When you climb the 200-plus steps to the top, you’re rewarded with breathtaking views of Big Red, Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan.
As for sunsets, those are one of Holland’s specialties. When the day ends, be ready to be treated to rainbow-sherbet sunsets at any of Holland’s Lake Michigan beaches. Tunnel Park is one of the best spots to watch the sun dip beneath the waves — its unique tunnel through a dune makes it ideal for rolling out a blanket and soaking in the lakeshore’s majesty.
With over 150 miles of bike trails in the area, Holland is a major cycling hub. There’s something to enjoy for every cyclist — there are paved pathways perfect for leisurely cruisers and rugged dirt trails for adventurous mountain bikers. Many routes in Holland’s looped bike-path network connect popular parks, like Tunnel Park, Window on the Waterfront and Kollen Park.
A favorite among cyclists, the Lakeshore Connector Path runs 20 miles from Holland State Park to Grand Haven State Park, winding through the dunes and hugging Lake Michigan’s shoreline. Riley Trails is another popular spot for cyclists; it has a multiuse trail with a one-way mountain bike loop, and trails are suitable for all skill levels.
Raise a glass
Wherever you might be in Holland, you’re never too far from a craft brewery or distillery. New Holland Brewing Company launched in 1997 when Brett VanderKamp wanted to switch things up in his hometown and in the brewing industry.
Today, New Holland is recognized as a leader in craft brewing and distilling, and has a solid reputation with craft beer lovers around the nation. Head downtown to the pub on Eighth Street and kick back with a Tangerine Space Machine. Or if you’re in the mood for something a bit stronger, order the famous Dragon’s Milk, clocking in at 11% ABV.
A few doors down from New Holland, Our Brewing is another favorite local hangout. The nanobrewery specializes in crafting small batches of complex beer with local ingredients.
Big Lake Brewing, located on Seventh Street, is also preferred among locals. The brewery pours up eclectic beers — like Cotton Candy Haze, Leroy Brown and Vanilla Barrel-Aged Darkstar — and mouthwatering bar bites. The loaded tots are always a crowd pleaser.
If spirits are more your style, check out Coppercraft Distillery on the north side for an impressive cocktail list. Coppercraft draws its inspiration from West Michigan’s industrious workers who created quality goods and exported their handiwork across the nation. The distillery focuses on premium, small-batch spirits artfully crafted over time.
The Jack Mule is a fun cocktail choice; it’s made with Coppercraft Applejack, simple syrup, ginger beer and lime juice. The Isla De Muerta — made with Coppercraft rum, kiwi-lemongrass syrup, lime juice and habanero syrup — will transport you to a tropical paradise, but with a kick.
Coppercraft was also the first Michigan distiller to offer canned cocktails — Gin & Tonic, Pink Bubbles and Whiskey Lemonade are great to load into the cooler for a summer adventure.
Explore diverse heritage and history
Holland is inseparable from its rich Dutch heritage. Tulips, windmills and wooden shoes combine to create European charm around every corner. But that is not where this city’s culture ends.
Holland’s Latino influence is honored and celebrated with festivals and events throughout the year, a major one being Fiesta, hosted by Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP).
Fiesta is a community favorite featuring live music and performances, delicious food and drinks, carnival rides and more. The festival, a Holland tradition for over 50 years, has been postponed until summer 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Fiesta is one of LAUP’s largest events and continues to educate the community about Holland’s Latino culture.
Holland’s Latino roots also are celebrated in its cuisine. For some authentic eats, head to the south side.
Mi Favorita Grocery offers a taste of Mexico right in the heart of Holland. Mi Favorita is a local, family-owned and -operated grocery store, deli and kitchen that serves some of the best tacos in town.
Husband-and-wife duo Mario and Irene Navarrete opened the store in 1996, and it has provided an authentic dining and shopping experience to Holland’s Latino community and beyond. The store recently underwent a complete remodel and celebrated its grand reopening in February. When you’re in town, stop by for breakfast and order the pico de gallo, guacamole and breakfast burritos — you won’t regret it.
To explore Holland’s Dutch heritage, take a trip to Windmill Island Gardens, home of the 260-year-old historic DeZwaan windmill. The mill is the only authentic working Dutch windmill in the United States, and was transported to Holland in the 1960s. Still in use today, the mill grinds locally grown wheat into flour, which can be purchased at the gift shop and is also used in many local restaurants.
Throughout Windmill Island Gardens, you’ll find an Amsterdam street organ, 36 acres of gardens, a hand-painted Dutch carousel and more. The Gardens is also a popular stop during the annual Tulip Time Festival — over 100,000 tulips bloom during the spring.
To dive deeper into Holland’s history, stop by the Holland Museum and trace the city’s evolution and reverence for its past. The museum tells the story of Holland, from its founding by Dutch immigrants to today’s innovative, diverse community.
The museum features thousands of historic objects; must-see artifacts include: Indonesian guardian statues, a Dia de los Muertos painting, and an extensive collection of Dutch fine and decorative arts, including costumes and delftware.
Shop ‘til you drop
Holland has an incredible mix of retail operations. An eclectic display of local boutiques, galleries and shops line downtown’s Eighth Street. You’ll find over 100 businesses selling items ranging from outdoor gear, athletic shoes and apparel, to books, magazines, home furnishings and original artworks.
Frances Jaye provides a thoughtful shopping experience for the fashion minded, featuring ethical brands like Able and It is well L.A. The store features playful, classic and edgy styles you won’t find anywhere else.
Gazelle Sports is a great place to stock up on athletic gear. The store encourages and celebrates healthy lifestyles, sells a wide range of apparel, accessories and shoes, and also offers group runs and training programs.
Celebrating West Michigan’s rich agriculture, the Holland Farmers Market is a must-visit. The market is located at the Eighth Street Marketplace and is open from mid-May to early December. It features over 65 local vendors. You can easily spend a morning or afternoon browsing all the fresh produce, meats, cheeses, flowers, plants, baked goods and spices.
There’s also a Winter Market the first and third Saturdays from January–April offering baked goods, maple syrup, root veggies, granola and more. Another bonus — in the winter, downtown Holland’s streets and sidewalks are heated with a snowmelt system — the largest municipal-owned snowmelt system in the U.S., with 4.9 miles of heated streets and sidewalks.
For some authentic Dutch treats and gifts, check out Nelis’ Dutch Village on Holland’s north side. Visiting the Dutch village is like stepping back into the Netherlands of over 100 years ago. The village offers Dutch Dancing, wooden shoe carving, games, farm animals, rides and tasty bites and beverages.
And of course, you can take a little piece of Holland home with you — the village’s shops sell wearable and souvenir wooden shoes, wooden tulips, wooden bowls, Dutch toys, delftware, nutcrackers and steins.
Featured image by Courtney Moore