Local microbrew selling for less than Bud Light? It sounds too good to be true after a sticky summer day, but it happens at the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, where patrons belly up to the bar and scan the prices of the moment on a TV screen. After 6 p.m., prices fluctuate based on demand, just like the New York Stock Exchange; order the same thing as your friends, and the price jumps.
The exchange is just one attention-grabbing stop in this five-college town of 76,000 (about one hour east of the Lake Michigan shore). A lively arts scene, innovative local restaurants and a buzzing festival lineup keep downtown Kalamazoo busy all summer.
Click ahead to read more about Kalamazoo, including our suggestions on what to do, where to eat, where to drink and where to stay.
Pictured: The Kalamazoo Beer Exchange is funky, welcoming and especially popular in the summer—just like Kalamazoo itself.
The best way to do it all? Walking or biking. That way, you can really take in the 1,100 acres at the Kalamazoo Nature Center as well as the Kalamazoo Mall, a downtown outdoor shopping area full of boutiques. Adventure seekers brimming with energy climb walls at Climb Kalamazoo; a few miles away, history buffs could easily spend half a day learning about vintage aircraft and space flight at the huge Air Zoo. A half-hour trip northeast leads to Hickory Corners, where 300 classic cars await at the Gilmore Car Museum.
For a more modern experience, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts teems with contemporary works; next door, a restored 19th-century Victorian offers a restful stay. (If you stay at the Kalamazoo House B&B, you might be able to see the KIA's Chihuly chandelier from your room—the owners call it the best night-light in Michigan.) The eat-local movement here continues to evolve. Even basic breakfast dishes get gourmet treatment at supercool Food Dance. The steel-cut oats end a lifelong search for standout oatmeal. Sliced banana, golden and dark raisins, brown sugar and Mattawan Creamery yogurt top the oats. Nine fresh-squeezed oranges churn out one glass of juice. It's all so refreshing—just like Kalamazoo.
Pictured: The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts showcases American artists—from traditional to edgy.
Air Zoo (pictured) Many docents are former military pilots, so there's expertise to back up the cool factor. (866) 524-7966; airzoo.org 
Kalamazoo Nature Center Visit late in the day to escape the heat and to see the most activity at the Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden. The trails are the real draw: A stroll along the Bluebird Trail winds through a 144-acre tallgrass prairie. (269) 381-1574; naturecenter.org 
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Founded as an art school in 1924, the KIA has a whimsical mobile by Calder, gritty screen prints by Warhol and a new collection of Tiffany paintings, lamps and glass. (269) 349-7775; kiarts.org 
Kalamazoo Mall The three-block mall bustles with boutiques and old-fashioned charm. Stop at Sticks and Stones for home accessories and kitchen gear or Earthly Delights for worldly clothing and decor. (800) 888-0509; discoverkalamazoo.com 
Kalamazoo Valley Museum Part science, part history, part children's museum, this stop highlights Kalamazoo-made products and an Egyptian mummy—face unwrapped for a creepy but fascinating sight. (800) 772-3370; kalamazoomuseum.org 
Sweetwaters Donut Mill What's more perfect than a doughnut shop located on Sprinkle Road? The shop has 55 flavors. (269) 388-4613; sweetwatersdonuts.com 
Taste of Kalamazoo Michigan's largest food festival, held in late July, brings out the best from dozens of local restaurants, with cuisine from Africa, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the Caribbean. Live music, too. Admission charged. (269) 385-6200; tasteofkalamazoo.com 
Epic Bistro Savor the wood-fired Brie with honey, raspberry jam, port-poached pear, bourbon-soaked fig and sweet walnuts, and the creamy gelato. (269) 342-1300; millenniumrestaurants.com/epic 
Water Street Coffee Joint The coffee, roasted in-house, is smooth, hot and rich. Even more satisfying? Five to 10 percent of each bulk-coffee purchase benefits the community. (269) 373-2840; waterstreetcoffeejoint.com 
Rustica (pictured) Chefs use local cheeses, meats and produce, plus sustainable seafood; the bouillabaisse is a specialty. Call ahead to cut down on your wait. (269) 492-0247; rusticakzoo.com 
Bell's Brewery and Eccentric Cafe Sample small-batch experiments that aren't available elsewhere. (269) 382-2332; bellsbeer.com 
Tempo Vino Winery Wine lovers with a taste for experimentation can make their own vino. Start with a base varietal, then change the formula to make it sweeter, drier or oakier. Eight weeks later, 25 to 30 bottles are ready to pick up. (269) 342-9463; tempovinowinery.com 
Kalamazoo Beer Exchange (pictured) Order something unique, or hold out for market crash low prices. (269) 532-1188; kalamazoobeerexchange.com 
Just 30 minutes east of Kalamazoo, Battle Creek offers more specialty shops and foodie finds. Southern Exposure Herb Farm has a renovated 1839 home open for tours, plus walking gardens and a gift shop. Locavores love Malia Mediterranean Bistro, which uses produce from the Kalamazoo Farmers Market, cheeses and meats from nearby farms, and Michigan beers and wines. (Try the wild berry and nut salad made with strawberries, blackberries, pecans, almonds and Gorgonzola.) Housed in a former church, the Art Center of Battle Creek features the work of 150 juried Michigan artists—meaning Michigan-inspired souvenirs. (800) 397-2240; battlecreekvisitors.org