How Safe Is Kalamazoo for Travel?

Updated On January 26, 2023
Kalamazoo, United States
Safety Index:
44
* Based on Research & Crime Data

If you were wondering if Kalamazoo is a real place, it sure is!

It’s in southwest Michigan, and you can even buy a t-shirt that reads, “Yes! There really is a Kalamazoo!”

However, you might hear locals call it Kazoo.

This city of 74,000 people isn’t known for one thing – it’s known for many things.

With more than 450 restaurants, a thriving craft beer scene, outdoors parks galore, and a winter so bad it’s just two hours from Hell (Michigan) and Lake Michigan.

It’s a place where antique cars could cruise the streets to reggae music, and eccentricity is a way of life.

Kalamazoo is also a college town, with Western Michigan University offering four college campuses, a liberal arts college, and community colleges.

While college students fuel the nightlife, industry fuels the economy, and you’ll often see it in action and smell it (for better and worse).

Kalamazoo sits halfway between Detroit and Chicago, and its larger metro area includes Battle Creek to the east.

Portage, to the south, is another city but feels like a suburb.

You can also be at the Lake Michigan shoreline within an hour.

Warnings & Dangers in Kalamazoo

Overall Risk

OVERALL RISK: MEDIUM

Violent crime is escalating so quickly here that the city declared gun violence a public health emergency in 2021. The violent crime rate is four times the national average. Theft rates are double the national average. Weather and air quality can be other safety issues. While there are plenty of things to see and do here, there's an overall medium risk.

Transport & Taxis Risk

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW

Metro Transit Bus System goes throughout Kazoo and Portage. Taxis and rideshares are available and rental cars are easy to find. Opt for taxis if you aren't comfortable driving in winter snow or ice. Otherwise, a rental car is your safest option.

Pickpockets Risk

PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW

14 pickpockets were reported in 2021, which doesn't seem like much, but Kalamazoo has a history of pickpockets working in grocery stores, bars, and restaurants. Use extra caution, and don't leave your purse open while walking around or sitting down. If you're carrying a wallet only, put it in a front pants pocket or inside jacket pocket, not the back pocket where it's easier to snatch.

Natural Disasters Risk

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW

Winter storms, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms with straight-line winds, and floods are the biggest concerns, according to Kalamazoo County Emergency Management (EOC). The EOC explains each risk and gives real examples with some crazy photos showing just how dangerous these events can be. Each one should come with plenty of warning and preparation time.

Mugging Risk

MUGGING RISK: LOW

The robbery rate is nearly twice the national average, and 30% of those happen on public streets or sidewalks. Lower your risk by not wearing high-value items, like expensive jewelry or large smartwatches. Keep mobile devices out of plain sight.

Terrorism Risk

TERRORISM RISK: LOW

An international terror attack is unlikely, but terror on the streets from gangs and drug dealers is a real concern. The motto "See Something, Say Something" is strongly encouraged to keep the community safe and avoid any acts of terror or hate crimes.

Scams Risk

SCAMS RISK: LOW

While the fraud in Kalamazoo is less likely to impact a tourist, it's important to know how sinister these scammers can be. A Property Fraud Alert System allows land and homeowners to put their names in the database. The owners are notified if someone tries to file a fake deed on that property. Scammers take that fake deed to the bank to get a mortgage, then take off with the money.

Women Travelers Risk

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW

On and off-campus rapes have been increasing over the past five years, and the sexual assault rate in 2021 was nearly four times the national average. One incident involved an attacker lying in wait while the woman got ready to go out. He then waited until she got home later that night and fell asleep before he attacked her and ran off. Always have a friend escort you to and from locations, and don't go home with a stranger. If anything seems suspicious, even an unlocked door you are certain you locked, call the police for a home or room check.

Tap Water Risk

TAP WATER RISK: LOW

The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. It's the air quality that causes the most concerns here. It is well known that hydrogen sulfide pollution is emitted at dangerous levels from industrial plants and wastewater treatment plant. The problem is so bad the city has created an Odor Task Force with daily data reports and an odor report form. While the risk is chronic, meaning the worst health impacts happen over a lifetime of exposure, temporary exposure can irritate the elderly, children, and people with weakened immune systems or severe allergies.

Safest Places to Visit in Kalamazoo

DiscoverKalamazoo.com is the official tourism website for the city and surrounding communities.

This won’t cover Battle Creek and Calhoun County, but there’s a separate website for the Battle Creek Visitors organization.

The website is robust, with seasonal guides, county guides, and niche itineraries, such as LGBTQ or family getaways.

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum offers a glimpse of history and a planetarium that takes you to the edge of the solar system and the bottom of the Great Lakes.

A special area for children under five will explore young imaginations and foster creativity.

Exhibits range from quirky to cool to ancient.

The Kalamazoo Nature Center is the closest thing to wildlife you’ll find since the zoo closed in the 1970s.

This park covers 1,100 acres with 14 miles of trails weaved between historical buildings, forests, and wetlands.

New education programs and tours are offered each month.

There is an Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, with year-round airplane displays and simulation experiences to tap into your inner Top Gun Maverick.

Exhibits include the history of flight, space exploration, and famous female pilots.

Reservations are strongly recommended to limit lines and wait times.

Kalamazoo has dozens of parks in the city and surrounding county.

You’ll find a surprising number of sandy beaches and waterways for summer fun, such as:

  • Markin Glen Park: Shallow waters and a sandy beach make this perfect for families with small kids. Stunning city views.
  • Woods Lake Park: This newly renovated park is close to the city but surrounded by woods. It has a beach with changing area, kayak launch, and restrooms.
  • River Oaks County Park: A splash pad offers water fun without worry about lake water quality, and century-old oak trees line the way from sports fields to playgrounds.
  • Ramona Park (Portage): The park is a self-proclaimed haven for anglers and beach bums. A large beach, concession stand, equipment rentals, and fishing pier make this one of the most popular parks in the region.

Kalamazoo has a thriving arts scene, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art.

Permanent and rotating exhibits complement a busy schedule of artist discussions and interactions.

Art classes are held throughout the year, with several one- or two-day options.

Downtown Kalamazoo’s mall is the first open-air shopping mall in America, which has since become the staple of almost every major American city.

As a bonus, most stores and restaurants here are small businesses, not national chains.

Downtown also has a Social District that allows people to bar-hop and walk around with open containers of bar-served beverages.

This luxury has rules and restrictions, so review the Downtown Kalamazoo organization’s website to see the boundaries, hours, and safety guidance.

Places to Avoid in Kalamazoo

Outside the Central Business District, the immediate areas in all directions are among the most dangerous in the city.

The Northside, Eastside, and Edison neighborhoods have seen the most gun violence.

The safest hotel groupings are along I-94 and Highway 131.

Even though Kalamazoo isn’t on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, it still gets powerful lake-effect snow.

The snow is already quite heavy but can include snow squalls which create blinding conditions.

Check out the November 2022 blizzard on YouTube, or go back to the 100-car pileup on I-94 in 2015.

Even the best snow plows and preparation can’t prevent treacherous roads.

Avoid trying to drive during any severe weather event here, as summer thunderstorms with tornadoes and straight-line winds can also cause major damage.

Safety Tips for Traveling to Kalamazoo

  1. Kalamazoo has its own police department but not its own website. It’s actually a must better site for Kalamazoo Public Safety, including police, fire, emergency management, and dispatch. You can read the Public Safety Annual Report for the prior year to see crime trends and safety steps that are helping.
  2. The police department posts weekly crime statistics comparing the past week, month, and year. For example, in a quick snapshot, I can see that aggravated assaults are up 127% over the past 10 years, but robberies are down 82% year-to-date. Pair that with the interactive crime mapping system, and you’ll get a great handle on crime risks during your visit.
  3. You can also follow the Department of Public Safety on Facebook @KalamazooPublicSafety and the city @KalamazooCity. Between the two, you’ll get crime information, weather safety details, and important information like road closures and water main breaks.
  4. Juveniles have fueled part of the violent crime problem in Kalamazoo. It’s a sad trend happening in cities nationwide. I mention this because if you see a group of 13, 14, 15-year-olds, don’t assume they are “just kids.”
  5. In a city known for its eccentricities, even this boggles my mind. You do need to be aware of panhandlers downtown, and it’s illegal for them to solicit you while sitting at a sidewalk cafe or on a public park bench. The law was strengthened about a decade ago to stop aggressive panhandlers. In 2022, the city opted to stop short of banning panhandling or sleeping on the streets. At the same time, the city decriminalized urinating or defecating on public streets, which apparently has been a problem. Business owners have added “clean up outside feces” to the list of things to do on a business day.
  6. If you see someone playing violin with a sign asking for donations, it’s likely fraud. A local man was seen at a Target with a violin. When approached by a journalist, the man put down the violin, but a speaker emitted the song. Kalamazoo Police say this is a nationwide trend of people trying to “earn” money instead of begging for it, but donations don’t actually reward a real performance.
  7. You can dial 311 anytime you’re in the Kalamazoo city limits to report problems like potholes or storm damage. If that number doesn’t work on your phone, try (269)337-8000.
  8. While tornadoes are known to be universally dangerous, newcomers to severe weather locations might not realize that straight-line winds and Derechos can be just as bad. Kalamazoo County has seen winds of 80-150 mph from non-tornadic events. Treat every severe weather threat with urgency and seek shelter indoors.
  9. Anglers will need a fishing license from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Getting a hunting license requires in-depth safety training, so it might not be feasible for a typical Michigan tourist.
  10. If you are visiting Kalamazoo park and notice suspicious or criminal activity, you will still call the police department, as there isn’t a park police department.

So... How Safe Is Kalamazoo Really?

The latest official data available as of this publication is from 2021, which is crime statistics reported from the police to the FBI.

However, unofficial 2022 data has been released, and the new police chief says the violent crime was down 10%.

For full transparency, that means the crime rate is closer to three and a half times the national average and not closer to four times the national average – but they have to start somewhere, right?

The lower crime rates are being credited with increased community policing, an adapted way for officers to catch criminals before they act or re-offend, and keeping youth occupied with after-school activities instead of getting involved with violence.

Mayor David Anderson said, “We have a gun violence crisis in Kalamazoo, and we cannot accept this in our community.

Every resident has a right to expect – no matter what neighborhood they call home – it will be a safe place for them and their families.

Our response will require us all to determine how we can be a part of the solution.

What affects one of us affects all of us.”

Newly appointed Police Chief David Boysen announced a community program where 200 Ring cameras were being installed in neighborhoods.

“Most of our shootings have been during daylight hours, so what that tells me is that people think that they can get away with it because no one’s going to testify against them.

No one’s going to be a witness.

No one’s going to provide a statement.

If they know that there are surveillance cameras that can be shared anonymously, that might get them to think twice about doing a crime because it will be on video,” Chief Bryson added.

Over the past decade, aggravated assaults have increased by 250%.

That’s one of the many topics addressed at weekly crime reduction meetings with city leaders and community organizations.

Downtown business owners are vocal about the dangers of defecation and panhandling and continue to call for change to keep the area safe for guests.

To focus more on the tourist risks in Kalamazoo, here’s a breakdown of the most common concerns in 2021:

  • 13% of violent crimes happened against strangers, and 46% of violent crimes happened in homes. This means the risk of being a random victim is lower.
  • That said, it still leaves the crimes that happened in public spaces at 270% higher than the national average.
  • 37% of all thefts were car break-ins, and too many of those involve guns left in vehicles or unlocked cars. Make your car as unappealing as possible from a thief’s perspective, then lock it up.

If you stick to the main tourist attractions and parks, you shouldn’t face ongoing concerns about criminal activity.

However, you should never let your guard down and use your street smarts mixed with common sense.

How Does Kalamazoo Compare?

CitySafety Index
Kalamazoo44
Las Vegas62
San Francisco61
Philadelphia60
Houston59
Atlanta58
St. Louis58
Brussels (Belgium)60
Shanghai (China)66
Belize City (Belize)37
La Paz (Bolivia)52
Sao Paulo (Brazil)45
Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)43

Useful Information

Visas

Visas

Getting a tourism visa into the U.S. can be arduous, so review the U.S. State Department's website details. Don't just skim the details. Missing one step, like sending in the wrong type of photo, will start the process over again.

Currency

Currency

Exchange currency before you arrive to get the best rates from your home bank. You should get U.S. Dollar denominations, though most businesses in Kalamazoo will take credit cards. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you at a time. Cash will be needed to enter any county park.

Weather

Weather

You'll need insulated and waterproof winter layers, as it can get dangerously cold and snowy here. Spring and fall can have warm weather one day and a snowstorm the next, so plan for various layers and closely pay attention to the forecast. Summers will be warm and humid, with bug spray and sunscreen necessary.

Airports

Airports

The Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport is just five miles from downtown Kalamazoo. That's your best option. Detroit's larger airport is two hours east.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

We recommend travel insurance as a smart investment for severe weather-prone areas like Kalamazoo. Purchase it as early as possible since it goes into effect immediately.

Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

Kalamazoo Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan -5° C
Feb -3° C
Mar 3° C
Apr 10° C
May 16° C
Jun 21° C
Jul 23° C
Aug 22° C
Sep 18° C
Oct 12° C
Nov 5° C
Dec -2° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
-1281622272928241792
Low
°C
-9-7-2491517161261-5
High
°F
303646617281848275634836
Low
°F
161928394859636154433423

Michigan - Safety by City

CitySafety Index
Ann Arbor63
Battle Creek45
Dearborn77
Detroit56
Farmington Hills72
Flat Rock81
Flint47
Frankenmuth84
Glen Arbor76
Grand Rapids73
Houghton82
Ironwood83
Kalamazoo44
Lansing41
Livonia76
Mackinac Island83
Mackinaw City78
Macomb84
Marquette78
Muskegon72
Pontiac45
Port Huron73
Saginaw42
Sault Ste. Marie82
Sterling Heights78
Taylor68
Traverse City77
Troy78
Warren58

Where to Next?

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