Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Dutch Touch

Old-World heritage meets new-school cool in popular Great Lakes meeting spot

By Wensdy Von Buskirk

At the western edge of Michigan on the shores of Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan, Holland has a vibrant downtown, beautiful scenery, and Dutch-infused history that makes this small town a big destination for meetings and events. “It’s a hidden gem,” says Wendy Link, sales director for the Holland Area Visitors Bureau. “We have great white sandy beaches, where the water actually gets warm, and our downtown is amazing.” 

Veldheer Tulip Gardens || Courtesy of Holland Area Visitors Bureau/Sara Cozolino

TRANSPORTATION: Fly into Gerald Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids and take a taxi, Uber, or shuttle to your host hotel. Those who drive will find free parking downtown. An Amtrak train station has service to and from Chicago. 

VIBE: Holland has an eclectic energy that combines its Dutch heritage with a modern twist, or as Link describes it, “historic, but hip.” Thanks to heated sidewalks, the downtown area is bustling year-round. Its social district means you can grab an adult beverage to go (try the walk-up window at New Holland Brewery). In warmer weather, there’s a definite beach vibe, and with Hope College downtown, there’s a campus aesthetic as well. 

HOTELS: Three hotels primarily service meetings and conventions downtown with 250 guest rooms among them: the newly renovated Haworth Hotel (10,000 square feet of meeting space for up to 350 people); the rebranded Tulyp, Tapestry Collection by Hilton (1,260 square feet for up to 150 attendees); and Courtyard by Marriott Downtown with its 477-square-foot boardroom. “People really want to be downtown and love the walkability,” Link says.

VENUES: Holland Civic Center Place is the hub with 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting space for up to 2,000 event-goers. Since its $25 million renovation in 2018, it can handle everything from luncheons to expos. Warehouse 6 accommodates up to 200 with an urban, industrial vibe. Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant serves up to 400 with a wall of windows overlooking Lake Macatawa. Port 393, which holds up to 200, offers views of the water and downtown, and features a rooftop garden.  

RESTAURANTS: You can’t go wrong choosing a place to eat, from fine dining at Butch’s Dry Dock to tapas at Poquito. The area’s rich agricultural roots are reflected at the new Bowerman’s on 8th, which incorporates its farm-grown blueberries into surprising dishes.  

Lake-fresh perch sandwiches are a must-try on many menus. For sweets, grab a Dutch pastry from deBoer Bakkerij or hit up the nostalgic Holland Peanut Store for a Nutty Paddle Pop. Microbreweries, wineries, distilleries, and cideries are so popular that the Holland Area Visitors Bureau has a “Handcrafted Passport” you can get stamped around town and turn
in for a prize. 

MUST-SEES AND -DOS: Windmill Island Gardens features beautiful foliage, Dutch architecture, and the last windmill to leave the Netherlands. Group tour the Holland Museum, Nelis’ Dutch Village Theme Park, or De Klomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory. 

Each spring the Tulip Time Festival brings 5 million blooms to Veldheer Tulip Gardens, and summer sees street performers and live music. Holland State Park has “Big Red,” Michigan’s most-photographed lighthouse, paved bike paths, hiking trails, and a dune climb. Charter fishing, paddleboarding, kayaking, and water sports abound. “Holland is a great draw for meetings,” Link says. “People bring their spouses and families and extend the trip.”