April showers bring May flowers, and in Holland, Michigan, those flowers are tulips. Many, many tulips.
Rows upon rows of colorful tulips fill flower beds throughout this coastal West Michigan city every May. During peak bloom, Dutch dancers perform and high school marching bands parade through the quaint downtown as part of the annual Tulip Time Festival.
Tulips, windmills, wooden clogs and traditional Dutch dresses are pretty common sights in Holland, which was settled in the mid-1800s by Dutch immigrants. Many residents still have Dutch ancestry, and that local heritage is integral to the city’s culture, attractions and eateries.
Holland is about 30 miles from Grand Rapids, so I drove down to see the tulips and get in touch with my own Dutch ancestry. I’d been to Holland numerous times as a child — playing inside a giant wooden shoe, flying high on the swings, and taking home my own pair of wooden clogs to clomp around in at Nelis’ Dutch Village. In the past decade, I had only been back to Holland for wedding festivities and to sail Lake Michigan, so it was amusing to return to the traditional Dutch part of Holland as an adult.
First Stop In Holland, Michigan: de Boer Bakkerij & Dutch Brothers Restaurant
My first stop in Holland was for lunch at a Dutch bakery and local breakfast favorite. If you are looking for a true Dutch meal, the de Boer Bakkerij & Dutch Brothers Restaurant offers pea soup — a staple of the simple and rustic Dutch cuisine. You’ll also find croquettes — a fast-food delicacy in the Netherlands — on the lunch menu.
After finding the casual eatery packed with a waiting list to be seated, I checked out the bakery’s case of doughnuts, breads, cookies and pastries as I kept an eye on the first-come-first-served bar. Within a few minutes, a seat was vacated, and I sat down between a local young couple and an older couple staying in town for the tulip festival. By the time I finished my meal around 1:15 p.m., the dining room was clearing out. This is truly a breakfast hot spot.
Sitting at the bar, I had quick and attentive service and a view into the bustling kitchen. I ended up ordering the Hippy Hash, a breakfast dish of Dutch potatoes fried with scrambled eggs, chorizo and Bermuda onions. It’s topped with a chipotle hollandaise and served with two fresh tomato slices and sourdough toast. It was a delicious dish. The potatoes and eggs gave the hash a lot of substance to make it a really filling meal, and the chorizo, of course, added a punch of flavor and spice. I’d definitely order this again, if I weren’t so interested in trying so many of the other breakfast items on deBoer’s menu, of course!
If you plan to dine here while visiting Holland, come for breakfast and prepare to wait for an open table. I’m confident you’ll find your meal worth the wait. There is a considerable mix of breakfast and lunch fare including savory hash dishes, sweets off the griddle, healthy salads, and bakery treats.
Second Stop In Holland, Michigan: Windmill Island Gardens
During the Tulip Time Festival, there are several locations around Holland to view the colorful tulip beds. I thought Windmill Island Gardens would be particularly interesting and picturesque because of the authentic Dutch windmill, so that was my main destination of my Holland day trip.
Named De Zwaan, meaning “the swan,” this windmill was the last to leave the Netherlands and is the only working Dutch windmill in the United States. Perhaps having visited Holland so much as a child and having seen windmills in the Netherlands, I never fully appreciated how rare it is to see a Dutch windmill outside of Europe. However, after hearing De Zwann’s history, I’ve realized it truly is an unique monument and quite fitting for a city named after the settlers’ homeland.
The five-story windmill has quite the tale. First erected in the 1700s, De Zwaan has been moved and reconstructed twice since then — once in the Netherlands and then in the 1960s to Holland. Before coming to America, the mill served as a watch tower during WWII and, by some accounts, was heavily damaged in the crossfire. The Netherlands actually banned international sale of their windmills following WWII — with the exception of De Zwaan, of course. See what I mean by how unique it is to see a Dutch windmill without actually traveling to the Netherlands these days?
On the guided tour of De Zwaan, I learned that the miller, Alisa Crawford, is the only Dutch-certified miller in the Americas. She is a member of the professional grain millers guild of the Netherlands. My tour guide described the guild as an elite group of 50 millers — 49 Dutch men and one American woman.
After touring the windmill, seeing the large tulip beds was next on my agenda. The tulips were planted in rows of color — red, pink, yellow, white and purple. It was a beautiful sight.
When you look at my photos of the tulips, do you imagine I took a leisurely stroll through the garden, stopping to take perfectly unfiltered Instagram-worthy photos? It was NOT like that. Do not expect viewing the tulips during the Tulip Time Festival to be a serene activity.
It was 85 degrees. I was pretty grossly covered in sweat. My hair was doing that high-humidity frizz thing. People were always in my shot. Seriously, I attempted this selfie five times, eventually giving up when I realized no angle could capture me, tulips and not a single other person. During the editing process, I cropped this image to delete the imposing tourist. So note to selfie takers and Instagram fanatics: You’ll still get beautiful tulip photos, but patience — a trait I often lack, especially in heat and humidity — is probably key.
Beyond the De Zwaan and tulips, Windmill Island Gardens is adorable.
There are picturesque gardens, a children’s playground and carousel, and a gift shop where you can buy your own set of wooden clogs, Delft pottery or whole wheat flour stone ground at De Zwaan. I purchased a Delft ornament shaped like a clog to hang on my travel-ornament adorned Christmas tree this December.
Final Stop In Holland, Michigan: Captain Sundae
Remember when I was complaining about it being 85 degrees? Yeah, I was so over being hot, sticky and sweaty by the time I walked out of Windmill Island Gardens, downing a whole $1.50 bottle of water in the process. It was then I decided to abandon visiting downtown Holland for Plan B: Ice cream!
Captain Sundae, located across Douglas Avenue from my lunchtime destination de Boer, is known for its “famous” Tommy Turtle. The sundae earned the presidential stamp of approval when President George W. Bush ate it in 2004.
President Bush and I may not agree on much, but we apparently have similar taste in ice cream sundaes. The Tommy Turtle is a twist on the classic hot fudge with the addition of hot caramel and buttered pecans. The buttered pecans are a game changer. This sundae combines the best of butter pecan ice cream’s flavor and all the traditional hot fudge sundae ingredients we’ve come to love — with a generous dollop of whipped cream. It was heavenly.
On this unseasonably hot May day, Captain Sundae was a hot spot, especially among local teens and families. Kids climbed atop the ship, while parents waited in two long lines outside the shop’s windows labeled “Captain” and “First Mate.” Most patrons were walking away from the counters with multiple sundaes — all with unique names like the Yukky Sailor, the Beach Bum and the Scottish Captain.
It was all so quirky and so ship-themed, I couldn’t help my childlike joy as I dug into my yummy sundae. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to end my day revisiting a day trip destination of my childhood.
Planning To Visit Holland, Michigan?
If you are planning to visit Holland, here are some resources to help you plan your trip:
- Pure Michigan gives a broad overview of what you can see and do in Holland, including lodging, events, dining, shopping and recreation.
- You can request a visitor’s guide from the Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau.
- Downtown Holland has all the information you need about where to park, dine and shop downtown.
- For the full Tulip Time Festival schedule of events, visit the festival’s website.
Have you visited Holland? Tell me about your experience in the comment section!
Note: This post is part of an ongoing series as I explore the Midwest this summer. Please follow along with my Midwest travels on Instagram, and share your photos using #MyMidwestSummer. Exploring Holland was also on my #30before30 bucket list!