The Kenosha area was the only Wisconsin stop for us this year. We had a great time visiting the city that is situated along Lake Michigan. It’s less than two hours north of downtown Chicago and less than an hour south of Milwaukee. Kenosha offers visitors a mix of big city life and small community feeling. The food is on par with anything you might find on Chicago’s Mag Mile. Attractions are high quality. We enjoyed an amazing and busy three-day weekend in the fourth city largest city in Wisconsin. Kenosha is all that and a bag of popcorn.
Our trip started right out of the gate. We had the pleasure of having the Visitors Bureau staff host us and act as tour guides for our first afternoon. It was a busy day – lunch at Jack’s Café inside Andrea’s boutique store. The store has been in business since 1911.
Lunch was outstanding. Chicken noodle soup with a homemade chicken salad sandwich. The store offers an eclectic inventory – clothes, accessories, crystal figurines and an impressive cigar humidor.
A driving tour of Kenosha brought us to the early childhood home of the great Orson Welles. The actor, director, and producer was born in the city, but his family moved when he was about five years old. In addition to Welles, Kenosha has turned out some great actors and athletes, including Daniel J. Travanti (“Hill Street Blues”), Al Molinaro (Al from “Happy Days”) and Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk in the “Avengers” movie series). Athletes include NFL players Melvin Gordon of the San Diego Chargers and Trae Waynes of the Minnesota Vikings.
Being on Lake Michigan, Kenosha has been home to a few lighthouses to help ships and boats in earlier days. The current lighthouse and keeper’s house are part of the city’s History Center.
The History Center takes a look at Kenosha’s growth from when it was founded in the mid-1800s. Kenosha was once the center of major manufacturing companies, including Simmons (mattresses), Jockey (clothing) and American Motors Company (which took over production on the Rambler automobile when it purchased the original producer).
The Durkee Mansion was once the home of Senator Charles Durkee. He donated the mansion and land to the Episcopal Church when he was appointed as governor of Utah by President Andrew Johnson. The mansion was expanded into a church and an all-girls school.
Each graduating class of the school – which was open about 100 years – donated a stained glass window to the school. They add to the beauty of the Kemper Center, the current name for the mansion and rest of property.
Kenosha has a beautiful lakefront. It includes five beaches. A walking trail takes visitors around different areas of the lake and includes a marina, park, public art, veterans memorials, lighthouses and more. You can spend hours along the lake.
If you’re interested in an excellent cup of coffee, Common Grounds is located a few feet from the lake. The coffee house offers an impressive view of the lake area.
Interested in a shopping spree? Check out the Pleasant Prairie Premium Outlets. The outlet center offers a range of retail options, from upscale Coach, Michael Kors, Polo Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers to midscale choices, such as Columbia, to budget stores, including Old Navy.
After spending a few hours shopping, you may be ready to drop. Or, grab a meal. The mall offers a variety of restaurants on site. However, if you’re interested in checking out a spot away from the outlet, visit Mars Cheese Castle.
Mars is home to all things cheese. The store offers cheese, sausages, liquor and souvenirs. It also has a nice restaurant area. You order at the counter and can eat in an open area by the restaurant or inside the tavern. We ordered a couple of cheddar cheese bratwursts, and dined in the tavern. The brats were excellent. I topped mine with a delicious relish.
Since we were in the Pleasant Prairie area, our next stop was at the Jelly Belly Visitors Center. The visitors center offers free tours. Visitors ride around the warehouse on a Jelly Belly train, watching videos at select spots about the history of the company and the manufacturing of great tasting candy. We left with plenty of treats for people at home (and us).
A short drive from Jelly Belly is Uke’s Harley Davidson store. It’s more than just a store. Frank (Uke) Ulicki started the store in 1930. It was the first Harley store in Wisconsin. Since the motorcycle is produced in Milwaukee, it’s odd that someone didn’t start a store in the area before then.
The bike shop features a five-level display case of motorcycles for passersby or customers to see. Inside, the store, a small museum is open for visitors to check out some cool Harley displays, including a motorcycle made of chocolate.
Carthage College was once located in Illinois but moved to Kenosha in 1957. Abraham Lincoln briefly served as a trustee when the college was located in Illinois. A statue recognizing Lincoln and aide John Hay stands prominently on campus.
Kenosha is home to some outstanding museums. The Civil War Museum is a Smithsonian affiliate. The museum provides a look at life during the Civil War – at home and during battle – for people of the seven upper Midwest states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa and Indiana).
The museum is a first-rate institute. The exhibits, which feature life-sized dioramas, provide a detailed look into the effects of war. The 360-degree theater has a presentation on the war’s impact on three men. It was filmed at a Wisconsin living history facility.
The Public Museum explores natural science and fine arts. The first floor takes a look at prehistoric and ice age eras. A giant fish’s fangs greet you as you enter an area.
The museum is home to two mammoths – Schaefer and Hebior. The Schaefer mammoth was the first mammoth discovered east of the Mississippi River to have been butchered by humans. The Hebior mammoth found a year after the Schaefer, is the most complete mammoth found.
The museum presents fine art exhibitions, including paintings and photographs.
The Dinosaur Discovery museum is located at the Institute of Paleontology downtown. The institute is managed by Carthage College. The institute researches the connection between meat-eating dinosaurs and present-day birds. Several dinosaur fossil replicas are displayed in the building’s lobby.
Kenosha’s downtown is an area under redevelopment. It’s spread out more than you might think. It runs from the lake for several blocks. Downtown offers unique shopping and dining opportunities. Mike Bjorn’s fine clothing store may be one of the most eclectic men’s stores I’ve been in. Bjorn’s has been in business for 35 years. The owner says it’s because they keep up with the changing styles and provide good customer service. Hundreds of suits and tuxedos are located in the store. The basement is almost wall-to-wall suits and shoes.
It could also be the “extras” he and his family have in the store – model planes and balloons hanging from the ceiling, zeppelin paintings on the walls or maybe the movie posters on the ceiling of the basement.
Plenty of food and treats options are located downtown. Elsie Mae’s in the old Orpheum Theater building is a dieter’s nightmare. Miniature pies, cinnamon rolls, and breads fill the air with their aromas.
Scoops ice cream and Sandy’s popcorn stores are located along the same street. We received Sandy’s popcorn treats from the visitors bureau as a welcome gift. It was an awesome treat.
Tenuta’s may not be downtown, but the Italian-American delicatessen is a must-see when in town. The store has a large variety of wines and liquors. The deli has some of the freshest-looking meats (prosciutto, anyone?), about a dozen choices of olives and tons of desserts.
The store has its own food stand outside. Freshly grilled Italian sausages are available. Top it with some sweet peppers and a side of tortellini salad, and you have yourself an impressive meal.
We enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites. The hotel has been open for about a year, but the staff runs it like they’ve been in operation longer than that.
So, remember my comment about the food in Kenosha rivaling Chicago’s best? It’s no lie. From “twisted” concoctions to Italian to fresh Mexican, the food scene in Kenosha is amazing!
We sat down to dinner the first night at Twisted Cuisine.
I had to try the stuffed chicken. It featured a chicken breast with cornbread chorizo stuffing and roasted jalapeno cream sauce. Lisa had stuffed halibut, which featured Gulf shrimp and herb cream cheese.
The appetizers our group of four (Laura and Meredith of the CVB joined us) were delicious. BBQ duck wings and Saganaki (which kasseri, cream cheese, Mozzarella, brandy and toasted bread). The Saganaki is lit on fire before being served. The melted cheese tastes amazing on the bread.
We enjoyed more amazing meals during our visit and will share that information in a future post. Trust us that each meal was delicious and it was difficult to pick one as our favorite.
We truly enjoyed our visit to Kenosha and have already discussed a return trip. We highly recommend visiting Kenosha. You’ll enjoy the city and its attractions and food.
For more information, please check out www.visitkenosha.com.