Having an opportunity to add a new state to our blog is such a delight. 2019 brought more firsts for us, and our escape to Kenosha was our first Wisconsin city. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, this Upper Midwest city has so much to offer vacationers. When I was choosing our initial Wisconsin destination, there were some specific sites that attracted my attention. With two and a half days to explore, we knew we would just be dipping our toes into exploring this state. We hope that this will provide you with a good cross-section of ideas for your own visit to Kenosha.
We want to thank Visit Kenosha and the local businesses for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
Kenosha is visitor-friendly, as it has a nice selection of museums that are FREE to the public. When you add in the low-cost streetcar, all ages will enjoy exploring the downtown region. We liked riding this refurbished transportation option, which runs on a two-mile loop that carried us right by many of these attractions. At one stop, we were delivered by the Dinosaur Discovery Center, which is small but filled with wonderful specimens. It certainly got me in the mood for seeing more prehistoric history.
Back to the Present
Following the streetcar route toward the lake brought us to the Kenosha Public Museum. This is another free stop and tells the story of this region before immigrants arrived. We picked up on the dinosaur story and proceeded to move forward in time. We discovered that mammoths once roamed this region, and were hunted by the natives who occupied the lands. The historical timeline kept pushing us forward until we arrived at the local trading post that would have been found around the area. (You can read more about these two museums here.)
Growing a City
As we do in many cities, we like to get the background early in our visit. A tour of the Kenosha History Center offered us a view of how the city developed. Getting a personalized tour by the executive director certainly helped us get a better grasp of some changes that have occurred over the years. Little did we know, but Kenosha was a major player in the automotive industry for decades. Armed with a better understanding of the city, our escape to Kenosha was rolling along. (You can learn more Kenosha history here.)
Lighting the Way
No matter how many times we see Lake Michigan, its size never fails to impress us. The use of lighthouses along the shoreline is an obvious choice, especially in a city that was a major port. A visit to the Southport Light Station Museum sheds light on the history of Kenosha Harbor. While the landscape has changed since the early days, there is still a lot of fascination surrounding this 150-year-old structure. (You can read more here.)
Not all museums in Kenosha are limited to the history of Wisconsin territory. At the Civil War Museum, the focus is on a group of states in the Upper Midwest. Stretching from Iowa to Ohio, the participants from this area had mixed feelings about the war. Even with these reservations, an almost unending supply of supplies and soldiers would flow out of these states. (You can read more about the museum here.)
Playing on the Perimeter
While the majority of our visit was focused on downtown Kenosha, we did make a stop a little farther out. Located on the edge of the city, the Jelly Belly Distribution Center makes for a sweet stop. Whether you want to tour the facility or just visit their in-house store, there is something here for everyone. We went all in and took a train ride that departs Jelly Belly Junction at regular intervals. After completing the ride, we were rewarded with a bag of yummy treats. (You can see more pics from this sweet stop here.)
“Visit Like a Local” is more than just a motto for us. Whenever we travel to new destinations, we like to seek out all kinds of businesses that support local life. Most of these are easier to identify because the patrons are all from the nearby region. This is especially true for our dining choices. Breakfast at The Coffee Pot was an easy decision and finding it was a breeze, thanks to the retro neon sign. Once inside, it was obvious that this is a local hangout. (You can see our breakfast here.)
Another good indicator of local life is longevity. During our escape to Kenosha, we found that there are many restaurants that have been in business for years. Frank’s Diner has been serving up massive plates of comfort food for over 90 years. You don’t get that kind of reputation without doing something right. This diminutive diner is tight on space, but loose on serving sizes. You will want to bring your biggest appetite when visiting this Kenosha iconic landmark. (Read more about Frank’s here.)
We may not be traveling with children, but sometimes the two of us can be the biggest kids in the room. This was certainly the case when we stopped by Choo-Choo Charlie’s for lunch. Located right by one of the stops along the streetcar route, it was the perfect dining option after riding the rails. This train-themed restaurant offers up family-friendly meal choices that include some outrageous shakes. We picked the S’Mores galore, which provided plenty of sugar rush for our afternoon of discovery. To top it all off, our meal was delivered by model train.
Every trip has to start with a first taste, and for us, it came at the Boat House Pub & Eatery. Located next to a marina, we could hear the gulls as we headed inside. We met up with our new friends, from Visit Kenosha, who were perfect hosts. With four meals to photograph, we were able to capture a nice cross-section of the menu, in our article on this local favorite. It also gave me my first walleye dish in quite some time. (You can see the other meals here.)
Getting Our Irish On
Crystal may have the Irish blood in our marriage, but I’m just as fond of the cuisine. After spending some time outdoors, on a blustery day, we were ready for some heartwarming comfort food. No need to worry about finding it at Ashling on the Lough, this place has a menu filled with plenty of good options. Toss in some Irish drinks, and an owner with a great Irish accent and this was turning into quite a celebration. (You can read more about it here.)
No stay is complete without the perfect lodging. Our escape to Kenosha gave us a chance to check out The Stella Hotel & Ballroom. This newly opened boutique lodging option is gushing with ambiance. Located in the heart of downtown, it is easy walking distance to just about everything. If your feet are tired, the streetcar line is just a block away. Our room was amazing, and the hotel also boasts a superb in-house restaurant. (You can see much more about The Stella here.)
Other Tastes of Kenosha
We are betting that some of you think we eat a lot when we travel. Well, you don’t realize just how much energy it takes to complete an action-packed itinerary like ours. This means that between meals, we will sometimes need a little boost, which was easy to find in downtown Kenosha. There are some cute specialty shops that serve up interesting, and delectable treats. Whether you are looking for a diminutive dessert pie, uniquely flavored popcorn or an unusual cone for ice cream, you can find it here. By the way, this is why we walk everywhere!
Saying So Long
By now, it should be obvious why we chose Kenosha as our first Wisconsin city. The place is packed full of fun for all ages. With so many cheap or free attractions, you can keep everyone satisfied without breaking the bank. That will leave you with plenty of cash for those special treats you find between meals. Speaking of meals, you won’t go hungry, since their Midwest hospitality shines through at mealtime. Isn’t it time for you to start planning your own escape to Kenosha, Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan?