Here’s how to fill a fun weekend in Kenosha’s county seat, just north of the Illinois border. From vintage charm (hello, restored electric streetcars!) to evening entertainment, you’ll forget you’re only 40 miles from downtown Milwaukee.
Stella Hotel and Ballroom — with 80 rooms tucked into a century-old building — plans to open this spring in downtown Kenosha’s former Heritage House complex. With a restaurant and rooftop deck, plus six rooms for overnight lodging, The Apis Hotel & Restaurant is angling toward a spring opening, too. Until then you can check into the three-bedroom apartment above The Coffee Pot, which recently opened for reservations.
Dinner at Hob Nob — just over the Kenosha line into Racine — means dialing it back a few decades. Friday’s fish fry is an affordable option at this midcentury-era supper club. Don’t leave without ordering a Brandy Old-Fashioned or splurging on a Pink Squirrel. And you’ll definitely need a reservation.
Fuel up with coffee and pastries, paired with a water view (on the outdoor deck during warmer months) across the street at Harborside Common Grounds. The café’s chai tea is a locals’ favorite.
Drop into Modern Apothecary down the street. This modern pharmacy is a true throwback in its décor and also sells locally made soaps, honey, essential oils, lip balm and beer candles.
Kenosha’s main outdoor farmer’s market (Kenosha Harbor Market) rivals all of Milwaukee’s in size and also supports local artists selling bakery goods for dogs, pottery, fiber arts and more. Find it in season along 2nd Avenue between 54th and 56th Streets, behind the Kenosha Public Museum, on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. During winter it’s held at the Rhode Center for the Arts.
Break for lunch at The Buzz, a cozy café with exposed-brick walls in downtown Kenosha that’s open from 7 a.m. through 11 p.m. Latte drinks are inventive (such as peanut-butter, almond-matcha or horchata) but so is the wine and craft-beer line-up (20 beers are on tap), all perfect for sipping with food. You won’t leave hungry thanks to menu items like the Hayride Sandwich (smoked ham, blue marble jack cheese, apples, arugula and apple butter on honey-wheat bread). Vegans and vegetarians won’t starve either. Coffee and espresso drinks are brewed with Milwaukee’s own Pilcrow Coffee Roasters.
In the mood for museum-hopping? Kenosha is home to the Kenosha Public Museum, the Kenosha Civil War Museum and the Dinosaur Discovery Museum (in association with Carthage College’s Institute of Paleontology). Learn more about each on this handy link, including hours and news about exhibits. You might also be interested in Southport Light Station Museum (open May through October only) and the Kenosha History Center: both are on Simmons Island on the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The Spot Drive-In — open since 1945 — is one of those institutions that will be forever linked with Kenosha. While you may not have a poodle skirt on, it’s easy to imagine you are back in the 1950s. Root beer is homemade and nearly everything is breaded. Plus, cheeseburgers with bacon and other sandwiches are on the menu.
While downtown Milwaukee is all a-buzz with the new streetcars, Kenosha residents got their fully restored vintage models in cool hues in 2000. A schedule and route (2-mile loop through downtown and along the lakefront) is posted here. Each ride costs $1 and a day pass is $3.50.
Due to an influx of Italian immigrants, mostly from Calabria in the South, you’ve probably already noticed names like Ruffolo, Infusino and Tenuta on business signs (Yep, actor Mark Ruffalo hails from Kenosha). Scoping out muffaletta or meatball bombers to-go from Tenuta’s Deli, open since 1950, is just as much fun as trolling the aisles for imported goods. During the summer and on weekends, a pipe organist out front supports the al-fresco dining and food window.
It sounds like a dream come true but, yes, it does exist: a cheese shop inside a castle. Mars Cheese Castle is where you want to stock up on Wisconsin artisan award-winning fromage. It’s along I-94 at exit #340, or reachable via 38th Street heading west out of downtown Kenosha.