Photo by John Michael Kohler Arts Center

An hour north of Milwaukee along Lake Michigan you’ll find the kind of quaint seaports and beach dunes you’d imagine rimming districts in New England. And it’s a lovely area to visit in the fall and winter, where a scenic beachfront, delicious eateries and cute boutiques thrive in downtown Sheboygan, while in the company town of Kohler, one of the Midwest’s most poshest properties is home to a spa, design center and decadent dining that you can explore all in a weekend.

Day 1

After your long drive, fuel up with a coffee break at Craverie Chocolatier Cafe, the chocolate-driven café in the company town of Kohler. (Yes, this is the same Kohler that made your kitchen faucet—their factory is right across the street.) A light lunch menu of salads and sandwiches—including the creative PB&J on banana bread—leaves room for a mug of hot cocoa. It would be a crime to bypass the glass display cases featuring the café’s made-on-premises chocolates. Head Chocolatier Anette Righi DeFendi is constantly unveiling new chocolates. Among the latest is Caffe & Cream, a coffee-infused chocolate.

Next, take your sweet tooth across the street for some more eye candy at the KOHLER Design Center. On the lower level is a historic museum telling the story of Kohler—both the company and the family—and the two floors above are design showrooms with everything from a “smart” toilet to vanities etched with art. Be sure to visit the top floor to view six new design suites dreamed up by celebrity designers, where KOHLER products are used in rooms that emulate a Parisian-style kitchen or a bath inspired by the early twentieth century. Inspired to do a remodel now? Meetings with interior designers are free and result in a 3D rendering to show your architect. Lodging options are well-suited for relaxation here.

The Inn on Woodlake is across the street from The American Club in The Shops at Woodlake. By the end of this year, the property will unveil the last stage of its stunning new look, which includes two- and four-bedroom suites catering to large families and couples traveling together. The Carriage House is another lodging option. Three years ago all 55 of the property’s rooms were renovated. And if you’re waffling between travel dates, it’s a good idea to check Destination Kohler’s events online. The area’s marquee property, The American Club, hosts a variety of fun activities like yoga retreats, interactive culinary classes and food and beverage festivals. Naturally, the rooms are outfitted with KOHLER furnishings and fixtures.

Families with kids might prefer to stay at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan, with built-in entertainment in the form of an indoor 54,000-square-foot water park. The 244-room property also hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline and has five food and drink venues. The Beacon is the most upscale eatery, and if it’s a warm fall day you’ll want to eat on the deck overlooking Lake Michigan. Reflections Spa caters to adults who want some “me” time, whether that’s a stone massage or mani-pedi.

Day 2

For your first full day, get out on the town and see some art by visiting the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in downtown Sheboygan. Exhibits this fall and winter include segments of “The Road Less Traveled” exhibition, a year-long series of 15 shows spanning 17 artists that dabbles with the definition of “art environment.” Don’t leave without peeking in the gift shop, where handmade jewelry, artsy books and home décor are all sold. Of course, the bathrooms are also works of art and should not be missed.

For lunch, visit local restaurant guru Stefano Viglietti’s casual breakfast spot Field to Fork Café in downtown Sheboygan. Browse in the café’s market that peddles organic produce, artisan-made chocolate bars, balsamic vinegar and more before bellying up to the counter for specialties like the Sunrise Sandwich that has eggs from Yuppie

Hill Poultry in Racine County, Willow Creek Farm ham and Widmer’s awardwinning cheddar. “The Big John” is named for Viglietti’s father’s favorite breakfast— housemade chicken-sausage, local eggs, Swiss cheese and onions on your choice of bread. The raw-juice bar features locally grown wheat grass as well as six signature juice blends.

Downtown Sheboygan is home to unique boutiques such as Olivü 426, where owner Caitlin Brotz crafts cosmetics and skin products out of olive oil. From bars of soap to beard oil, Brotz’s products are great gifts for friends and family—or a nice splurge for yourself. If you’re a home chef or foodie you’ll want to drop into the Relish Kitchen Store for goods to make your next dinner party even more amazing. Whether it’s a microplane grater, French press or Dutch oven, the options are endless—and stylish.

Urban Antique marries historical relics with today’s trending designs, all in perfect rythym with the beloved farmhouse-chic look. Make-and-take classes in silhouette plates, hand-painted wood signs and turning an old chair into a flower pot are hosted at the shop, and about 40 Wisconsin artists’ wares are represented. Whether you’re looking for a cute apron or a gallon of milk paint, it’s all here.

Above & Beyond Children’s Museum is also in downtown Sheboygan, occupying 10,000 square feet. Everything is hands-on and interactive, including a schoolhouse structure dating back to the early 1900s and the U.S.S Efroymson ship (a wooden boat welcoming passengers on board for a faux journey). On the second floor of the museum is the super-cute Siegl Miniature Circus, created by local artist Jim Siegl.

Take a shopping break at The Weather Center Café, an adorable café that bakes its breads and pastries with al fresco seating right along the river. There’s a daily scone and soup—with options like honey-yogurt scones and cheesy-broccoli soup—as well as signature drinks such as the Aztec Mocha, with a kick of chili and cinnamon. Vegans can easily eat here, thanks to dairy-free cupcakes and black-bean burgers.

For dinner, visit another one of Viglietti’s restaurants that taps into his Italian heritage: either Il Ritrovo (pizzas baked in an oven imported from Italy, served in a casual dining space next to Field to Fork Cafe) or Trattoria Stefano (a veritable tour of Italy served in a fine-dining atmosphere). Meat-lovers will appreciate the Black Pig. The space is rustically elegant, with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. Over ten wine selections are poured by the glass, and the whiskey list is extensive. On the dinner menu are indulgent starters suitable for sharing, like white truffle and black pepper bacon fries. Entrees range from a hearty bacon-wrapped lamb loin to miso glazed salmon filet with baby bok choy mushroom ginger broth. Vegetarians can eat here too, with options like spinach and mushroom lasagna and vegetarian mac.

Day 3

Start your morning off right with a luxurious spa treatment at the KOHLER Waters Spa. Treatments serviced in the 21 treatment rooms rotate with the seasons, incorporating ingredients that are in perfect pitch with the weather and mood outdoors (see page 37 to read about one). Even if you just enjoy the facilities, which include a relaxation pool boasting an eight-foot waterfall and a glass-enclosed rooftop lounge with a see-through fireplace, it’s a pampering retreat.

Before hopping back in the car, give your legs a workout by exploring the region’s many parks, which are open in the fall and winter. Kohler-Andrae State Park is two miles south of Sheboygan and encompasses Lake Michigan’s shoreline. There are seven clearly marked trails, ranging in distance from an easy .25-mile walk for all ages (Black River Marsh Boardwalk, with educational info about wetlands) to the 2.5-mile Black River Trail, traveling through forested areas and accessible near the northwest section of the park at South 12th Street. The park also has cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails, too.

Designed for all ages, Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan brings beloved children’s books to life. Titles that inspired each of the garden vignettes—as well as a pond and wetlands—include The Magic Treehouse, Little House in the Big Woods and The Tale of Peter Rabbit, with interactive structures and sculptures that kids are free to touch and include in their play. The gardens are open until October 31.

Author

Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer who calls Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood home.